Two writers with two very different takes on the recent hacking and release of naked selfies of Hollywood celebrities.
WHAT THOSE NAKED PICS TRULY EXPOSE IS VANITY
SARAH VINE, DAILY MAIL
At first glance, it looked like a desperate publicity stunt by the makers of the summer’s non-blockbuster movie, Sex Tape, which opens in the UK this week.
For those readers unfamiliar with the plot, it’s about a married couple (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) who, ten years and two children in, decide to jump-start their love life by filming themselves taking part in a variety of bedroom gymnastics.
The husband accidentally uploads the resulting video to the Cloud, whereupon it goes viral.
A fantastical and absurd premise, you might think. After all, what kind of half-wit would store such highly personal material on what is, essentially, a giant public computer server?
Turns out, half of Hollywood. In a peculiarly timely example of life imitating art, scores of female celebrities - from Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence to reality TV phenomenon Kim Kardashian - had their iCloud (Apple’s data storage service) accounts hacked.
Within hours, the internet was supposedly awash with naked selfies of Lawrence, Die Hard starlet Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay and model Kate Upton, with the promise of more to come from the likes of Rihanna, Cat Deeley, Cara Delevingne and Kelly Brook.
It is, of course, a shocking invasion of privacy. Everyone has a right to a private life.
Even if their career is based largely around showing off their bottom (Kardashian), turning up at film premieres half-naked (Brook, who in any case is probably delighted, since she’s got an autobiography to flog) or posting knickerless pictures online (Rihanna).
For them and those like them one feels, I confess, just a touch of schadenfreude. We’ve seen acres of their naked flesh already. Surely the only difference here is that, for once, they’re not getting paid?
For more serious talents such as Lawrence and Findlay, it seems genuinely bad luck. In either case, however, the question remains: why take naked selfies in the first place? I don’t have any lurking in my iCloud waiting to be hacked - and I’m sure you don’t either.
Perhaps it an age thing. For my fortysomething generation, people who took photographs of themselves in the altogether were known as Reader’s Wives and they were located in the back pages of dirty magazines.
They weren’t “cool” or “hot” or whatever it is these days that one is supposed to be when one is deemed attractive to the opposite sex. They were just a bit sad.
Also, photography required effort. Not like it is now, a casual throw-away gesture, the flick of a thumb.
OK, we didn’t quite line up in our Sunday best and stand still for half an hour like the Victorians, but most cameras required a modicum of skill and thought.
You had to load the film, focus the lens, press the shutter. Then there was all the hassle of getting it developed (that in itself was a deterrent for saucy pictures, unless one had a particular penchant for the spotty teenager in the dark room).
But generally the only frisson came from waiting to find out how bad you looked when the packet came back from the processor.
If you’re Lawrence’s age - 24 - however, the smartphone is an extension of you. Narcissus had his pool to gaze into; today’s young things have their photo-streams.
Remember, it was Nemesis who showed Narcissus his image, causing the Greek warrior to fall so much in love with himself he eventually expired.
This whole sorry episode feels like the modern equivalent: beautiful celebrities obsessed with their appearance humiliated by their own vanity.
No one is arguing that having your private life all over the internet is anything other than horrid and traumatic. But the simple, hard truth is this: if you don’t want your breasts going viral, it’s probably best not to take pictures of them and keep them on your phone.
NUDE PHOTOS: OUR INTOLERABLE CRUELTIES TO EACH OTHER’
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, THE WASHINGTON POST
Summer went out on an awfully sour note this weekend with the release of a large cache of intimate pictures pilfered from the private files of famous people. The story is simultaneously sordid and trivial, the sort of thing that is guaranteed to do well on a holiday weekend. But in a strange way, it also ties together some of the events of a disturbing summer, crystallizing the callousness and nastiness that has become our response to so many ugly events and that is an excuse not to search for systemic solutions to serious problems or to invest ourselves in the lives of other people.
The theft and release of the photos are callous enough. These periodic violations suggest a sense of extreme entitlement to famous people's bodies, a contempt for the idea that people in public life have the right to define any zone of privacy and a sense of glee about the possibility of exposing famous individuals as human and vulnerable.
But the response to these sorts of leaks comes with its own sort of cruelty. Rather than casting a jaundiced eye at large corporations that fail to keep their clients' data safe or railing against the impulse to pry into other people's intimate lives, we see sentiments such as the one expressed by New York Times technology columnist Nick Bilton. “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don't take nude selfies 2. Don't take nude selfies 3. Don't take nude selfies,” Bilton tweeted on Monday.
As tech reporter Kashmir Hill pointed out in Forbes, this kind of response is the digital equivalent of abstinence-only sex education, which is divorced from the realities and expectations of contemporary relationships. And it shares a smug moralism with that sort of thinking: Anyone who experiences a bad outcome from bowing to a partner's request (much less acting for his or her own pleasure) deserves it and ought to be held up as a cautionary lesson for everyone else.
The tendency to destroy people who have already been victimiSed takes an even uglier form in the attempts to shade the characters of murdered young black men in order to render their deaths somehow justifiable.
After Trayvon Martin was shot to death by neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman, people who wanted to believe that he was a dangerous thug rather than a child circulated a photo that was supposed to be a current shot of Martin. It was actually a picture of the much-older and taller rapper the Game, but the image served its purpose: to suggest that Martin represented a significant threat who warranted a deadly response.
That same odd attempt to suggest that the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last month was the obvious and correct response because of his nature is already under way. Fox News harped on unconfirmed reports that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown, suffered a serious injury in an altercation with Brown before the killing. The Ferguson police department muddied the waters by appearing to suggest that Wilson was pursuing Brown as a suspect in the theft of some cigarillos from a convenience store. The facts that Brown liked hip-hop and sometimes smoked marijuana have been held up as character evidence in the case, rather than as proof that Brown was a fairly average teenager.
Being a large African-American person is not actually a crime. Our penal code does not proscribe the death penalty for marijuana possession or for petty theft.
And it takes a certain creative expansion of colonial American sexual morality to suggest that people who look at stolen naked photos ought to simultaneously be able to get sexual gratification from those images and shame the subjects of them for having taken or posed for said pictures in the first place. But these realities do not stop many of us from engaging in self-justifying, self-satisfied moral mathematics to shame and defame victims, a move that helps us to accept terrible things that happen rather than confront the organisations and practices responsible for them, be the bad actors cloud storage lockers or a police department in Missouri.
And when we are not blaming victims, we are creating them. My colleague Radley Balko has written a series of posts on what he calls the criminalisation of parenthood. This might best be defined as an increasingly visible tendency for citizens to call the police not only when they believe a child is imminent danger, but also when they believe that other parents are not living up to their own standards for how children ought to be raised. (Among the offences that have merited calls to the police: letting children play by themselves.)
In many of these cases, calling the police appears to be an alternative to being inconvenienced. Rather than waiting by a car where a child has been left in a car seat to make sure their parents come back or asking after a child who is playing alone in a park, involving law enforcement is a way of opting out of what is supposed to be a collective responsibility for and concern with the safety of children. As uncomfortable as these interactions might be for all participants, they are surely preferable to involving the police.
This particular form of opting out can do serious damage to families. As Balko puts it, “It doesn't benefit these kids in the least to give their parents a criminal record, smear their parents' names in their neighbourhoods and communities and make it more difficult for their parents to find a job.”
These situations are all very different and raise many disparate issues, but a disturbing thread runs through all of them: a sense that we have little in common and less to gain from standing together than in shaming and blaming each other.
This tendency is not exactly new. But just as contemporary technology gives people the capacity to break into others' private lives and to spread self-justifying theories, it also helps us broadcast an amplified portrait of ourselves. The resulting image is awfully ugly.