The Hypocrisy of Privacy in the Digital Age [Qmunicate]

 

In 2012, a man – nicknamed the ‘Hollywood Hacker’ – was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for both possessing and sharing nude images of Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson. Skip ahead two years and recent history is repeating itself.

Yesterday, private, nude images of famous women were posted to notorious online image-board 4chan by an anonymous hacker. The celebrities in question include Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kaley Cuoco and Adriana Grande. A spokesperson for Lawrence said that the star had had over 60 personal photographs hacked and shared online and branded the incident as a ‘flagrant violation of privacy’.

However, while high profile figures such as Ricky Gervais and Perez Hilton were among those quick to back track on controversial initial statements, many took to social media to condemn not the hackers but the women who were hacked meaning that, once again, many seem to have catastrophically missed the point in the controversy.

Sadly, the victim blaming mantra is nothing new. The crimes may be varied – assault, harassment, rape, intimidation, hacking of personal images – but the response is always the same: you were asking for it; you have only yourself to blame (or, so the justification goes).

Perhaps we should have come to expect it. Women suffer this form of backlash regardless of how many Oscars they have won; ‘attention seeking’, ‘skirt was too short’, ‘what was she drinking?’ – we’ve heard it all before. Alas, in Hollywood, it is clear this same, predictable narrative applies. It is already an industry in which it is no secret that women are subjected to ridiculous double standards of objectification; Sofia Vergara and Bruce Rosenblum’s stunt at this year’s Emmy Awards is but one example.

However, whilst the hijacking of a famous woman’s privacy (it is worth noting that men of the same status seldom suffer such injustice) may demonstrate the patriarchal ideologies which surround the commodification of women’s bodies, the callous response to the industry’s latest hacking scandal also serves as evidence of an ever more insidious attitude towards celebrity.

We never feel sorry for celebrities. With their A-List lifestyles and their perfected personas, they are not necessarily a group who merit much sympathy. If anything we feel entitled to them. The trauma which Lawrence and her peers have been subjected to is exemplary of this. Users of 4chan, who claim to be in possession of images of over 100 more celebrities as well as a number of sex tapes, have the intention of humiliating, gaining power and profiting from another’s misfortune. It is a tried and tested way of putting celebrities in their place.

These people may be our idols or heroes, our style icons or fantasy partners, we may contribute to their millions with cinema trips and merchandise purchases, we favourite their tweets and hang their pictures on our walls but, for some, the distinctions between a high profile career and a life devoid of seclusion do not exist. These incursions send out a firm message: if you are famous, we own you and you warrant all invasions you receive.

Yes, illegally hacking the content of one’s private media may be at the far end of the scale but subjecting celebrities to increasing invasions of privacy is such a commonplace thing that we rarely contemplate its effects. Earlier this month, in an interview with Channel 4 News, actor Robert Pattinson stated that ‘fame is like prison’, in March singer Harry Styles took four, unnamed, photographers to the High Court for their persistent presence outside his house and in April model Cara Delevingne took to Twitter to express her anger at the treatment she received from paparazzi who followed her around London.

Of course, there is an irony to all of this. It was not long ago that the country was in disgust at News International’s phone hacking antics. Sienna Miller, Steve Coogan and Elle Macpherson were amongst those affected by the media corporation’s blatant disregard for privacy and morality. Charlotte Church may have been cheered for her stance against privacy theft on Question Time but it appears times have reverted back to a post Leveson Inquiry free-for-all on the lives of the rich and famous. It does bear questioning why the spreading of private texts and emails warrant more outrage than the sharing of private, intimate photographs.

Perhaps this is a sign of the continuing confusion surrounding the purpose of the internet? Debate still rages over the faults and merits of censorship and the argument still remains that what is shared online is exempt from the same response to that which occurs in the ‘real world’. It’s a problem we must address in the years to come, but, until we can arrive at a coherent answer, it is safe to say that one cannot call Edward Snowden a hero for defending our privacy against the NSA and then excitedly Google ‘nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence’.

If privacy is a privilege, it is one we should all be entitled to.

Originally published in qmunicate magazine

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