What We REALLY Mean When We Talk About Leaked Pics
A few days ago, the naked, personal photos of over 100 celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande were published to the Internet without consent from the people pictured. A few of the celebrities have responded (they're not happy!) and most of the pictures have since been taken down, but you can still probably find them by Googling "Hello, I'm kind of a shitty person, give me something that does not legally belong to me as quickly as possible."
Before we get into this, here's a point of order regarding language that I'd like to address: I'm going to be making a concerted effort to use the word "stolen," instead of "leaked" when I talk about these photos and "women" instead of "celebrity" or "A-List Stars" when I talk about the victims. Also, I'm going to use the word "victim," because what we're talking about is a crime.
I don't know enough about hacking to explain how the breach happened (something involving iCloud and, if I let my movie imagination run wild, mainframes, algorithms, and swordfish), but I have been really interested in the different ways people are reacting to the news. Every time a scandal like this takes place, the same kinds of conversations start popping up over the Internet, and they're always sort of missing the point. I just want to help us be absolutely clear about what we're really talking about when we're talking about naked celebrities, so let's get into the most common responses.
"If You Don't Want People to See You Naked, Don't Take Naked Pictures!"
Stolen naked pictures and videos being posted on the Internet isn't a new story. We've seen it before and, while the players always change (today it's Kate Upton, last year it was Scarlett Johansson) and some of the specifics vary (the sheer volume of this particular breach was astounding), the game stays the same. Every time a naked woman's selfie gets stolen and published and the woman in question is super bummed about it, the Internet responds the same way: "If you don't want people to see you naked, don't take naked pictures."
That's Larry Wachs, the host of a radio show I really look forward to never listening to for the rest of my life. He's responding to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of the victims, by calling her a dummy. Winstead took private pictures for her husband years ago and then deleted them from all of her devices, and then someone found them and posted them on the Internet. What a dummy, right?!
That's a random sampling of strangers on Twitter who can be found by searching the phrase "stop taking nude pictures."
And that's, oh man, Ricky Gervais? Dammit.
Some people use this refrain to sit in holier-than-thou judgment ("Serves you right. No one will ever see pictures of MY butt on the Internet, because I'm so careful and smart and restrained that I've never even BEEN naked."). Still, some other people use it to justify the fact that they looked at the stolen pictures in the first place. It's a sneaky way to distance yourself from the problem: "I'm not the kind of perverted guy who would peek into a woman's window while she was showering or spy on women going to the bathroom, but if you are stupid and trampy enough to have ever taken a naked picture in your life, sure I'll look at it. But, ugh, do you have any with, like, better lighting?"
When you use this argument, here is what you're really saying:
Person A owned a thing. Person B stole it. Let's all blame person A for having the audacity to own a thing in the first place.
You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day this argument blames the victim for a crime that someone else committed. When I was in college and living in an area that wasn't the greatest, someone broke into my car and stole a massive binder containing all of my CDs (and if the thief is reading this, I sincerely hope the mixed CDs I made to get over my ex-girlfriend have brought you a level of peace that I have still never achieved, having been forced to go through all of that grieving without appropriate musical accompaniment).
Oh, and I'm also sorry I owned a Linkin Park CD. There's really no excuse for that.
At the time, none of my friends said, "Hey, that's unfortunate, but really you never should have had all of those CDs in the first place. I get that you kept them locked up in your car but, honestly, everyone KNOWS that you have them, so it was really only a matter of time before some clever person figured out how to 'share' them." Most of my friends were like, "That sucks. Thieves are bad!"
Blaming me for being robbed would have been absurd, but for some reason everyone seems to forget that when it comes to stolen photos.
It's also an attack on women
Hey, look! This argument even has some bonus subtext! If we want to get even more real, this argument blames women specifically for taking pride in their own sexuality. And, yes, this is an issue specific to women; there likely won't be a public-shaming of men who take naked selfies, because those aren't the pictures that hackers are going to track down and share publicly. If you don't think men take just as many, if not more, naked selfies as women, than you've probably never been on OKCupid, a dating website where women have to regularly beg strangers not to send them unsolicited dick pictures. We're living in a world where men take pictures of their dicks so often that women reflexively know to say, "Hey, before we start talking I just want you to know: PLEASE don't send me your dick unless I ask for it."
"And even if I do ask for it, I probably wouldn't be bummed if you just forgot to send it."
But no enterprising hacker-thieves are working through the night to track down Tom Cruise's penis or Will Smith's balls or John C. Reilly's butthole. I know that one of the stolen pictures in this most recent breach was of a man, and he is also a victim in this massive scandal. But I also know that no one was frantically Googling "Justin Verlander nude" this weekend, and that most of the people who saw Verlander naked only saw him as a side effect of seeing Kate Upton naked. The majority of the naked pictures that get stolen and posted to the Internet are of women, and when that happens, the Internet blames the women for taking pictures in the first place (after, of course, they look over every single one of those pictures).
"Ugh, this is just so shameful. So, so shameful. I can't even stop looking at how shameful."
This is the cycle, and it is toxic. A person -- any person -- has a right to take a naked picture of him- or herself and share it with another consenting adult without the risk of having their privacy invaded by millions of strangers. Americans agree, which is why sexting activity has been steadily increasing across all age demographics since 2012, including the taking and sharing of naked selfies. We just choose to forget how common this is becoming as soon as it's time for a good ol' fashioned public shaming.
But that's just one of the common responses...
"It's Different for Celebrities!"
I've heard this a lot, this idea that the stealing is OK because it happened to celebrities. You wouldn't steal a picture of your friend or co-worker naked and then share it with everyone you've ever met, but you don't mind staring at a picture of a naked celebrity, because that, we've all decided, is part of their job.
"You're a phenomenal actress, but your REAL talent is that you'll let me invade your privacy guilt- and consequence-free!"
Person A says, "Hey, should you be looking at that clearly personal picture of Kate Upton naked that was never meant for you? Would you be OK if someone leaked a bunch of nude photos of YOU?" And Person B says, "Of course not, but it's different for Upton, because she's famous. As a celebrity, the rules are different for her. She gets paid to travel around the world being famous, making the most money, getting the best seats at basketball games, and hanging out with other famous people. In exchange, she accepts that paparazzi and media critics and phone hackers are part of her life. My job ALSO has its downsides; we all make concessions."
People really cling to this idea that being a celebrity means you open yourself up to any and all criticism and invasion and attack, as if the fact that someone takes pictures of you in a bathing suit for the cover of a magazine means you're not allowed to have a personal life, or that you need to go to extreme lengths to protect that personal life, more extreme than the lengths normal people have to go to.
And I understand that people are suspicious when pictures like these make it to the Internet, because so far no celebrity to my knowledge has been harmed professionally after a breach (excepting perhaps Anthony Weiner, though it could be argued that his resignation was linked more to the fact that he was behaving inappropriately outside of his marriage and not simply because he took a picture of his dick and was like "Here, whomever"). I also understand that there are some people who are famous because of an intentionally released sex tape masquerading as a leak, and some have even built successful reality TV empires after alleged leaks. It's made people cynical and unsympathetic.
"You guys invaded my privacy SO HARD that now my children will want for nothing in this world."
But suffering professionally isn't the only kind of suffering that exists.
When you use this argument, here is what you're really saying:
"When someone becomes a celebrity, it dehumanizes them in my eyes, which makes it OK for me to feel nothing when I steal from them."
When you see an attractive person on a bus or at a coffee shop, maybe you have the restraint or basic human decency to think, "Boy, that person is good-looking, but oh well I'll just move on with my life." But if that person was Jennifer Lawrence, a FAMOUS PERSON who knows OTHER FAMOUS PEOPLE, you suddenly feel entitled to see her naked.
It's based on this idea of a contract that all celebrities have allegedly signed. "When she took out her personal camera, snapped a photo of her breasts, and sent them to her boyfriend who happened to be several thousand miles away, she KNEW there would be a risk that I would eventually be able to see them on my iPad, while sitting on the toilet. We entered into this agreement together the minute she decided to be famous and I decided not to be."
"I have to agree to let everyone see my butthole? Did Clooney sign one of these?
Of course, this contract doesn't exist, and no one would sign it if it did, but that doesn't stop us from pretending that the unlicensed publication of personal photos is "part of the job" for famous people.
I don't want us to talk about selfies and how we should all apologize to these multimillionaires; I want to talk about privacy and rights while the topic is still timely and exciting enough that people will listen. There are a lot of conversations we SHOULD be having, conversations about celebrity culture, conversations about privacy, conversations about how the Internet is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for women and plenty of others, I'm sure. But the Internet, the giant spider web of loud assholes that it is, is blocking those conversations from view with a bunch of white noise about public shaming and other nonsense. We just need to make sure the right conversations have time and space to take place before a week goes by, some other scandal happens, and we all move on to the next thing.
Daniel O'Brien is the head writer for Cracked and author of How to Fight Presidents, which you can buy right now! John Hodgman calls it "very funny," and Kanye West has currently not yet read it.
For more from Daniel, check out 4 Reasons Why Bad Movies Are Allowed to Happen and How a Comedy Article Got Me Placed On the No-Fly List.
Thankfully, famous people get to wear clothes whenever they want. Animal actors rarely receive the opportunity to hide their shame.
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