Celebrities in recent years have spent an awful lot of time complaining about the paparazzi.
Last year, after a scuffle with photographers, Justin Bieber tweeted, "Sometimes when people r shoving cameras in your face all day and yelling the worst thing possible at u ... well I'm human." In 2008, Lily Allen wrote on her MySpace blog that "There is nothing professional about them, most of them look like they wouldn't be out of place at a BNP meeting." (BNP, for the record, stands for British Nationalist Party — a racist organization in the UK, with a thuggish reputation.) And, just this July, from the stage of a London festival during a 20-minute rant, Kanye West said
"I don't care what you do in life, everybody needs a day off, everybody has the right to say, 'You know what, I need a minute to breathe... I want to bring my family to the movies without 30 motherfuckers following me. Everybody here, they like sex right? Sex is great when you and your partner are like, 'Hey, this is what we both want to do.' But if one of those people don't want to do that, what is that called? That's called rape. That is called violation."
West's comments in particular caused a firestorm of controversy, but sympathy for Allen, Bieber, and most other celebrities who complain about photographers violating their privacy has also been almost nonexistent in recent years. The standard argument goes that if you want to be famous, and if you earn exorbitant amounts of money by being so, then you simply have to adjust your life and make space for this type of attention. Photographers want to take your picture? Boo-hoo. Deal with it.
But West's comments, comparing unsanctioned photos with actual physical violation, took on new meaning and gravity over the weekend with the giant iCloud hack that leaked photos of a multitude of lady celebrities in compromising positions. Poor, dear Jennifer Lawrence has been the primary focus of attention, but many female musicians were targeted too — Rihanna, Avril Lavigne, and Ariana Grande (who has denied that the photos are real
) included. And while social media monitoring suggests that all too many people are greeting these photographs with a smile, a wisecrack, and welcoming eyes, it marks a new low for online celebrity violation.
While mainstream media and respectable websites have stopped short of publishing these photos themselves (Perez Hilton is not on that list
, sadly), there has been no restraint in reporting the incident and letting people know where the photos were published. Because when one big news outlet covers a story, all others will follow. It's the nature of today's media and the online world's around-the-clock, unquenchable thirst for dirt. And although these larger sites are exercising restraint, and even sometimes expressing sympathy for the women in question, what they are doing is piquing the interest of readers enough to warrant a Google search. (And yes, we recognize the irony of us putting that in a blog on the very same subject.) Judging from our own Facebook and Twitter feeds, an inordinate number of otherwise sane people seem to be treating this horrifying violation of privacy as entertainment — merely an extension of the access the paparazzi grants us in the internet age.
The obvious, enormous difference this time is that these photos were taken by the celebrities themselves. In private. Using their own private property. Storing them to their private accounts. Online arguments in the last couple of days have been quick to point out that, as famous people, they should know better, be more cautious, and take better steps to prevent the inevitable. But the real question is: When did this
become inevitable? Almost every adult on Earth has sex. And, in 2014, thanks to all this technology, most people — especially those who have to spend long stints away from home because of work — take naughty photos to share with their lovers. And goddammit, that is everyone's right, whether they're a famous person or not.
This leak wasn't a bit of fun and it wasn't something that any of the people involved deserved. As Forbes pointed out
on Monday, it is, in fact, a sex crime — and if you're sharing these photos, you're culpable too. This hack was both vindictive and shocking in its expanse. And, make no mistake, it was a power play; the act of someone (or a group of someones) resentful of women richer and more successful than them. This isn't about showing the world something it's never seen before — Rihanna has been naked on camera for music videos and on her own social media accounts by choice, so why bother hacking her? It's about trying to one-up her; to make her feel small; to make her feel less powerful. This is a move to bring these people down a peg or two; to show them that they're not untouchable even though they're hugely successful females. It's the ultimate expression of public ownership and misogyny. "Nowhere is safe now," the hackers are declaring. And, like it or not, the celebrities are going to have to listen.
This isn't the first time that intimate photos of famous people have leaked, but it does represent a new level in terms of scope and people affected. And, as such, real action needs to be taken as quickly as possible, so that such extraordinary violations do not occur again. Investigations are ongoing and the FBI is involved now
. We can only hope that the person, or persons, responsible for this are located and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And the websites that published the pictures in the first place should also, undoubtedly, suffer legal consequences, for without them, no one would be able to see any of this in the first place.
Even in this, the land of free speech, private property is private property and private accounts should remain private. Everyone is entitled to have their sex lives and their bodies kept private to whatever degree they themselves choose. But this entire horrifying incident raises more than just legal questions. At what point have female musicians shown enough skin to satiate the public? At what point are famous people allowed to live their own lives out of the spotlight? And at what point does the public thirst for celeb info get quenched? These are discussions that need to take place and now is, undoubtedly, the time to have them.