Avert Your Eyes

I lead a strange sort of double-life when it comes to things popular and pop-culture-like. On the one hand, I feel as if I live my life on the “geek culture” fringe — as evidenced, I’m sure, by past references to Comic-Con staples like Joss Whedon, True Blood and Game of Thrones. There’s lots of big “mainstream” hits and trends — Survivor, American Idol, Real Housewives all spring to mind — which have in their own time and place saturated the airwaves, and yet which I have never ever seen. Quite frankly, sometimes my monastic schedule, with its endless cycle of work, write, study, sleep, even keeps me from staying up-to-date on geek culture. (This many weeks later, and I still haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Guess that’s another membership card I’ll be handing in…)

On the other hand, my continued engagement with mainstream morning news (GMA) and print journalism (Entertainment Weekly) means I have a pretty good sense of what the pop culture trends and happenings are, moment to moment.

Which is how I found out about the violation of privacy suffered by Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities today:

The Oscar-winning actress was the highest profile target of a massive hacking campaign, which the Telegraph reports accessed her Apple iCloud account, where pics from her phone were presumably backed up. . . .  Various reports say nearly 60 photos of Lawrence in various stages of undress circulated after a hacker posted them to 4chan, the Internet’s screaming id, alongside similarly racy leaked photos of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kate Upton, Victoria Justice, Ariana Grande, and allegedly many others—all of them women.

Wait, let me get this straight: All of the targets of this invasion of privacy and gross objectification were female? Quelle surprise! (Here I sit, fanning myself from the shock of it all.)

privacy_erasedOkay, dialing back the snark just a wee tiny bit, let me say that I have some small appreciation to the article’s author, Kyle Ryan, for making this passing observation. Like I was recently struggling to articulate, one of the thorny things about getting outside of the patriarchy/kyriarchy is the ways that dominant culture can run such a Jedi mind-fuck on you in the ways certain expressions of privilege or oppression — like the ways that female celebrities are so disproportionately targeted for this kind of Internet assault — are completely normalized and seen as “just the way things are.”

So, by naming the unnameable, Ryan does a small piece to shift the lens of perception and show the level of fucked-up that exists within this normalized pattern of paparazzi stalking. (For an example of reporting which doesn’t challenge the dominant normalizing narrative around this event, see Joshua Patton over at Latest.com.)

Still (snark mode re-engaging), if the most you can do is point out parenthetically that all the targets of this crime were women, without further cultural analysis or commentary, then that is weak sauce, indeed, my friend. I mean, seriously! Lena Dunham took to Twitter talking about this and its connection to rape culture:

Lena Dunham! She’s a celebrity! You love her show, EW! It’s the perfect opening to say something more incisive about the all-womenness of these crime targets. But no, apparently it’s more important to indicate the level of public desire to invade Lawrence’s privacy with a clever one liner about how, during this holiday weekend, “life on the Internet ground to a halt because: Jennifer Lawrence naked,” instead of commenting about how incredibly prurient it is to be seeking and viewing these stolen photographs. (/snark mode)

Luckily, there have plenty of strong and immediate statements exposing that very prurience and urging the public-at-large to resist any temptation they might be feeling towards searching for and looking at these leaked photos. From Daily Life, to The Guardian, to Glamour,* there have been different unpackings and articulations of the same theme: to do so is to become an active participant in the sexual violation of these women. Clementine Ford, in Australia’s Daily Mail, perhaps puts it most strongly:

If you deliberately seek out any of these images, you are directly participating in the violation not just of numerous women’s privacy but also of their bodies. These images – which I have not seen and which I will not look for – are intimate, private moments belonging only to the people who appear in them and who they have invited to see them. To have those moments stolen and broadcast to the world is an egregious act of psychic violence which constitutes a form of assault.

The people sharing these images are perpetuating an ongoing assault. The people gleefully looking at them are witnessing and enjoying an ongoing assault. When you have been asked by victims of a crime like this not to exacerbate the pain of that crime and you continue to do so anyway, you are consciously deciding that your enjoyment, your rights and perhaps even just your curiosity are more important than the safety and dignity of the people you’re exploiting.

For all that I took a cheep potshot at Patton for his willingness to disregard the misogyny embedded in this happening and instead chalk it up as “just what paparazzi do!”** — well, even he gets it that to view these leaked photos is an act of violation.

Violation. Assault. Strong language? Nope. Not in the slightest. Sexual images of these women have been distributed without their consent, which is kind of the classic definition for what makes a sexual assault. Look no further than these tweets from one of the crime targets for evidence of how much without consent this all went down.

(If you really want to feel disgusted with the state of humanity, look in the reply threads under Winstead’s tweets for other messages that brag about having used these stolen photographs for sexual gratification. Obviously, content note if you decide to go questing in that ethical cesspool )

So no, it’s not okay to go after these photos “because they’re already out there anyways,” or “the damage has already been done,” or “because I need to be well-informed.” (This last one is another post for another day.) No matter what self-justification you parrot, it all boils down to this: if you are adding to the click-count for these photos you are adding to the sexual assault of these women, and you are adding to the likelihood that more women will be targeted and assaulted in similar fashion. In other words: you are actively contributing to the perpetuation of rape culture.

To which I can only say: just don’t.

[EDITING TO ADD: As is so often the case, The Belle Jar says it much better than I can: “Because it’s fine to participate in a sex crime as long as you think it was the victim’s fault. Because women are just never careful enough, and they deserve whatever’s coming to them. After all, that’s the real message here, isn’t it?” Go read the whole post. Worth every bit of your time.]

* I find myself paraphrasing something I recall saying some weeks ago about Cosmo — if I’m turning to Glamour to unpack a piece of cultural misogyny? Then the thing in question is way, WAY misogynistic.

** My snarky paraphrase, not a direct quote.


Image credit: By opensource.com, shareable via a Creative Commons License (retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4638981545/ )

5 thoughts on “Avert Your Eyes

  1. Roxane Gay’s piece (also at The Guardian) had a line that stood out to me: the idea that women’s bared bodies are always “at once desired and loathed.” I srsly don’t get that. I mean, yes I get it–as in, I too have lived it; as in, #yesallwomen–but I DO. NOT. GET. IT. As in, WT-everlasting-F is that about??!


  2. Alice,

    Frankly, I’m just thankful you read the thing. Now, far be it from me to contest the reporting resources of The Telegraph or EW, but one of the iCloud accounts hacked belonged to Justin Verlander, a male baseball player. So while Kate Upton was the subject of many of his photos, solo pictures of his own private parts were included in the leak. Also, because a number of women of note (none whose names immediately come to mind, and I hope you’ll forgive me for not wishing to Google/research this any more than I had to), the details of all of their personal lives have become the subject of gossip fodder wherein judgment flies like so many foul balls. So not all of the victims were female, according to my research which is partly the reason why I did not report this as an act of misogyny.

    Still, the victims were disproportionately female in this particular leak. However, as the story is unearthed, it seems this may not have been a single hacker exploiting a default in iCloud, but instead part of a cache of pictures like these which have been traded amongst these hackers for years, featuring celebrities like Colin Farrell and James Franco as well. Terms like the “deep web” and “bitcoin” start being thrown around at this point of the story and, again, my eyes glaze over.

    So, in the around 90 minutes I had to research this particular story, I determined that the core issue here is celebrity obsession/voyeurism and the singular glee that comes from judging (or forgiving) the behavior of these “wealthy hedonists.” As I pointed out in my article (at least I think I did, I rarely remember what makes the final cut), I saw a post on Gawker or Jezebel or one of those Kinja sites featuring some 20 year-old boy-bander’s boner. They had no problem releasing this for public consumption until this larger leak happened. I since cannot find that post, but it may still be up and it would be worse if it were. I know I have definitely seen posts on Jezebel prominently featuring revenge porn of men who send unsolicited nudes to women they date, which I also think is wrong. Of course it’s wrong to send nudes to people you’re not absolutely positive want them (and one should probably triple check before doing so, ruining-the-mood be damned), but the internet is forever as some like to say. The consent issue (at least w/r/t to the pictures being for public consumption) for those photos seems similar to me.

    Despite all that (and perhaps I should have led with this), I don’t begrudge you your take on this nor do I think you are necessarily wrong. In fact, reading this post codified for me some of the things about this perspective on the story that I didn’t quite understand before (I also love Lena Dunham and was delighted to see her appearance here). Thanks very much for reading Latest.com and I am pleased to have found this blog. Snark-mode notwithstanding, you’re very reasoned and that is a quality I find lacking in a lot of the writing floating out here on the ‘net.

    Joshua M. Patton
    @JoshuaMPatton on Twitter.


  3. Alice, Thanks so much for the pointer to Roxane Gay’s article. As per always, you enrich my life! As for the “desired and loathed” piece — I kinda sorta have a frame for explaining it to myself, though it’s a difficult framework to articulate (hence me only giving it “kinda sorta” status). Even then, I find myself in that place of sputtering puzzlement: “We can’t navigate this six-inch curb?!?”

    Joshua, Thanks for sharing some of the details of your research, which are aiding my understanding of these events. For all that I lazily used you to build a straw-man argument, I wonder if we’re closer on the same page than not. I certainly don’t interpret this happening as caused by EITHER celebrity voyeurism OR misogyny — it’s a both/and situation. In my analysis last night, I placed more interpretive emphasis on the patriarchy/misogyny piece for a lot of reasons, including that being a core piece of what I write about when I write here on JALC. I have lots of other detailed things I want to say in dialogue with you, but alas, the office job is calling me back to the fold. For now, let me just be REALLY clear in thanking you for how clearly you called out how much of a bullshit justification it would be to look up these pics under the guise of “being an informed reporter.” The clarity with which you made that parenthetical point has prompted a whole other line of thinking that’s whirring in my brain about the ethics of my own cultural consumption — even when in the guise of being an “informed cultural commentator.” Not exactly sure where this line of thought is going to take me, but I truly appreciate the chance to be in that kind of inquiry.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Who gets looked at, Who gets seen: public violence and the optics of bodies (Part 1) « coffee and a blank page

  5. Pingback: The Ethics of Looking, Part 3 | Self-Love: It's Just Another Lifestyle Change

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