Hackers and Voyeurs

September 3, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Two brief thoughts on the theft and distribution of Jennifer Lawrence’s private photos.

1.  The “Don’t take nude selfies” response is both self-evident and stupid. As Lena Dunham said, it’s the equivalent of reacting to rape by saying, “She was wearing a short skirt.”*  You expect this blame-the-woman reaction from nonentity Facebookers and Tweeters. But Nick Bilton is a New York Times columnist whose Twitter has 231,000 followers.

Bilton later claimed that his tweet was “meant as a larger point about state of the Web and insecurity,” and maybe it was. Still, I wonder: if someone had hacked Bilton’s bank and brokerage information – account numbers and passwords – and looted his savings, would his response be, “1. Don’t use online financials. 2. Don’t use online financials . . . ”?

2.  Why is seeing a nude picture of Jennifer Lawrence such a big deal? Not because of the inherent eroticism in a picture of an attractive nude female. Those are so commmonplace that it’s hard to avoid them.  What makes it special is that it’s a celebrity and that she did not want the pictures seen. That’s true of most paparazzi shots that fill the celeb mags even when the celebrities are going about their daily life fully clothed.

The voyeurism driving the JLaw pictures is similar though more explicit about its sexual interest.  More important, woven in with that sexual interest is a nasty form of power – the power to violate.  The hacker/voyeur is successful only if his act is a violation of the woman’s privacy.  Is the picture badly lit and out of focus? No matter. What’s important is that he is seeing something she did not want him to see.  Better if the victim is a celebrity, but a neighbor or ordinary woman in the street will do, so long as she is someone who we can assume does not want her naked body on display. 

In her short-skirt comment, Lena Dunham did not use the word rape, but the parallel is obvious.

* The LA Times responded to Dunham’s remark in an offensive and belittling way with the headline, “Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos have FBI, Lena Dunham on the case.”

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