what does the j-law nudes scandal say about us?
An anonymous hacker and his accomplice – a self-proclaimed “collector” of nudes – have caused a scandal by allegedly hacking into Apple’s clouds of private information and stealing compromising photographs of 101 of the world’s most desired young women...
I have an acquaintance whose private parts are a different colour to the rest of him, and after he's had a drink he often likes to show them off. Once, in the middle of the night in Finsbury Park, I thought it might be funny to film it and Snapchat it to everyone in my address book including all my colleagues and so on. By the time I arrived at work on Monday morning I rather regretted my actions - these fleeting video missives are so open to misinterpretation - especially as I'm the sort of person that can suffer sleepless nights over an inappropriate tweet. How would I feel then if I woke up and all of my selfies and hot Hollywood sexts (not that I have any) were leaked over the internet, and strangers were sharing them and outraged newspaper columnists were suggesting that anyone even looking at them is a pervert? Horrified, I think.
How would you feel? It's quite possible that there's even stranger things in your private photo-stream than a couple cheeky selfies so, before we proceed any further into the darkness, why not delete your photo-stream right now?
This sort of hysteria can actually make us want to find the forbidden photos because there's a transgressive appeal to Twitter contraband that's almost impossible to resist.
Now as the bittersweet last days of summer draw to a close we stumble across what some have called "the biggest celebrity hacking scandal in history," with Jennifer Lawrence as its poster girl and i-D cover stars Cara Delevingne and Selena Gomez supposedly coming soon; although hopefully its perpetrators will be caught sooner. This squalid affair is like a pirate version of FHM's "100 Sexiest Women" list (which of course Lawrence also topped this year). Why have they hacked 101 celebrities? It's a number more usually associated with spotted Dalmatian puppies or Great Goals or, in the case of George Orwell's dystopian torture chamber in the Ministry of Love, with everything we hate in this world.
In his latest book The News: a User's Manual pop-philosopher Alain de Botton notes that in renaissance Italy, "The Catholic Church employed Bellini, who painted the Taylor Swifts of the day. Things need to be popular to be listened to. There is a ridiculous suspicion of popularity." Giovanni Bellini imagined up stunning religious scenes and altarpieces but also invented the sensual nudes that came to characterise Venetian art. Throughout the ages people have always fantasised about the lives of the famous and the beautiful, and also wanted to see them naked. While Lawrence has traded on her talent and her personality, rather than her looks, nonetheless she inspires lust in many of her fans.
Yes it's wrong to steal someone's private photos, but is it also wrong to look at those stolen photos? According to today's "Comment is free" article in the Guardian, "If you click on Jennifer Lawrence's naked pictures, you're perpetuating her abuse... To excuse viewing the images just because they're available is deplorable. It's the equivalent of creepily hiding in a wardrobe..." However this sort of hysteria can actually make us want to find the forbidden photos because there's a transgressive appeal to Twitter contraband that's almost impossible to resist; like when Lot and his family flee Sodom with the warning, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you…" but of course his wife looks back regardless and is turned into a pillar of salt.
It's another creepy extension of the male gaze, which can now see through the walls of hotel rooms and mirrors of bathrooms; more powerful than the telephoto lenses that follow topless princesses along the beaches of the Riviera.
So what are these Jennifer Lawrence photos actually like?
Firstly they're fairly hard to find. Secondly they're not that explicit, nothing more shocking than you'll see in an episode of Game Of Thrones, for example. Thirdly they're very lo-fi and private. In one, she's sitting topless with a glass of red wine in front of a bookcase. In another, obviously taken in the changing room of a Zara (where she's trying on four items), she's just taking a selfie in her underwear. As images they're not very scandalous at all, not nowadays when we see nudity all the time. So why is everyone in uproar about Instagram censoring Rihanna's nipples and, conversely, also in uproar about Lawrence's body appearing on the 4chan message boards? Obviously because the photos have been stolen, but also because - I think - most of us want to see celebrity skin really. This is a story with an intoxicating mixture of righteous moral outrage and sordid titillation; that compound emotional high that powers our sidebars of shame.
This is also a story about hacking into photos stored in the cloud. As such it's another creepy extension of the male gaze, which can now see through the walls of hotel rooms and mirrors of bathrooms; more powerful than the telephoto lenses that follow topless princesses along the beaches of the Riviera, more intrusive than the drones that stalk terrorists through the mountain passes of Pakistan. Hacking and sharing are not always inherently bad - maybe the 4chan message boards where the photos first surfaced are depraved islands of sin, but the radical organisation Anonymous sprung out of them - but often they are used for bad deeds. There's very little privacy anywhere these days and we're all under surveillance one way or another.
It's this invasion of privacy that makes this scandal so voyeuristically compelling, it creates an aura of clandestine authenticity, of everyday closeness to a celebrity who's actually so distant from us. But maybe it also shows our desire for a return to the real: a curvy girl rather than a walking thigh-gap, without much make-up, shot with no retouching and no filter. The circumstances in which these photos were leaked were reprehensible, but the way in which their rawness has captured the whole world's attention suggests authenticity is more important than ever today.
Text Dean Kissick
Image courtesy Mingle MediaTV