Hacked Photos and Conservatives

2014-11-07 FTND JLaw

Compromise and innovative solutions are both more likely when a problem is seen as important but not intrinsically partisan. Unfortunately, Democrats have decided to try and turn women’s issues into a partisan issue by declaring a Republican “war on women,” and an overwhelmingly liberal media has been complicit in legitimizing this narrative. I’m not going to commit the same mistake in reverse: I understand that many social liberals (1) care deeply about these issues and (2) have perspectives and ideas that can be part of a common-ground, consensus-building approach.

Instead, let’s look at how a socially conservative voice reacted to the hacked photo scandal. I’m using the word “scandal” intentionally because there is a scandal, and the scandal was the fact that so many people went out and looked for nude photos of Hollywood stars that had been illegally and immorally stolen from their private phones. Fight the New Drug–the anti-porn site I’ve cited frequently before–was clear on this point from the very start:

Note that we don’t use the word “leaked photos” in this post. That’s because the term “leaked” is a soft, misleading word that implies that these photos somehow found their way onto the internet by the celebrity or someone close to them. Not the truth. These photos were illegally hacked and stolen, unknowingly to those violated.

The post goes on to directly address those who “are judgmental and [say] that if the women hadn’t taken these photos in the first place, that they wouldn’t be in this position.” A lot of people took this position, and I think there was an unspoken perception that it was predominantly conservatives who would leap to blaming the victims. But FTND–a very conservative group–demonstrates that victim blaming isn’t a partisan issue, or at least that it need not be one.

The story got a little more interesting after Vanity Fair released an interview with Jennifer Lawrence.[ref]She was one of the stars who was victimized by the attack[/ref] In the article, Lawrence wrote–probably in an offhand way–that “either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” That was the line that prompted the open letter response from Fight The New Drug. The letter starts by emphasizing again that Lawrence bore no guilt whatsoever for the hacking of her phone[ref]I realize it’s obvious when you write it like that, but apparently not everyone grasps the obviousness.[/ref] The letter then goes on:

We’re sorry that society has been “pornified” and that we are living in a culture that thinks that hacked and stolen photos of naked people are something to seek out, cheer for, laugh about, and spread around. With a society that thinks a woman is only as good as her body, it’s easy to see why you would feel like your boyfriend would turn to porn even when dating a talented and beautiful woman like yourself.

Think about this question, Jennifer. Should any person ever have to feel that they need to give their partner something because if they don’t then their partner will turn away and get it from someone else?

That’s a pretty damn good question, if you ask me. And I think the point it raises is a very important one, and one that conservatives are perhaps uniquely able to draw attention to. As Lawrence told Vanity Fair, she had people she knew personally who looked at the pictures online. To me, that is one of the most disturbing details of the entire story. We’ve reached a point as a society where our appetite for voyeuristic photos has reached a point where even people who personally know the victim of this “sex crime”[ref]Lawrence’s own words.[/ref] apparently see nothing wrong with participating themselves.

On the other hand, however, that incredible moral blindness does have a kind of twisted logic to it. Lawrence framed the central problem with the theft as being one of violated consent:

It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.

She’s absolutely right that no one has any right whatsoever to look at sexual photos that are stolen. But what about the implied other side of that coin: do we really have a moral right to look at sexual photos that aren’t stolen? I don’t think that we do. I think that it’s a horrible myth to believe that, just because a woman gives consent to have sexual photos taken and publicized, that she is somehow empowered. There is an intrinsic violation in using the image of another human as a means of sexual gratification. Sexual imagery is always dehumanizing, not just when the photos are stolen.

No one has any excuse to look at the stolen photos of Lawrence (or the other stars), but I–along with FTND–question whether any one should be looking at sexually explicit photos of any kind. Once you accept that pornography is OK, the moral blindness sets in. Once you are living in a paradigm where it is acceptable and routine to treat human beings as means to ends and that it is OK to sexually objectify anyone, you’re already starting down a slippery slope. And, as we’ve learned, no matter how much consent should matter it is reduced to little more than a speed bump in that paradigm.

6 thoughts on “Hacked Photos and Conservatives”

  1. Jennifer Lawrence’s probably offhand “look at porn or . . . look at you” phrasing gives you and FTND an easy riposte by suggesting a third “none at all option”. However much I agree (with the third option), that’s too easy a reply.

    Phrasing aside, Lawrence suggests an issue of importance, and I suggest it’s worth attention. The argument being that within a relationship (define however you will — ‘marriage’, ‘living together’, ‘boyfriend’) there is a greater degree of familiarity, including physical contact and visual imagery, than outside the relationship. For some people in some relationships that includes explicit photographs. For everybody in every relationship there is a risk of stolen images. The paparazzi are everywhere, and any one of us might ‘enjoy’ our 15 minutes of celebrity at any time, even at the worst possible time.

    Unless you are ready to take the absolute position that sexual imagery is morally wrong between any two persons in any kind of relationship (lights out in the bedroom?), you start down a more difficult path of line drawing with respect to sexual imagery that will in fact exist no matter what you think of or moralize about pornography. To my hearing, Lawrence–who is a celebrity, and who’s business is, in a sense, selling her image (although not sexually explicit images, so far as I know or want to know)–is addressing this question. I suggest that it is an important and non-trivial exercise.

  2. Chris-

    I think you’re missing the thrust of FTND’s reply to Lawrence and also of my post. Let me just reiterated that when the news broke, FTND defended Lawrence and said that she had done nothing wrong. So there’s no criticism from FTND of people using explicit pictures within the context of a relationship. Nor is there any criticism from me. I think that people shouldn’t be used as means to ends–including pornography–but that logic doesn’t apply to people who are actually in a relationship with each other. Nothing I’ve said implies that we shouldn’t have sexually explicit photos at all. Just that we have a moral obligation not to satisfy our lusts using sexually explicit photos of strangers.

    I think this boundary is pretty clear.

  3. Nathaniel: It seems to me that “sexual imagery is always dehumanizing” implies that we shouldn’t have sexually explicit photos at all.

    I think I understand (and agree with) what I think you intend to say. But you are simplifying to make a point, and I (and Jennifer Lawrence, I believe) are suggesting that sexual imagery has time and place and circumstance characteristics, and broad brush “never” and “always” statements are not going to tell the whole story.

  4. Chris-

    It seems to me that “sexual imagery is always dehumanizing” implies that we shouldn’t have sexually explicit photos at all.

    I can see where you’re coming from on that interpretation, but what I was getting at was that sexual imagery outside of a relationship is always dehumanizing.

    I (and Jennifer Lawrence, I believe) are suggesting that sexual imagery has time and place and circumstance characteristics

    I won’t argue that sexual imagery never has a place, (1) see above and (2) because “sexual imagery” is a much broader category than pornography. But I do think that Lawrence’s quote is problematic in that it assumes a simple either/or: either you give your boyfriend nude pics or he looks at porn. As far as that (1) accepts porn as inevitable and (2) implies that nude photos are just a preventative measure to keep your bf from looking at porn rather than someone the other partner also wants to do, it’s a problem. And I think FTND is right to point that out. Rather than acquiesce to the near-universality of porn, I think it should be questioned.

  5. This seems like an uncharitable reading. If Lawrence is saying that nudes of your partner aren’t porn, and that you can avoid the use of porn by offering nudes, that’s not an acceptance of the inevitability of porn, it’s a specific strategy for making it evitable. That doesn’t seem to me to suggest that the only value of nudes is to prevent porn use, so both your (1) and (2) seem to be unfounded.

    I get the opposition to porn. I think the analogy to indentured servitude has power; that there are some rights which we cannot have the option to sell, for to have that option leaves us paradoxically less free than if we lack it. So I don’t think there’s a problem with your principle, though the facts about freedom seem to me to be an open question. What I don’t get is that Lawrence seems to be an ally in the fight against porn, so I’d have expected a sympathetic reading of her position. Long distance relationships put enough strain on our self-control that she might legitimately think that the least bad plausible options are porn or nudes of her (because foregoing both would unacceptably raise the temptation of infidelity). The view that our standards ought to involve doing nothing bad is noble, but managing our risks of failing that standard doesn’t seem necessarily opposed to it.

  6. Kelsey-

    I still think that my reading (shared with Fight The New Drug) is the more reasonable interpretation given the role of porn in the US these days. Random tidbit: Firefox updated itself on my computer a day or two ago. It wanted to show me the new features. Well, the new feature. There was only one: the ability to “forget” the last 15 minutes, 30 minutes (etc) of your browser history. Like Chrome’s Incognito mode, the conversation is all about privacy, but it’s an open secret that these are just features for covering your tracks after you look for porn on a shared computer. Period. We’re at a point where one of the most fundamental technologies that defines our modern world (the Internet) exists in no small part as a porn delivery mechanism. So, I just think it’s more likely that Lawrence was simply accepting the ubiquity of porn as a normal thing.

    But it’s not open-and-shut. Your reading is legitimate, too. I’m just not persuaded that it is the most likely.

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