There’s nothing original to say at this point, but that was also true within five minutes after the story broke. Most of the lessons are obvious.
1. It’s an awful, indefensible invasion of privacy. Everyone agrees with this.
2. Even though everyone agrees, many of us will look at the photos anyway, some lasciviously and some (me included) just to see what the online fuss is about. The marginal cost of each extra pair of eyeballs is basically zero once the photos are public, or so we tell ourselves to rationalize our curiosity. But Jessica Valenti is right: Each new viewer contributes, however marginally, to the violation.
3. It couldn’t have happened if the photos didn’t exist. This is the main point of contention in the aftermath: Aren’t you blaming the victims if you note that? I like Tim Carney’s reply:
for all those celebrities out there worried that their naked pics will be hacked and leaked, here’s a tip: don’t take naked pics
— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 1, 2014
I’m not sure that analogy is perfect — a better analogy would be protecting your car from theft by not buying a car at all, no? — but you take his point. Blaming the victim would mean believing that Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton somehow “had it coming,” or that their willingness to take nude photos should mitigate the hackers’ punishment. No one believes either of those things — I hope. The point here, simply, is that in an age of ubiquitous hacking, the only way to guarantee that nude photos of you don’t wind up online is not to create any. It’s sad that that’s true, but unless you have a plan to keep the world’s amoral computer geniuses from accessing the Internet, it’s a fact of life. And of course, all the finger-wagging this week about blaming the victim notwithstanding, it’s a lesson most celebrities will internalize going forward. The number of nude celebrity selfies taken over the next few weeks or months in Hollywood will be down by a solid 99 percent, I’d bet.
One way to emphasize that the victim is blameless in taking a nude selfie would be to tweak the law so that the more intimate a photo is, the sterner the punishment is for hacking it. Afford extra legal protection for sexual pics — which are the ones hackers want — and you signal that the state will go to extra deterrent lengths to protect your right to take those photos without intrusion. (Have at it, First Amendment lawyers.)
4. Public disgust at privacy violations waxes and wanes depending upon how beloved the target is. Right? I saw more than one comment on Twitter after the photos started circulating to the effect that it’d be hard to imagine a similar uproar if pics of Kim Kardashian had been hacked instead. The public respects Jennifer Lawrence much, much more than it does Kardashian for many reasons — her talent as an actress, her down-to-earth charm in interviews, and the fact that, the occasional magazine photo shoot aside, she doesn’t cultivate a hyper-sexual image. Sonny Bunch is right that there’s an impulse in American life to dehumanize celebrities, but that’s partly because many of them lend themselves to easy dehumanization. Lawrence doesn’t so the violation feels more acute. But if we’re being serious about privacy for the sake of privacy, we should be just as outraged at a Kardashian hack. If someone takes a photo they don’t want you to see, no matter how low your opinion of that someone, you have no right to see it — or rather, you shouldn’t. Reality, as usual, is more complicated.