A fascinating aspect of the recently stolen nude celebrity pictures is the dynamic between images released without consent and the fervor with which people consume them. Nude images that people willingly have created for mass viewing, either for free or for a price, are readily available online. So why are these specific celebrity pictures so enticing for so many? Does the illicit nature of being stolen and leaked add to their allure?
The Internet teems with pornography. You don’t have to look far to find it, and at times you can stumble on it without actually looking. The adult industry is large and lucrative, built on the idea of filling a niche for people. There’s a saying: If you can imagine it, there’s porn for it. Adult industry actresses and models know nudity is expected in their profession. There are abuses and coercive practices in the industry, but many performers choose to be part of it.
In contrast, the stolen pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and others were not intended for mass viewing. They gave consent for a limited audience to view the images—to a specific person or just for the celebrity’s own use. There is no debate over this: these photos were personal and private.
Opinions over this have ranged from putting onus on these women to have not taken the pictures at all all the way to calling this a sex crime. There’s also discussion over punishment for the hackers when they are caught. Less discussed is the faceless masses viewing and downloading these images and why they are seeking these specific images instead of more typical pornography.
When someone forces another person to have sex, it is rape. Unwanted touching is assault. Is there a difference when a screen sits in between the unwilling participant and the person acting without consent? Message boards, Facebook, Twitter, and chat rooms are full of people discussing these images. People are discussing these women’s bodies, their sexiness, and ability to arouse others. What they are not discussing is that by looking they take part in violating these women. Looking at the pictures isn’t stealing them, but it is looking at a woman’s body without her consent. It’s becoming an Internet peeping tom.
The sole issue here isn’t how to deal with hackers or whether to take pictures of your naked body. The discussion should also be about us as consumers. When something so intimate and personal is knowingly used against someone’s will, what does it say about those who partake in the breach of privacy?
Instead of pausing, realizing the implications of viewing material that is unethically and despicably obtained, and then deciding to not be a part of the problem, otherwise-rational people are being drawn in by lust and curiosity. This is the opposite of what should happen. People should look at how these images came into the public sphere (against the will of the people who made them) and refrain from using them for self-gratification.
Many actresses do decide to go naked on camera. Many actresses do not. People who did not choose to share their naked bodies with the public at large now have had that choice removed. If you seek out these images, you contribute to both the market for this material and the intrusive offense of taking a person’s most personal possession out of her control.
People losing autonomy over how they share their bodies is not a joke. It isn’t sexy. It also isn’t just pornography. Moral conundrums over the porn industry aside, porn is produced with the expectation that many people will view it. This photo dump lets anyone with the desire to step into private moments of people who did not choose to invite others in for a peek. Actions like this contribute to rape culture and blaming the victim instead of addressing how thieves and viewers of these pictures removes other people’s rights to privacy.
Consumption drives markets. Viewing these pictures encourages this to happen again. It’s wrong, and the choice should be clear: don’t look at nudes that weren’t intended for your eyes. Acting against another person is wrong, whether a screen is between you or not.