What does celebrity surveillance mean for the rest of us?

25 Sep , 2014  | by:

The first celebrity photo hack has already received a great deal of attention, and the second hack has gotten only slightly less. Much has already been thoughtfully written about the first hack, the celebrity women exposed by the hack (forbes), and the legal, security, and privacy implications (Apple states no iCloud breach). Stefan might be poised to speak with the most authority about the legal defense of copyright, and I urge anyone curious about current research into Revenge Porn and copyright in the United States to check out the work of Levendowski on this topic (see here).

I think a lot of things I would have written, have already been said more eloquently than I might do here in this space, so I won’t attempt to add much to those conversations. What I will attempt to do is talk a little more about the celebrity aspect, and what that might suggest for the rest of us, particularly given what has happened to Emma Watson after delivering her excellent UN speech on the #heforshe campaign and feminism. Although it has since been revealed as a hoax, the threat to release nude photographs of Watson, in the same manner as the other celebrity photos, seemed to surprise no one. The idea that a woman who gave a speech about feminism, would be rewarded with such immediate misogyny certainly seemed depressingly possible. And just because it turned out to be a hoax, doesn’t mean that it didn’t overshadow the message she was attempting to convey.

People are perhaps less inclined to feel badly for celebrities when something like this happens, because they are of course already in a very privileged place. Yet as Hill points out, a lot of people have publicly expressed outrage on behalf of the exposed celebrities, and sympathized with their situation. And Hess of is careful to clarify that it was not just celebrities who were affected by the first hack.

“Jennifer Lawrence’s hacked photographs surfaced on AnonIB days before they exploded across the Web; hackers have set up camp there, advertising their abilities to download private photos from the iCloud accounts of a handful of female celebrities and thousands of women you’ve never heard of.”

The short blog length take-away here, is that what happens to celebrities does not happen in a vacuum. Yes okay maybe some do mostly exist in their own very expensive bubbles most of the time, but they are all still people, and it was quite frankly heartening to see how many people responded to the hack, and the fake countdown against Emma Watson, with empathy. Many of the discussions in the sorts of internet spaces I like to frequent at least, treated the celebrities affected as though they were people. Human beings even. And in this instance these human beings are women, who are living in a social context, and trying to exist, just like the rest of us. And as you might have guessed from your own lived experience, and as Lyon so helpfully explains, social contexts are not neutral spaces.  This lack of neutrality is important to remember when thinking about surveillance, and these events most definitely serve as horrifying examples of surveillance. Surveillance doesn’t happen in a context-free environment anymore than these pictures were yanked out of a context-free internet. Context abounds! And if it seems that it does not, and that it does not matter, then it might just be that you are not paying close enough attention.

It is not just celebrities who are being watched. It is not just celebrities who feel that they are being watched, particularly in this post NSA-creepin time we find ourselves living in. And it is not just celebrity women who feel violated, pissed off, and all around creeped out when they feel themselves reduced to targets of nude surveillance. They just happen to be the ones with the greatest media presence, who can provide an illustrative example of this beyond voyeuristic environment.

To wind things down with one more sad, I’ll end with Taylor Swift’s recent interview with Rolling Stone. In the interview she discussed her fear of being watched, even in her own home. This interview was given before the hack made headlines and Swift was not one of the women and girls affected. And yet…

“I don’t take my clothes off in pictures or anything – I’m very private about that. So it scares me how valuable it would be to get a video of me changing. It’s sad to have to look for cameras in dressing rooms and bathrooms. I don’t walk around naked with my windows open, because there’s a value on that.” (Rolling Stone Sept 8, 2014)

The interviewer seemed to find her fear almost adorably paranoid, but I think that unfortunately Swift has just been paying attention.



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