Unless you’ve been living under a particularly large rock for the last 7 or 8 years, you’ve probably heard of a Canadian popstar named Justin Bieber. And, unless you’ve been living under an even bigger rock, you’ll know that nude pictures of him were recently leaked online.
The interesting thing to take note of is the internet’s reaction to this leak, especially when compared to other leaks of recent years.
First off, even though Bieber’s reputation amongst non-fans isn’t the most sparkling, he still deserves to have his privacy. Paparazzi taking unflattering photos of celebrities is nothing new but it still happens and it still divides opinion. It doesn’t matter how minor or major the celebrity, a scandalous picture is always good business, whether it be a nude or simply a compromising situation. When it comes to the world of money and celebrity, indiscretions are priceless.
A lot of the time, it seems sympathy levels are often directly linked to how well liked the celebrity is in the public eye. For someone like Bieber, seen by many as a spoilt, arrogant child, the response to any scandal was always going to be reported with something of an agenda. For every wave of sympathetic head bobs; a tsunami of judging eyes and understanding snarls.
Even the news sites reporting on the leak of Bieber’s photos couldn’t help but have a cheeky dig, referring to him as a ‘brat’ and telling with undisguised glee how ‘hilariously’ Twitter had reacted.
Of course, the news was so huge that it’s almost impossible to trawl through every site that reported it, but the general reaction seems to run the gamut of emotion, from indifference through to absolute glee.
But there was something that struck me as I was on the outskirts of this particular ‘breaking’ of the internet – wasn’t the reaction a little different to the way we react to leaks of female celebrities?
I think initially it’s important to note that there can be a marked difference in how these pictures make it into the public sphere. It’s easier to judge Bieber, for example, as he was walking naked outside. It’s easier to judge Bieber than, say, Jennifer Lawrence, whose nudes were stolen from her mobile phone before being leaked, something she later called a sex crime. It’s easier to judge Bieber because he put himself in a position that made it easier for unscrupulous photographers to snap him unaware. However, the fact it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s right to judge Bieber for that, in the same way it’s not right to judge Lawrence for having her phone hacked. The fact it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s right to publish videos weighing up the pros and cons of looking at the photos, especially when your stance on leaked female photos was so very different.
The mass leak of female celeb nudes is not comparable. The leak of nude photos of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry are comparable. While the end result is the same, nude photos of famous people, the reaction was markedly different. Prince Harry’s photos leaked first. Despite some public backlash, to the tune of more than 3000 people, The Sun newspaper faced no reprimand as there had been no official complaint from the palace. Apparently, the invasion of privacy is not an act worthy of reprimand in and of itself.
Then, Kate’s nudes leaked and, possibly as a way of saving face after the backlash at Harry’s pictures, The Sun, the very same paper, decided to publicly make a spectacle of not publishing those pictures.
Did they learn a lesson from the reaction to Harry’s photos? Do we simply expect men to front up and take it on the chin? Let’s not pretend that the whole world was accepting of the Harry leak and outraged at the Kate leak, but the latter seemed to receive more negative attention. Both put themselves in a position of compromise, both put themselves in a position where they were not in complete control, yet Harry’s pictures didn’t garner the same criticism that Kate’s did.
In much the same way, the male body seems to be a much more acceptable thing to discuss in the media, especially when referring to scandal. Of course, that’s not to say that women escape completely without criticism, but there are any number of public campaigns to try and end the discussion of women’s bodies on television; Lawrence herself once suggesting we should outlaw the word ‘fat’. When it comes to men’s bodies, we seem much more at ease to discuss them. Whether it’s congratulating a woman for mutilating a cheating partner, congratulating a woman for mutilating a non-cheating partner (and not losing her job in the process), celebrating the pain men go through when hit in the balls, shaming men for something they have no control over, equating a man’s penis size to his personality, shaming a man for daring to have a sexual preference, evaluating a man’s performance on national television (even if that man is your son), charging a man with a stupid crime while not charging a woman, ranking men on a television show and then humiliating a man for something he has no control over, or simply accepting a man’s apology for something that isn’t his fault; we seem to be okay with public discourse around the male body, regardless of whether that body belongs to a celebrity or not.
The thing that the leak of Bieber’s, and numerous others’, pictures has revealed is that, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all curious when it comes to the nude celebrity. Regardless of how publicly indifferent we act, there’s a spark inside us, no matter how faint, that wants to catch a glimpse of the leaked photo. Not necessarily for anything sexual, sometimes it’s just to see how you personally compare. We all have insecurities and doubts, we’re all plagued by thoughts that we aren’t good enough. By seeing a picture of a naked celebrity it allows us to compare ourselves on a perceived level playing field. If we can just get one fleeting sense of superiority over a celebrity then it makes us feel better about ourselves, even if it’s a pyrrhic victory in the grand scheme of things.
Let’s get this straight – celebrity photo leaks are immoral. They cross boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, invade privacy that should be left intact and expose a rather seedy infatuation with the bodies of people we only see through television screens and newspaper columns. However, there must be an audience for them as they keep happening.
So, in the wake of the gleeful reaction to Justin Bieber’s leaked photos, is there a difference in the way we approach male and female nudity? Is there a difference in the way we react to the nude body depending on what sex it is? Do we feel it more acceptable to judge men’s bodies in a public forum in a way that is becoming more and more unacceptable when referring to women’s bodies?
Do we expect male celebrities to handle this sort of scenario better than female celebrities? Does it play into perceived stereotypes of masculinity, the thinking that male celebrities will simply ‘man up’ and take the abuse? Is it simply a lack of compassion towards men’s feelings that we see it as acceptable, and in some cases warranted, to be able to discuss their bodies when they’ve been shared with us in such unscrupulous ways? Is it simply my perception that the bodies of male celebrities seem more open to discussion than those of female celebrities? I guess that’s up to you to answer.
I guess another, more primitive, question to consider is as difficult to answer as it is easy to ask – why is the nude body, both male and female, still such a maelstrom of opinion and controversy?