07/ 10/ 2014

What Jennifer Lawrence’s Nude Photos Teach Us About…Everything

I have problems on many levels with the way this whole so-called scandal over Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos has played out. (Even made a video on the subject.) The issue has resurfaced in her cover story in Vanity Fair, in which she calls this a sex crime and talks about her quest to bring the perpetrators to justice.

First of all, this needs to be said: I feel for her, I really do, because privacy breaches are always mortifying. I wouldn’t want it to happen to me, or to any of my loved ones, and I do not think she deserves it because she is a celebrity and in the public eye. I understand why she’s upset.

But, there is a but. Several, actually.

1. There is fundamental ignorance about what the Internet is. Jennifer Lawrence is devoting so much of her rage to the fact that her privacy was violated, but who’s fault is that, really? Any personal information that you have on a machine connected to the great many servers that make up the World Wide Web is ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB. Yes, companies that host your e-mail, your chats (or whatever service you’re using to send or store your photos online) build their products with the intent to keep private information private. But that does not change the fact that your information is physically in a server that is connected to the rest of the world.

Basically, that means that allowing your naked photos to be copied onto any of these servers is like standing naked in the middle of Times Square with a barrier around you. That barrier can be really strong, or just a thin curtain–but either way, YOUR ARE NAKED IN TIMES SQUARE. And there is always a chance someone can find a way to peak into your personal space within that barrier, or to knock that barrier down. And they can do so even if it’s not nice, fair or legal.

The person who knocks that barrier down is probably an asshole, and in the case of the hacked celebrity photos, should be prosecuted for all his/her/their crimes. But the world is full of assholes and criminals, and that doesn’t change the fact that YOU are the asshole who chose to stand naked in the middle of Times Square. Consider this, too: if some asshole knocks down your barrier, can you REALLY be mad at all the people walking by for looking at you?

IMO, if they haven’t added this very basic information to elementary text books already, they should. People need to understand what is actually happening to their information whenever they e-mail, Snapchat, Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, etc. to someone. People need to know both their legal rights AND the inherent risk of Internet leaks regardless of whether legal rights exist.

2. What is the big deal here, really? Some photos that were meant to be shown only to one person were shown to the whole world. That sucks. But it’s not like we caught her torturing baby seals or found out that she’s dating a married man. Why is it such big news that a girl sent some nude photos to her long-distance boyfriend?

News should be new, surprising, enlightening, or informative. Jennifer Lawrence’s nudity was none of those things, unless you’re a 13-year-old boy. She isn’t the first, and won’t be the last person to snap sexy photos of themselves. It’s 2014, people, everyone does it. If they say they don’t, they’re lying.

What this really shows is that, as a society, we really need to question our priorities. Why are we still acting like our prudish Puritan ancestors and going nuts over the sight of a naked body? Is it really shocking in this day and age that a young, beautiful single woman is sexually active? Why would a simple biological fact like that be shameful for anyone?

3. The information age may be the age of forced transparency. Before the Internet, it was a lot easier for anyone to keep separate lives–work vs. personal, this group of friends vs. that group of friends, spouse vs. side piece, you name it. But with more information about us accessible on the Web, it is harder to keep those different personas going simultaneously.

This translates to people having to be more genuine. You can’t easily get away with being two-faced anymore. Are you an icy, put-together professional by day and a binge-drinking frat boy by night? Are you a sincere, caring friend one minute and a gossip monger the next? It’s not that easy to pull that double life off anymore, which may be bad news to some people.

Personally, I’ve struggled with balancing work vs. personal, but at the end of the day I’ve had to adjust to a more transparent lifestyle and I think it’s made me a better person. Whenever I do something now, I think it through first–I may intend for something to be private, but if someone ever found out about it, could I stand by my own actions? If the answer is no, then I probably should rethink what I’m doing and whether it is worth it.

4. The good news for consumers is, forced transparency applies to brands, too. If its harder for regular people like you and I to misrepresent ourselves, it’s even harder for brands, including famous people.

Though it’s more personal, the fact is that celebrities are their own brands. And what the Internet has shown us over the past couple of decades is that everything we thought celebrities were was a constructed image, much like the image of Nike, Toyota or Fisher Price. A faster flow of information=more gossip=less control over branding, which results in things like the exposure of Tom Cruise being nothing like any of us thought he was for most of his career. And, thanks to social media, we now know how dumb some of our favorite celebrities are. And don’t get me started on the train wreck that is Justin Bieber. We have a front-row seat to the truth.

Jennifer Lawrence is no exception. Her brand value doesn’t come only from her role as the star of Hunger Games, it also comes from a persona her publicists and managers have built around her.

I’m not arguing that she asked to be in the public eye and therefore deserves to have her goodies out in the open. I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again–on a personal level, that just sucks. But in respect to the shame or worry she feels that her career will be affected because people have discovered that she is that kind of girl, she gets no sympathy from me. If she is THAT kind of girl, but wants her father and everyone else to believe she is an angelic virgin who would never do something like that (a.k.a. lie), that’s not really our problem.

Moral of the story for Jennifer Lawrence and everyone else: Be real, people. Go into everything you do with both eyes open, it’ll make for fewer unpleasant surprises. If you sincerely love who you are and feel you have a right to be doing what you’re doing, never feel like you need to apologize or be ashamed of it, even if the wrong person/people hear about it.

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I'm a 30-something multimedia creator from New York. I do videos on Youtube centered on open discussion and co-mentorship. Once a month, I host a Q&A with inspiring people from entrepreneurs to athletes and more on The itsme Podcast. Be warned: I can be opinionated. But it's all love! Please follow and subscribe, it would mean a lot! :)

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