Unless you were working in a mine or imprisoned by ISIS you will have noticed something of a kerfuffle on the interwebs recently. Hackers acquired and distributed dozens of explicit images of A-list celebrities with the promise of hundreds more to follow. Those targeted include Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence and Downton Abbey actress Jessica Brown Findlay.
Privacy arguments aside for a moment, why should these register a flicker in consciousness of the internet where millions of far more explicit images and videos are disseminated and consumed daily? Why is Jennifer Lawrence’s unclothed form more highly prized than a nameless young woman of comparable attractiveness?
The answer goes to the heart of celebrity culture and and the way in which we treat and view these strangers we invite into our lives. For celebrities and their fans have a symbiotic relationship; the celebrities crave, nay need, the life sustaining attention of millions. Their livelihoods, and for some probably, their very sense of self is manifested in the fame. For the fans, reciprocity for their tithe of adulation comes in form of glimpses into the lives and lifestyles of their heroes and heroines. We’re allowed into their weddings, homes and their kid’s first photo shoot. It’s all clinically planned and controlled of course, but the perception the agents try to create is an intimacy between star and fan, a finely balanced connection which is just close enough for us to think we know the star, but far away enough to make them distinct, other, and in most cases, better.
This last part is important because it reflects our sado-masochistic fascination with seeing people who are prettier, richer, and more talented than us. We can’t get enough of being reminded how inferior we are. And when you create objects of desire and beauty, and combine it with a sense that you ‘know’ them, human nature makes it somewhat inevitable that you’re going to want to see them in a sexual light. Seeing leaked nudes of Kate Upton not only gives you yet another insight into the life of one of your betters, but on a baser level shows you the flesh of somebody your told to belive is the epitome of beauty and sexuality.
But there’s another catalyst for the nude celeb phenomenon, especially the leaked nude: As much as we praise and cheer our stars, we love nothing more than tearing them down and exposing their frailties. The British tabloids have made this a national sport, but it’s a hobby not confined to these shores. Women’s magazines in particular devote entire issues to analysing celebrities who’ve ‘piled on the pounds’ or have had a bad hair day. Celebrities looking bad is a bugger pull as celebrities looking good, and although a leaked nude may not necessarily be unflattering, it feeds that same urge for the ritual humiliation and embarrassment of our betters. It’s cathartic. We need it.
This is in no way meant to be a justification of what is theft and the worst kind of Peeping-Tomery (yes that is a word). The Cult of Celebrity doesn’t make these hacks and leaks okay, but it does make them, or at least their attempt, inevitable.