Need to Know: How Invading Celebrities’ Privacy Impacts Our Perspectives about Them

September 02, 2014 / by / 17 Comments

Our culture’s fascination with celebrities is as divisive and mind-boggling as the images at the center of this current celebrity hacking scandal.

On the one hand, our primary method of engaging with celebrities — including the victims of this crime — is to vicariously devour every scrap of information about them available to us. It’s this insatiable desire of ours to know everything about the physical and personal lives of celebrities that keeps the Buzzfeed mill of Jennifer Lawrence gifs and the GQ industry built around Kate Upton images running. But on the other hand, our ravenous hunger for more and more packets of information or images to consume is maintained in large part by the aura of mystery constructed around these celebrities. The promise that there’s always something we haven’t seen yet — one new twist in Ariana Grande’s relationship status, at least some part of Kate Upton’s flesh we haven’t seen in high definition — keeps us hungry for more.

Before this scandal, there was always a line in the sand. We consumed what these celebrities consensually provided for us, in interviews or magazine spreads, but for the most part we avoided actively violating the fortified zone of privacy surrounding these women (and Justin Verlander’s butt). But this weekend we (and by “we” I mean anybody who viewed those images, myself included) crossed that line. And there’s no real going back.

Those images can’t be forgotten, nor can the victims reclaim those private pieces of themselves or their sense of security from before the incident. The logical conclusion of our insane desire to devour and leer at these women led us to commit a moral and legal crime.

But you know what? For better or worse, things aren’t going to change, at least any time soon.

Our hunger for every last detail about celebrities isn’t going to abate. Nor will we stop being peddled these images and their adjoining suggestion of even more details not yet known to us by blogs and magazines and all the other American entertainment institutions. It’s just too profitable, and we’re too terrible, and the Internet is too large, and beautiful people are too good at selling things. And so on and so forth.

But if there’s a silver lining to this whole shitshow, I think it’s that we’re also no closer to truly knowing Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton or anybody else in this scandal than we were last Friday. They’re still just as inscrutable and hidden from us — the only difference now is that we know what they look like with marginally less clothing and less makeup on. No nude photo is going to let us actually get to know a celebrity better, know what they’re like as a person, know what their dreams and disappointments are or know about the myriad of things that we only reveal to the people who understand us best and not to the people who blankly stare at pixelated reproductions of us.

So maybe it’s also reassuring that our true privacy, who we actually are as a person, is still protected. Because what we reveal to those who know and love us best can’t ever be stolen off of the cloud, since we never put it there in the first place.

Then again, if we share every little thing we do on social media, what becomes the more authoritative version of ourselves: our memory of the experience, or the digital life of that photograph?