If you’re going to sunbathe topless within 600 metres of a public road, and you’re an attractive young woman married to an heir to the throne it’s not a surprise the images find their way to glossy magazines and tabloids across the globe.
Scandalous? Certainly. Distasteful? Definitely. Predictable? Sadly. Wrong? Probably.
‘Only probably?!’ I hear you cry, and my response would be it depends on what you mean by wrong. Because as I’ve thought and reflected on this issue which has surged up the news agenda and prompted legions of sexually excited men to turn to google images while shaking their heads in disgust at such a gross invasion of privacy, I’ve wondered at why we think it is wrong. And where I’ve ended up is that within the parameters of what we as a society allow and deem acceptable it is hard to logically oppose the publication of the pictures.
That doesn’t mean I think they should have been published. They certainly should not. But the question that’s been playing over in my mind is why should they not have been published? It means we have to reach back and think about what we have already granted license to and whether we should reassess those permissions. I’d be fascinated to hear what you think, and why you think it, and then what we can do to address this. I’ve been playing the ethics and logic of all this over in my mind for the past few days, and it also relates to a new campaign encouraging the Sun to stop putting topless women on page 3.
The photos clearly represent an invasion of the royal couple’s privacy, but other photos from the same location showing the Duchess in a bikini have been published and the news outlets are not subject to the legal action directed at Closer in France and Chi in Italy. Like the topless photos they were taken from the roadside with a telescopic lens. If one set of photos are allowed, or at least tolerated, in the public domain, then why not the others? The issue here is therefore not primarily one of privacy, although that is the legal avenue being pursued to prevent their further publication.
What drives the attention is that the photos are of the Duchess of Cambridge topless. A statement of the obvious if ever there was one.
But topless pictures grace the pages of the UK’s most popular paper everyday. And even those that pour scorn on the endless sexualisation of children plaster the sidebar with image after image of girls in skimpy bikinis, extolling the latest diets of celebrities, or their failures to shed pounds after giving birth.
These pictures fall into two categories, one directly relevant to the most recent scandal, and the other indicative of our cultural attitude. The first is pictures similar in type and origin to those of Kate in Provence, celebrities spotted in private locations snapped with long lenses in positions or states of undress they might hope would remain private. If the photos of the Duchess of Cambridge should not have been printed, then nor should these. While it is undoubtedly more newsworthy that the subject is a future queen, this should not entitle her to any greater protection. This is why the scorn of the British tabloid press, including the Sun which reportedly turned the photos down, rings somewhat hollow. If they empathise with the pain that William and Kate are feeling, do they consider others printed in the 3am column unworthy of empathy?
The second issue is that papers, most notably again the Sun but other papers print far worse, make nudity a key aspect of their sales strategy. Topless Page 3 models grace the inside leaf of the paper each morning (I don’t think at the weekends) in what has become a tolerated and mainstream acceptance of nudity and the commodification of the female form. This is significantly different than the paparazzi shots that breach privacy without any imaginable public interest defence. In these cases the subjects have chosen to be photographed, it is the publishers would argue, a consensual relationship for both the reader and the pictured girls.
To conclude my analysis of the logic before moving on to some further comment, if the paparazzi photos are of the same level of nudity as others that are accepted, and other photos taken in the same manner but not of the Duchess of Cambridge topless are tolerated, then it is hard to see how we can argue the photos should not be printed.
As I said above, I do not think they should be published, but I think the logical inconsistency we are seeing shows why we need to take a step back and consider both privacy and the acceptance of nudity and the sexual form in our culture. Privacy is a matter for another day, but as Mitt Romney has learnt if you are in the public eye perhaps you have to assume virtually anything you ever do can some how be captured, recorded and publicised.
On nudity and sexualisation I’m also not out to be a prude. This post over at prodigal today about relevance and innocence is certainly food for thought. And in response to the current campaign for the Sun to stop putting topless girls on page 3 one Telegraph blogger took out his annoyance on the snobs trying to stop the working man enjoy the view.
I don’t think we can sustain a shocked posture in response to the pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge if we are party to the parading of women for our viewing pleasure and to sate our sexual appetite.
If the naked form is normal why are we shocked by its unveiling?
Because there is something special about who and what we are, that is not to be trivialised or given at any whim. In the film Anna Karenina Constance Levin says: “An impure love is not love, to admire an other man’s wife is a pleasant thing, but sensual desire indulged for its own sake is greed and a misuse of something sacred. It is given to us so that we may choose the one person with whom to fulfil our humanness.”
In an era when the naked form is more available than ever before it is curious that trips to the beaches of Europe do not bring the same quantity of topless sunbathers as it might have a decade before. Maybe we are slowly discovering that the beauty of the human form becomes devalued the more available it becomes. And yet the more we see, the more that we find we want, even though it does not bring us the satisfaction which we thought it might.
Page 3 does not belong. It’s not about being a prude, it’s about wanting sexuality to take its proper place. Sign the petition, encourage everyone you know to as well.
If we cannot stop photographers with telescopic lenses prying into private holiday villas, or mobile cameras lurking in every shirt pocket, maybe we can lessen the normality and the acceptance of naked women as a form of news.