Friday, March 30, 2012

Sexting Ruins Lives?

No. Bullying ruins lives. Slut shaming ruins lives. Sexting makes people happy.

I just read this story about a 14-year-old girl whose PG (PG-13 at the worst) "sexting" pics were hacked and then used to essentially turn her into an internet pin-up. My comments follow.

Are alluring self-pictures of underage girls found on social media sites a "particularly gross genre" of internet erotica, as suggests? Well, the implication of stealing erotic pics from underage girls is gross in a sense, but the pictures themselves aren't a fraction as gross as MUCH of the perfectly legal and perfectly ethical hardcore pornography that can be found on the internet. Which is grosser: a pretty, smiling, teenage girl, or a dripping, gaping orifice? I'm not trying to downplay the issue of stealing photos here, just trying to establish the fact that alluring pictures of underage girls themselves are not intrinsically disgusting.

I'd like to also bring attention to a fact that is hard to ignore, but frequently brushed under the rug. It is not unnatural for men to be attracted to "13-year-old girls in bikinis", commonly referred to as "jailbait". In our modern "think of the children" alarmist mindset, where persons are increasingly viewed as being nonsexual until their 18th birthday (despite the worldwide average legal age of sexual consent being 16, and the worldwide average age of sexual maturity in girls being 12), this is at best an inconvenient truth. We have social customs that prohibit men from engaging particularly young girls in sexual activity, and there arguments for and against this. But one thing that can't be argued is that men are going to be drawn to these girls, whether they can do anything about it or not. That's why they're called "jailbait". The "jail" comes from the fact that they'll be punished if they act on it, but the "bait" indicates that these girls are desirable. If they weren't, they wouldn't be baiting anyone. (Incidentally, this also indicates quite clearly that we are not talking about pedophilia here! My god, is it not obvious that pedophiles are not attracted to teenagers with large breasts?). It's easy in this climate to thumb your nose at the phenomenon of "jailbait", and look down on any men who buy into it, but it's a fact of our natural existence, and it's not going to go away.

As far as this one girl's pics becoming popular, you can't really fault anyone for that. Hacking into her profile is a very clear violation of her privacy, and very clearly a crime. There's no question about that. The question is, how much can you blame the people who liked her pics, and are responsible for turning her into a minor internet celebrity? How many of them knew her pics were hacked? How many of them knew the specific damage it was doing to her life?

None of this, of course, is an excuse for the way this girl was treated. It seems obvious to me that there's a sort of culture of open sharing of material on the internet, where people's copyrights and privacy are largely ignored, if not outright violated. This is, at best, troubling. But it doesn't necessarily have to be apocalyptic. To all of us who are used to the old mode of dealing with privacy and intellectual property rights, it's hard to adjust to something different. But if that mode changes, it's not necessarily going to be the end of the world. Admittedly, my ideas on both privacy and IP rights are rather alternative, so maybe I'm having an easier time adapting than others. Even for me, the bottom line is that a person's wishes (i.e., consent) should not be violated - hence I consider the hacking of this girl's profile a crime and an unethical act. However, if and when that occurs, it doesn't need to be as traumatic an experience as we make it. We can't turn back the clock at this point - which is what the girl tried to do by working with the FBI to futilely try to "scrub" those pics after it was too late (talk about a waste of resources). What we can do is damage control.

And think of the damage that resulted from this fiasco. Namely, the attention this girl received, much of it negative. Let's take a look at a few examples and consider how we could have reduced the damage exacted on this girl's life by a little change in attitude, rather than telling her "that's what you get".

The girl allegedly told one website that she "felt like crap knowing [her] life was going down the drain." My question is, why was her life going down the drain? Because some perverts saw pics of her on the internet that were supposed to be private? I've showed alluring pics of myself to perverts on the internet, and my life hasn't been ruined. Granted, I meant for it to happen, and I was prepared to deal with the consequences. But why do we act in such a way that if this happens, people's lives get ruined? Why do we shame people as sluts if we see provocative photos of them, whether they were given freely or stolen? Like as if we don't get nasty in the bedroom sometimes, ourselves. Why do we treat people poorly if they're viewed as being sexually desirable, or having anything to do with their sexuality (like sending racy pics to their boyfriends, let alone posting them on the internet for strangers, which some other girls like to do)? And why do we assume that if somebody sees us in our underwear (let alone naked, or engaging in a sex act), that our lives are ruined? Why is our reputation dependent on our modesty, and our worth as human beings dependent on our sexual purity? Especially considering that we are first and foremost sexual organisms! I'd like to see a lot more sexual confidence in this world. Be proud of your sexuality and don't you dare let anyone else shame you for being that way.

"And Angie's pictures became fixtures on amateur porn sites—the first time she learned of her new fame was when her friend informed her that she was starring in a porn ad."

Obviously, if you're of the majority opinion that porn is bad or dirty, you're going to be self-conscious about people finding out about your involvement in porn - and that's even if that involvement is intentional. Imagine if somebody stole your pic and used it on some porn site against your will! Nevertheless, if you had the point of view that porn isn't all that bad, then it wouldn't be nearly as big a deal. And if the rest of us had that attitude, too, then there'd be much fewer of us ready to shame anyone who turns up on such a site. The problem here is that although porn is popular - that's why these images ended up there - we shame ourselves for liking it. We get ourselves stuck in this vicious cycle of being drawn to porn and then hating ourselves for it, lashing out against others who show any sign of lacking self-control (let alone taking pride in it). You know what the solution is? Honesty. Embracing the sexual side of your nature without shame. Learning that porn is not something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of!

(I was 18 in this picture)

I, for example, would be honored to turn up on a porn site. However, one thing that would concern me is if people were making money off of my image, without my consent. Therein is the next legal and ethical issue. There's nothing wrong with an alluring picture turning up on a porn site - that's called nature, honey. But I would be concerned about my picture being used in an ad - probably designed to draw in traffic, with the end goal of making some kind of profit - without any sort of monetary compensation, let alone, you know, being asked first, which is just plain nice. But again, it's not the sexual nature of the material that's the problem here - it's the abuse of consent, the use of one person's materials in ways that that person has not authorized. Don't pretend like sex has anything to do with making this into a problem.

"Unsurprisingly, she received rape threats and attracted stalkers."

Actually, this is a surprise to me. Stalkers I could understand, because there are just people like that out there. That's why it's important to use good sense when interacting online, and not to reveal more personal information about yourself than you have to. Of course, in this case, the hacker stole the pics from the girl, and attached her real name to them without her involvement. That's unfortunate. However, I also believe that in a more sexually tolerant society, where people didn't have to hide in the dark to air their sexual desires, we'd be more protected from abuses and stalkers, because we'd be better able to look out for each other, if we didn't feel so compelled to hide our sexual sides, and learned to distinguish the difference between abusive sexuality and normal sexuality - right now, so many of us can't tell the difference, and the line between them becomes blurred - both for the victim and the perpetrator.

Now as for rape threats, on the other hand, I'm not so sure. As an erotic model, I've had lots of exposure to the nature of exchanging sexual comments on the internet. People say stuff. They don't always mean it. Sometimes it's just dirty talk. People do things in fantasies that are much different than what they do in reality. I honestly believe that everyone (but especially people who are particularly sexually attractive) should take a mandatory course in how people express their sexualities. It would make us all a lot more experienced at dealing with sexual compliments and what many people misinterpret as "threats", as well as help us learn to deal with those threats better. If you're gonna be on the internet at all, you have to learn that some people are going to act like jerks. You need to learn how to ignore them, not whine about it.

"This April, a few blogs got the idea that it was Angie's 18th birthday and celebrated in the creepiest way possible"

Uh, actually, the given examples aren't especially creepy, with consideration to what I said above about ages of consent and sexual maturity, beyond the whole "making unsolicited sexual comments towards a person". Which is, itself, an issue of politeness, but I will reiterate, one should learn to expect rudeness on the internet - most of the time, it's not even as pointed or personal as it is when occurring in real life. There is a detachment involved, and though people use that as a reason to be more careful when interacting on the internet (not bad advice), it can also be used to distance one's self from the inevitable trash talk that people are GOING to engage in online. And I would also reiterate the part above about sexual compliments. Just because it's impolite, doesn't make it unusually creepy.

"Today, Angie continues to be haunted by the countless numbers of pictures, often passed around in huge .zip files of a hundred or more."

Why does this even bother her? I'm sure people pass around pictures of me everyday. They don't haunt me. I'm happy that I'm making other people happy. Of course, the crucial difference is that I got into this scene with intention, I wasn't forced into it with a victim mentality. But you're only as much a victim as you allow yourself to be. It's not like a bell goes off every time a picture passes hands, as a constant reminder of the continuing torture you're being put through. There's a period where you're not exposed to the internet, and a period where you are. Once you are, that's it. You still gotta deal with different people in your life finding out about it, but that's something you steel yourself for and then move on. The rest of the strangers - they don't make a difference.

"Rumors that she was a porn star forced her to drop out of high school,"

That's terrible, the fact that she had to drop out of high school for that. I don't blame her for it, but this is an indictment of the kids and/or adults in her school, not of her behavior (e.g., taking the pics in the first place). This is what bullying does to people. It ruins lives. Not the pictures. Pictures don't ruin lives. It's how we react to them. If a thousand perverts get their rocks off, the world is a happier place. It's when you start harassing a person for being viewed as a porn star (or what have you) that YOU are committing a crime and being a nuisance and ruining a person's life. If you shame this girl for having these pics, or for what happened to these pics beyond her control, YOU are contributing to the problem. I support this girl fully, and in spite of the angle of my arguments, I'm very sorry that this has happened to her. But the solution is not to focus on people's sexual appetites, but the shame that accompanies those appetites. It's not the appetite but the shame that destroys people. So stop being ashamed of your sexuality!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Photographer's Code

I hear a lot of holier-than-thou photographers blabber on self-righteously about the ethics of taking pictures in various contexts (and some of my favorite, highly-renowned photographers are guilty of this, too, though I still respect them otherwise). While it's true that one's dedication to art must be balanced with other concerns - as the unwaveringly honest photographer will undoubtedly end up either in stitches or in prison sooner or later - the photographer's code is incredibly simple:

Thou shalt never be ashamed to take a picture. The only shame a photographer should experience is when he sees a picture and fails to capture it, whether out of fear or laziness, or for any other reason.

Obviously, if you have to choose between taking a picture and preserving your life (if, for example, you were standing on the railroad tracks watching a train bearing down on you), you would probably want to save your life, as it's probably worth more to you than art. And I couldn't possibly criticize you for that.

However, criticizing a person for choosing art over other concerns (as opposed to merely disagreeing with their decision) betrays a fundamental lack of understanding and respect for art and the power it holds over our lives. You can call it antisocial if you like - I don't care - but I view social customs and legal restrictions as a frequent barrier to experiencing (and documenting) life in its truly natural, raw state.