Privacy. It is an outdated, foreign word. It smacks of a bygone age. It is, at best, a sign that no one is paying attention. If you can go outdoors wearing anything you like, bad news: You are not a celebrity.
There’s been a tremendous flurry of late about Topless Photos of Kate Middleton. Poor Kate, ever-classy, tireless wearer of tasteful ensembles and well-chosen hats. Relaxing at a French villa out of the public eye, she dared to Be Outdoors, Even for A Moment, While Topless — and someone managed to snap a picture of her from a great distance and sell it to a tabloid. Now the pictures are on the Internet, which is to say that they will exist forever, uneraseable until the Earth is swallowed by the sun or is struck by a well-aimed meteor (a solution the queen contemplated briefly then discarded.)
This may or may not be legal. Is it right?
I found myself tussling over this with my weekly chatters.
There are three main areas of disagreement.
1) Did Kate have a reasonable expectation of privacy?
2) Did Kate sign up for this when she chose to join the royal family?
3) Does anyone deserve this?
You can map most arguments along these axes, and a range of them have merit.
There are two main lines of thinking on the question of privacy.
The first is that yes, Kate did have a reasonable expectation of privacy, because she was — as the French court ruling on the publication of the photos by the tabloid Closer put it — “on the terrace of a private home, surrounded by a park several hundred meters from a public road, and being able to legitimately assume that they are protected from passers-by.”
The second is, no, of course not. Didn’t we agree as a society that no one had any privacy any longer? There is no such thing as In Private. Look what happened to Mitt Romney. If you want to say some off-the-record remarks to donors, the only way to do so is to erase the donors’ memories afterwards — and confiscate their phones. (A variant of this argument implies darkly that any woman who ever exits the house without being entirely covered deserves whatever is coming to her. In fact, how dare she make her Womanly Parts visible to anyone, even her husband? Shame, shame. But the less this is dwelt on, the better.)
The question of How Much She Signed Up For is complicated. Generally people are in agreement that Kate Had To Know What She Was Getting Into. She is a grown woman who understood the kind of blinding glare associated with joining the Royal Family. And for the most part she has handled it remarkably well, with no incidents of strip pool or even (gasp!) ill-proportioned hats. But did she realize that the public scrutiny she’s handled so well (what are you wearing? Is that skirt long enough? Where’s Pippa?) would extend to the extinction of all private moments? Does anyone really get into this thinking, “All right, I’ll never sunbathe in private again?”
People who ask for the keys to glass houses should be clothed at all times. There is nowhere you can hide inside the fish bowl.
But the third question is another story.
There is a special category of Innocent Celebrities to which Kate does not quite belong: the celebrity children and Royals and people who otherwise Did Not Ask For This. If you never signed off on this, how can you possibly deserve it?
But what about the people who do ask for it, the celebrities who are eager to be documented constantly, the reality TV stars whose likenesses blanket our magazines? Have they any right to complain about the omnipresent telephoto lenses? You wanted fame, after all. That is what everyone wants. Most of us have privacy only because no one has ever offered us fame. This is the same reason most of us have never embezzled millions of dollars and do not carry on torrid affairs with Michael Fassbender. If only someone would offer! Fame? Privacy? You pays your money and you takes your choice.
But privacy is like an umbrella: You want it only after the rain starts. And by then it is too late.
And can we disclaim all responsibility in this?
We wish it were their fault. We like to blame celebrities, to say that this was what they wanted. But do they want to be seen more than we want to see? You probably only clicked on this because of the headline. Even if you agree that all this is wrong. Even if you think that what the photographer did was awful and possibly illegal.
Here’s a link to the pictures. I wish I thought you wouldn’t click on it.