The hacking of Jennifer Lawrence's phone, and the leaking of her private photos, was a criminal action – and much of the subsequent reaction was downright nasty.
Too often people try to reduce complex issues down to black and white terms. Are you for or against? It’s either right or wrong! Whose side are you on? Make up your mind...
I always try to take the time to see things from the other perspective. Put yourself in the shoes of those you are instinctively likely to be arguing against and you start to see the world in a different kind of light. How you interpret things depends on your vantage point. Getting down off your high horse is usually a good idea, because things are less distorted viewed at ground level. You start to realise that there are shades of grey involved. Or different colours and hues. Issues are seldom as simple as they might seem at first glance.
But there are times too, when a period of reflection leads only back to the feeling that your first instinct was absolutely right all along; when you know that people have been guilty of doing something that is fundamentally reprehensible; and when you see also that it has brought out the worst in the mob, who are now spewing out their ignorance via any public platform that will accommodate them.
There is a lot of that nowadays. It used to be just on radio phone-ins that you’d get to hear deeply twisted people saying appallingly stupid and prejudiced things, and not a bother on them. Now, that breed of ignorance has found a new platform on social media and it has started to seem like an epidemic, as every troglodyte on the planet opens a Twitter account or holds forth ad nauseam on Facebook. It is hard to believe at times that people are so full of hate and nastiness – but the words are there on the screen. And there is no getting away from them: almost every time we turn on the computer, there is a fresh opportunity to witness humanity at its worst in action.
Alright, at its worst is a bit of an exaggeration. Hate speech is not as bad as chopping off the head of an innocent aid worker in Syria, making a video of it and displaying it proudly to the world; or as sending in the drones to murder innocent victims as well as intended targets, as the U.S. army blithely do in whichever of the world's trouble spots takes their fancy. But the bile and the unpleasantness which seems to trip so lightly off the tongues of so many online is enough to make even a hardened stoic wince.
It is a sad commentary on the utter poverty of many men’s view of the world that so much of their brute behaviour in this arena is directed against women. The online response to the miserably sneaky and thoroughly dishonourable theft of private pictures sent by the actress Jennifer Lawrence to her boyfriend is a case in point.
Let’s be clear about this much for a start: there was nothing whatsoever wrong with what Jennifer Lawrence did. She was in a relationship with the actor Nicholas Hoult. They were on either side of the Atlantic and she was feeling horny. In the context, as a substitute for having sex, she sent him erotic pictures of herself. It was, you could say, a very noble gesture.
As a private citizen, she is perfectly entitled to take sexually explicit pictures of herself and to send them to her boyfriend by whatever means might be available to her, carrier pigeon included. I didn’t look at the pictures so I have no idea what they contained. But it makes no difference. The exchange of erotic selfies between consenting adults is a perfectly legitimate form of sex play. My only response is to say ‘Good on the pair of them'.
What happened next was symptomatic of the widespread abandonment of any ordinary sense of justice or fair play that plagues the world of the internet. Her email was hacked. These and other private images were stolen by persons unknown and posted online. Inevitably, a feeding frenzy followed. Newspapers and websites posted links. Rubber-necks everywhere got in on the act and had a gawk. The photos were 'shared’. Her privacy shattered, Jennifer Lawrence was then subjected to a tsunami of vile comments online.
The subsequent reaction of the traditional media was almost as bad, as an airbus load of writers and commentators weighed in with the warped view that by sending a naked selfie to her lover, she was effectively 'asking for it' to be made public. This attitude, by the way, was adopted by numerous women, who seemed determined to prove that they were almost as crass as the pig-ignorant male swine who took malicious pleasure in Lawrence's discomfiture or let loose with their masturbatory fantasies. It only made it worse that the same language is used by thugs to rationalise rape: she was asking for it.
There is no excuse for creepy crawlie behaviour of this kind. Like everyone else, Jennifer Lawrence is entitled to assume that her phone or her emails won’t be hacked. To have stolen images that belonged to her and her boyfriend is a criminal act – and those who did it should face the full rigours of the law.
Last week, Jennifer Lawrence spoke about the experience in an interview in Vanity Fair. She said that she had nothing to apologise for. And she described what happened to her as a form of rape. She is right. And anyone who abused her online was guilty of being an accessory after the fact.
It is one of the most odious aspects of modern culture that women, both individually and in general, are so routinely subjected to abuse online. That is not to say that women are incapable of dishing out abuse: they do it all the time. But it would be impossible for women to match the relentless stream of misogynistic hatred, of which the Y chromosomes among us are far too often guilty.
No matter what angle you approach this deeply unpleasant phenomenon from, it stinks. It is an expression of just how horrible apparently perfectly normal people can be, given half a chance. And I am not sure that there is anything at all that we can do about it. But what we can do is to insist that those responsible for the theft of these, or similar pictures, whether they are journalists or just geeks with a pathetic attitude, are pursued and brought to book.
In the meantime, I hope that Jennifer Lawrence feels strong enough to put the experience behind her. While she has been subjected to a torrent of unbridled nastiness, and a dose of chattering class condescension into the bargain, she has also won a different kind of respect from many, for the grace and intelligence with which she has conducted herself throughout. There is a kind of liberation in knowing that you have taken the worst that the onlines bullies and trolls can throw at you and emerged stronger for it.
In a sense, to say that she has nothing to be ashamed of is to miss the point. Stand up tall, Jennifer Lawrence: you have good reason to be proud...
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