Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Oversexed in Photos and Rotherham

I'd never heard of Jennifer Lawrence until yesterday.

Regular readers of mine will know that my movie-going and television-watching has become practically nil, as I become ever more wary of North American pop culture.

So it wasn't until I surfed a couple of news sites during my Labor Day holiday, and discovered breathless coverage of hacked photos showing what wasn't covering Jennifer Lawrence, that I learned of her.  Those hacking allegations also extend to similarly revealing photos of other female celebrities - most of whom I'd never heard of, either.

Seems that some supposedly private photographs of these women without clothing had been purloined by Internet hackers for all the World Wide Web to see.  It was such a brazen violation of civil rights, apparently, even the FBI was on the hunt - for the hackers, that is.

Civil rights?  Privacy?  Really?  On the Internet?  I remain skeptical.  At the very least, if it really was a hack, it has sure turned into a Hollywood publicist's dream.  Although many entertainment aficionados probably already knew who Lawrence is, this latest dollop of sizzling exposure only reinforces her star status, especially with the FBI involved.  And for middle-aged folks like me who'd never heard of her before?  Now we have.

I'm not the only person suspecting an inside job here - a publicity stunt to capture the attention of Americans on a slow, stuffy, three-day holiday weekend; a time when they wouldn't be at work, and able to surf illicit photos of young starlets to their heart's content without fear of the boss watching (along with them).

Some media wonks have blamed such crass voyeurism on Hollywood's male fan base, and how easy it is to exploit beautiful women by dangling their nudity in our media.  It wasn't Lawrence's fault that she's now been shamed by these photos, they say, but it's the fault of dirty, immature men out there whom the hackers knew would lap up such photography.  CNN's Peggy Drexler even tried the implausible defense that people like Lawrence should be able to expect their private digital photography to remain private, even if hackers expose it.  After all, Lawrence is a "normal young woman," as if all young women pose naked in front of their boyfriends so he - or somebody else - could take photos to commemorate the occasion.

Drexler, and others, say that such invasions of privacy have gotten out of hand, now that the public expects it should know everything about the celebrities it worships.  But that's not the problem here, is it?  Who's clamoring for illicit photos of ugly celebrities?  Can't think of any ugly celebrities?  That's because the public usually only celebrates and worships beautiful people.  People we imagine have all of the requisite assets, no matter what they're wearing.  Or not.  Would Lawrence or any of these other celebrities be famous if they looked frumpy, dowdy, pudgy, or otherwise "normal?"

Meanwhile, across the pond, this photo hacking "scandal" is big news, too.  But so is a far more destructive and somber scandal, involving the police, young children, and older men of Pakistani and other Eastern Asian backgrounds.  Reports out of Rotherham, England, allege that more than 1,400 boys and girls were sexually abused over the course of many years as members of the Islamic community in the city, as well as the local police department and other public officials, refused to investigate.  Starting around 1997, the sexual exploitation of innocent minors was shrouded in deep stigma and denial among devout Muslims, and a caustic indifference by officials, some of whom dismissed reports of criminal sexual activity as being "entirely consensual."

Arrests, prosecutions, and at least 104 convictions have already been made in the sensational crimes, whose magnitude is just now beginning to dawn on the English, a people who've prided themselves as cutting-edge humanitarians.  How could such things have gone on for so long in such a progressive country?  Why didn't the police do more?  Why didn't public officials do more?

Well, for one thing, some police officers have indicated that since most of the perpetrators appeared to be from Muslim backgrounds, they would have been accused of racism if they filed legitimate allegations against the accused.  Britain has been exceptionally open to Muslim immigrants over the years, but that hospitality has not been without its grievances.

Then there are the enormous sexual taboos that exist in many deeply religious cultures, such as the Muslim community in Rotherham, and even some old-fashioned Christian communities here in the good ol' USA.  Proper Muslims, like proper Christians, don't talk about sex publicly.  Polite conversation avoids secret desires and sins, and if you want to be considered a virtuous person, sex is avoided in all contexts except your own personal engagements with it.  This makes sexual abuse a particularly difficult problem to uncover and prosecute.  If that society is also heavily patriarchal, and if it's their men engaging in the sexual abuse, you can see why, even if the police were actively looking to make arrests, they'd get scant cooperation from the public.

Contributing to these factors may also be an ambivalence towards sexual abuse, a behavior pattern many non-Muslims in England like to pretend doesn't exist.  Deviance is all relative, right?  Not that it's improper to talk about sex in modern British society, but instead of stigmas about sex, there's outright anarchy.  Sex outside of marriage is no longer immoral; it's expected.  Rules are for breaking, or at least, bending.  How young is too young has become a data point subjective to the individual.  And with sex being such a popular activity among people of all age, orientation, and marriage cohorts these days, it could be argued that the police have a challenging time trying to determine which sexual activities are being reported out of legitimate victimization, or mere regret.

In a way, it's kinda like those revealing celebrity photos.  How do we know if their availability on the Internet was the result of a legitimate crime, or a sordid PR stunt?  Lawrence and other "exposees" have come out to protest the purported invasion of their privacy, but most of the general population isn't buying it:  we all know the "cloud" isn't safe for anybody or anything, so why would you store photos there that you don't want other people to see?

With the sex abuse crimes in England, of course, since victims were as young as 11 and 12 when they were first targeted for exploitation, proving crimes occurred should be far simpler.  Why people in authority there, who we're now hearing knew more about these allegations than they admitted at the time, didn't do more to protect these children, we've yet to learn.  Maybe it was a sort of racist barrier on their part; figuring that if the victims and perpetrators were both mostly Muslims, it didn't warrant as much interest on the part of British authorities.  Kinda like that black-on-black violence that happens here in the United States, and only garners media attention when it happens in spurts, like this past summer in Chicago.

But maybe the reason Rotherham went unaddressed for so long stems significantly from the reality that sex has become so unrestrained and ubiquitous, that our abuses of it don't even raise many eyebrows anymore.

"What is sexual abuse?" our jaded morals ask.  CNN says it's normal for young women to carry on in sexually explicit ways with their boyfriends, so who are we to say what isn't normal these days?  Sure, religious zealots insist that sex is only for marriage - and only heterosexual marriage at that - but look at how many of them fool around on their spouse!  After all, how many good, upstanding, church-going folk immediately searched for those celebrity photos on the Internet?

"Hey - who could it hurt?"  Right?

If jaded morality played a role in the Rotherham travesties, then we're just beginning to learn who got hurt.  Little kids, some of whom are now adults, and are scarred for life.  But in the Lawrence case, we know her career hasn't even been tarnished.

We Americans and Europeans like to consider our societies as sophisticated and accomplished.  But when it comes to sex, we can still be terribly immature and destructive.  We go with what we feel, with our impulses, and with what makes us happy.

Sure, many, many people say that the Bible's teachings - and, for that matter, the Koran's - on sexual purity and waiting for marriage are foolhardy and impractical.

Um, yeah... like the alternatives to strict monogamy are any better?

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