Technology and morality make for an uneven mix. There is always the feeling that we should agree on a Cartesian split, where we make the former the province of man and the latter can be ascribed to a higher authority (of some description) that we can safely ignore in our day to day lives.
And usually that’s how things move forward. Except technology is now so embedded in our lives that it becomes impossible to consider it without also beginning to ask some very uncomfortable questions like what happens when things that should be private (and can safely be ignored) become public? Jennifer Lawrence famously rewrote the “shamed starlet” narrative when stolen nude pictures of herself, sent to a boyfriend, were posted online by saying:
“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” Lawrence told Vanity Fair in her follow-up interview. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”
The Press agreed with her. She had the courage to speak out and she is articulate, talented and a global star, so we loved her taking charge of what happened and agreed. In retrospect it does seem weird to call it a scandal (which means there is a whiff of shame) when someone is actually on the receiving end of what is essentially a crime.
But what if the person involved is not so articulate? What if they are someone like us, filmed doing something risqué which may violate, let’s say, a city law? The lines become a little murkier then, the issues get fudged and what comes out, apparently, is a little more Biblical and a little less equitable for which you can read sexist.
Alexis Frulling was an unknown until she decided to take a break from watching the Calgary Stampede (a massive, annual rodeo show) and have an impromptu threesome with a couple of friends in a secluded but, unfortunately, public place. If you think the preceding paragraph raises issues consider that what could have been put down to human nature, some alcohol and maybe some bad judgement, and written off, was filmed and the snippet posted on YouTube.
The internet predictably blew up, Reddit run hot as the online world judged and shamed the woman who was outed without ever, once, questioning the behavior of the men who continue to be anonymous and go about their lives as if nothing ever happened.
Now Alexis took a note out of Jennifer Lawrence’s book and owned her narrative, taking charge of it by making an unapologetic YoutTube video (below) where she questions why she was singled out:
After watching the video you may think she doesn’t really help her case much but then again why she should have to do anything at all? Why, in the 21st century, there are still questions about what women can do with their bodies while men never have to explain their actions?
In the social media morality debate, two years ago I posed some of the same questions framed by an 18-year-old Vancouver student. The fact that two years on the shaming has got even more strident suggests that the answers do not come easy to us.
Bikini Shot Becomes Focus of Sexist Debate
Now, perhaps Lawrence was naïve to expect pictures stored in the cloud to be completely safe and Frulling was drunk (and therefore somewhat culpable for behavior that may have crossed some public decency line) but the trend of online shaming becomes harder to understand when Ariel Winter, the 17-year-old start of Modern Family is subjected to a similar tirade for posting a family picture on her Instagram account.
In the post-Gamergate world we are all painfully aware of the double-standards applied to women and the ability of technology to exacerbate the situation by empowering both sides to tell their story to a greater slice of the world than ever before.
This makes us all complicit in both thought and deed. The private nature of the web, at the personal level, makes it easy for us to affect things with our actions alone. As Jennifer Lawrence said regarding who saw her naked: “Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame. Even people who I know and love say, ‘Oh, yeah, I looked at the pictures.’ I don’t want to get mad, but at the same time I’m thinking, I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.”
It may seem strange that, at a time when we should be debating the morality of autonomous targeting vehicles that kill people we spend so much time and energy discussing, still, the human body with a very strong bias against the female body. Gaspar Noé, the Argentinian film director who gave us the very uncomfortable Irreversible in 2002, is back making waves with his latest film called Love that mixes technology and morality in a 3-D, sexually graphic film that explores love, casual sex and (as it happens) threesomes.
As he makes obvious in his interview on the film he believes that unless we can normalize the human body, sex and relationships we are unlikely to get very far.
Noé’s approach may not be the answer to the question of is the web making us more or less moral but it is a contribution to a conversation that has to finally take place. We can clearly no longer rely on the Cartesian split to keep things superficially separated just so we can conveniently go about our lives.
Jennifer Lawrence's powerful response to her stolen photos
The Jennifer Lawrence nude photo hack response is the end of the 'shamed starlet'
Calgary video leads to online shaming
Rodeo threesome caught on camera