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I was hoping to be able to pretend that the Erin Andrews voyeur tape didn't exist after the Sun-Times alerted me to its fetid existence this morning--can't find the link, but the gist was that if you try to download the video you'll get whatever horrible computer virus you deserve--but this post by Creative Loafing Tampa's Sean Alff dragged me in. Such ethical fumbling shouldn't go unremarked upon:
"While some may not see the distinction between a peephole video and a celebrity sex tape [Ed. note: hence, why it's ok to post about a Leighton Meester sex tape of unknown origin, with NSFW pics], the difference is consent. Take Paris Hilton, for instance. While she may not have known Rick Solomon would later sell her sex tape, Paris did agree to appear in the video."
IANAL, and he may be right along strictly legal lines, even if they're lines that I'd care to stay far, far away from. But at risk of stating the obvious--and I guess it isn't obvious enough-- they're really not as different as Alff would like you to think.
Here's where Alff's argument blows up in his face:
"A peephole however is a clear invasion of privacy. No one wants to be filmed naked without their knowledge."
You simply can't separate consent from audience. Someone undressing in a room expects to have an audience of whoever is in eyesight. Someone filming a sex tape for private use expects to have an audience of whomever they choose to show it to. Without knowing the audience all participants intended, disseminating a tape's contents without their consent or knowledge is tantamount to the invasion of privacy committed by the Andrews taper. Leaking them and reposting them puts everyone involved on the other side of that metaphorical hotel wall, and relying on the blunt irrationalities of the law as a moral salve is misguided.
The harm goes deeper than that. I've been following Amanda Hess's outstanding Washington City Paper blog The Sexist, where her posts on HuffPo's arguably sexist link bait have drawn lots of attention.
I've been wondering what the problem is with HuffPo's boner trolling--and the question of whether SFW cheesecake is harmful probably doesn't get its due--so I was pleased, if that's the right word, to read former Deadspin editor Will Leitch's thoughts on Erin Andrews, the voyeur video, and his old blog's relationship to her. In short, it's the view from behind the cheesecake.
Deadspin has been semi-ironically obsessing about Andrews forever, and in the wake of this scandal Leitch stepped back and asked whether he had some kind of role in it ... and even if he didn't, whether the site went well beyond decency (hint: yes).
One could say it's too little, too late, but as a thoughtful hairshirt of an essay, it's still quite good, and if there's any justice (hint: there isn't), it would be read far and wide and distributed to bloggers everywhere as an antidote to retrograde ironic sexism, the kind that Sports Media Watch contends lead to a hostile environment for Andrews.
Leitch dissents, but he can't quite articulate what Deadspin and lots of other places did wrong. Reading his post it's abundantly clear that the questions he raises aren't ones any decent person wants to be stuck not being able to answer:
But it's all just kind of dissembling now, isn't it? People who took photos of themselves smiling with Andrews on the sideline feel guilty, ESPN feels guilty, bloggers feel guilty, everybody feels guilty except the scumbag who shot the video in the first place. (I am ascribing to this person the inability to feel empathy.) The whole thing went wrong, very wrong. I do not think there is direct causality here ... at all. But it's not so wakka-wakka all-in-fun anymore, isn't it?
I'm a flawed human being, born in sin and slouching towards Bethlehem like everyone else. So I take particular note when offenses like these align, to remind myself how a slouch leans so heavily towards a fall.