Repression + Censorship + Digital Media = The Fappening


Lads’, Lads, or Laddie mags (magazines) (known exclusively as men’s magazines in English-speaking North America) contain non-nude photography…accompanied by articles about women (usually models or actresses)…or “guy tales” of sexual encounters.

This ultimate triangle, by its pure and geometrical shape, by its hard and shiny material, bars the way to the sexual parts like a sword of purity, and definitely drives the woman back into a mineral world…not only does it give the show the alibi of Art (the dances in strip-shows are always ‘artistic’), but above all it constitutes the last barrier, and the most efficient of all.
-Roland Barthes

It is man who destroys his cities through the agency of earthquakes.
-Jean-Paul Sartre


I am so fucking tired of famous people.

The Fappening has occurred — I am calling it “The Fappening” because that is what it is called. I am calling it that despite protests from people who think that if you call Chicago “Los Angeles,” you can drive to Illinois and walk down Hollywood Blvd. I called it “The Fappening” even before I knew to what “fap-fap-fap” actually referred.

The Fappening was not a rape. It was not unprecedented, either, although it is a sort of (none too wonderful) qualitative leap in the narrow field of celebrity stalking. It was a very specific kind of invasion of privacy, and a crime. It can be placed along a spectrum that also includes paparazzi photography, rumor-based journalism, physical stalking, and “unauthorized” biographies. There was nothing good about it, but unfortunately, the response has been little better.

Consider what we learned about these celebrities: apparently, they occasionally take dirty pictures of themselves. None of them were photographed doing anything remotely close to the things we know James Joyce did with Nora Joyce, or the things Michel Foucault did with lots of people in San Francisco. Frankly, based on these photographs, you would be hard-pressed to name a more “wholesome” collection of individuals; they are so vanilla it is almost wondrous.

Convinced that we care about their opinions, a bunch of celebrities have responded to “The Fappening” by pleading with the public not to look at these photos. According to people like Lena Dunham, every time another person downloads The Fappening, the victims are violated all over again. This is nonsense. This situation is not remotely comparable to something like a gang rape. These celebrities have no idea who is looking at their photos at this point; the leak is already so huge that your participation, or abstention, does not make a perceptible difference. Even subscribing to the “Fappening” sub-Reddit is not especially meaningful, since that page is now full of links to articles about The Fappening, links to tweets, and so on.

The only thing you can guarantee, if you convince people not to look at these photos, is that they will not give a damn about what happened to these women. Sure, other celebrities care, but that’s because they are feeling sorry for themselves. In general, the 99% don’t feel continuously sorry for celebrities, and there’s no reason why we should. They actually are overpaid, overexposed, and fabulously lucky. In order to understand the nature of the violation, it is necessary to see how these hackers took someone’s moments of privacy and joy, and did violence to each and every one. That is the only way to understand that a human being has been hurt — unless one “can understand that perfectly well without looking, thank you” — in other words, is not tempted, and so has no decision to make.

We live in a censorious society, and The Fappening is a product of censorship. Nudity is considered both harmful (taboo) and ultimate (sacred). The reason that sexuality provokes violence, including this act of symbolic violence, is that we treat sexuality itself as a dangerous form of violence. This is obvious from the way we equate sex and violence when rating movies, video games, and television shows. It would be quite tempting to believe that we impose, rightly or wrongly, various restrictions upon a lecherous culture industry that yearns to cater to all our depraved tastes, once it is free of all fetters. The opposite is true. The culture industry makes a killing by enforcing, with zealous solemnity, every barrier we wish to impose, and building empires along those borderlines. It is unwise to ignore the fact that many of the women targeted by “The Fappening” are Sports Illustrated models or actresses representing hypocritically “clean” brands (e.g. Nickelodeon). In many respects, we have actually regressed as a society, and become more teasingly repressive: witness the rise of laddie mags and “burlesque.”

As Obama likes to say, let me be clear: the fact that these women are part of the beauty industry does not make them responsible, in any way, for the crimes committed against them. Instead, we should be looking for more guilty parties, even after the hackers are (inevitably) found and sentenced. The problem is not objectification or depravity. The problem is a Puritanical society in which the lousiest pictures of some random woman are coveted, as long as that woman is nude. Many people who look at these photos are going to feel sorry for these women, even if they expected to be aroused. In part, they will be ashamed of themselves. But equally important will be the recognition that pictures like this are on a lot of iPhones. It will seem weird, suddenly, to have made such a fuss over them. We cannot stop The Fappening from happening, because it has already happened, past tense. But we can make it something that only happens once.