Imagine what would happen if Michelle Obama, the wife of the U.S. president, visited a beach in France or Italy and removed her top to lie on the sand and some intrepid (i.e., sleazy) photographer snapped some photos of the first lady au naturel and had them published in some tabloid like the National Enquirer?
The outcry would be deafening, even from those folks who loathe the Obamas. It would signal that a line had been crossed, a line that should never even be approached.
This scenario has played out in real life with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who has suffered the indignity of having topless photographs splashed across French magazine Closer.
The editor of that publication, Laurence Pieau (who incidentally is a woman) has defended printing Kate’s nude images and expressed surprise that doing so has sparked such a wave of condemnation, particularly in the United Kingdom. (She is now facing a lawsuit from the British royals.)
Pieau has also suggested that criticism directed at her smacks of hypocrisy. In this respect, she is exactly right.
For one thing, British tabloids recently published provocative nude photos of Prince Harry cavorting with some young lady in Las Vegas -- indeed, Fleet Street has long issued photos of bare-breasted women (the "page three" girls have become a virtual institution in Britain).
Quite a few actresses and models, even “respectable” ones, have agreed to appear nude in films, as well as in magazines like Playboy and Penthouse over the years. They have taken this step for a number of reasons -- for money, for notoriety or to kick-start a flagging career. But they chose to take off their clothes for the media.
In addition, Pieau is also correct that topless beaches are quite common in Southern Europe and that naked pictures are not necessarily prurient.
Moreover, we live in a world in which extreme hard-core pornography is available to anyone with access to the Internet.
So, on the surface, a naked picture of a young woman hardly shatters anyone’s sense of decorum.
However, Kate Middleton is not just anyone. She is the wife of the future king of England, and her privacy has been violated in one of the worst ways imaginable.
She is neither a model nor an actress; she is simply a beautiful (and apparently quite smart and charming) young lady who has done nothing wrong. She does not need publicity at all -- indeed, any public appearance she makes brings hordes of onlookers, media and fans to her side. Kate broke no laws, nor was she seeking to promote herself by visiting a beach where women going topless is perfectly legal and acceptable.
Her privacy has been shattered forever.
But I fear we will see worse in the years to come, much worse.
Given the proliferation of iPhones and mobile cameras, photos can be snapped of anyone doing anything at anytime and downloaded onto the Internet immediately and spread across the world within seconds (also known as “going viral”).
How long will it be before a sex tape of Kate and William becomes available? It could happen. The advanced technology and the public’s ravenous appetite for such forbidden things could easily make it happen.
Which brings me back to Mrs. Obama. How would Americans feel if such a thing that has befallen Kate Middleton happened to her?
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