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Is the loss of privacy a fair price for fame and fortune?

By Jamie VaronOctober 26, 2015

Actress Jennifer Lawrence
Actress Jennifer Lawrence Jason Merritt/Getty Images

As long as celebrities exist, so will the demand for the details of their personal lives. Part of being famous is being perceived as interesting, and when you’re interesting, the public cannot get enough of your daily life. This is evidenced by the fact that we will read about a famous person’s meal plan as feverishly as if it contained the secrets of the universe in one handy guide.

Part of fame is giving people access to your private life, but before the internet there were fewer options for access, and celebrities had more control over their images. Famous people would give interviews and have publicists dictate the narratives of their lives. Since the advent of social media and the internet age, we’ve become obsessed with demanding more from celebrities, while having the tools to violate their privacy over and over. Yes, celebrities freely share their information—from photos with their best friends to what they are eating or wearing—through social media channels. But they also have their most private and vulnerable moments shared, without their permission.

Recently, The New York Daily News leaked paparazzi-shot photos of Justin Bieber nude in Bora Bora. Similar images emerged a few years ago of Kate Middleton, taken while she tried to relax on vacation (in fact, she was snapped more than once while relaxing in the buff).  

Hackers also got in on the action, with the 2014 leak of nude photos of scores of celebs like Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Kendrick, Kaley Cuoco, Rihanna and Mary-Kate Olson.  

Celebrities make millions of dollars, which some may think is a fair tradeoff for the loss of privacy, but I think we (the public) feel far too entitled to know everything. Just because we have access to everything on the internet doesn’t mean that we should. If something is clearly intended to be private, why should we have any claim to it? Why do we want to know?


If something is clearly intended to be private, why should we have any claim to it?

To me, having access to everything can be too much of a good thing. On the one hand, it’s positive that we can be connected to so many people through the internet. On the other hand, we have become nearly insatiable, wanting more drama, more intrigue. Celebrities have their private lives spread across not just gossip magazines, but all over the world within minutes.  

When it comes to viewing pictures or information celebrities meant to keep private, it’s not only a matter of decency but of basic constitutional rights. The fourth amendment of the constitution establishes our basic right to privacy. The first court case in the United States to address the right to privacy for celebrities specifically involved Jackie Onassis (widow of president John F. Kennedy), in 1973. Onassis sued Ron Galella, the self-proclaimed “ first paparazzo,” for infringing on her family’s personal space and endangering them to shoot photographs for profit. After the case was sent to an appeals court, in what is now a landmark case (Galella v. Onassis), the court established that reporters do not have unrestrained access to the lives of public figures.  

Basically, if the actions of a public figure do not directly affect the public good, they are not fair game. Court cases in the United States and Europe, including one in which Duchess Kate filed (and won) a lawsuit against the paparazzo who shot her infamous topless photos, have cemented the fact that celebrities have the right to some privacy. Sure, they sign away a great deal of their privacy when they choose lives of fame. But by law, we do not get to see every moment.

The internet has a way of making mountains out of molehills, turning a small incident involving a celebrity into national news. We could say that celebrities bring this on themselves because part of their “ job” is to garner attention, but it’s cruel and unnecessary to capitalize on someone’s pain or mistakes—no matter how much money that person makes.

This new mode of information has become normal; this is the world we live in. But we’ve created this world. We’ve paid with our clicks, with our attention, with our likes. We’ve created a world of celebrity that pays off on drama, on making innocent people into villains over simple missteps. It has become a spectacle, like we’ve put these celebrities into The Hunger Games and are watching to see who outlasts the other.

What I worry about more than anything is that we’re scaring off our best artists. We forget that so many of the people we admire are artists, and the more we violate them for sport, the less they may feel inclined to create. We need art in this world. That might be the worst byproduct of a culture that insists on scavenging upon the scraps of fame. 

I don’t know if we pay people enough to exploit them, to violate them. Is there a price to be put on that kind of treatment?