What do Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and researchers at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles have in common? They all have new wisdom about the dangerous combo of nakedness (or some degree thereof) and photography.
Yes, this has been a teachable moment sort of news spell when it comes to the power of modern image dissemination – especially when the images are, well, revealing.
First came Harry and his ill-advised strip billiards game with a bunch of new friends he met in Las Vegas, at least one of whom had a cell phone camera. (The headline writers had a great time with this one.)
Then, in a scandal that has rocked the British Palace and the media circles of Europe, a French gossip magazine published paparazzi photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless in a (thought-to-be) private chateau. By all reports, the Palace is livid, claiming a “gross invasion” of Kate’s and husband Prince William’s privacy.
(This morning, reported Associated Press, a French court ordered the magazine's publisher to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, within 24 hours and blocked further publication of what it called a "brutal display" of William and Kate's private moments.)
And just when you thought that the clamor for nude and semi-nude photos was only a problem of the celebrity set, USC researchers announced Sept. 17 the findings of a study that offer more proof that sexting – the sending of sexually explicit images and texts via cell phone – is rampant among teens. (One in seven Los Angeles high schoolers with a cell phone has sent a sext; a recent study from Houston found that one in four teens had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail.)
Sexting, the researchers found, is linked to riskier actual sexual activity – and, of course, often results in unauthorized forwarding and publishing of explicit photos.
So what can we learn from looking at this news together? (Besides the fact that if you’re a member of the Royal Family, it’s safest to keep your clothes on. Always. Change in a guarded safe room or something.):
Let’s start by looking at how people reacted to the topless Kate photos compared with the naked Harry photos.
Brits, if you recall, basically shrugged at Harry’s revealing moment in the spotlight, with many even cheering the “party prince” for having a good time in Vegas. Hey, boys will be boys, was the basic attitude. With Kate, though, the reaction has been far more defensive, with shock and outrage and much disparaging of the photographers and publications involved. (The Palace, which essentially ignored the Harry photos, is filing civil and criminal lawsuits around Kate’s situation.)
A lot of this is explained by the fact that Harry was clearly enjoying his free-form moment with a group of relative strangers, and ended up a subject of the sort of party shot that goes up on Facebook, whether you like it or not. Kate, meanwhile, believed she was in private, sharing an intimate moment with her husband. The invasion of privacy involved in her case is clearly far more significant.
(You might also spot a bad boy, good girl divide – you know, the whole “my son can romp around, but don’t you dare sexualize my daughter” sort of thing – but I’ll leave that to the gender experts.)
But here, potentially, is a lesson: Regardless of technology, it turns out, regardless of the cell phone cameras and extra-long paparazzi lenses and the ability to disseminate photos rapidly and globally, regardless of the dismaying fact that once that photo’s out there, you can never, ever get it back, behavior still matters.
And for better or worse, that’s true for sexting teens as much as it is for the Royals.