Most of us can agree that the candid pictures taken of Kate Middleton and Prince William on holiday last week were an invasion of privacy. Even the staunchest of republicans would struggle to see the justification of a photographer, crouching seedily at the side of the road, pointing a camera the size of the Hubble Space Telescope at the holidaying couple, their bliss at being alone only momentary. They're the images nobody needed to see and, really, few even wanted to see. Perhaps a second of mild curiosity was sated by the pictures, but the Duchess of Cambridge's appeal has never been that of a sex symbol.
Social media throbbed with condemnations the world over - old grudges against the paparazzi and, more bizarrely, the French, revived; helpfully given a shot in the arm by some fuzzy shot of a princess's breasts. Euro-sceptics probably allowed themselves a slight smirk, before remembering loyalty to the monarch and her scions should take precedence over glee at any misfortune on 'the Continent'. But in among the fury, outrage and French-bashing on Facebook and Twitter and other un-mopped corners of the web is the dark smear of hypocrisy. "How could they take pictures of her without her consent and publish them?" was the cry of the internet. Well, it's quite simple, guys and girls; quite a few of you do it all the time.
We all have much easier access to a camera these days. Thanks to the endless quest of mobile phone companies to make us loyal to them and use our phones for more and more, our pocket phones have evolved from clunky walkie-talkies into sleek, slimline communication hubs, enabling any thought or feeling or experience you have to break out of the confined cell that is your brain and spewing it out onto the world wide web. Although the early promises that we would all become 'citizen journalists' have pretty much come to nothing, we are all armchair broadcasters and publishers.
One such side-effect of the sickness of sharing and the ease with which the infection can be passed on is the resurrection online of the spirit of a TV show you never thought you'd see in the UK again. Smile, everybody, you're on Candid Camera, whether you like it or not -- and you may never even find out. There's an increasing trend, a craze which is making money for someone, somewhere, but not the direct participants. All you need is a camera, the ability to take a picture without being spotted and a platform for showing it. Suddenly, everyone's a paparazzo -- and you don't even have to be a celebrity to get papped.
One example is a site called Tubecrush, which hosts photographs taken by amateur paparazzi on public transport of men they think are "hot" or attractive. Snappers take the candid shots -- almost always without the subject's permission or knowledge; posed shots are quite obvious and hardly ever make it to publication -- and submit them to the site, whereupon they're assessed by the site's owners and posted on the site for comment.
Let's be very clear: unlike the situation with the Duchess of Cambridge, there's no legal ambiguity here. It isn't illegal to take someone's picture in a public place, and the law doesn't define doing so as an 'invasion of privacy'; travelling on a Tube train is about as public as you can get without dancing in Trafalgar Square singing Madonna songs over a megaphone.
And yet, morally, there's something more than a little icky about the site, and others like it, such as TapThatGuy and Hot Guys Reading Books (I swear I'm not making those up). While it's 'fine' to take snaps of whoever and whatever you want in public, uploading them to a site for them to be leered over by a bunch of internet strangers takes things on to a new level. And don't forget, their features are clearly visible; these aren't random faces in the crowd.
The subjects of these photos are easily identifiable. Sure, we have all sat opposite someone beautiful on public transport and allowed our minds to wander, but to take a photo? What are you going to do with that photo later? Would you be comfortable with the subject of your snap knowing what you were up to?
Tubecrush is very quick with the disclaimers, acknowledging that "some people may not like their picture being shared on our site" and stating their belief the blog is "an artistic expression of our appreciation of the human body, and as such, we believe we are legally entitled to publish these photos".
They also say that should anyone object to their picture being on the site, they'll take it down. But it's already been up there in full view. Of course, the ultimate get-out clause is that Tubecrush and sites like it appeal to our vain side, plus most of them are smart enough to feature only men. We are 'fortunate' to live in a world so 'equal' that taking pictures of women on public transport without their permission would be creepy and exploitative.
This, however, isn't an upskirt candid of a girl on the Tube, it's a guy with big muscles and tight jeans! It's not your fault he's hot, right? He's practically asking for it, getting on the tube looking all fine. Apply those same statements to a woman. Oh.
But it isn't just the impossibly hot who get the attention of the amareur paparazzo. The liberation of the internet has meant that the crazy, oddly dressed loner no longer has an audience of a heap of cats or whoever he or she meets in the supermarket. Ugly people on dating sites or apps need worry no more about their limited appeal.
There's a hungry, baying crowd out there who can't wait to see them in all their glory on sites like People of Walmart and Late Night Mistakes. There are no pretensions of 'appreciation of the human body' here; it's mean-spirited entertainment in its purest form. From the woman who does her shopping like one of Jack the Ripper's victim to the guy passed out in the street, drunk and hugging a dog, there are enough 15-second segments of fame out there for everyone, as long as you don't quite fit into the very slender field of social norms defined by these David Baileys of the internet. The only trouble is, most of these nanocelebrities never even get to bask in their glory. Like all the best mocking, it's being done firmly behind their backs.
The arguments for this strand of snap-taking are pretty easy to predict. "It's just a bit of fun", "they'll never see it", "it's a compliment if someone thinks you're hot enough to take a photo", or maybe, in the words of the editor of French Closer, the magazine currently splashing Kate Middleton's breasts across Europe "they're not degrading... they're not in the least shocking". Sure, sure. So far, so flimsy, and the law would agree with you. But as a moral defence, taking into account a person's feelings or security, it wouldn't stand up in the weakest of breezes.
Imagine instead, then, getting an email from a friend who's spotted you on such a site, or sitting on the train and looking up from your book to see a total stranger taking your photo. Or maybe doing the same to your mother or brother, and posting it to a site either to be drooled over, or ridiculed.
Yes, let's turn that lens on you and yours and zoom in tight. Still feeling snap happy?
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