Last week, a French photographer punctured the privacy of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and scored a win for voyeurs around the world, catching her topless in a private setting: on vacation with her husband in a villa in the South of France.
The photos wrest control of Middleton's most valuable asset, her public persona. The French court ruled to stop further publication of the photos, but the problem won't go away. And we're all potential targets.
Middleton experienced a high profile version of the Facebook phenomenon. With the advent of social media, we've become our own promoters, publishers--and tormentors and victims. In fact, we've become our own paparazzi. An unguarded moment can be captured in an instant and disseminated to the masses just as quickly.
We have become a voyeuristic society, a nation of peeping Toms.
We've made a new sport of catching people out, posting and tagging photos of them in situations that were private, and not meant for mass-consumption: flesh spilling over a swimsuit, a chocolate-smeared mouth or cocktail-fueled moment. Then we spend hours trolling Facebook with an open window onto other's private moments.
Like many forms of "humor," these invasive shots have at the core an expression of hostility and aggression. Voyeurism is rooted in an impulse to dominate. It informs much of our behavior: schoolyard bullying, workplace harassment, and even sex are all forms of domination. The will to subordinate is not only human--it's a core part of many primate societies, cowing even such popular and attractive primates at the Duchess of Cambridge.
Facebook is simply another reflection of this primitive instinctual drive. Tagging and posting photos of people makes them feel helpless and out of control just like Kate and Wills do right now. And any one of us would feel out of control if caught in an unflattering or compromising photo.
Privacy is a form of psychological, not only physical, boundary. It is a line in the sand--"You can come no farther than this." It gives people a feeling of safety and integrity. But today privacy is a scare commodity, even within our homes or the homes of our friends. It's maddening. Remember the wedding scene in the Godfather when Sonny rips the film out of the camera of a prying FBI agent?
One can only imagine his rage response to an unwelcome Facebook post: a level of anger that both Kate and William, and anyone of us, could justifiably feel.