Tuesday, 25 September 2012

One privacy rule for the royals, another for the plebs

HERE we go again, then. We’ve hardly got over the thrill/shock of Prince Harry’s boy-bits being splashed around the net than we’re invited to join in a mass display of outrage/titillation at the public unveiling of his sister-in-law’s girl-bumps.
To which my first response was indifference. Boredom, even. Half the population of the world has developed mammary glands. Why on earth should we care about such a trivial revelation?
Well, there are reasons. And they’re not just the most immediately obvious ones.
But before I get on to that, I want to consider a much more shocking story.
One that says just as much about the sick nature of our society – some of it the same things – but which hasn’t had a fraction of the attention. Which is itself also something worth pondering.
It happened in Portsmouth last Tuesday when a 26-year-old man – described by his family as “vulnerable” – climbed onto the roof of a high building.
While police tried gently to coax him down safely, a crowd gathered below. Among whom some started yelling at him to jump.
If that isn’t already stomach-churning enough, when he did jump some onlookers filmed his fall –  and posted the footage on the internet.
As police said, their behaviour was “disgusting” and showed “a complete lack of empathy” for a troubled man.
What it also showed was an alarming distancing from reality.
So many people filter so much of their lives through the medium of a screen – TV, computer, games console or phone – that they are apparently becoming detached from physical truth.
Other people’s lives are thereby reduced to entertainment.
“Reality TV” takes over from genuine reality.
Nothing matters until it’s on YouTube. Where you can laugh at it. The more horrible – or the more salacious – the better.
Which is where we come back to the Duchess of Cambridge and the photographer so aptly dubbed by John Major “a peeping Tom”.
Like the unfortunate man in Portsmouth, the young Windsors have become commodified, dehumanised. Made public property even in those moments they’d like to keep private.
In Harry’s case there was no room for sympathy. He blatantly brought the whole thing on himself.
Kate’s case is different. She was in a place where it should have been reasonable to assume privacy.
The photographer, let’s face it, was either a perv or out to make money out of the perviness of others. Probably both.
But why should we more outraged at this instance of a seedy modern phenomenon than at others?
The surreptitious photographing of, say, Uma Thurman, Emma Watson, Charlotte Church or any of the literally thousands of women whose “wardrobe malfunctions” or not-quite-private beach moments have been sold by paparazzi to newspapers, magazines and websites.
You may say – and you might be right – that many, maybe most, of these women have colluded in their own commodification. If so, they were only taking advantage of prevailing conditions.
The duchess, we may assume, was not doing that. Or at least not deliberately.
Though it’s a fine line between courting fame for the wealth and privilege it can bring – and she’s certainly acquired plenty of that – and complaining about its seamier side.
The Harry and Kate incidents have shown the royal family as mere celebrities in the dismal modern vogue. But only up to a point.
The family – who, be it remembered, are who they are purely by accident of birth – still wield an anachronistic degree of power. Kate-gate has revealed that more clearly than anything caught by telephoto lens.
Others may revel in flashing their flesh about – and there are plenty who are famous for nothing else. But I suspect Thurman, Watson and Church were no more thrilled than the former Miss Middleton at being spied on in that tacky way.
They, however, knew they couldn’t do much about it. They didn’t have the clout that royalty still, bizarrely, seems to carry. Clout that seems to carry weight even in the courts of France, Italy and public opinion.
All those upholders of national morals who have squealed with indignation at the invasion of privacy have a point.
It would have been a lot stronger if they’d squealed just as loudly in defence of the rights of Thurman, Watson, Church and all the rest.
In fact, the most sycophantic defender of royal privileges happens to be the same paper whose website has become a world leader through the liberal use of celebrity “glamour” and “daring necklines”.
Marrying into royalty gets you lots of privileges denied to everyone else. There’s no good reason why it should.
And no reason at all why an enhanced right to privacy should be among them.

DID the undoubtedly patrician, Rugby-educated Andrew Mitchell swear at the police and call them plebs? I don’t know – I wasn’t there.
But imagine that you or I were accused of blaspheming at an officer outside Liquid or Betty’s, say.
We’d deny it, of course. But whose word do you think the magistrates would take – yours or that of two uniformed defenders of public order?

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