Just when you thought the recent celebrity nude-photo leak couldn’t get any more despicable, along come some bold-name guys to take Hollywood to a whole new level of skeeze.
First, celebrity gossip peddler Perez Hilton posted illegally obtained nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence on his website over the weekend. The actor’s personal data had been hacked along with that of Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, and more than 100 others by an unidentified member of the 4chan Internet message board. Hilton’s actions helped spread the photos to all corners of the Internet before a backlash ensued.
Then Ricky Gervais took to Twitter to chide victims for their responsibility in the leak: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” He went on to mock them with a tacky “erotic” photo from the bath and answered critics with First Amendment non sequiturs, such as “offence is the collateral damage of free speech.”
Unrelated to the leak but just as monumentally awful was CeeLo Green’s weekend Twitter rant about rape, where he claimed that only women who are conscious can be raped and that “people who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” (Green recently pleaded no contest to giving a woman ecstasy in 2012; the woman had alleged that he sexually assaulted her.) Following the outcry from his tweets, TBS announced the cancellation of his show, The Good Life.
While the Twitter fails abounded, a grand total of one famous male entertainer spoke out in support of the hacking victims. Seth Rogen tweeted, “Posting pics hacked from someone’s cell phone is really no different than selling stolen merchandise” and “I obviously am not comparing women to merchandise. Just legally speaking, it shouldn’t be tolerated to repost stolen pics.”
Actor Lucas Neff also tweeted, “Stealing someone’s naked photos is the same as tearing someone’s clothes off in public. It’s sexual assault.” Great sentiment, but Neff, best known for a supporting role on a recently canceled Fox series, simply doesn’t have the heft of a DiCaprio or a Clooney.
The conspicuous absence of A-list defenders isn’t just curious. It’s downright embarrassing when so many men in Hollywood rely on the bodies of beautiful costars to draw male audiences to the films that make them millions. The sad fact is that few men in Hollywood are brave enough to come to the public defense of ladies when it comes to female sexuality. As Hilton and Gervais proved, the issue is only worth a mention if it serves someone in page views or retweets. But the silence from their fellow Hollywood denizens is nearly as detrimental as the slut shaming. Both show that we don’t care much about the personalities inside those famous bodies our culture consumes.
Famous guys may decline to speak out because they feel they can’t relate to what the victims experienced. They’re never eviscerated for nude pics the way women are because, duh, double standards. But they can understand the public’s perceived entitlement to every inch of celebrities. Too much of a star is never enough for our society, and plenty of famous men have made a part-time career lamenting the paparazzi’s despicable creep into their private lives. So where are Alec Baldwin and Chris Martin, both notorious punchers of the paps, when the women of Hollywood need them most?
And wouldn’t it be nice if James Franco, a man who has no problem taking it all off for his Instagram, took to the Interwebz to support his Spring Breakers costars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, two of the reported victims of this weekend’s leak? He easily could have echoed the sentiments of fellow nude-a-phile Lena Dunham, who tweeted, “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE. Support these women and do not look at these pictures.” (It’s worth noting that his brother, Dave, was one of two famous men whose photos were hacked, though that was likely incidental. Dave Franco was in a shot featuring actress Alison Brie, and baseball player Justin Verlander was pictured with Kate Upton.)
Or how about a word from Seth MacFarlane, he of the terribly unfunny “We saw your boobs” Oscars skit? At the very least, the Family Guy creator could atone for more than a decade of sexist material by pointing out the difference between women’s bodies being on display by choice and by outright theft.
We won’t hold our breath for any of these men to go public. But here’s why they should. Cultural exchange is far more effective in changing minds than straight-up moralizing. Pulling the “What if it was your mother or sister?” card with the young men who trade and view photos just doesn’t work here. Plenty of guys still believe that the women, not the perps who steal and disseminate images, are responsible for letting nude photos get out. What’s needed is a values shift, and that’s where celeb guys can take the lead. It starts by empathizing with their costars, removing the shame from female sexual expression, and prioritizing consent issues.
It’s an important conversation because nude photos aren’t going anywhere. A recent study in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality found that 65 percent of college students have sent sexually suggestive texts or photos to others, and 69 percent have received them. Many young people continue to forward personal sexual material to others without proper consent. Nearly a third of students in the study said they shared sexts with a third party who was not intended to see them.
The practice is especially pernicious when exes use sexual images to humiliate former partners, aka “revenge porn.” Research on revenge porn is scant, but approximately 80 percent of victims are women, according to a study from the University of Maryland. Few will ever get help from the FBI (as Jennifer Lawrence has) to have leaks traced and perps prosecuted, so anything cultural leaders can do to promote prevention is worth a shot.
Sure, not everyone takes his or her moral cues from celebrities. But we can’t underestimate the good that famous guys can do. A 2013 Harris Interactive survey found that half of Americans think that celebrities can make a positive difference for a cause, and more than a quarter of millennials have done something because of a celebrity. Even if A-listers don’t reach the creeps who trade celebrity nudes like baseball cards, they could influence those guys’ brothers or friends. A “dude, not cool” from a confidant can go a long way.
Famous guys can also decline to support the Internet culture that feeds these leaks. What if celebrity men—President Obama included—refused to do Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything until women were accorded the same right to privacy the site extends to guys? The leak may have originated from 4chan, but it was spread via Reddit, a site that views privacy of its mostly male users as sacrosanct. (By the way, Redditors, if you’re wondering whether donating to a cancer charity somehow washes you clean, the answer is nope, nope, nope.)
A select few are already doing this beneficial work. Daniel Craig, Benicio del Toro, Dulé Hill, Seth Meyers, and Steve Carell all appeared in an excellent anti–sexual assault PSA earlier this year. Even Gervais concedes that using a platform for good actually matters, tweeting, “It’s more important to spend your energy trying to stop actual bad things than to run around trying to stop jokes about bad things.”
So how about it, Ricky and the rest of Tinseltown? Instead of making women a punch line, how about using your star power to call out sexual hypocrisy? Why not value privacy and get real about consent? It’s your move, guys.