What are you taking pictures of? And does anyone care?
Two blurred photos of a naked Prince Harry on a romp in Vegas have provided a snappy reminder that careless behavior can be photographed with greater ease and normality than ever.
“It was very rambunctious for a 27-year-old prince,” said Megan Wagstaffe, a junior at Northeastern University. “I was shocked his security would have let it happen, and have it posted and plastered everywhere.”
One message was clear: it pays to be your own royal minder.
At a time when media has been released from some of its traditional constraints, and individuals effectively broadcast their own lives, the incident also prompted a discussion of privacy in an increasingly online world.
“I think it’s this incongruity, between these déclassé pictures and his royal blood, which makes this particularly scandalous,” said Patrick del Valle, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve seen similarly raunchy things get uploaded to Facebook. Most people in my generation would agree that we are living in a less and less private world.”
The impacts of greater and uncensored connectivity are not restricted to royals, though monarchs may well garner more immediate attention when they, um, drop trou.
“If the world would actually look at your naked party pics, wouldn’t you leak them too?” said Jason Kaufman, a former Berkman fellow at Harvard University. “It would appear the value of privacy is disappearing as fast as the hemline on a pair of ‘daisy dukes.’”
The Internet has altered the social fabric of stardom by making celebrity attainable through little more than sustained, entertaining coverage, and the medium’s accelerating power can lead to unprecedented exposure – whether it is desired or not.
“The Internet is still, in terms of social organization and norms, a bit of a wild frontier,” said William Uricchio, Professor of Comparative Media Studies at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. “Royals have largely lost their special status as god-given leaders of state and survive, in many countries, as national celebrities.”
On the flip side of stardom, parts of life previously kept under wraps, or only shared with a select group of people, can be shared and indelibly recorded at the drop of a hat. Some believe that younger generations take these transgressions more lightly because they are accustomed to their exposure.
As the stratification between private and public behavior slowly lapses, students may pay the price, at a time in their lives when many are choosing to experiment and push their boundaries.
“I don’t have to tell you that college is a crazy place. College is where people do things they probably wouldn’t anywhere else, so I think it could definitely spur this kind of behavior,” said del Valle. “Those of us who are particularly career-oriented hear day in and day out the horror stories of so-and-so who didn’t get a job because there was a picture of her partying on her Facebook.”
In the majority of cases, photos like Harry’s will not get very far on their own steam. Naked photographs abound on the Internet, and are restricted to a personal audience (or a public, depersonalized one) as a matter of interest.
“If it’s an everyday person, it would only really be seen by people who are searching for you,” said Wagstaffe. “Yeah, you won’t be on the front page of the newspaper, but people could be seeing this image.”
The archiving potential of the web has led many students to monitor their online presence more carefully.
A 2010 study indicated 79% of recruiters scan applicants online prior to an interview, and when the consequences of a botched night out could mean the loss of a job, it makes sense to take care – though it can also be easy to forget.
“We’re young, beautiful, invincible, all that good stuff,” said Del Valle. “We’re not always thinking 10 years down the road when we’re up for a promotion and some embarrassing photos surface from the recesses of some Internet archive.”
In that sense, it may still be something of a blessing to be royal, with a built-in job description.
“Harry is sexy and fun-loving, and there are seemingly no consequences to his antics, except a little parental slap on the wrist,” said Kaufman. “Who wouldn’t want to be in his shoes?”
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