Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pictures, Privacy, and Our Underpathos

I used to teach Business and Professional Writing, which often felt more like an etiquette class than a writing class.  I was always astonished at how much students didn't know (yes, your resume must be typed; a thank you note is always a good idea).  It never occurred to me to hold a class session about sending pictures of one's private parts (even underwear clad) to people.  We all just seemed to know not to do that.

Well, except for politicians.  When is that ever a good idea?  Those garments are called underpants for a reason!

And does this approach ever work as a pick-up technique? 

The Washington Post has already done a much better job than I can do with the humorous angle, an article with this suggestion:  "Men! Broaden your seduction techniques!  How about you move away from the below-the-waist close-up? How about you try going naked from the waist up? How about a picture of you, sweaty, cleaning out the storm drain? How about a photograph of you gently caressing the yogurt, as you rotate the soon-to-expire food to the front of the refrigerator? So sexy!"

I have a friend who becomes enraged every time she realizes that her life isn't as private as she hopes it will be.  But she goes to great lengths to keep her private life private:  an unlisted phone number, never giving out her address, that kind of thing.  She would never blog, never, because she would assume that someone would figure out her neighborhood.

I remember the first morning I wrote in my journal after Senator Packwood had to turn over his journal in the mid 90's, and we all got to see the insipid things he wrote about (his hair, as I recall, amongst many other things--his journals were thousands of pages).  I had always assumed that my journals would stay private, that I could say whatever innocuous things I wanted and no one would ever know, unless I was long dead or unless I released them.  But the Packwood experience showed us that one can't assume that level of privacy.  I found myself wishing I had something profound to say in my journal, in case it was subpoenaed.

And here we are, almost two decades later, with people keeping online diaries that anyone can read, with people posting pictures of all sorts electronically, with a lack of privacy that would have horrified past generations.

Does that make us careless?

Still, I can't quite fathom why people in the public eye more so than most of us seem to make these goofs.  You'd think they'd be extra careful.

And it's always men.  I know of no middle-aged women who would send pictures of their nether regions out into the world.  When groups of women I know take pictures, we have to arrange ourselves so that our flared hips are hidden, so that our faces are at their best angle, so that the light falls on us just right.

Maybe women are more conscious of how the world sees us and how the world might see us because we have been socialized to be aware of that and many of us have been trained to be aware of the risks inherent in how the world sees us.  There's a risk in being too beautiful, too sexy, too revealing; there's also a risk in being too plain, too buttoned up, too ugly.

I also wonder if those of us who have gone to graduate school and worked with texts of all types have a different take on the public face and the private face and how they inform each other.

No, I'm probably being much too academic.  Men who send pictures of their body parts or who frequent prostitutes or who abuse hotel staff or who prey on interns are probably convinced that they're powerful men who won't get caught.

Insert heavy sigh here.  As I asked yesterday, what year is it anyway?  Have we not become enlightened, evolved humans yet?

1 comment:

marly youmans said...

We are, in fact, improving--or so it is said. Certainly most of us are much less brutal, in general, than our ancestors of 500 years ago...

You know, I think this episode is sort of like getting the Darwin Award. It weeds out. Also tells us which reporters are hopelessly pro a certain side and will never offer us a balanced view of issues. And probably teaches manners to a certain number of men who were thinking of sending pictures of their magic wand to nubile young things.