Shots that cross the line between paparazzo and pervert
It's become a staple of celebrity culture. The up-skirt crotch shot.
The now familiar intimate glimpse of a starlet's anatomy distributed over the internet and achieved when a particularly predatory paparazzo focuses his lens underneath the skirt of a famous lady.
Internet blogger Perez Hilton is the godfather of crotch-shot culture. He's the progenitor of snark.
If you haven't heard the term, you will no doubt still be familiar with the concept. Snark is bitchiness as public entertainment, particularly when directed against the fashion choices, behaviour, or relationships of famous people — and it's now a staple of all celebrity commentary.
Hilton's blog is so powerful that Forbes has named him the most popular person on the internet for the third year running.
How has he achieved this? By poking fun at celebrities; disseminating pictures of starlets with words like ‘slut-bag’ scrawled over their faces.
Last week, however, Hilton landed himself in hot water by accidentally crossing a significant crotch-shot watershed: he published an up-skirt photograph of former Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus.
The problem? Cyrus is still some months shy of her 18th birthday, and calls have been made in the media for Hilton to face child-pornography charges.
Hilton has hit back, claiming that though it's not clear from the pictures, Cyrus was actually wearing underwear. But is that really the point?
When we blithely accept that it's normal to stick a telescopic lens where the sun don't shine, surely the issue of whether the 17-year-old female in question was wearing knickers is not really the main issue?
At the very least, surely the public exposure of one's genitals, or indeed even one's underwear, should be an entirely voluntary activity.
Just because a girl goes out without wearing underwear, doesn't mean she deserves to have pictures of her privates bandied about all over the internet.
Before Miley, the debate about the phenomenon of the up-skirt photograph always focused on the celebrities in question. What sort of emotional trauma was going on with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton that prompted them to flash the paparazzi?
But what we've never really been forced to question — until Miley — is how appropriate is it for us to be looking in the first place. What sort of culture has come to regard snatched shots of celebrities as some kind of entertainment gold dust?
At its worst, as the Cyrus example demonstrates, it teeters very close to some manner of sexual assault.
After all, if a flasher in a mac still counts, in these liberal days, as a sexual assailant, then surely a camera flash under the hem crosses a similar moral boundary.
This goes beyond the issue of celebrity privacy. It's grubby and sinister and involves taking pleasure in another person's public humiliation. It's the adult equivalent of that age-old primary school trick of pulling someone's pants down in front of the whole class.
Sure, a person whose career depends on attention and holding the interest of the public must expect that there is a price to pay. And that they can't expect to harness that interest to flog their latest film, book, fashion line, whatever, without expecting the scrutiny to spill over into other aspects of their lives.
But surely, at the very least, they should be allowed to keep their nether regions for themselves?
We've exchanged interest for bitchiness, curiosity over a celebrity's love-life into the right to know whether or not they are wearing knickers.
The case of Miley Cyrus does force us to acknowledge that the culture that created the celebrity crotch shot may not exactly be criminal, but it certainly doesn't reflect well on any of us.