Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.A Florida jury recently made history by awarding Terry “Hulk ‘Hollywood “Bollywood”’ Hogan” Bollea $140 million in his lawsuit against Gawker Media, which published a sex tape featuring him (along with the wife of the disappointingly-hominid-esque Bubba the Love Sponge Clem) back in 2012. The suit is historic in part because it proved that the Hulkster can sit still for hours without ripping his shirt off, and in part because it’s a pretty serious blow to the tabloid media that until now has basically shone a light on the private lives of celebrities with impunity. There’s a theoretical possibility of it being overturned on appeal, but since the state of Florida requires half of the awarded damages to be in escrow before a case can be appealed, and since the damages are more than three times Gawker’s annual revenue, it doesn’t look good for the site (whose official motto, I believe, is “We’re like TMZ, except we’re cool because your mom doesn’t know about us yet”).
Is this the end of the celebrity sex tape?No matter how public we make sex, we still yearn to find something off-limits about it and then invade that area.You might point out that the disappearance of celebrity sex tapes would hardly be a great loss to the cultural discourse, and I wouldn’t disagree with you, but the fact that they make so much money for the people who publish them obviously means someone wants to see them—which is kind of a strange thing, when you think about it. If you’re really determined to see a badly tanned, aging muscleman have sex on the Internet, it’s not like that’s hard to do. At the moment you’re probably a google away from hundreds of videos exactly like that, no doubt most of them filmed with the consent (and possibly even fair compensation!) of the musclemen in question. But no, you want the Hulkster. As someone who admittedly has no desire to watch Hogan have sex (or hawk pasta, or do anything else, really) on camera, I can only speculate what the fascination is, but I think it’s fair to say that there are two possible explanations, both of which are probably partially true. In the first place, the Hulk is famous—an aspect of the video’s appeal that probably needs no further explanation—and in the second place, it was filmed surreptitiously and without his consent.
That second bit—the fact that the Hollywoodster was “violated” by the video—must be a huge part of its appeal. It’s difficult to imagine Gawker being anywhere near as excited about it if, say, the ’ster were actively making the porn convention rounds, promoting the video under the title “Hulking Out” or “Hülkster Dü” or “The Incredible (in Bed, if You Get My Drift, Wink, Wink) Hulk.” If he had done so, the headline would have been “Check Out This Sad, Pathetic Old Man” (see: Dustin Diamond, who inexplicably only recently went into porn, despite having been named “Dustin Diamond”) instead of “OMG U HAVE GOT 2 SEE THIS INCREDIBLE SEX VID.” (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen any site actually use that second headline, but I’m sure there’s one somewhere that did. Trust me, I have a PhD in Internets.)What’s almost as striking as the public hunger for violation is how genuinely celebrities like Hogan seem to feel violated when these videos are published. Hogan cried real tears when the verdict was announced (something that someone with such a tough-guy persona seems unlikely to fake, even for legal advantage)—despite the fact that, as Gawker’s council was quick to point out, he’s lived his whole life in front of the public eye and spent much of that life ripping his clothes off. Even Kim Kardashian—whose job description is even closer to “be naked in front of a camera” than the Hoganster’s is—expressed deep embarrassment when her sex tape was leaked onto the Internet. (Some of the celebrity gossip sites dismissed that as “part of the act,” but I see no reason not to give her the benefit of the doubt.) Even those who make their bodies public property still see their sex lives as private.
And what’s really striking is that the generation that has shrugged and declared that “Everybody watches porn, so what’s the big deal?” is apparently still yearning for taboos and boundaries—even if just to have something to burst through. No matter how public we make sex, we still yearn to find something off-limits about it and then invade that area. We can’t get past our hang-ups, no matter how much we curse them. Sex is, evidently, entirely pointless to us without them.
Image from Simon Q. via Wikimedia Commons.