Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
The first couple weeks of March were a terrible time on the Web for modesty.
First, there was this—the Supreme Court of Massachusetts declared that under state law, surreptitious “upskirt” photos were totally legal to take and publish, inspiring outrage all over the Internet (except, presumably among its masses of upskirt fans), until the state legislature finally got around to passing a law against them.
Then, nearly a week later, there was this—and I’ll go ahead and recommend you don’t click on that link. The title of the article is “Rapper Collects Photos of Asscracks at Magic: The Gathering Tournament,” and it delivers on exactly what it promises. A rapper (because everyone on the Internet is a rapper) who goes by OB1 went to a Magic tournament, noticed a lot of participants’ coin slots were showing, took a bunch of pictures, and then uploaded them to Imgur in order to get some Reddit love.
The Internet giggled at them for a few minutes and then moved on.
And clearly these are very different things, but it’s really hard for me to get over the similarities. With both, we’re talking about furtive photographs of public semi-nudity, taken without the victim’s consent and posted to the Internet to be gaped at by strangers. With both, we’re talking about an invasion of privacy, a lack of respect for modesty, and a failure to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And yet, we’re outraged by the former, but mostly okay with the latter.
I don’t want to overstate the similarities. There’s clearly a huge power differential in our culture between men and women, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality and nudity. While an illicit photograph of male nudity is usually intended simply to mock or deride, a similar photograph of a female is almost always an expression of sexual domination. While the males at the Magic tournament might have been embarrassed, females in upskirt photos tend to feel threatened and abused.
Our culture’s relationship to nudity is terribly unbalanced as well. A topless woman is a scandal, but a topless man is just some dude mowing his lawn. A female in short-shorts is a slut, but a male in short-shorts is just a fashion victim. And while it’s been said a thousand times in the evangelical blogosphere, it probably bears repeating again: our church youth groups tend to teach girls to dress “modestly” while they only teach boys to stop looking at girls.
Never mind that Scripture doesn’t think of modesty in these terms at all. The two epistles that actually address it—1 Peter and 1 Timothy—are more concerned with the appearance of wealth than the appearance of flesh. And when the Bible does address nudity, it’s male nudity as often as not (see Gen. 9).
Clearly there’s a double-standard in our culture. A compromise in female modesty requires emergency legislation; a compromise in male modesty gets you karma on Reddit. And, while it may be weird to say it, I can’t help but think that this double-standard has a way of…sexualizing modesty.
And if such an idea sounds weird, that’s part of the problem. By making modesty all about sex in Evangelical and American culture, we’ve lost track of its historical and spiritual purpose. We should be covering up not because we’re afraid of turning each other on, but to draw attention away from our fallen natures and toward the image of God reflected in our souls.
Ultimately, this is the problem with clandestinely taken nude pics, whether they’re sexy or silly. Such actions treat an ensouled being like a piece of meat—like something of no more consequence than any other random jumble of molecules. It’s the sort of thing that, sadly, drives the culture of the Internet, and the sort of thing that Christians should be first in line to condemn, in all its forms—not because we’re opposed to all things sexy, but because we’re in favor of hallowing God’s image.