So as an amateur academic, here are some mostly un-researched, kind of mish-mash thoughts on the matter. I'm attempting to approach it, yet again, as an objective anthropologist, and thus am not making judgements on anyone's reactions or beliefs on the matter. Feel free to engage in my explorations intellectually (and emotionally!), but please don't assume that anything within is aimed at you personally, or is attempted to judge your response.
First, some background info:
Yesterday (October 14 2004), an Elijah Wood fan, in her usual scouring of the internet for new images and multimedia, discovered a folder of pictures of some of the LOTR cast. These pictures weren't the usual publicity or red carpet type, they appeared to be happy snaps of the actors at parties, out with friends, etc. These kinds of 'paparazzi' pictures of the actors out in public (or even 'party' pictures from events etc) turn up on occasion, so the fan in question didn't feel any qualms at posting them in her Livejournal, especially as she had just had to do a little digging to uncover them, not hack into a locked or private folder.
However, shortly after she posted them, she looked further into the folders she was browsing, and realised that the photos were more happy snaps than images intended for public consumption - so she decided to remove the posts she made, post publicly asking that if people saved them, not to re-post them, and contacted the owner of the site she found them on and let him know that the obviously personal photos were available for public consumption. He subsequently removed or locked the folders from public view.
Other fans in the community have had a variety of responses, for and against the actions and reactions of the fan who uncovered the photos in the first place. You can find a number of links to different reactions in the daily lotrips newsletter, four_lobsters, here. It's these responses, among others that I've seen and heard about around my friends list, that I'll be exploring here.
In a broad range of media in this contemporary society, the lines between the public and the private are blurring, and often converging. What used to be considered the 'private' sphere of family, sex, the body, etc. is now well and truly out in the open and blatant, if not dominant, in practically all media we consume (think glossy magazines, tabloids, talk shows, advertising, even 'conservative' newspapers and current affairs programs). The phenomenon of 'celebrity' (in terms of the more recent fascination with the 'private' lives of such icons, not only their careers) is a quite recent aspect of this merging.
Celebrity is an interesting thing to look at because it seems to be where the private has become the public. Fictional characters (be it Frodo, Casey Connor, whoever) have no private sphere - there is no divide between public and private, because there is only one sphere for the fictional character, and that is by default public, regardless of whether it reveals aspects that are broadly considered private. It could be argued that celebrity is the contemporary (or postmodern, heh) 'fictional character'. Just as boybands are generally (obviously) comprised of a group of created personalities, so too are any celebrity you see reported in the papers - Jennifer Lopez, Tom & Nicole, Elijah Wood. These celebrities are creating a character - performing a fictional character in a way, to (and via) the media and general public. Just as the record labels create personalities and characters for members of pop groups, so too are publicists, editors, lawyers, etc. creating a personality for celebrities.
So in a way, celebrities are just as fictional as any fictional character (who may or may not have aspects of their fictional personality influenced by 'real' events). The difference with (most) celebrities, however, is that their fiction is often masquerading as 'truth'. On a basic level, they maintain their real names. On less obvious levels; there is rarely (if at all) any attention drawn to the subjectivity and artifice of their constructed public persona (I'm sure you can think of a bunch of celebrities/personalities who blatantly draw attention to the artifice of celebrity, but it's the other, majority group that I'm talking about here). Western society hasn't quite moved to the stage yet where we question the reality of supposed 'non-fiction' interviews, video footage or photography (unless you're a bitter old nugget like Baudrillard
That creates a really fascinating situation that (and let me
So what does this have to do with fans, and people who engage with the celebrity phenomenon? What does this have to do with the current fandom kerfuffle over the photos?
The 'celebrity' means both that what once was considered the private sphere has now become public, but another private sphere has come in to take its place. In other words, we know that Elijah's middle name is Jordan, that he was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that he has an older brother who works with computer games and a younger sister studying in New York, an estranged father and a mother who managed his career when he was younger. We know his taste in music and movies, and a few anecdotes from his life. These are private things, but we have received them via a range of different filters that have consciously created a fictional Elijah Wood, celebrity. We, as fans, know all these things, but we don't know Elijah personally, though the knowledge of seemingly personal things such as listed above makes us feel like that.
So the controversy with this photographs came about because the public celebrity sphere masquerades as the private, which leads to the blanket (valid) understanding that celebrities do not have privacy, due to the fact that their very persona is created by their private life. In other words, if media or information about them have filtered their way to us in any form, it is open to us just as the rest of their private life is.
But there are many facets to this. Another one is the group of people who are horrified at the idea that these photos are from the 'real' private sphere (1), and therefore by viewing them we are infringing on the privacy of the person, instead of partaking in the publicly available private celebrity.
Yet another facet, making people from many different camps even more uncomfortable, is the sense of concern or distress on behalf of the celebrity in question - because many fans consider themselves a 'fan' because of the amount of respect and affection they have for the celebrity. Due to the publicised private life, as fans we do feel like we 'know' the celebrity in question (especially, as mentioned above, as there is no reference made to the artifice of their persona), and thus feel distressed on their behalf when events such as this (which could be considered threatening) occur.
This opens up yet another aspect - how do others in the community react to this distress that some fans feel on a personal basis? Someone has already labelled it as a characteristic of 'the BNFs' sense of propriety to the celebrities they are fans of, as if the people concerned are behaving thus in order to control what the rest of the community sees, and not out of personal concern or distress on behalf of the celebrity they feel so close to.
So how do we deal with this situation? Perhaps the difficulty we're having here, and the unprecedented anxiety and strong emotion it seems to be causing people from many facets, is because we don't really have a discourse that dictates how we respond to this kind of situation - kind of like how Queen Victoria outlawed homosexuality between men but not between women, because it was incomprehensible that lesbians existed. There is no open discussion in society, and not even much in the (more private sphere of) fandom, that discusses the simulacrum/artifice aspect of celebrity, or acknowledges it openly and/or frequently. The existence and practice of RPS regarding celebrities has only come out in such force recently, and it appears we're right in the burgeoning crux of it here - hacking our way through the jungle with no map so that people behind us can just follow the path.
And on top of the public/private issues that come with celebrity, fictionalising and fanning celebrity, is our own practice and existence within fandom. Up until quite recently the mini-universe of fandom existed much like a public sphere within which fans discussed issues of fanfiction, fanon, canon… basically anything fandom-related, via mailing lists, message boards, and earlier still - paper zines. With the massive influx of Livejournal as the community medium for fans to communicate, suddenly public and private issues are being aired and discussed in virtually the same forums; even 'friends lock' is creating micro-public spheres for fans to share aspects of their private life in a public environment. More conflict arises as we face a similar public/private split as celebrities face, and yet fans (BNFs included!) are not figureheads standing out of our reach but people within a digital arm's reach, who we communicate with regularly, and who can read what we say about them.
So do the "you wouldn't like people writing porn about you!" and "you wouldn't like it if your private photos were posted publicly on the web!" arguments hold weight? Is this a moral issue, with people with differing viewpoints standing at different moral positions? How much of (a) celebrity is available to the public, considering the artificial persona created to mimic the 'real' person? Further exacerbating the converging of public and private spheres that is so apparent in fandom, I'll happily hear valid emotional responses as well as thought-out intellectual ones.