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photos by Lara Shipley

Who Ogles the Oglers?

July 13th, 2009 · 8 Comments

obama_oglePerhaps you caught some of the weekend’s silly fuss over a photo that apparently showed Barack Obama scoping out a callipygous Brazillian teen at a youth conference. If so, you probably also noted that the full video of the scene captured in the picture pretty unambiguously shows that the president was doing no such thing—though Nicolas Sarkozy’s another story. Now, this is obviously a public event concerning very public figures, but the sequence of events is nevertheless a pretty good illustration of an important point Jeff Rozen often makes about how the loss of privacy can be self perpetuating.

A big part of the value of privacy is that it creates a space in which we’re not called upon to justify ourselves. There are all sorts of things you’re willing to say and do among your close friends that you’d be far more hesitant to do in public, or on film, because your friends have a context within which to understand your words and behavior—and they know that soundbite or snapshot doesn’t define you as a person. Outside that intimate circle, one disclosure may require a cascade of further disclosures to provide that context to those who might otherwise misjudge you: The photograph gives the wrong impression, so you’d better hope there’s video handy to correct it. Not a terribly big deal for public officials, who fully expect to surrender substantial privacy when they take office, but potentially a growing issue for the rest of us as routine photography and videotaping of ordinary social interactions becomes ever more commonplace.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Privacy and Surveillance



8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Jul 13, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    I’m with Sarko on this one.

  • 2 WF // Jul 13, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Unfortunately, the video doesn’t quite support the hypothesis that Obama is too busy grabbing the hand of another woman to check out this one. Otherwise it would be a pretty nice Gettier example.

  • 3 Blar // Jul 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    This is similar to your concept of one-way hash arguments. In this case, it only takes a snippet of behavior to cast doubt on a person, while dispelling that doubt can require a much more extensive disclosure, with plenty of background information.

  • 4 Sexy Time With Our Pundits and Political Figures Has Never Been So Bizarre « Around The Sphere // Jul 14, 2009 at 10:50 am

    […] #3: Julian Sanchez on Obama: A big part of the value of privacy is that it creates a space in which we’re not called […]

  • 5 Ewe // Jul 14, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    WF is completely right about this.

    First of all, the picture is better than the video in this one respect: it clearly show the feet of both Obama and the woman behind him that he’s theoretically helping with her footing. All feet are planted.

    Second, this doesn’t even rise the level of a faux pas. If a large, nice-looking bottom comes through your field of vision, your eyes will naturally track the “object” unless you specifically make an effort to control the reflex. Even the right-wing press isn’t outraged about this one. Hell, they think it makes him seem less effete and metrosexual.

    Third, still photographs can be especially deceiving. This is a strange case in that the still shows one thing (the position of the feet) better than the video.

    Finally, a sad little comment on human nature: this little non-controversy turns out to be an excellent projective test of people’s feelings about Obama. Despite point #2, it seems to be the case that Obama critics think he’s an ass-ogler (not that there’s anything wrong with that) while his legion of worshipful disciples are pretty sure he’s never had an impure thought in his life.

  • 6 WF // Jul 14, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Wait, I didn’t mean to say that it’s clear that Obama is ogling there.

  • 7 Ewe // Jul 15, 2009 at 11:30 am

    WF, sorry for being unclear. I read your comment to mean that the video is still indeterminate, rather than clearly absoloving Obama.

    Sorry if that’s not what you meant either.

  • 8 Mike // Jul 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I’m not an Obama supporter, and I still think this picture is awesome. My wife and I both agreed we would look, too. As long as he wasn’t staring, it’s a very natural thing to be distracted by beauty.

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