Sunday, May 31, 2009

Privacy, Consent, and the Nature of Our Acts

"Isn't the issue here the filming of the act without the participant's consent?"

That's the question posed by one of the commenters on my blog. And another one adds: "The issue, really, is about the consent to take the video. there was no mutual consent."

Really? Is this what this is all about? Consent? And privacy? But all these questions and issues are really just glib misdirections. Is it just privacy and consent at stake here? Or is it the acts that necessitate privacy and consent?

Let's take it through some thought experiments.

If you were to take a video of me walking, just walking, down the street, and if you were to broadcast it on TV and on the Internet, has my privacy been violated? One might say yes, based on the arguments above. I did not give my consent, and yet my image is being broadcast to the public. TV networks do this all the time with their establishing shots.

But no one cares, and why? Because the act itself is uninteresting and because I'm a nobody.

So let's say something interesting happens to me. Let's say I'm walking down the street and I slip on a banana peel. You capture that on video and put it on Youtube. Again, my privacy has been violated. Upset, I might take it up with you, but it's hardly something that will merit a court case or a senate investigation. No one cares. Why? Because the incident itself may have been interesting, but I'm still a nobody.

So now let's say that it's this starlet, KH, who slips on the banana peel, and whom you capture on video. Has her privacy been violated? At this point, it's arguable. She's already a public figure to begin with, but we might also say that the banana peel incident happened to her while she was in her private persona. Will publishing the video merit a court case or a senate investigation? I don't think so. At best, the clip will air on SNN or Star Talk or Bitoy's Funniest Videos. Other than a few chuckles and embarrassed interviews, it's not going to make much of a ripple. It might even launch her on a career as a comedienne.

What's that you say? Slipping on a banana peel isn't the same as having sex? But why shouldn't they be? They're both natural acts. One is a result of gravity and the other a result of biology. One might say that slipping on a banana peel is more embarrassing because it was accidental and involuntary, while having sex is willful and voluntary.

Slipping on a banana peel is innocent? But aren't they fond of telling us prudes that sex is innocent? No magazine or TV program has ever taught us the many ways we can slip on a banana, but we have scads of local magazines and TV programs that purport to teach us the many ways we can have sex.

And yet, when sex becomes public, it suddenly becomes a private matter that requires consent? Ano ba talaga, ate?!

So just why is Katrina Halili so upset? Is it just because she was filmed without her consent, full stop? Or she was filmed without her consent performing an act that she found shameful and embarrassing? What was that shameful act? Dancing in her underwear? But that's something we've all seen, and as I said before, she's practically left nothing to the imagination anymore. Dancing to Careless Whisper? It's a cheesy song, but it's not that bad. Or was it because she had sex with someone she shouldn't have had sex with?

Or was she simply upset that she was discovered? That, with the evidence firmly in place, it's no longer something that she could hint away with a giggle, a wink, and a tart innuendo?

No, I don't think this episode is about privacy at all. Privacy is not an end unto itself. We value privacy because there's something of value that we want to protect. This episode is about our whole confused approach to sex. As another commenter said:

"Post-Christian Filipinos, trapped between their Catholic heritage and their pagan obsessions, have absolutely no idea how to deal with moral issues."

Either sex is some trivial, irrelevant act, no better than slipping on a banana peel, in which case we should be wondering why we're all so worked up; or sex is something sacred and valuable that we want to preserve its sanctity in the privacy of our rooms.