Privacy, Pornography, Paradox

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"The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter -- but the King of England cannot enter."

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham
British Prime Minister, 1763

Thanks to the Brits, your home has been regarded for centuries not only as your castle, but also as your safest refuge.

Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, your cell phone has been deemed equally sacrosanct.

The Court last month ruled unanimously that police generally need a warrant before searching the cell phone or personal electronic device of a person under arrest.

Chief Justice John Roberts conceded that the decision would make it harder for police to fight crime. But he dismissed that concern with the pithy observation that “privacy comes at a cost.”

Wait a minute. I smell the odor of paradox hanging heavy in the air.

As a society, we expect and demand privacy. Yet, as a culture, we feverishly share – and follow -- the most intimate details of our and one another’s personal and public activities.

More than 1.3 billion users, for example, currently spend 640 million total minutes on Facebook each month – checking up on one another.

Then there’s sexting -- photos of our privates or other sexually explicit stuff sent via social media.

A February 2014 study by security software firm McAfee reports that more than half of adults have sent or received “intimate content” on their mobile devices. Not teens. Adults, including a former New York City mayoral candidate.

New on the scene are reality television programs that broadcast as much skin as they can get away with:

  • Discovery channel’s Naked and Afraid, a top-rated nonfiction show
  • The Learning channel’s Buying Naked, about real estate for nudists
  • Syfy’s Naked Vegas, about body painting
  • Discovery’s Naked Castaway and, most recently, Dating Naked

I was with the New York Daily News in the Sixties when CBS radio became our new competitor by converting to a 24/7 news format. The station’s slogan was “All news, all the time.” Today, as a New York Times TV critic pointed out, television is heading toward “All nude, all the time.”

And out-and-out pornography? It’s at least a $100-billion global business. If “Porn” were a corporation, it would rank Number 23 on the Fortune 100 list -- just ahead of IBM.

Author Damon Brown provides some history:

“When the projector was invented roughly a century ago, the first movies were not of damsels in distress tied to train tracks or Charlie Chaplin-style slapsticks; they were stilted porn shorts called stag films. VHS became the dominant standard for VCRs largely because Sony wouldn’t allow pornographers to use Betamax; the movie industry followed porn’s lead.”

Pope Francis has called ours “a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives.”

So here’s a thought.

If the King of England could learn respect for his subjects in the 18th century, we in the 21st might consider engendering a renewed respect for the privacy of one another. We might consider mirroring the Exodus image of Moses before the burning bush by removing our sandals before the “sacred ground” of the other.

In my next blog, “This Paradise is the Bomb.”


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  • published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 11:43:38 -0400