Hard at work in my home office today, around two o’clock, I kept the HDTV on the wall tuned to coverage of Felix Baumgartner’s 24 mile high sky dive attempt. He was just going through the pre-jump check list when my land line telephone rang. Caller ID revealed that it was my dear sister Rose’s oldest son, Henry Palikowski Jr., calling me from Rhode Island.
Tom: Hank Junior?
Hank Jr.: Hi, Tom.
Tom: How you doing?
Hank Jr.: Not bad.
Tom: How are things going at Brown?
Hank Jr.: At Brown? Just fine – I’m learning a lot about art.
Tom: Good. What can I do for you?
Hank Jr.: Well, I have… an issue… I guess you’d call it, but… well… you know…
Tom: Let me guess – it’s not something you feel comfortable discussing with your parents.
Hank Jr.: Yeah, you got it.
Tom: Okay, that’s what uncles are for. Go ahead.
Hank Jr.: Right… um… well, you see… I have this friend and they have a problem.
Tom: What’s that?
Hank Jr.: Ah… you know… Reddit?
Tom: Sure. It’s a social news Web site that hosts blogs. It’s the great-grandchild of the venerable old Internet dialup BBS.
Hank Jr.: Okay, if you say so. Have you heard about what happened to Creepshot?
Tom: The Reddit blog that posts surreptitiously taken pictures, mostly of young women?
Hank Jr.: Yeah, that one.
Hank Jr.: Um… Creepshot got blocked by Reddit yesterday.
Tom: It did?
Hank Jr.: Because people at Gawker were trying to track down the people at Creepshot.
Tom: Really? Why?
Hank Jr.: The people at Gawker want to expose the people at Creepshot who are taking pictures of women without their consent and then posting them on the Internet for the world to see
Tom: Usually with salacious, snarky and/or degrading commentary, correct?
Hank Jr.: Uh… sure, but not always. Sometimes the people who post at Creepshot say stuff that indicates they actually kind of… um… sincerely appreciate how the women look, from an aesthetic perspective.
Tom: They appreciate the view of a woman’s undergarments as seen from looking up her skirts? What’s aesthetic about that perspective?
Hank Jr.: Um… according to… er… my… friend… they…
Tom: Now tell me the truth, Hank Jr. – this “friend” of yours, it doesn’t by any chance happen to actually be you, does it?
Hank Jr.: Oh, oh, no, no… absolutely not. It’s my room mate, I swear, not me.
Tom: All right then – is this room mate of yours an art student, too?
Hank Jr.: Yes.
Tom: And they think sneaking around taking pictures of teenage girls standing in a line at the corner convenience store is… art?
Hank Jr.: Well… um… it can be can’t it? Photography can be art. And there’s found art, isn’t there – what about Marcell DuChamp’s Readymades, for example? So, it follows that candid photography could be classified as a genre of found art, couldn’t it?
Tom: If the people posting those pictures had drawn the line at posting drooling, horny commentaries about the women, then yeah, maybe, I might agree with that argument. But you’re an art student, and every time I ask you about how things are going at Brown, you say you’re learning a lot about art. So, okay, have you learned by now, the importance of context?
Hank Jr.: Oh yeah, sure. Context functions to define the artwork.
Tom: Among other things, definitely, yes. And, I might add, you, yourself, are also a pretty successful artist in your own right, even now, aren’t you?
Hank Jr.: Um… sure… I suppose so.
Tom: And as such, you must realize how context works to distinguish that which is art from that which is not?
Hank Jr.: Yeah… I guess… um…
Tom: If, for example, the canvas tarpaulin which comprises Garage Floor I, the seminal work of your own innovative genre, was still, at the moment, reposing on the floor of your parents’ garage in Fairfax, Virginia, instead of being framed and hung as a monumental piece in a wealthy collector’s thirty-six room mansion in Beverly Hills, California, it wouldn’t be art, now would it? It would just be another tattered, paint-splattered, grease-soaked, footprint-smudged garage tarp, covered with cigarette burns, tire tracks and various body fluid stains of obscure origin, now wouldn’t it?
Hank Jr.: I disagree.
Tom: On what grounds?
Hank Jr.: Because I covered that canvas with gesso before I put it down on the garage floor.
Tom: So your intent made it art?
Hank Jr.: That, and the context, yes.
Tom: Very well; let’s accept that reasoning. By the same logic, then, if your friend’s intent was to create art by applying the principles of DuChamp’s Found Objects to the pictorial portrayal of women by covertly taking photographs of them, then your friend should have subsequently sought to display those images in frames, and mounted on the walls of a legitimate, recognized art gallery in a context of respect, decorum and cultural sophistication. Instead, they posted them on a Reddit blog called “Creepshot” where the images are readily and routinely juxtaposed with what passes among adolescent males for witty comments. Doing that changed the context sufficiently to transmute your friend’s endeavors from debatable art to indisputably blatant, inexcusable and insulting sexual exploitation.
Hank Jr.: Okay, um… I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether what my friend did was art.
Tom: I suppose so. But what I can’t figure out is, why does your friend care if they can make a case that his Creepshot posts are art?
Hank Jr.: Uh… Tom… my room mate with this problem happens to a woman.
Tom: Who secretly took pictures of other women going about in public and posted them on Creepshot?
Hank Jr.: Yeah.
Tom: For God’s sake, can you tell me why?
Hank Jr.: She told me she thinks they’re hot.
Tom: What – she’s a lesbian?
Hank Jr.: Ah, well… I’m pretty sure she’s bisexual, actually.
Tom: I see. And how do you…
Hank Jr.: From… um… personal experience.
Tom: Wait a minute – you’re sleeping with your female room mate in a dorm at Brown University?
Hank Jr.: I don’t live in a dorm, Tom. I live off-campus.
Hank Jr.: In a house on Wickenden Street, near the Coffee Exchange and Amy’s Cafe… and Utrecht’s Art Supplies. It’s really convienent. There are about six of us here.
Tom: About six?
Hank Jr.: Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s art school.
Tom: Your parents think you’re living in a dorm, you know.
Hank Jr.: Whatever – I’m here on full scholarship, so it’s not like they’re paying for it or anything. As a matter of fact, whenever I sell something I’ve been sending some of the money home to Mom – until Dad finds a job, you know.
Tom: I know, she told me. So what do you do with your dorm room?
Hank Jr.: We use it to hang out in while we’re on campus.
Tom: Ask me not to tell your parents about any of this, please.
Hank Jr.: Tom, please don’t tell my parents about any of this.
Hank Jr.: Because they’re both very conservative Catholics and it would make them extremely upset.
Tom: Right. Okay, and what is your bisexual female room mate there in your Ivy League artists’ colony in Providence, Rhode Island worried about with respect to the covert photographs of women she has posted on Creepshot?
Hank Jr.: Um… she’s… ah… concerned about violation of her rights to privacy.
Hank Jr.: Like I said, there are these… I donno… vigilantes I guess you’d call them, at Gawker, who are hacking around the Web, trying to find out as much as they can about the people who posted those photographs on Creepshot, so they can expose them and tell the world everything about them, and that’s what my room mate is worried about.
Tom: Let me get this straight – somebody who went around taking secret photographs of unsuspecting women and posted the pictures on the Internet, on a Web log with comments enabled, so slime balls of every description can make nasty, leering, suggestive wisecracks about the innocent, unsuspecting women whose photographs have been…
Hank Jr.: Hey, under the First Amendment, those nasty, leering suggestive wisecracks about those innocent, unsuspecting women are constitutionally protected free speech – and for that matter, so is my room mate posting those photographs on Creepshot in the first place!
Tom: Very well, maybe they are – but just because the Constitution allows you to do something, Mr. Henry Palikowski Junior, that doesn’t necessarily mean doing it is a good idea!
Hank Jr.: It doesn’t?
Tom: No, and come to think of it, maybe that’s something they ought to teach in art school. But tell me, since she’s an artist, and she maintains what she was doing is art, why does your room mate contribute an aerial fornication if some outraged vigilante at Gawker hacks her real identity and lets everyone on planet Earth know her name, where she lives, where she goes to school…
Hank Jr.: You can’t be serious! What about her Fourth Amendment right to privacy?
Tom: What are you talking about? There is no explicit right to privacy in the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment only prevents the police from conducting a search of her home and personal effects without a warrant – more or less, and usually, under normal circumstances, provided she’s not a suspected terrorist; and that’s it.
Hank Jr.: So, you’re not morally outraged at the prospect of everybody knowing who it was that posted pictures of hot women squatting down to peer at construction workers through a hole in a fence, smiling at each other ambiguously on park benches, licking ice cream cones outside the Meeting Street Ben & Jerry’s, and bending over to pick up strategically placed five dollar bills off the sidewalk on Creepshot?
Hank Jr.: In that case, what advice would you offer?
Tom: That you get a new girlfriend.
Hank Jr.: You really think so?
Hank Jr.: Um… okay… well, if that’s it, then thanks.
Hank Jr.: ‘Bye.