The most recent scandal in Malta has been the launch of a seedy Tumblr site that featured a handful of leaked 'selfie' photographs of young Maltese women. As of yesterday, most of the photographs were taken down. What remained were a few troll-like remarks from the author of the site explaining his intentions and correcting some supposed inaccuracies that had been floating around in the press. Currently, the site has been taken down completely; only the standard Tumblr message remains: "There's nothing here."
I am ashamed to admit that I saw some of the photographs — not on the original site, instead they were passed along on a group chat. I feel shame because I believe that the circulation of these photographs amongst the general population is only exacerbating the issue; we are as much participants in this scandal as the major players; we are contributing to the problem. The photographs that I saw, and which were on the Tumblr as of yesterday, were of a young blonde Maltese woman — nude, except for high heels in a few of the snaps.
The response from the audience has been a synchronised rolling of the eyes at the stupidity of the woman. She should have known better. She should have been more careful choosing the recipient(s) of the photos. She should not have taken the photos in the first place. Okay, maybe she shouldn't have taken the photos, but she probably regrets it, and maybe she's learned something. (Remember: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone).
Remarking on the stupidity or 'trashiness' or 'sluttiness' of the woman is perhaps the easiest response to the situation. I do not, however, think that evaluating the foolishness of the woman's choices is even remotely the most important issue in this spectacle.
Her first mistake was trusting the man to whom she sent the photographs. Many have argued that her first mistake was taking the photo in the first place, but I will be generous and excuse her this because (a) she is young and naive (she cannot help this); (b) she is likely insecure (more so a consequence of our oversexed and objectifying culture as opposed to her particular fault); and (c) she made a poor choice (a fate to which we have all fallen victim). Taking a nude photograph to send to your lover or boyfriend — whom you should be able to trust — does not warrant a punishment of such widespread exposure and humiliation.
Let us examine the role of the person who leaked the photos (from what I've heard, it was the woman's jilted ex, but I stand to be corrected). This leaker defiled the trust of this woman. Any person that would do such a thing is a spineless, pathetic, and vindictive individual. He contaminated the integrity of the relationship by taking something that should have remained private between lovers and instead chose to use it as a tool of humiliation and destruction. He violated an unspoken rule of privacy, nondisclosure, and respect.
Do not mistake my reasoning as pity for the woman (although I do empathise with her) — my intention is to shed some light on contributing factors that have been ignored. To examine all the players involved as opposed to simply reenacting the most popular narrative of blaming the woman. It is, unfortunately, an ugly but deeply imbedded tradition of our human nature to blame the woman. It is a repetition of rape rhetoric: she dressed a certain way or she acted a certain way and so she deserved it.
Moving along — then there are, of course, the author(s) of the website, which was created specifically to showcase scandalous photos of "Maltese Girls Only." The site's description read something like, "Matese girls caught on camera." Although not stated explicitly, it was implied that the site was for sharing photographs of an intimate and personal photographs that had been published without the permission of the subject. (The author of the site later clarified this uncertainty by stating that only consensual photos would be included, but he/she did not elaborate on how such a system would be produced).
I feel a great sense of shame and sadness that such individuals exist in my immediate world — that the sexual exploitation, objectification, and degradation of women within the Maltese community is seen as playful sport worthy of a website. We should all feel ashamed.
Shall we consider the wider circumstances and repercussions of such an event? I will not be making any hackneyed argument against the media culture of 'sex sells', twerking, and sex tapes (which is an important argument to be sure, but one that I'm sure we are all well aware of and therefore does not need to be reiterated here).
Although I do not blame the young woman for the repercussions of taking the photograph, I believe the Selfie Culture in which we are immersed is a major factor. The first step is the murder of the Selfie. The word itself is moronic and indicative of the bastardisation of the English language in recent years. The Oxford English has recently added Bromance, Totes, Sexting, Whatevs, as well as Selfie to their repertoire of words. I sense the creeping elitism in this line of argument, but as a writer, scholar and a former academic, I am saddened by the inclusion of such 'non-words' or idiotic jargon in our lexicon.
he Selfie represents a "murder of the real," to quote Baudrillard. His theory of Simulacra argues that reality has been destroyed by the constant repetition of the image. In the wake of the image there exists a hyperreality in which the image has "all the signs of the real" but fails to sustain reality or even indicate that a destruction of reality has occurred. Most importantly, such destruction reveals our preference for the image over the real; "the murderous power of images, murderers of the real."
Not only does the Selfie disrupt the basic principle of photography, which necessitates a subject and an artist, but it is symptomatic of the terrible state of the female collective consciousness (yes, men take selfie's too, but I would argue that the motivation for and reception of the image is gender specific).
The Selfie presents the body as object — as a fragment of the whole. The body becomes more valuable than the mind, the soul, the character of the individual. Such photographs are indicative of a developing and distressing truth: the person's need for constant approval from external sources.
When a selfie photograph is posted on social media outlets, the imbedded message becomes even more so one of desperate approval. A high 'like' ratio serves to bolster one's self esteem and sense of self worth. Or, in other words, the more positive feedback received, the better the subject of the photograph feels about herself. Not only is this incredibly disconcerting for the most obvious reasons, but also because it exacerbates an image-based value system in which places appearance at the top of the pyramid. The murderous power of the image.
This is a dangerous environment in which we find ourselves. We react with shock, disgust, confusion, dismay to something such as this Maltese Selfie Scandal and yet we participate daily in the machine of negativity and revenge — be it gossip, bullying, jealousy, critiquing, the sharing of lewd photographs or materials, even the hateful thoughts we feel for those standing right in front of us.
I worry about my daughter; I am reminded that one of the most important lessons I can teach her is to face the world with confidence and to feel secure with herself; to show her how to cultivate a healthy level of self esteem and a realistic understanding of what should be valued and what is sacred; to be careful of whom you trust and to not feel pressured to participate in the actions of her peers or of others in society.
This is the burden of being a parent: striving to equip your child with the best tools and techniques to tackle such a difficult world. Although our reactions to this 'scandal' may differ drastically, I think where we can agree is this: what is most important is to try and be good, to try and create good, and to aim to foster good. This can be done by offering your hand to someone who is down in the mud, instead of judging them and pushing them further down. Because we've all been there at one point or another, and we may be there again, and it is easier to pull yourself back up if you have someone there to stand beside you.