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Sep. 7th, 2006

In which I weigh in on the Crocodile Hunter and Gillian Chung affairs.....

Croc Hunter first:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/australia/story/0,,1865124,00.html
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=10400139

Alright, so it is sad for the Irwin family that Steve Irwin died. This is true. But Germaine Greer has got it right:

From that Guardian article above:

"What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. The one lesson any conservationist must labour to drive home is that habitat loss is the principal cause of species loss. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike."

From that NZ Herald article:

"Feminist academic Germaine Greer said yesterday she hoped the death of Australian "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin would mark the end of what she called exploitative nature documentaries, a discordant note amid floods of tributes."
...
"Greer said she found the Irwin phenomenon "embarrassing", although she understood the sadness at his death.

"I'm not saying that's not sad, I'm saying what might be over now is this kind of exploitation of animals," Greer said."

Exactly. I could never stomach the Crocodile Hunter with his bullshit machismo and his abuse of animals he was supposed to be helping protect. And now all the fuss over his death is equally distasteful. What's with this massive, public outpouring of grief from people who never knew him? Why can't we stick with the usual respectful obituary and then let his family and friends alone to mourn?

On to Gillian Chung:

ESWN has translated three essays defending Easyfinder for publishing those photos of Gillian Chung, followed by excerpts from a blog post criticising their reasoning:

http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20060905_1.htm

Now, I don't normally sympathise with public figures complaining about "invasion of privacy" when they're in a public space. But that isn't the point, and there is something seriously distasteful about these three essays.

The first, "EasyFinder Can Not Apologise", by Jiang Yun, uses the media's role as monitor as an excuse.

"Based upon the current trend, some artistes are taking up the role of victims to carry out their ulterior motives while others who were involved in previous scandals are coming to claim that they had been smeared and victimized as well. The watchdog capability of the media cannot be lightly dismissed. Sometimes, you have to admire how the media organizations use their enormous manpower and financial resources to chase down a story. They roam the ends of the earth to find these celebrities conducting secret love affair overseas, or patronize prostitutes on the mainland. An affair that was believed to be totally secret suddenly appears in front of you with photographs and text. Do you think that it is so simple?"

Fine, the media should act as a watchdog. But what did Gillian Chung do wrong? All she did was to change her clothes in a space in which she quite rightly believed her privacy would be protected. Most of us, whether we're nobodies or somebodies, prefer not to change our clothes in public.

"For example, consider the latest photographs of Superman (=Li Ka-shing) holding hands with his female friend in the streets of Rome. Can you say that you have no interest in the warmth of love at an old age? Can you say that all the distinguished celebrities and gentlemen are not worried about the secrets that they prefer to remain unknown? Can you say that the real-life wives are not secretly glad that their other halves are being watched without their having to pay a cent for private investigators' fees? There is a very good example about Big Brother Bo when a pair of shoes with initials appeared at a certain Parisian hotel. Today, he and his wife appear in public as the perfect couple. What shall we say about that?"

This line of reasoning is completely fallacious and devoid of all logic. I don't know what this story of Li Ka-Shing holding hands with his female friend is about, but it certainly seems to have happened on the streets of Rome. Note: On the streets. Not in a hotel room or apartment or anywhere they could reasonably assume to be private, but on the streets. Streets are public places. Most of us are aware of that and so we control our behaviour. Had Gillian Chung taken her clothes off on stage or on the streets of Kuala Lumpur where everybody could see, then fine, let EasyFinder publish them, let her suffer the shame. But she was changing her clothes in a space she reasonably and rightly assumed to be private. And how do you compare exposing dirty secrets with changing clothes? Everybody changes their clothes. This is a normal, indeed good, activity. There is nothing shameful or scandalous about it. We all need to change our clothes, it's a simple matter of hygiene.

"Peephole literature became popular in response to market demands. The public have an unlimited interest in the celebrities, and the tabloid magazines satisfy people's curiosity. Who doesn't read them? If people are not reading them, then how could they have existed for so long? And be so popular?

There is no denying that the tabloids serve a watchdog function. They bring pressure upon public figures, who are forced to examine their own conduct. Public figures, especially those in the audio-visual entertainment field, ought to ask themselves: "How many more criminal and immoral activities still remain unexposed under the sun!" This is not about condemnation alone. There will come a day when nobody pays any attention to you even if you take off your clothes in the middle of the street. If nobody pursues you and reports on you, your market value is gone."

The media should serve a watchdog function, no argument there. But, as Jiang admits in this excerpt, that is about exposing criminal and immoral activities. It is neither criminal nor immoral to change one's clothes in a private space, so this argument is completely irrelevant to the Gillian Chung case. But this has somehow gotten mixed up with the market demands argument, which is entirely different. Real, respectable journalists perform the watchdog function. Tabloids respond to the lowest level of market demand (that for titillation and cheap, mindless entertainment) while spouting lots of fine words about the watchdog function of the media. But this leads us to a kind of chicken-egg impasse. Sure, the tabloids are only satisfying the demands of the market. People suck. But would this demand exist if there were no supply? Wouldn't the scum just go back to their usual taking camphone shots up women's skirts and peeking into the girls' changing rooms if the paparazzi stopped invading celebrities privacy? Maybe, I don't know. What's more important is that this "We're only satisfying the demands of the market" bullshit is just a lazy, limp figleaf covering the paparazzi's intellectual and moral laziness. The public is not holding a gun to your hand demanding satisfaction of their demand for pictures of naked women. If you don't publish these pictures, they'll just go buy a porno to look at pictures of naked, but consenting, women. And they'll still buy your tabloids for all the other trashy stories. You're not going to lose any market share by standing on such a bare base of principles.

"This affair should not be magnified without bounds. It should not be taken too seriously. Andy Lau asked, "What would you do if someone snooped on your younger sister like this?" I would reply: "If it were my younger sister or daughter being snooped upon, I would say, 'Daughter (or younger sister), you are now popular.' Then I would say: 'No matter where or when, you must also maintain a perfect pose, because you never know where there is a camera ...'""

Bullshit. You, like everybody else, would feel humiliated, would make a perfectly legitimate complaint about the invasion of privacy, and would call for the photographer's head. If we were to follow this line of reasoning, we might as well just set up cameras in every female toilet or changing room and the bedrooms of every 'love hotel' and broadcast the images live on free-to-air TV. But nobody would agree to such a gross invasion of privacy.

So, the media should act as a watchdog and expose scandals. But changing one's clothes is not a scandal. Celebrities need privacy, too, in which to perform normal, everyday tasks that we all consider to be private.

Then comes a totally irrelevant series of arguments from Koo Tak Ming (古德明). The closest Koo gets to relevancy is with this argument:

"For example, on July 1st this year, 60,000 people marched in Hong Kong to protest against China for stopping universal suffrage in contravention of the Basic Law. Gillian and other artistes went instead to sing for the Chinese Communists and to "celebrate the harmonious unity on the ninth anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China." She should go and read Romance of the Three Kingdoms first before she talks about the dirty spots in life."

Well, I think you're wrong on this point, but never mind, your entitled to your opinions and to express them. And I respect somebody who sticks by their principles, whether or not I disagree with them, more than I respect someone who just follows the prevailing current. But you have not stuck by your principles, you have used a bunch of completely irrelevant historical examples to construct what amounts to worthless, meaningless verbiage. If you believe Gillian Chung was wrong to take part in the celebration of the ninth anniversary or Hong Kong's return to China, criticise her for it. Write an essay detailing why you believe she was wrong to do that. But what, pray tell, does this have to do with some low-life secretly taking pictures of her changing her clothes? Nothing, that's what, nothing at all. Your only achievement with this essay is to demonstrate for all the word to see your own intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

"Today, the various sectors of Hong Kong all seem to be sympathetic towards Gillian. I do not want to say anymore about difference between the little evils and the great evils. I close my doors, I read the history books and let the ancients show the way."

Congratulations, you've just admitted that instead of actually examining the real issues at hand, you shut yourself off from the world and busy yourself in your dreams of ancient times. This is precisely why you can't present a relevant argument.

This is followed by Li Yi's 'Cheering for Jiang Yun', in which Li Yi follows the examples of Jiang and Koo and presents a bunch of irrelevant and illogical drivel.

"The following story is popular: When Einstein invented the theory of relativity, the scientists were at odds in their assessments. In 1930, a critical book appeared in Germany under the title: "One hundred professors come out to prove that Einstein was wrong." When Einstein heard about it, he roared in laughter: "One hundred people? Why is it necessary to find so many people? If I can really be proven to be wrong, one person would be enough.""

There is a hell of a difference between scientific debate and invasion of privacy. Nobody was publishing photos of Einstein naked. They were arguing against his theory.

"In Jiang Yun's essay, the most important idea was: EasyFinder magazine cannot apologize even in the face of such huge public opinion pressure. "If they apologize, the consequences are unimaginable."

Why are "the consequences unimaginable"? Because an "apology" implies an admission of fault, and therefore an abdication of communication media's responsibility to monitor public figures and an abandonment of the media's responsibility to actively expose what the public figures do not want people to know. In practice, this will invert the role relationship between media and public figures, and that is why the consequences become unimaginable."

But in this case the magazine was clearly at fault and owes Gillian Chung and apology. The consequences will not be unimaginable: The magazine will apologise, set in place a code of conduct for its paparazzi, and then go about its business as per usual, only now they will restrict themselves to exposing genuine scandals instead of exposing celebrities changing their clothes.

"Perhaps someone will say that the media should watch over the public figures only on matters that involve significant public interests. When Gillian Chung changed her clothes backstage in Malaysia, that did not involve the public interest and therefore this was a grave invasion of privacy. Yet, if you say Gillian Chung changing clothes backstage does not involve the public interest, then what about Superman (=Li Ka-shing) holding hands with his female friend in the streets of Rome? Does that involve the public interest?"

The same irrelevant bullshit spouted by Jiang. Li Ka-Shing were in the streets of Rome. Streets are public spaces. We all waive our rights to privacy as soon as we enter a public space. Gillian Chung was changing her clothes in a private space where she had every reason to expect her privacy would be respected. Celebrities changing their clothes in private is no more a matter of public interest than me changing my clothes in private. If she were engaged in some kind of scandalous, illegal or immoral conduct your argument might, perhaps, have a leg to stand on, but changing one's clothes in private is neither scandalour, illegal nor immoral.

"Before Donald Tsang became the Chief Executive, did the fact that he was whistling while walking towards Government House involve the public interest?"

If he was whistling in a public space, then the media was well entitled to comment on the issue or even photograph, record, or film him in the act of whistling. But why didn't they? Because this does not titillate the sad little people who read tabloids they way photographs of beautiful, naked young women do. Again, the argument is irrelevant.

"The two sides depend on each other and they are also in conflict with each other."

True. And this affair may well end up working in Gillian Chung's favour. Who knows? But this doesn't justify invading her privacy.

"But if the media reported something that the public figures do not want reported and must apologize for it, then truly "the consequences are unimaginable.""

False argument again because changing one's clothes is a perfectly normal, legal and moral activity, not to mention a matter of basic hygiene.

So behind the smokescreen of irrlevant and illogical verbiage spouted by morally and intellectually bankrupt people, we can see clearly that EasyFinder invaded Gillian Chung's privacy and took photos of her changing her clothes without her knowledge or consent and then published them for the sole purpose of selling more magazines. This is no different from taking camphone shots up women's skirts or down their cleavage or peeking into the women's changing rooms, and this kind of behaviour should be condemned.

And then there's the blog post from Diuman Park:

"There is no market for "watchdog" news, so there is no chance of additional print runs. Fewer people here know about the classical case of watchdog journalism in the Whitewater affair than about the Gillian Chung case. The various examples offered by Li Yi contain a small amount (and only a small amount) of public interest issues, but they are all easily seen to be related to tabloid journalism. In other words, this is unrelated to "the monitoring of public figures by the media" and it has everything to do with "the tabloid reporting of public figures by the media." Tabloid journalism arose from the market.

Surreptitious photographing, undercover surveillance and investigative tailing are all techniques that can be used to uncover secrets. There is nothing bad about the media using such techniques to monitor society. That is one reason why I am opposed to governmental legislation to supervise the media. Even if some magazines use such techniques to produce tabloid journalism, it is just a necessary evil. But when a magazine uses snooping to produce tabloid journalism while calling it monitoring, society will pay attention and speak out. The goal is not to expect the magazine to lay off, but to (naively) hope that their voices will one day turn into market restraints.

Whether it is right to take stealth photographs or not depends on the situation. When a reporter films someone rearing a black bear illegally, it is right; when a reporter takes a photograph of a seven-year-old girl urinating and puts it on the front page, it is wrong even if "there is nothing much to see" (as in the Gillian Chung photographs)."

Exactly.

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