The Perspective of Porn

In the wake of the revelations that the NSA has been hacking our phones and collecting massive amounts of personal data, can we still think privacy is possible in our world? More and more our lives are open books.

For the most part, we seem to like it that way, constantly offering information about ourselves through social media sites. We register for professional networks. Information about our purchases are communicated instantly to anyone willing to pay for it. Google knows everything we have done. We want to be found.

Airport security routinely x-rays our bags and our persons. Cameras on the street photograph our every move. We may not always intend to “Send to All,” but we do. And it’s just because we have not bothered to learn how to hack, assuming you haven’t, we don’t yet “Receive All.”

So it is interesting to have the thoughts of a porn star who lives without a shield, constantly “out.” She quoted from a guideline for Adult Performers: “You cannot expect your legal name to remain a secret, and a stage name will not fool people who recognize you.”

She notes a seeming paradox: “I willingly engage in work that reduces me to a few sexual facets of myself but expect to be seen as a multifaceted person outside of that work. . . . But this same lack of context is something any of us can experience. It’s what happens when any ill-advised tweet or embarrassing Facebook picture goes viral.” To know anyone, then, you need multiple encounters. “Ten years ago, I would have judged people over the course of several conversations. Now I evaluate them based on a few snippets of their social media presence.”

Her solution, in other words, is to embrace transience and multiplicity. No one knows who you really are, including you, so try to accept that you are more than any one version of yourself. Whatever gets uncovered or exposed is just part of the truth. (See her comments in The New York Times, “Can We Learn About Privacy From Porn Stars?”)

Years ago, a friend asked, “Why do you need privacy if you have nothing to hide?” It’s a question worth pondering. You might want to be in control of intimate disclosures. You might want to spare yourself embarrassments. You might want to be able to deceive others, or just engineer your image. All celebrities – not just porn stars – face these tradeoffs. They get fame and money in exchange for being spied on and chased by swarms of paparazzi. What do we get?

Obviously we don’t want others to gain access to our banking codes, steal our money and our identities. Those are crimes, not insults or awkward facts. If a friend reports embarrassing information to another friend, that’s an ethical lapse, a reason to mistrust your “friend.” But, in that case, don’t you want to know it has happened?

Privacy hasn’t completely died, yet, but think about it! As we inexorably move closer to a world in which there are no secrets, it’s worth pondering how you feel about this relentless surveillance and the fact that there’s not much you can do about it.