Wow, Even Cantonese Film Stars Do It

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Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang has pronounced the tizzy over Edison Chen’s photographs a “serious matter” demanding “further follow-up.” But I wonder whether he should have besmirched his office by commenting at all.
The only truly remarkable aspect of the business is Chen’s apparently cavalier handling of his privacy and that of his former partners. His obsessive commemoration of sexual conquests by collecting photos of them on his laptop is slightly creepy and hints at insecurity in a man who shouldn’t have had any difficulties believing in his own desirability. But when he recklessly brought his digital sex shrine to a repair shop without deleting or transferring the images to another computer—or when he allowed an aide to bring it in in that condition—he visited terrible, and perhaps lifelong, distress upon several women whose only mistake was to pose in private for his amusement. Were they silly to do so? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Home sex photography has become a stock-in-trade of suburban bedrooms everywhere, and those women had the reasonable expectation that they were simply engaging in an ordinary act of titillation, accompanied by a theoretical but certainly not actual risk of those images being one day stolen.
The police have meanwhile been accused of making a heavy-handed response to the scandal, but that’s a matter of opinion. What is galling is that some commentators have chosen to frame their criticisms of the police in the language of Internet freedom. To gaze upon Gillian Chung’s sorry nakedness is not some kind of fundamental human right, and the pictures at the heart of this affair are not ordinary pornography. The couple of hundred “netizens” who protested outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters—asking why police generally ignore Internet pornography but act decisively to protect the modesty of people who in this case happen to be moneyed and famous—have profoundly misunderstood the difference between pornography and voyeurism. In the former, there are subjects. In the latter, there are victims.
By mourning the end of Cantonese pop culture’s age of innocence, or by whining about morality or by protesting about Internet freedom, the Hong Kong public are acting like victims too. But the only real victims here are Chen and his former lovers, and all Chen’s photos tell us is this: our apparently chaste stars have indulged in wanton sexual pleasure—what of it? I was beginning to get worried on their behalf.