Jennie Yabroff: Erin Andrews's Peephole Pictures Are Privacy Porn

Apparently, no one in this country knows what a naked woman looks like. At least, that’s what media outlets including CBS, the New York Post, and Fox News seem to think. In reporting the story of Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who was surreptitiously taped au naturel in her hotel room, these outlets and others found it necessary to include stills from the tape making its way around the Internet. It probably seems incredibly naive to ask why (naked ladies increase ratings, duh), but the answer may be a little more complicated—and disturbing—than that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the outlets showing the most Andrews’s flesh are also the ones expressing the most shock and dismay over the tape. “It is many women’s worst nightmare,” The Early Show’s Julie Chen said, introducing the tape, which then played, with parts of Andrews’s body fuzzed out, during the rest of the segment—despite the fact that ESPN has sought to block websites from showing the tape, and threatened legal action against websites posting stills from the footage. The Post also used the term "nightmare" to describe the actions of the "creepy cameraman" who taped the "sideline siren"—and accompanied its story with three stills from the video.

Other journalists have been more straightforward about the prurient aspect of the story. In the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, blogger Bob Norman calls the video “Disgusting, repulsive, absolutely offensive, and outrageous. And I'm very happy to report that the video has been taken down from the web. I know because I looked for it. For like a half an hour.” He’s being sarcastic, but his comments echo the tone of much of the coverage of the video, and many of the comments on the stories: for someone to tape Andrews is completely sick. For someone to watch that tape is, hey, just human nature.

But really, what’s so interesting about the tape? Andrews has a nice body, but so do lots of other naked women you can find on the Internet, and in much higher-resolution pictures. In the video, she appears to be getting ready to go out: brushing her hair, looking in the mirror. It's not super-racy stuff. The quality of the video is so poor, it’s hard to tell Andrews’s identity. In fact, the tape has been online for months, and generated interest only when ESPN’s lawyers confirmed Andrews’s identity as the woman in the hotel room.

Obviously, the fact that Andrews is a celebrity has a lot to do with it. The fact that we’ve seen her face before somehow makes her body more interesting. And certainly, the fascination with naked celebrities is nothing new. Playboy understood that when it put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of its inaugural issue. But it’s doubtful Andrews would have caused such a stir had she posed for the magazine. What’s really provocative about the Andrews tape, what makes it good copy for Fox et al. is not that she’s naked, but that she thinks she’s alone.

Privacy, it seems, is the new nudity. This is why, when Jennifer Aniston poses topless for the cover of GQ no one does more than shrug, but when paparazzi catch her sunbathing topless, it's tabloid fodder for weeks. Same with Britney Spears. Same with Janet Jackson. It’s not so much a desire to see nudity as it is to see candor, to see what the person looks like when she’s unaware she’s being watched. It’s the impulse behind “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” and Gawker Stalker. It’s voyeurism, pure and simple. No matter how much access a celebrity gives us—posing naked, appearing on a reality TV show, revealing her deepest secrets in an interview—we’re more interested in whatever part she wants to keep to herself, no matter how tiny or inconsequential. It’s as though in some sense we’re suffering from so much celebrity overexposure, the only time we’re truly interested in watching is when they don’t want us to look.

In statements from ESPN spokespeople, Andrews has asked the press respect her privacy. What she doesn’t understand is that’s the thing we want most.

Editor's note: I'm trying to monitor the comments and delete any that contain links to the video in question. Still, some are bound to get past even my eagle eyes and lightning-quick reflexes. Please don't click on these links. They're likely to infect your computer with a ton of gross viruses. Also, reread the article: leave poor Erin Andrews alone, and don't become a creepy Internet Peeping Tom. ─Kate
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