In the end, the law can’t protect us from our own folly. Better to cultivate virtue and remember where we derive our value. That’s kind of cryptic, but I’ll explain.
Recently, a German court made a ruling that would have been literally unimaginable twenty years ago. The case involved an ex-couple in Hessen. Throughout their relationship, the man took “explicit photographs of his partner and made erotic videos with her.” According to the UK’s Independent, “the woman had consented to all of the material being taken and, in some cases, had taken the photographs herself.” When the relationship ended, the woman demanded that her ex-boyfriend delete every video and picture in which she appeared. According to the Guardian, “her ex-partner had to date shown no intention of reproducing the pictures or putting them online.” But given the phenomenon known as “revenge porn,” in which an ex-partner, by way of payback, posts compromising pictures online, the woman wasn’t taking any chances. The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz ruled that the woman’s personal rights trumped the man’s ownership rights in the photos and videos, at least with regards to those in which she appeared unclothed.
Now, if this story sounds like some kind of parody to you, you’re right. Unfortunately, it’s not a joke. Two states, California and New Jersey, have outlawed “revenge porn,” even when the pictures were taken with the victim’s consent, and at least one dozen more are considering doing so. At the same time, many civil liberties experts believe that criminalizing the posting of material that was shot with the consent of the subject violates the First Amendment.
Missing—actually, to use a proper German word, verboten—in this discussion is any consideration of an obvious preventative measure: do not allow yourself to be photographed in sexually-compromising situations. Pointing this out would almost certainly prompt cries of “blaming the victim.” Now, let me be clear: Men who would post these images online, for whatever reason, are acting reprehensibly, regardless of what the law says. But the law is a poor substitute for prudence, modesty and other virtues, which, it’s fair to say, are increasingly in short supply.
A big part of the reason that this is the case was the subject of the 1998 book, “Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality” by cultural historian Neal Gabler. In the book, Gabler described how Americans, taking their cues from celebrity culture, were coming to see themselves as starring in their own “Life Movie.” Whereas “Puritan culture emphasized values like hard work, integrity, and courage,” the new culture of personality “emphasized charm, fascination and likeability,” what Gabler dubbed “the performing self.” Gabler wrote this at the dawn of the Internet age and decades before the explosion of social media, which enabled people to “screen” their “Life Movies” for others. When you're competing against literally millions of other “Life Movies,” you're tempted to go to foolish lengths to make your “movie” more “compelling,” if for no one else but yourself. Thus you document what shouldn’t be documented.
While Christians aren’t going to these extreme lengths—at least I hope not—we’re not immune to the temptation to call attention to ourselves and to derive our worth from being recognized by others instead of serving others, by rejoicing in our increasing number of “followers” on Twitter instead of in the fact that our names are written in heaven.
~Eric Metaxas (Breakpoint Commentary May 30)