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not public property: lorde’s stand against the paparazzi

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It turns out Lorde is not only a supremely talented vocalist, musician, performer and writer, but she’s also managed to contribute to a new brand of activism which I like to call ‘twactivism’. Yes, it looks strange written down like that, but it’s actually Twitter Activism, whereby the singer has taken a stand against issues that are affecting her image via a series of strong tweets. From these strong tweets, she simultaneously is encouraging other women and young girls to take a stand against what is personally oppressing them.

This started a month or so ago when Lorde tweeted out two pictures of herself performing at the Coachella Music Festival, where one picture had been photoshopped in order for her skin to look perfect, radiant and glowing. The other photo had not been photoshopped, and showed her face to have a slight scattering of pimples and dullness. She accompanied these images with the text ‘i find this curious – two photos from today, one edited so my skin is perfect and one real. remember flaws are okay :-)’. This was great to see, especially from such a young performer and relative newcomer to the public eye; however, her next lot of ‘twactivism’ was concerning a matter much more serious.

Her latest tweets, which have been given high media attention (and for good reason,) find her targeting a paparazzo by whom she feels personally threatened, a middle-aged man named Simon Runting. In her tweets, Lorde claims the following: ‘this man is stalking me, photographing me, and refusing me privacy. I am scared of him. He frequents central [Auckland]…I understand that this comes with the territory. I do not understand why I should be complacent…This should not be a standard for young women or for anyone in the industry…I refuse to stay complicit and I refuse to stay passive about men systematically subjecting me to extreme fear.’

These are remarkable name-and-shame statements from Lorde, accompanied by photos of Runting, as well as photos which he took of fellow pop-star Rihanna in her hotel room last year, clearly invasive and without her permission to be in the vicinity of where she was staying. What makes Lorde’s actions so remarkable is not just the name, shame and photograph method of attack, but also her recognition of all sides – the most obvious counter-argument to what makes the teenager so fundamentally uncomfortable about this situation is the fact that it ‘comes with the territory’ and that celebrities should ‘know what they’re getting themselves into’ – and her refusal to comply with standards set by celebrity culture worldwide.

The manner in which different celebrities handle the sort of attention that they get varies from person to person. We have seen recently actor couple Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield redirect paparazzi to charities and hospitals, and fellow actor Benedict Cumberbatch holding up a sign pleading with the photographers following him to photograph the conflict in Egypt instead. Conversely, we have seen the controversy surrounding Lara Bingle and Sam Worthington’s clash with paparazzi, as well as the other extreme which involved physical injury to Nicole Kidman by another notorious member of the paparazzi. The manner in which it is handled is, I believe, secondary to the fact that it happens so relentlessly that these people are degraded to being mere objects of public property (not just public interest), and we can see why Lorde is crying out for this not to become the ‘standard’ any more than it already has.

As for the stalking aspect of her claims, and the fact that she is genuinely fearful of this man, this is something much greater than the insatiable lust of the public for celebrity. This links into the wider social issue of something which young people experience in great numbers, even if they are not ‘celebrities.’ This is cyber and physical bullying, and even though we have all been taught that this behaviour is unacceptable in all its forms, it continues to occur and even to be encouraged in some peer groups. The paparazzi is just one example of this, and it’s great that Lorde is taking a stand against this kind of bullying, and that she has the awareness and the strength to state that this is not okay. It is this kind of behaviour that also links into such social issues as slut shaming, victim blaming and relentless cyber bullying that is plaguing young women. It is the roll-on effect that is perhaps the most important part of Lorde bringing this to public attention via social media which is what makes her ‘twactivism’ so important.

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