May 23, 2014 by Richard Furstein
I’m sure you’ve seen the shocking elevator security footage of Solange Knowles beating up Jay Z (Shawn Carter). Alright, maybe I’m not sure. If you aren’t a pop culture aficionado, or you don’t know who Solange Knowles is (she’s Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s younger sister and Shawn Carter’s sister-in-law), then you may have filtered it out. You may have no idea that after the annual Met Gala, security footage reveals that Solange attempted to assault her sister’s husband in an elevator at the Standard Hotel. And consequently, you may not be aware that this internationally broadcasted cat fight is another nail in the coffin of our privacy rights.
Every American has the right to be secure in the privacy of their information. That law is neither new or exclusive of digital information. Thanks to a 1765 court case (Entick v. Carrington), the illegality of unwarranted searches and seizure of information has been a foundational piece of American law. Modern information privacy legislation extends far beyond the government’s ability to search us; it forms multiple safeguards against private corporations distributing information we entrust to them. If a store decided to sell its security footage, every person captured on the video would have grounds to sue the store. And yet, if the people captured are celebrities, journalistic integrity and respect for privacy rights fall by the wayside.
When Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government was violating its citizens’ perceived sense of privacy, the outcry was immense. People were horrified to think that their information was being monitored by an impersonal, bureaucratic machine for unknown purposes. How does Solange Knowles feel? Or Shawn Carter? Or Beyoncé? For these three, hundreds of millions of unknown people are viewing the very intimate moments of their family life, and judging them for it. These judgments will surely impact their music sales and their future ability to appear together in public.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? We, as the herd of media consumers, never consider the impact of our consumption on the people who work to entertain us. We constrain celebrities from enjoying even a moment of true privacy, we stalk their children, and we interrogate their every waking moment. It doesn’t matter that Solange Knowles is an accomplished musician in her own right. For the three minutes we watched her in the elevator, she was the angry black woman. And Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, the highest paid black artist in history? She was just the woman who didn’t defend her man. We don’t ask ourselves what we’d do if our sister started assaulting our husband. We don’t ask ourselves why celebrities’ personal struggles are considered part of their careers. We only stare, in lurid fascination.
To many, the images seen on that security tape are shocking in the way they destroy the carefully sculpted veneer of the Knowles-Carter family. To me, as a citizen of a country that prides itself on individual rights and freedoms, it disgusts me that the intimate encounters of fellow citizens can be sold as entertainment. Mass media is no longer an apparatus to disseminate information. It has become a marketplace of people’s darkest moments. Heralded by the same organization that made Donald Sterling’s personal conversation a national vomiting point — TMZ — we are watching as our most visible citizens also become our most vulnerable.
In the case of Sterling, Knowles and many other celebrities, the actions we are privileged to experience are still “wrong.” However, we as the viewing public are not qualified arbiters in these cases. The court of public opinion is notorious for its skew, and those on trial rarely get the justice they deserve. Beyoncé said it best in her song “Pretty Hurts”: “We shine the light on whatever’s worst. Perfection is a disease of a nation.” Solange Knowles’ imperfection should remind us of her authentic humanity. Instead, it brings out our ridicule and sick fascination. If we seriously believe in the value of privacy in our own lives, then we need to stop consenting to the constant violations of celebrities’ private lives. Solange Knowles deserves better.
Richard Furstein is a senior anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.