Princess Kate Flips the Scandal

The facts:

1.) Princess Kate, aka HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton, takes off her top while sunbathing in a private villa.  (A HUGE private villa near Aix-en-Provence).

2.) A paparazzo, supposedly standing on a public road, takes photos of Kate sans top.  This road is at least 500 m away (1640 feet) and would need a super high-powered zoom lens.   The photos are grainy, but her top is gone.

3.) French and Italian publications (both owned by that upstanding dirty bird Silvio Berlusconi) publish the photos, which soon proliferate across the internet/other publications.  I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that the understanding is that any British publications who reprints them will be in “big trouble” (an Irish one already is).

4.) The Royal Family calls foul.  On Monday, September 17, the royal couple files a complaint and a request for an injunction against Closer, the French (yet Berlusconi-owned) publication that published the “full suite” of photos.  To wit:

The duke and duchess have asked for the injunction order to be accompanied by a warning that the magazine would be fined €10,000 (£8,000) for every day that it did not comply with an injunction and fined €100,000 if it tried to resell the photographs. The judges will rule on the case on Tuesday at lunchtime.

I’m writing before the verdict comes out, but here’s what you need to understand:

1.) French privacy laws are much, MUCH more protective than American ones.  That’s why Brangelina has a house there; that’s why (until recently) Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp lived there (that and Paradis was, well, French).  It’s much easier to be a celebrity there, in part because the invasion of privacy laws are explicit and carry heavy fines: you cannot “take, record, or transmit, without his or her consent, the picture of a person who is in a private place.”   In other words, invasive paparazzi = illegal.  The question remains, however, whether this giant villa (with photos from a “public” road) was a public place.  If it is, then these photos are, indeed, illegal.

2.) IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER.  Because whether you think that the royal family has made this worse by pressing charges, that “it’s a private issue,” or even that Kate showed a non-characteristic lack of media savvy, the point is that the war is won: the scandal isn’t Kate’s; it’s the media’s.

Put differently, her actions are not, in fact, scandalous.  No one in Europe — and her “subjects” in particular — are scandalized by the fact of a 30-year-old woman taking off her top (presumably to avoid pesky tanlines, the very manifestation of low-classiness) while sunbathing.  Scandal occurs when someone trespasses on the fringe of the status quo, or challenges the popular understanding of his/her image.  Princess Kate may be classy and wear sleeves at her wedding, but topless sunbathing is not outside the realm of her expected behavior — in part because she is, as many are keen to remind, not royal-born.  Yet any objections over her lack of royal born-ness were aired leading up the wedding.  Now, that’s old (and out-of-touch) news: she’s the new people’s princess.

And she’s not the first people’s princess — a point the couple’s lawyer’s have been keen to underline in their case, highlighting the fact that Prince William’s mother was victim to similar “invasions of privacy” that led to her death almost 15 years ago to the day.

Which is all the makings for a perfect MELODRAMA:

The villains: the same paparazzi forces that killed the beloved Princess Diana.
The victims: the privacy-seeking “first couple” of Britain; son of Diana + heir to her popular “title.”

And once you successfully frame a gossip story in terms of melodrama, it essentially takes care of itself.  The conversation suddenly has nothing to do with Kate’s nudity and everything to do with rights to privacy, special rights of royals/political officials to privacy, and the general exceptionalism of a beloved people’s princess.   No matter what happens in court, it seems clear that the entity “behaving scandalously” is not the Duchess of Cambridge, but the photographer and, more to the point, the entities that would publish those photos (hence the suspension of the head of the Irish Star-Times).

Society, working with the help of media outlets, works to censor those at the center of scandal.  Fascinating, then, how various media outlets have become the locus of that scorn….even when a Princess’s breasts are involved.

UPDATE: The French court has found in favor of the Royals, and will be forced to hand over the original photos and pay a $13,000 every time the images are republished.
Victory: Kate and Wills.

4 Responses to “Princess Kate Flips the Scandal”

  1. Kristina says:

    I suppose it was disingenuous of me to think that the paparazzi would cut William & Kate even a little slack, given what happened to his mother. I guess 15 years is like an entirely different era to them, though.

    • Annie says:

      I don’t think it was disingenuous of you — in fact, the paparazzi *do* seem to follow certain guidelines with the royals and their private spaces. That’s why the actions of this particular paparazzo (and the magazines that published the photos) are scandalous: they broke the unspoken rules.

  2. Nora L. says:

    Additionally, coming off of the heels of Prince Harry’s pseudo-scandal in Vegas, a situation actually brought on by Harry’s intoxicated foolishness, Will and Kate look all the more classy in their behavior.

  3. Laura Bracken says:

    When film or other media celebrities are upset about invasion of privacy, it seems that they are protesting something that they, on other occasions, absolutely want. They are perhaps viewed as having lost their right to privacy in order to sell their product.

    In contrast, Kate and William seem to have managed to project their lives not as a means of gaining personal profit or fame, but rather a duty and service that they perform graciously for their country and the honor of the royal family. Kate has taken on this arduous task out of love which is all the more admirable. Since they subject themselves to public/symbolic appearances on behalf of the country, perhaps they are seen as deserving the right to privacy, at least to the extent that they should not be stalked by long lenses. It doesn’t hurt that Kate is beautiful, William is a little homely, Diana is an icon, and they smile a lot. Kate and William are just like US! This is very different than Charles and Camilla, who apparently no one wants to be like.

    I write this as a person who totally ignores the Kardashians, Lindsay Lohan, and the rest of them, and always reads the People articles about the royal family in the doctor’s office. Why? I don’t know. I always have.