No Privacy for Bigots?

Breakfast at Tiffanys

For his stereotype-laden portrayal of a wacky Japanese tenant named Mr Yunioshi in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the recently deceased Mickey Rooney continues to score accolades along the lines of “overtly racist” and “one of the most egregiously horrible ‘comic’ impersonations of an Asian in the history of movies.”

In a Yunoshi-unrelated scene in the film, Holly and Fred, played by Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, drop into Tiffany’s & Co to inquire whether the ritzy store, famed for its big-ticket jewelry, happens to carry anything in the price range of ten dollars or less, whereupon the salesman, with the genial patience of a saint, reaches behind the counter and produces, “for the lady and gentleman who has everything,” a sterling silver telephone dialer for $6.75, including federal tax. (It is this sterling thingamajig that forms the focus of attention of the three individuals in the screengrab at the top of this post.)

Speaking of race and sterling—you can see where this peculiar chain of association is headed—L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has caused the United States’ collective jaw to drop all the way down to the mesosphere by having implored his girlfriend, as per the audio of a leaked private conversation, henceforth to desist from “associating with black people” in public, to terminate her practice of posting photographs of herself sharing the frame with the likes of Magic Johnson, and to stop bringing colored folk to Clippers games, although he graciously granted her leave to “sleep with them” and generally “do whatever you want” as long as it’s done on the down-low.

Due to its rather painful nature—in part on account of its substance, in part on account of the agonizing dearth of eloquence evinced by both parties to the altercation, making the back-and-forth sound like a tangle-tongued improv based on the badly-written first draft of a lovers’ spat scene in some dreadful daytime soap pilot—I didn’t listen to available portion of the recording in its entirety, so should the voice presumed to belong to Mr Sterling have uttered a rational sentence or two that may have put the half-witted drivel I did hear into some sort of sensible perspective, I certainly missed that part.

But let’s put content aside for a minute.

I seem to recall an ongoing debate regarding the erosion of personal privacy in light of the NSA’s insatiable curiosity when it comes to our private communications, which suggests that Americans, overall, greatly treasure their privacy.

And now here we have what clearly sounds like a very private conversation that somehow—probably because the (ex-)girlfriend recorded and passed it on—ended up on TMZ for the whole world to listen in on, yet few of those flipping their lids over what they heard appear overly disquieted about the breach-of-privacy aspect of the story.

Suddenly, the very concerns that figure so prominently when the government does the breaching seem mysteriously suspended, and all that’s being bemoaned and fretted over is the content of the material made available to the public without the knowledge or consent of the party that never would have spoken as he did had he known his words were about to be splattered all over the World Wide Web.

Why does privacy not enter into this discussion? Because national security is not in play? Because Washington had no hand in the collection of the data? Because what he said was really offensive? Because someone’s privacy was violated by a private individual rather than Big Brother?

We’re all familiar, and many of us surely agree, with the sentiment, “I may not agree with what you’re saying, but I’ll defend to my death your right to say it.”

In principle, how exactly is this different from “I may not agree with what you’re saying, but I’ll defend to my death your right to keep it between yourself and whoever you’re talking to“?

In a court of law, illicitly obtained information is inadmissible. The how trumps the what.

Shouldn’t the same apply to illicitly, spitefully, unethically, or otherwise improperly distributed information in the court of public opinion regardless of content?