You can say a lot of things about the nude-celebrity-photo-hacking scandal involving Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and many others. One thing you can't say is that their careers will be hurt by it. That's a good thing, I argue in a new Daily Beast column, and it shows a certain maturation about nudity and sex in American culture. Snippets:
Gone for good are the days when Miss America could be dethroned for old nude shots coming to light, as happened to Vanessa Williams in 1984 (Williams is now even listed as a winner at the pageant's official site). The sort of early '80s sex tape scandal that helped stop the career of sportscaster and B-movie queen Jayne Kennedy would barely raise an eyebrow in today's post-Pam Anderson, Tonya Harding, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian world. Jumping Jeebus, even an unforgiving moral crusader such as radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger was able to easily ride out a nude-pic scandal back in the late 20th century….
If there's one person mostly responsible for demystifying the celebrity nude—and especially for smashing the virgin-whore complex to smithereens—it's Madonna. After a decade of pushing the limits of good taste and network decency rules without ever fully abandoning them, she sprinted far ahead of her audience. Released in 1992, her Sex book featured The Material Girl hitchhiking naked on busy streets and cavorting on swing sets and in bondage gear with the likes of Vanilla Ice, Naomi Campbell, and gay porn star Joey Stefano. The prose was heavy on lines such as "my pussy has nine lives" and "When they say, 'Are you hungry? Let's go get some spaghetti,' [in Italian], it sounds like they are coming on to you." The writing may not have been erotic exactly, but it was completely unapologetic and even more in your face than the various pudenda scattered throughout Sex. The book got awful reviews even as it topped The New York Times bestseller list. It may have hurt her music career for a few years—Madonna later said the book's release led to critics ignoring her Erotica LP—but it also obliterated the idea that a celebrity (especially a female one) ever need worry about being seen naked. Madonna—who in 1985 saw old nudes of her get published in both Playboy and Penthouse—owned her body fully, and in doing so allowed the rest of us to move on from childish obsessions.