Sunday, February 20, 2005

Public Places, Private Star Trek

Privacy (as a facet of property rights) is a sticky issue, one that gets rather confusing when considering freedom. In the Star Trek: DS9 episode, "Meridian," the B plot concerned an alien who had a crush on Major Kira—second in command of the space station. This alien hired Quark, the local bartender, to create a holosuite program featuring the Major.

A holosuite (or holodeck if you’re a TNG type) is a computer simulated environment that looks in feels like reality in every way. You can touch objects, feel them in your hand and have sex with them. That’s what this alien had in mind for holo-Kira.

So Quark had to scan Kira’s image. First he tried to lure her in a holosuite then he tried to take her holopicture with a handheld camera. Neither succeeded. From these attempts, Kira figured out what he was trying to do and that her image would be used to fulfill the lusting desires of someone else. She talked about it as if Quark was being immoral.

I started asking myself what her problem was. Sure it’s her body but it’s the alien’s fantasy. Denouncing the program would be like condemning him for thinking about Kira intimately. The only difference is the holosuite makes it seem more real, but that’s not enough to make it wrong.

Granted, if Quark were mass marketing the program, there’s a case that permission (and a cut of the profits) is called for. But I can’t help but wonder how far that rule should extend.

Consider celebrity status versus the rest of us. Dozens of tabloids take pictures of celebrities (and make money off of them) every week. But if you’re on Cops or Candid Camera, they need you to sign a release before they can show your face. What’s with the inconsistency?

On one hand, you could say celebrities are special cases because they are so powerful and influential. Imagine if politicians or movie stars could pick and choose when they’re covered in the press. Average citizens shouldn’t be held to those standards. But on the other hand, shouldn’t I know if the cops found out my neighbor sets trees on fire or beats animals (for example)? After all, much of what these people do are in the public eye and what prevents anyone from just watching it?

So again we are back where we started: why is it when we move from an on the spot format (fantasizing, seeing it on the street) to an organized medium (a picture, a holodeck program) do we assume that privacy is violated? The method shouldn’t matter, it’s the place. Recording in public is one thing, recording in a home is quite another. (Note that this does not mean I advocate the state to monitor its citizens in public…governments can’t be trusted with such unprecedented information.)

1 comment:

Robert said...

It seems to me that there is an implied copywright with respect to one's image. However, the public is, well, public. Perhaps some celeb might expect that the great unwashed ought to avert their eyes in reverence, but enforcing such would be problematic, if not laughable.