A year ago, the world faced the possibility of seeing President Donald Trump’s penis — adult film star Stormy Daniels was threatening to release the first presidential "dick pic" and other sexts sent to her by the president.
While the world reeled with anxiety at this possibility, out sex advice guru Dan Savage wrote that even if our first presidential nude was not Trump’s, seeing a president’s dick pic in the near future was inevitable.
“Just as nearly everybody smokes pot at some point in their lives, these days nearly everybody sexts and swaps dirty pics,” Savage wrote in his popular column. “[O]ne day we will regard a major political figure who doesn't have a few stray dick/ass/pussy/tit pics circulating online as the weirdo because, hey, everybody else does.”
And that day may have just arrived.
Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, has been a repeated target by President Trump’s Twitter tantrums (Trump likes to refer to him as Jeff Bozo). The National Enquirer reported on Bezos’s affair with his neighbor, Lauren Sanchez, in a humiliating January exposé that included intimate, amorously-written text messages. Coincidentally or not, the tabloid's owner, David Pecker, is a former employee of Trump and a longtime ally.
Last week, Pecker and his people at American Media Inc., parent company of the Enquirer, upgraded to “extortion and blackmail” after they threatened to print “below the belt” photos of Bezos and “his semi-erect manhood” unless Bezos rebutted his claim that the Enquirer story was politically motivated — and halting his own investigation into how the tabloid obtained his messages.
Bezos refused the threat in a grand show of one-upmanship: he published the blackmail emails in a tell-all blog post. The post is very detailed, but one thing it omits — beautifully so — is any apology for taking nudes.
“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption,” Bezos writes. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.
David Pecker, for his part, is no stranger to slimy deals for Trump. He made a deal with prosecutors after he helped deliver Trump’s hush payments to various women during the president’s presidential campaign.
Despite all the ways we can criticize Bezos (and the super-rich in general — Bezos is currently valued at at $131.4 billion, making him one of the richest and most powerful men on Earth), his refusal to submit to bullies, even at the cost of public humiliation, is admirable.
Bezos will likely survive this “scandal” unscathed. In the blog post, he acknowledges the financial cushion his money and power provide him: “Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”
And while his ability to win in the public eye is largely due to his whiteness, wealth, and power — he also wins because this news, embarrassing as it may be for him, affords us an intimate look into his life. He takes dirty mirror pics just like we do — as I do. Should his nudes be released, the public response will be a test of whether or not the needle has moved on the social perspective of sexting, which is something more people do than you think — people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes.
In an open letter to Bezos in The New York Times, Savage urged Bezos to strip his enemies of their last bargaining chip and release the photos himself. “By self-publishing your own nude photos,” Savage writes, “you can turn the tables on the sexual and cultural hypocrisy that allows people like [Pecker] to weaponize nude photos in the first place.”
So, if we’re at such a tipping point, the last 10 years of tech culture have led us here. In that time, numerous famous faces have had their nudes leaked. That list includes Jennifer Lawrence, Tiger Woods, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Vanessa Hudgens, Rose McGowan, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and many more. Several of these people fell victim to the infamous 2014 nude leak orchestrated by hackers on 4Chan. We’ve grown accustomed to this happening to women in Hollywood (the numbers illustrate our culture’s dangerous disregard for women’s privacy).
But if being a star makes leaked nudes inevitable, the same can’t be said of politicians, or "political figures" as Bezos could be considered. Most of the public hasn't had to grapple with a politician's naked body entering the news cycle. When it has, there's been less of a shrug — a gay Texas councilman was recalled after his Grindr pics were released.
But even that may be changing. With Trump’s dick pics being the subject of public discourse and headlines in mainstream media, and Jeff Bezos’ dick pics being the same a year later, the message should be clear for anyone who doubts that our entire concept of privacy is false. Humans will continue to use new forms of communication and new technology to sext, flirt, and have fun, and no one — not the richest man in the world or the president of the United States — is safe from the possibility of having their private messages and dick pics exposed.
A 2015 survey showed that 88 percent of U.S. adults had sent explicit messages and pictures, and 96 percent of them had positive opinions of sexting. That number is undeniably higher now.
Meanwhile, a study released last year showed 15 percent of teens had sent a sext, while 27 percent have received one. The nudes they send as teenagers now will exist forever on the internet. By the time they run for office and appear at the Grammys, so many of them (and their parents, and their coworkers) will have sent X-pics that the act of publicly shaming anyone for taking them will be obsolete and absurd.
“After all, we give children a handheld porn production studio that fits in their pocket,” Savage tells The Advocate.
But what does this mean for global culture? Is this a sex-positive development? Savage doesn’t think so.
“It’s not so much sex positivity as it is mutually assured destruction,” he says. “If I blast your pics, and you blast my pics, everyone loses.
“The stigma will shift from the people who took the pics to those who share them, which is exactly what Jeff Bezos did.”
With growing technology, privacy breaches are unlikely to stop — in fact, they will probably worsen — so our social perspectives of nudity and human sexuality must evolve. So, it doesn’t pay to demonize something we’re all guilty of, the whole filthy lot of us.