It’s hard to shock the internet.
We’re talking about the home of Reddit bros and Hiddleswift conspiracy theorists, a haven for hardcore memes, fetishes that sound made up but aren’t, and the lingering legacy of Harambe. But while it’ll take more than Kim Kardashian and an XL bottle of body oil to break the internet, it’s safe to say that the Twitterverse was properly perturbed this week by a set of very NSFW paparazzi photos. Cyber denizens going about their Thursday morning routines wondered why Orlando Bloom, who’s been more or less out of the picture since his 2013 Broadway turn as an extremely mature Romeo, was trending online. A few seconds later, millions of curious clickers were subject to a 21st-century flashing, having stumbled upon the widely disseminated, uncensored photos of vacation Bloom cavorting in the nude. As of Aug. 4, 2016, we’ve more or less all seen Orlando Bloom’s penis. Where do we go from here?
After any sort of internet disturbance, be it barely perceptible (a C-list breakup) or cataclysmic (when Kim Kardashian tells you to add her on Snapchat), we must sort through the rubble of reaction memes and cobble together some clickbait. Cue articles with headlines like “Twitter prayers answered as uncensored pictures of Orlando Bloom leak online” and “Orlando Bloom naked photos have leaked and the internet can’t handle the excitement.” Because if there’s one thing that the internet can’t handle, it’s a single peen. But are these images really worthy of all of this hilarious hyperbole? Flipping through the New York Daily News’ original, censored slideshow, it’s easy to see why these salacious snaps have so effectively captured the national imagination.
Naked Orlando Bloom isn’t just a decontextualized piece of man meat; his nudity is actually part of a larger narrative, a series of evocative photos combining to create a captivating adult flip book. Our journey begins with the soon to-be iconic shot of Orlando Bloom paddleboarding sans shorts. As Legolas and his secret weapon propel the craft forward, a Zen Katy Perry sits in front of her boyfriend, cross-legged, forward-facing, blissfully unaware. For many of us, the prospect of engaging in a recreational water sport as your significant other kneels fully exposed behind you is a true #RelationshipNightmare. But Perry exudes the calm of a woman who has just triumphed over her nemesis, Taylor Swift, the complete and utter tranquility of someone who knows that a naked penis is inches away from her back but has simply run out of fucks to give. Let’s just say, no one in this picture looks all too excited. Next, Bloom disembarks from his vessel and enjoys some amateur rock climbing. Bloom puts his shorts back on, and he and Perry make out a bunch. It’s a love story between Katy Perry and her boo, but it’s also a love story between Orlando Bloom, nature, and superfluous nudity. In the words of the Daily News’ original copy, “Swim trunks in hand, an unfazed Orlando Bloom seemed to be very comfortable in his own skin.”
While the New York Daily News didn’t publish the uncensored pics, its exclusive introduced the world to Bloom’s inadvertent thirst trap. In less than 24 hours, these non-consensual photos were all but ubiquitous; seriously, Orlando Bloom’s dick shadow is the new Angelina Jolie’s left leg. While the internet, which has all the sexual maturity of a 15-year-old, was initially entranced by the indecent exposure, it didn’t take long for its more concerned citizens to start calling foul. Perry and Bloom are seemingly not posing for these pictures. And while a non-consensual celebrity bikini snap is unfortunately daily TMZ fodder, full body nudity is—or should be—a whole different story. Putting aside the various innocents who can never un-see the 39-year-old actor’s bare buttocks, it’s safe to assume that Orlando Bloom is also a victim of this blatant invasion of privacy.
While a certain amount of blame falls on predatory paparazzi, it’s important to remember that the shots that these photographers chase are dictated by the tabloid market. Pictures like this exist because paparazzi know that publications like the New York Daily News will publish them. When celebrity hunters assume that human decency will undermine their paycheck, notions of personal privacy become expendable. This isn’t the first time the Daily News has taken the moral low road. In fact, it does a brisk business in pushing particularly invasive, highly clickable product. When you’re done feasting your eyes on Bloom and Perry’s private vacation, the Daily News’ website will direct you toward another gallery: Justin Bieber’s nudes in Bora Bora.
Back in 2015, these snaps (and video!) of a very relaxed Bieber walking around his vacation villa caused quite a stir. The allure of Bieber’s black box is immediately undermined by the grainy quality of the photos. Naturally, you need a telephoto lens to be able to capture an image at such a distance. The farther away the paparazzi was, the less likely that Bieber had any idea he was being watched—let alone photographed and recorded. It bears repeating that Bieber was captured on the premises of his own Bora Bora bungalow, the equivalent of a sniper-style paparazzo photographing a celebrity sunbathing naked in their own backyard. Bieber said he was outraged, sharing that he “felt super violated” by the photos.
Of course, uber rich celebrities’ compromised privacy isn’t the most sympathetic cause. In particular, Bieber and Bloom fail to register as people who need protecting. The duo, who consistently reach for debonair but land on debauched, have historically had it out for each other. In 2014, Bloom and Bieber reportedly fought at Cipriani’s Ibiza, which is a prime location for celebrity fisticuffs. After years of alleged beefing, Biebs provoked the reckoning by asking Bloom “What’s up, bitch?” Naturally, Bloom sucker-punched him. In the words of one Taylor Alison Swift, “You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world.” Since Bloom and Bieber are both fairly hot buffoons, the idea of doing some under-the-desk ogling seems like a fairly harmless midweek treat. Bieber himself has posted photos of his bare butt to Instagram (although he later deleted them, saying the images were inappropriate for his younger fans). But just because Bieber and Bloom have nothing to be ashamed of doesn’t mean we should settle for this invasive precedent.
Because while Justin Bieber might not be the easiest person to feel bad for, giving paparazzi free rein is a slippery slope. Also in 2015, the New York Daily News made the controversial decision to publish long-lensed photos of Caitlyn Jenner, who had not yet publicly addressed her transition. These pictures were cheap attempts to cater to a perverse desire—the public’s hunger to see a celebrity thought of as a man dressed in women’s clothing. In addition to all that moral murk, there’s the simple fact that the paparazzi had no right to perch on a hillside by Jenner’s home, waiting for days to capture a grainy shot. It’s the same brand of exploitative photography that led Jenner to contemplate suicide in an attempt to rid herself of the relentless pressure of paparazzi stalking and unflattering, 24/7 tabloid reports.
Buckling under widespread criticism, as well as Jenner’s threats to sue the predatory photographers behind the photoshoot, the Daily News eventually pulled the pictures, claiming, “We removed the pictures from our digital platforms after we became aware of new information in relation to the circumstances of how and where they were taken." While the Daily News might be able to feign ignorance of the paparazzi’s exact means and methods, it remains a crucial component of this invasive industry. By repeatedly showing a total neglect for its subjects’ privacy, the New York Daily News sends a clear message to photogs that they should go above and beyond to get the shot, making it the unofficial home for the morally reprehensible photos that other publications won’t publish.
If you want to look at pictures of naked people, congratulations; you’re already on the internet, so you’re halfway there. If celebrity nudity is what really gets you going, try searching for the consensual stuff, like magazine photo spreads and half-naked Instagram mirror selfies. Or just use your imagination. Because while exploitative outlets like the New York Daily News may never grow a conscience, it’s our communal willingness to make these violated celebrities go viral that feeds the clickbait beast. So close your Twitter tabs, step away from the meme generator, take a page from Katy Perry, and just rise above this.