Reexamining the ‘Upskirt Decade’ and the Public Ridicule of Female Pop Stars

A critical analysis of the tabloid culture that policed and ridiculed women in the public eye during the 2000s

In the early 2000s, a new era of tabloid culture emerged, one that saw the rise of invasive paparazzi photography and the public ridicule of female pop stars. This period, dubbed the ‘Upskirt Decade,’ was marked by the publication of scandalous photos and the moral outrage that followed. Author Sarah Ditum explores this unique moment in her new book, “Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s,” offering a critical reassessment of the treatment of women like Janet Jackson and Britney Spears. In this interview, Ditum discusses the cultural and technological factors that enabled this phenomenon and reflects on how society has reckoned with it since.

The Upskirt Decade: A Cultural Product of its Time

Ditum argues that the upskirt tabloid photo was the signature cultural product of the Upskirt Decade. This era was characterized by the convergence of camera technology, voracious gossip media, and an absence of legal frameworks protecting privacy. The advent of small, point-and-click digital cameras empowered paparazzi to capture intrusive images, while the internet provided a platform for their dissemination. The lack of legal and behavioral standards around what was considered publishable allowed this invasive culture to thrive.

The Tone of Coverage: Villainizing Women for Seeking Fame

One of the defining features of the Upskirt Decade was the tone of coverage surrounding these scandalous photos. Women like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson were framed as villains, seeking attention and fame. The commentary alongside the intrusive pictures often suggested that these women were intentionally exposing themselves, perpetuating the idea that they deserved the public ridicule they received. The coverage reflected a lack of understanding of the rules of the internet, which were being written in real-time during this period.

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Taylor Swift and the Changing Landscape of Fame

Ditum highlights the stark contrast between the experiences of women who became famous during the Upskirt Decade and those who emerged later, like Taylor Swift. Swift, who entered the spotlight when the rules of the internet were already established, understood how to navigate and shape her own online presence. Unlike her predecessors, she had the power to control her narrative through social media and avoid the invasive interviews and scrutiny that plagued earlier generations of female pop stars. This shift in power has transformed the way top-tier celebrities operate and interact with the public.

Lessons for the Present and Future

Reflecting on the misogyny and invasive behaviors of the past, Ditum draws attention to current events and pop culture phenomena. She notes that while mainstream media outlets have evolved, social media platforms still harbor misogyny and enable the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images. The hostile reactions to Megan Thee Stallion’s testimony in the trial of Tory Lanez and the persistence of revenge porn highlight the ongoing challenges faced by women in the public eye. Ditum suggests that these issues may be viewed unfavorably in the future, underscoring the need for continued progress in addressing them.

Conclusion:

The Upskirt Decade was a period marked by invasive paparazzi photography, tabloid culture, and the public ridicule of female pop stars. Sarah Ditum’s book, “Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s,” offers a critical reassessment of this era, shedding light on the cultural and technological factors that enabled the mistreatment of women in the public eye. As society grapples with the legacy of this period, it is crucial to learn from the past and work towards creating a more equitable and respectful environment for women in the realm of fame and celebrity.

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