The price you’ll pay for looking...

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The price you’ll pay for looking...

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John Collier, an English artist from the Victorian era, is known for a painting named “Lady Godiva.” It depicts a beautiful, naked woman riding through the streets on a white horse. With her head coyly lowered, the woman looks more sacred than seductive.

The picture is based on a legend about Lady Godiva, the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. After seeing people suffering, she asked her husband to withdraw a heavy tax on the people of Coventry. He refused her appeal but said that he would grant her request if she would ride a horse naked around town. The 17-year-old Godiva did it because she was determined to save the people. Out of gratitude, the people of Coventry pledged never to look at her naked body and stayed indoors with the shutters and curtains drawn. However, a tailor named Tom was so curious he broke the promise. Now we refer to him as “Peeping Tom.”

In Korea, a sex video of a celebrity that spread through the Internet and social networks has exposed the voyeurism of our society once again. Programs with candid cameras let us peek into other people’s private lives, and reality shows such as “Infinite Challenge” and “1 Night, 2 Days” give us a window on celebrity. The anonymity of the Internet and social networks fans our social voyeurism.

But the sex video case also had a silver lining. While some voyeurs shamelessly peeped at the celebrity in question, many people looked elsewhere, just as the people of Coventry did. They condemned the person who distributed the video instead of blaming the person in it and criticized the people who spread the file.

Let’s consider another painting: “Artemis and Actaeon” by Italian Renaissance master Titian. Titian depicts the dramatic moment when Actaeon, a hunter, runs into Artemis, a virgin goddess, who is taking a bath. Artemis is furious that her virginity has been ruined and curses Actaeon. Actaeon is transformed into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds.

Actaeon might feel wrongfully accused, but it is hard to believe that he had approached the goddess by accident. A modern interpretation might raise questions about humanity, not human nature. You may ask what is so wrong with watching a video that has already spread all over the Internet. But you will suffer a fatal wound on your humanity without realizing the answer, in the same way that Peeping Tom ended up losing his vision.

*The writer is a culture and sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Lee Hoon-beom
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