SMH

PSA: It’s never cool to pretend to leak an unauthorized sex tape

A lot of people who never cared about the electro-pop duo Yacht—or rather, YACHT, because it’s an acronym for “young Americans challenging high technology”—became aware of them yesterday (May 10), after it was revealed that a supposed leak of an unauthorized sex tape of YACHT members Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt was a hoax to promote an upcoming music video.

In the past, the band has lived up to its acronym, with playful multimedia projects about culture and technology. In 2015, to promote songs from their album I Thought the Future Would be Cooler, they released a video that’s only accessible when Uber’s LA surge pricing is in effect. Earlier that year, they asked fans to download an app for one-time use to access album art via fax machine. The album was announced with an anti-climactic drone video of a billboard, appropriate given its title.

Those projects were smart and kind of funny. Yesterday, the internet swiftly notified Evans and Bechtolt that in 2016, joking about unauthorized sexual exploitation is not. We even have a term for it now: It’s called revenge porn.

On Monday (May 9) the band wrote a note on its Facebook page, saying their private sex tape was publicly released “due to a series of technological missteps and one morally abject person.” It was very serious, they emphasized:

Just because we are public figures does not mean we asked for this. Like anyone, we still deserve to have a choice about what we share with the world. Today we no longer have that choice. But our hope is that you fundamentally understand that choice and you choose not to view a private act that was inadvertently made public. We hope you understand that this is not a delicious scandal. This is an exploitation.

Three hours later, they followed up with a message stating they decided to be “as YACHT as possible” about the situation by setting up a website where fans could download the sex tape directly—a move they rather optimistically compared to Beyoncé’s release of Lemonade.

But this wasn’t Lemonade by a long shot, or even an unauthorized sex tape. In fact, Evans, the band’s front-woman, had notified someone at Gawker Media (which is, incidentally, currently getting its pants sued off for airing unauthorized video of Hulk Hogan having sex) about the band’s plans to fake their own sex-tape leak and follow it up with a series of “confessional” social media posts.

It’s not clear how long they planned to keep the hoax going, but probably more than the single day it lasted before they posted a note stating that the story was fabrication, along with some explanation of their creative intentions.

What was missing from that note: an apology. Rather than expressing regret for exploiting fans’ support in a situation that has driven some victims to suicide, the artists blamed the media for “incredibly irresponsible” misinterpretation:

Frankly, it’s disturbing to us that press outlets could make the incredibly irresponsible leap from “celebrity sex tape,” which is the cultural trope this project explicitly references, to “revenge porn,” which is unfunny, disgusting, morally repugnant, and completely unrelated. Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation. It was always about agency and proactive empowerment.

The implication is that a) when celebrities are involved, an unauthorized sex tape leak is funny and morally okay, and b) Evans and Bechtolt are celebrities. As Amanda Hess wrote for Slate in 2015, the discourse surrounding sex tapes has changed—largely thanks to outlets such as Gawker that forced us to look at our ugly, exploitative tendencies and re-examine them. We now recognize revenge porn as the scourge it is.

YACHT told their fans this project “allowed us to play with science fiction, the attention economy, clickbait journalism, and celebrity sex tapes all at once.” It certainly did—though perhaps not with the result they expected.

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