The Unexpected Silver Lining When A Band Cried Sex-Tape Leak

Photo: Courtesy of Ricky Tompkins.
I sent my first "suggestive" selfie when I was 21, living a cool 7,742 miles from my boyfriend as he was entering the corporate world in Chicago and I was trying to save the world through nonprofit work in Burundi. I was not and am still not entirely comfortable with sexting or even with taking selfies, mostly because I'm not very good at them, but distance and desperation are powerful motivators. After multiple deleted takes, the photo ended up looking fucking amazing. And it was for me and my boyfriend alone. That self-portrait has remained private, but this was not the case, it seemed, of the supposed sex tape of romantic couple Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, who together make up the L.A.-based dance-pop band YACHT. On Monday, the two announced on YACHT's Facebook page that a sex tape they had made together had been leaked "due to a series of technological missteps and one morally abject person." They assured their fans that they had begun legal proceedings against this unnamed culprit, then went on to say: 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. Bechtolt and Evans added that they understood the video would spread whether they wanted it to or not and so they had decided to sell it for download themselves, so that at least they would make some money. "It shouldn't have come as any surprise that Pamela Anderson never saw a dime from the tape she filmed with Tommy Lee, and Paris Hilton lost a court battle with the man who leaked their private video," they explained. "We’re not as savvy as the Kardashians, but something occurred to us this morning: We could try and distribute the video directly to you ourselves." The outpouring of encouragement from the public was immediate. "Thank you for all that you do," one commenter responded to the duo's Facebook post. "We will always be here to support you. Not even looking for [the sex tape]."

The outpouring of encouragement from the public was immediate

"I still love you guys and I'm sorry some doofus took something private and made it public," another wrote. "Karma is alive and well, and they'll get theirs. Your music and artwork mean the world to me, sex won't stop that." But wait — psych, guys! Save your empathy, because there was no leak and there is no sex tape, just an "artsy" short film of the two on PornHub. The whole thing was a publicity stunt, the band revealed yesterday in an unapologetic statement that they today replaced with an apologetic one. Jezebel corroborated with evidence that the band had reached out to Gawker in hopes of help spreading the hoax to promote their upcoming music video. "We didn’t anticipate the outpouring of genuine support, due partially to the credulity with which this story was so extensively and immediately reported," YACHT wrote in yesterday's now-replaced statement. "It’s a project that allowed us to play with science fiction, the attention economy, clickbait journalism, and celebrity sex tapes all at once." So, to recap: This band claims that a sex crime — because the release of explicit footage of you without your consent is nothing different and nothing less — has been committed against them. They say that they refuse to justify their actions or feel shame, eliciting the support of countless fans and observers who unite to marvel at the depravity of the person responsible. YACHT then reveals that, haha, the entire saga was a goof, and says the joke is really on "clickbait journalism" for "extensively and immediately" reporting on an alleged sex crime and on the dignified response of the public figures against whom it was supposedly committed.

the release of explicit footage of you without your consent is a sex crime

And like that, the swell of support for the band turned to anger. "Your fake sex tape fiasco to generate PR for your band completely and totally mocks and undermines efforts to make revenge porn a serious crime," a top comment on the band's Facebook post on the "leak" reads, "especially given the number of suicides and personal lives that have been ruined over people legitimately doing this." And indeed, as Jezebel pointed out, revenge porn — the release of explicit material featuring someone who has not consented for it be shared — has destroyed and taken lives, including those of Audrie Pott, who died from suicide at age 15 after photos of her sexual assault were shared, and Rehtaeh Parsons, who died from suicide at age 17 following the distribution of a photo of her being raped. In yesterday's statement, YACHT insisted that they "never make light of victims of any form of sexual abuse," and that "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." But it's hard to blame outrage over the fact that you appropriated revenge porn as a marketing tool on "press outlets" when you, well, appropriated revenge porn as a marketing tool. And it's unclear how doing so is categorically distinct from falsely claiming that you have experienced another type of sex crime, for example, sexual assault. We can talk about differences in degree, but we wouldn't be considering the artistic merits of a false rape claim. We'd be calling out the maker of that claim for diminishing the experiences of real rape survivors — and while I wish it weren't so, false reports, such as last year's disastrous Rolling Stone story on the sexual assault of "Jackie," threaten our progress toward a default position of believing survivors when they come forward. Today, after immense pressure from the internet, YACHT apologized. "This was a lazy starting point for what we wanted to be a much more fun story about the expectations of a sex tape and the frenzy surrounding the taboo of sex, especially juxtaposed with our own non-celebrity," they wrote. "We should not have hinged this entire project on the fiction that we were the victims of a leaked tape, and we’re equally disappointed in ourselves for taking so long to get over being shocked at the response and write this apology."

False reports threaten our progress toward a default position of believing survivors

I'm not here to vilify Bechtolt and Evans, or to destroy or eviscerate or any of the other verbs favored by the creators of the clickbait journalism that they decried. The fast-moving, page-view-driven internet news cycle they intended to critique is worth examining, but so are the assumptions on which they built this stunt. Even the band's insistence that they were referencing "celebrity sex tapes" and not "real" crimes is based on the premise that celebrities aren't people: We weren't talking about Audrie Pott or Rehteah Parsons — we were talking about cartoon versions of women, like Kim Kardashian and Pamela Anderson! Except that a nude photo leak is a nude photo leak, even if the bodies in the photos belong to highly recognizable people; we've been through this before. The cherry on top is the fact that YACHT executed this stunt for professional gain, a slap in the face to those who have been told that they "benefited" from revenge porn featuring them or that they somehow "did it for the attention." Think of Erin Andrews, filmed nude without her knowledge and then faced with a lawyer who insinuated that Andrews' career had taken off thanks to the fact that her naked body was accessible by Google search. Many people create explicit content of themselves for many different reasons. Some 50% of 1,500 18- to 54-year-old respondents in one 2013 study reported sending or receiving "intimate" photos, texts, or emails on their phones, and that figure rises among young adults. Sometimes, this intimate content gets away from us, and many of us have experienced situations like that simulated by YACHT. We know that if we take a photo, we're not asking for it to be shared, just as if we leave the house in a miniskirt, we're not asking to be assaulted. Collectively, we are moving toward shaming those who distribute revenge porn instead of those who are featured in it. That shift was evident in the public response to YACHT's PR exercise. Extracting that response through deception isn't artistic; it's disrespectful to real sex crime survivors and destructive to their cause. YACHT wrote that they were surprised by the support their story inspired. That support is the bright spot in a tale of "subversion" that was more gross and sad than subversive. As an established band with devoted fans, YACHT has the ability to "get out ahead" of a sex tape leak, to come out on top and look like heroes by releasing the tape on their own terms. But how many victims of revenge porn can do this? How many people can call on a "tech-savvy friend" to leverage Let's Encrypt, Bootstrap, and Stripe to create a commercial platform for their stolen content overnight, and then corral legions of fans to support them? Not many. Hopefully we extend the same compassion and understanding offered to YACHT in the initial stages of their PR stunt to all survivors, no matter what platform they have. And hopefully the band who cried wolf doesn't undermine those survivors' very real pain.
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.

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