The most memorable part of McLuhan’s chapter The Photograph from Understanding Media is undoubtedly the quote, “[Photographs] can be bought and hugged and thumbed more easily than public prostitutes.” The subtitle to this chapter is ‘The Brothel Without Walls’ because of the analogies McLuhan makes between the sale of prostitutes and the sale of photographs of people.
Enter the nerdcore hip-hop (I bet you didn’t know that was a subgenre) band Optimus Rhyme from Seattle, Washington and their song Click-Click which appears on their album Transformed.
Their song is about the paparazzi industry / stalking. It really highlights the fact that photographs can be taken without permission very easily that McLuhan doesn’t really address. Whereas a woodcut or lithograph could also be reproduced to some extent, they took significant time to create the original, so if you were depicting a person, you would need them to sit still and cooperate. Photographs on the other hand can be taken in less than a second and very discreetly.
If modeled photographs are akin to prostitution, then paparazzi is essentially sex slavery. The subjects cannot do anything to prevent being turned into a photograph and then thumbed by people around the world.
So in that light, buying celebrity gossip magazines goes from a harmless waste of money to something rather worse. Those who buy such magazines are taking advantage of the celebrities who did not choose to appear in the photographs. Rape.
…Somewhere that escalated drastically. Is buying People Magazine as bad as rape? No, not even close. So, McLuhan’s analogy sounds nice, but doesn’t quite make sense (Shocking). All analogies fall apart somewhere, and this one is an issue of magnitude. They progress similarly, prostitution and photography, but at different levels of immorality.