Blog Post

European Nudity and the iPhone


Yesterday’s New York Times reported that German publishers have expressed frustration over Apple’s decision to apply U.S. standards of decency to their German sensibilities.  The outcry comes after German artist Sebastian Kempa wanted to create an iPhone app to showcase his latest photography exhibit, the Naked People Project featuring normal folks with and without clothing, to discuss the ways our clothes acts as a second layer of skin.  Although far from pornographic, the website features naked people (for free!).  Apple’s rejection of Kempa’s app (even after he modified it) has worried editors and personnel at Germany’s publishing houses who feel they are in danger of being censored.

How fair is it that Apple apply U.S. standards of decency to another country?  But if German publishers want to escape censorship, shouldn’t they come up with their own version of the iPhone?  The latter question ignores the larger issue of navigating issues of culture and morals in international commerce.  Given the ubiquitous presence of the Apple brand worldwide, there is little immediate recourse for German publishers who don’t want to lose out on potential audience members because they used a nude cover model in accordance with their societal mores. But then again, it seems that Apple should be able to acknowledge that others countries have other standards; it doesn’t make them deficient, just different.

My own problem with German nudity in major publications stems from my realization that in the many, many covers I’ve seen with nude women (almost always nude women, btw), none have featured women of color.  The nude (white) models often are lauded as the picture of German health and wellness, German femininity and beauty.  “German” is implicitly and explicitly located in whiteness, excluding Germans of Color; it is a subtle but persistent argument that locates German beauty and desirability in the white German body.  (The same argument is seen in the U.S. of course, in popular media offerings, like the Bachelor, where every single bachelor or bachelorette – the object of our affection – has been white, or skews white.)

Getting back to the iPhone, the NYT reports that Apple’s response to Kempa is part of an attempt to respond to complaints that some of the iPhone apps are too sexual or degrading to women (like the app Puff! where someone blows into the phone and to send a gust of wind up a Japanese girl’s skirt, that debuted in late 2009).  There are more equally offensive apps out there involving women’s breasts that I won’t go into, but this issue brings up some interesting questions relating to acceptance and the policing of information.  How flexible should Apple be in dealing with other countries’ use of nudity in their everyday culture, and at what point do we start to understand nudity in relation to art or news as inappropriate for Americans’ consumption?



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