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Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky



Philosophy, Fantasy and Film





Twentieth Century Voyeurism


(Louis Sandowsky, Linda and Orly Abergel)



Nineteen Eighty Four – VCV 1769, Rear Window – VCV 867, The Truman Show (on order), Strange Days (on order), Sex, Lies and Videotape (on order)



1.                  Looking at The Look


We are all fascinated with the power of film and television to draw us into a variety of different scenarios, where our intimacy with that which is played out on screen does not actually require our participation. It does not put us at risk. It is to see without being seen. On the other side of the same coin, our active lives put us in the position of being subject to the other pole of this dyad: being-seen without seeing. Although the first form does not require personal involvement per se, we do become involved in a voyeuristic way. We may begin by looking at three technical terms that are fundamentally intertwined in this regard:

i.          Scopophilia: pleasure [philia] in looking [scopo]. There is a considerable diversity of different forms. We shall focus on two types. One form objectifies the Other, actively turning them into mere objects, while the second form involves an empathic relation with the Other, where one passively lives ‘through the Other as a subject’).

ii.         The Gaze or The Look: makes reference to the penetrative gaze of the Other. It is the moment at which one becomes aware that one is being seen, evaluated, judged, etc. It marks a shift in one’s relation to oneself – invoking a reflective turn upon the manner in which one appears to the Other (and not just to oneself).1 Jean Paul Sartre devoted a chapter in his book Being and Nothingness [BN], to the subject of the Look or Gaze. He focuses, in particular, on the ways in which The Look objectifies the other. Sartre’s most familiar example of this type of scopophilia revolves about the classic scenario in which one may be caught looking through a keyhole. The field of view is purely for the one who is looking. However, when a noise is heard the subject, for whom the events are playing themselves out, turns to find that they are now the object of another’s Look. Thus revealed to this Look, one finds oneself objectified and categorised as a peeping tom. In this instance, the Look provokes a feeling of shame. (BN. Sartre, p.260).

iii.        The Panopticon: all [pan] seeing [opticon] is an architectural form (originally conceived by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham) that embodies the structure of seeing without being-seen. It is a mechanism of power-play that is at work within the structure of society at virtually every level, from military strategy and prisons to schools, hospitals and television (see Foucault, Discipline and Punish). It derives from an architecture of control, which is inaugurated as a means of procuring strict discipline through segregation and observation.


2.       Different Permutations of Seeing Without Being-Seen and Being-Seen Without Seeing

The nineteenth century Philosopher Jeremy Bentham coined the expression "Panopticon" for what is essentially an observational machine. It has become the principal model of how individual and group control is managed and maintained in contemporary society. It has also become one of the most popular devices of entertainment in the media. Bentham originally visualized the panopticon as an architectural form that could be used by the penal system. Here, the prisoners occupy individual cells, which make up a circular group. They cannot see one another and they cannot see the guards who occupy a tower that is at the centre of the structure. However, the guards can see them at any time they choose. Prisoners cannot know when they are being observed, but an unseen presence is always felt. Those who are observed are never free of the feeling that they are being constantly subjected to The Look. In this case, the very invisibility of the wardens, the impossibility of knowing when they are actually watching, is an essential part of their power. Bentham realized that there was an array of possible uses for this optical machine for observing without being observed.

Television programmes like "Big Brother" (2000) and "Jailbreak" (2000) use these varied seen / seeing structures (and therefore, certain structures of powerplay) which appeal to the scopophilia or voyeurism of the audience (and the exhibitionistic personality traits of the participants). These shows are only possible because of the availability of panoptic technology. The participants in these programmes are people who volunteer to be observed in various social situations over an extended period of time. One of the original guiding ideas behind the production of this type of ‘entertainment’ had to do with the presentation of a real slice of life. However, although the participants do not know which precise moments will be seen by the audience, since they do not have editorial control, there is clearly a kind of Heisenberg effect at work – whereby their behavioural patterns are affected by the observational medium itself. The behaviour of the participants alters over time as they are forced into the position of seeing themselves as objects of the Other’s (the audience’s) Look. What is most disturbing and fascinating about this type of show is the vast number of viewers attracted to these kinds of programmes.

When considering television shows like "Big Brother" and "Jailbreak", we have to look at the degree to which the behaviour of those who are being observed are affected by this knowledge. So, although, the format is meant to show ‘how’ people behave in a relatively natural environment, it actually sets up an unnatural atmosphere precisely because we do not live our day to day lives as if we are being observed twenty four hours a day by an unseen eye. On the other hand, if we look at the film, The Truman Show we see a more specific form of being-seen without any knowledge of being seen. This movie explores the theme in great depth. The main character, Truman, the one who is being observed, is completely unaware of his true state of affairs. He does not know that he was adopted as a child by a television network and raised in a vast theatre, where the population ‘acts’ out the appearance of a normal society. For twenty-four hours each day, he can be seen going about his day to day life in the most intimate detail. Truman is completely oblivious of the fact that he is actually the star of an international television show.

The scenario is a paranoid nightmare, where everyone else is clued in to the true state of affairs, acting out a living, while Truman does not have such knowledge. Therefore, he does not moderate or restrict his pattern of behaviour. He is not constantly aware of his own actions. He does not live his life thinking about how he is perceived. This lack of awareness that he is being observed means that he does not need to take care about the image that he is projecting to other people. Unlike the citizen of George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), he is not pre-occupied with the need to perform. Truman is the only authentic person in his inauthentic world – the 'true-man.' If we return to the expression scopophilia (which means pleasure in looking), we can classify the two forms that have been discussed so far in the following terms:


The Look that objectifies (active) – to look at.


The Look that empathizes (passive) – to look with.


The values of the cinema-going and television audience have changed over time. This can be attributed to various changes in both film and technology. The early days of film reveled in slapstick humour. What stands out here is a rather cruel form of relation to the misfortunes of the characters on screen. There is a process of objectification at work through which the audience is invited to laugh at the performers as opposed to laughing with them. This is a style that is still very much at work in many forms of animation – which is a principal part of their appeal, e.g., the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons, Tex Avery's work, etc. In contrast to this type of seeing, most contemporary media forms invite the audience to empathize with the characters and their situations. Soap Operas are a strong example of this kind of seeing. The audience can be drawn into the plot, to live it with the characters in the comfort of their own home, without actually putting themselves at risk. It is only the theatrical characters that have to bear the actual consequences. It represents one way in which the audience can imagine that they are doing more than just vegetating in front of the television. In many ways, the members of the audience are able to brighten up their own lives by being emotionally involved with these fictitious characters and situations, which often incorporate many real life scenarios but, once again, without having to put themselves at risk.

In the same way, the audience is invited to empathize with Truman, the main character of the film, The Truman show. This picture manages to capture the imagination of a cinema going audience that is becoming increasingly aware of the panoptic elements at work in contemporary society. Every moment of Truman’s life is potentially on view. When he talks to himself in the mirror, it is on full display to others. When he discusses his life with his best friend, it is an intimacy that pours out of millions of television sets – a betrayal to Truman, while assuring his ‘best friend’ the highest honours for his acting abilities. There is only ever the ‘appearance’ of sincerity. It is only because of a moment of honest intervention from an outside source that he gradually comes to be suspicious of the authenticity of his world. At this point, we, the audience, can empathize with his feelings of paranoia. The question of whether ‘one’ could be the lone subject of a vast experiment would seem to be too fantastic to contemplate, and yet it is a familiar fantasy – or nightmare. One generally reasons one’s way out of such a proposition for reasons of economy.

Within the boundaries of the film narrative itself, the show is a money-spinner for the network. Whereas the general viewing audience is entranced by Truman’s life in an empathic sense, the producers of the show are maintaining a vast observational machine in which Truman is nothing more than an asset, property, a lucrative ‘object.’ It is the vastness of the show’s audience and the intensity of its enthusiasm that makes it economically possible to establish and maintain what is a tantamount to being a vast conspiracy against one man.

Theoretically, Truman is free to leave. But, this is actually a disingenuous claim on the part of the producers, who have written his life-context in such a way as to really deny him the ability to act on the desire to leave the only world with which he is familiar. For example, his fear of making the ferry crossing (the dread of crossing water in general) away from his world is the result of conditioning – an overwhelming feeling of guilt over the 'apparent' death by drowning of his 'father' (who was simply written out of the programme). Chillingly, his mother would assure him in a platitudinous tone that she had never 'blamed' him for the boat accident. Choices are always context-driven, and since his life-context has been written for him, his decisions remain within the limits imposed by the writers of his prison.

Fueled by a warning from a young woman earlier in the film (with whom Truman is in love), our protagonist takes a leap beyond mere paranoia and really begins to look at his environment and the people who populate it. In a moment of intense susceptibility to the feeling that he is the object of The Look, he bends down in the street as if to tie his shoe laces and carefully begins to study those about him. He stands behind a lamppost, so as not to be noticed, in order to see without being seen. He looks for ‘signs’ of the invisible eyes that are monitoring him and then takes bolder steps to see if he can initiate any visible responses.

The audience empathizes with his efforts (both the audience that is internal to the film’s narrative, and ourselves, the audience that is watching the film of The Truman Show), perhaps feeling that his struggle is also theirs / ours. Ultimately, Truman seeks to transgress the limits of his mere visibility as an ‘object’ in order to become wholly visible as a ‘subject.

The tension that holds in The Look – between ‘being visible as an object’ and ‘standing out as a subject’ has been explored in great detail in existential philosophy – particularly in the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Sartre’s play, Huis Clos (In Camera / No Exit), is a disturbing examination of how the objectification of oneself by the Other’s Gaze is something that cannot be avoided; hence, "Hell is other People." Unlike the Panopticon, where an invisible watcher is an all-seeing ‘Big Brother,’ and where the subjects / objects of observation do not actually see or interact with one another, Sartre’s hell is about being seen by one’s peers in the absence of an all-seeing power. There is no one to arbitrate. There is no one total perspective. There is only endless repetition and limitless forms of viewpoint – conflict without the possibility of consensus.

Sexual powerplay is an exemplary instance of the interplay of the two orientations of scopophilia, which have been discussed so far. Given the marketing power of this dimension of human interaction, we can readily find a multiplicity of different forms of The Look in the media, literature, and fashion. Fashion, particularly in terms of the way in which it drives the clothing industry, is a classic sphere in which we find pleasure in being seen in operation alongside the desire to be invisible – to melt into the mass. Part of the way in which we define ourselves has to do with the ways in which we imagine that we are being perceived. In other words, the power structures of The Look are always already at work in our own sense of Self. They are integrated into the very fold of our self-relation, determining, in turn, how we perceive others.


3.       Panoptical Power

Michel Foucault’s discourse on the Panopticon, in the 1977 text, Discipline and Punish, focuses on a diverse range of ways in which this ‘optical mechanism’ has insinuated itself into the fabric of society as a means of mass control. It manifests itself in almost every aspect of the social order. The Panoptical machine has a controlling influence precisely because the observers cannot be seen. This overturns the view that those who are in power can only maintain control by being a ‘visible’ force. It is the transcendence of the observer that signifies the real power to control.

The concept of the Panopticon introduced a new form of economy for mass-control. All the disciplinary work is actually done by those who are subject to The Look. Although the observers need not be looking all the time, those who are observed can never know when they are being seen. The feeling of being seen is continuous, whereas the ‘actual’ seeing is not. It is the very invisibility of the observers that adds to their power. The most significant literary example of this mechanism at work is George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The political force is unseen and yet absolute. This is the power of the invisible all-seeing eye.

Foucault writes,

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be closely observed by an inspector; too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so (Discipline and Punish. p.201).

Foucault shows how the mechanisms of control through observation originated from the need for quarantine, such as leper colonies, towns that had been stricken by the plague, etc. The evolution of these techniques still maintains references to the idea of possible contagious diseases and the necessity of exclusion through containment and strict observation. Control has become associated with the idea of maintaining a system by means of mechanisms that safeguard it from contamination (political, ideological, or biological). Through the use of "…procedures of individualisation to mark exclusion, this is what was operated regularly by disciplinary power from the beginning of the nineteenth century in the psychiatric asylum, the penitentiary, the reformatory, the approved school and, to some extent, the hospital" (Ibid, p.199). The containment of individual cells does not allow the possibility of the spread of ideas, which could undermine the ruling power that is in total control. Segregation is a very powerful tool, not only when there are biological considerations, but also in the horizons of the political and social.

Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is an exercise in the study of the limits of such mechanisms to control the social-political arena. These mechanisms are even integrated into language itself. ‘Newspeak’ is a highly reductive language, whose design excludes any possibility of finding expression for discontent or criticism of the governing power. The novel begins with the clocks striking thirteen. The main character, Winston Smith returns to his flat at Victory Mansions on a bright cold day in April. As he enters the building, we are told,

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features…On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran (Nineteen Eighty Four. p.3).

This passage illustrates that the power of The Party (Big Brother) is absolute. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is omniscient and omnipotent, while its omnipresence is precisely nothing other than its invisibility. What this means is that there is only a numerous array of signs referring to The Party. These signs remind the population that they are under observation, although the watching eyes themselves are never actually seen. In this world, the television has a very different function – or, rather it comprises other functions that maintain control over the viewer.

Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig iron and the overfulfillment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, as long as he remained within the field of vision, which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised (Ibid. p.4).

The telescreen is the primary mechanism of observation and control in Winston’s world. It is an exemplary instance of the sheer power of the Panoptic mechanism at work. Many new televisions in our time are automatically being equipped with internet capabilities – and internet conferencing taps into Orwellian-like tele-screen technology.


4.       Technology’s Shadow

What began as a method of segregating plague towns as a general rule of quarantine and observation has evolved into an economy of control that has superseded its original application. Michel Foucault demonstrates that the power mechanisms at work in society (particularly those of an observational kind, e.g., its Panoptic architecture) indicate how we are never very far removed from ‘power for power sake,’ e.g., absolutism, nazism, etc. It is only the regulating bodies at work in society, which, through legislation, temper their use – that is, according to the principles of justice by which that society defines itself. Nazism, for instance, represents non-philosophy – or rather, if we see philosophy as a form of narrative by which society defines its goals, then nazism is nothing more than the narrative of power for its own sake. It is a shadow that always accompanies the technology of observation.

In George Orwell’s dystopic world of Nineteen Eighty Four, the Party of Big Brother is the regulative overlord of this body politic – one that is characterised as a boot stamping on the face of humanity. The ‘threat’ of continuous observation by the State is that which disciplines each individual into perpetual self-observation. The threat forces the individual to be aware of their behaviour and to ‘perform’ in a manner that is in accordance with the behavioural tenets that are laid down by the ‘virtual’ eye. Of course, this mechanism of forced self-observation is at work in contemporary Western society as well. It has insinuated itself in the ways in which we relate to our peers, lovers, co-workers, etc. It is as if this mechanism is responsible for a certain kind of inner fragmentation. For example, fashion dictates how we should appear to ourselves, in some cases confusing the margins between reality and what is actually seen. In its most fundamental sense, anorexia is a perceptual problem. The sufferer does not see the emaciated image that stands before them. The reflection does not fulfil that which the anorexic has been conditioned to see.

Increasing awareness amongst the general public regarding their day-to-day visibility is quite clearly a contributing factor in the evolution of interest in television shows like "Big Brother" and "Jailbreak." The success of films like The Truman Show is another example. One could argue that the seductive nature of the soap opera format on television is another indication of how we, the audience, like to play Peeping Tom to scenes that are analogous to our own everyday lives – where there is an empathic connection with the protagonists as they play out their day-to-day dramas. On the one hand, it is a mechanism through which the audience can observe themselves: a voyeurism in the service of a narcissistic impulse, and on the other hand, it is to appropriate a position of power by becoming the judging eye that is invisible to all but itself. The film, Slither, is an example of this desire, and the movie, Sex, Lies and Videotape takes the theme even further by exploring the fundamental voyeuristic components of our sexual drives.

Of course, we, the audience, always participate in a kind of voyeurism – to play benign Big Brothers. There is a kind of comfort to be obtained in the reassurance that one can observe without being observed. Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window, makes this thematic. The main protagonist, played by James Stewart, is a photographer who has been an invalid for several weeks. Unable to leave his apartment, because of a broken leg, his boredom drives him to start peeping on his neighbours. The architectural structure of his apartment block allows him to see into the lives of some of the other tenants. He and his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, consider the ethical implications of his obsessive observations. In turn, Hitchcock weaves a visual narrative that forces us to ask ourselves the same question in relation to our collective role as a film-going audience.


Scopophilia Rules!


To what extent is the audience really benign? Desire creates markets and, in the case of authentic ‘snuff-movies,’ the audience is caught up in a relation of complicity with their very production.


5.       The First-Person Perspective

Self-fueling curiosity about what it is like to live inside the skin of others continues to seed itself in the direction of observational technology and the use of first-person perspective entertainment (later in the course, we shall look at the excellent film, Being John Malkovich). Apart from the obvious forms of pleasure that are associated with the willing suspension of disbelief, identification with heroic figures, exotic scenarios, love situations, etc., cathartic voyeurism ranging from the viewing of simple day to day experiences (à la soap opera) to pornographic ‘hard-core’ films, there is another form that appeals to a primordial type of anxiety – an anxiety related to death.

Horror movies often utilize first-person perspective techniques to enhance the movie-going experience of terror. The vicarious nature of cinematic experience inevitably tends toward the use of this device. Michael Powell’s film, Peeping Tom took the first-person perspective to its next stage, by exploring the deadly fetish of a photographer who likes to film his murder victims seeing themselves being murdered (by a stabbing weapon protruding from the tripod of a camera, with an attached mirror in which the victims see themselves). This imaginary story of ‘snuff’ revolted the audiences of the early sixties, because of the techniques that it employed to invite them into a more intimate form of association with the scenario.

To see how compelling the theme of living vicariously through the other is and, at the same time, to see how its expression has evolved in order to keep pace with more sophisticated audiences, we may turn to the film, Strange Days (written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks, and directed by Kathryn Bigelow). This film reprises the nightmare scenario of viewing someone in a state of terror in seeing their own impending death. The movie explores 1999 turn of the century voyeurism, by pushing it to its limits. It presents a science-fiction technology, developed for police surveillance, which consists of a headset that digitally records the direct experiences and memories of the wearer. It makes it possible to record not only what someone sees, but also how it feels and smells, as if from the ‘inside-out.’ It represents an extension and deepening of the first-person perspective.

The principal protagonist, Lenny Nero (played by Ralph Fiennes) is an ex cop who sells wholly immersive ‘black-market’ pornography, which has been produced with this new technology. It is so completely immersive that by wearing the headset in playback mode, one literally experiences everything that was seen and felt by the one who made the recording. The vicarious element is minimized to the degree that the audience actually ‘lives’ the experience from the ‘inside-out.’ One day, Fiennes’ character receives a package, which contains a recording of someone raping and murdering a young woman. What is truly terrifying and grotesque is that the recording shows the victim wearing a headset and that her last moments of life were spent ‘living’ the thrill of her rapist / murderer taking his pleasure – in other words, by experiencing her rape and murder through him.

There is another medium of immersion, that is not merely science fiction, which has tapped into this universal scopophilia – contemporary first-person perspective computer games (in which one can die most impressively as often as one likes). Utilizing much of the cinematic grammar that is at work today, these games invite the audience into virtual worlds precisely in order to participate in the ways in which they unfold – a participative voyeurism. The movement toward total immersion in these first-person perspective role-playing games seems to be fuelled by a voyeuristic tendency that is not only still alive and kicking, but also evolving into new dimensions – where voyeurism combines active participation but, once again, without any risk.

The production of optical and other forms of technology that were originally developed for surveillance and control is exploding into new horizons. As well as curtailing certain aspects of freedom, the technology has also provided ways in which to better know ourselves, by creating alternative spaces (cyberspaces) in which virtually anything is permissible, thus liberating unspoken desires that continue to refine its development.


Welcome to 21st Century voyeurism!



I had something of an epiphany the other day, which I'm sure was the result of a number of incidents that I'd heard about on the news (subliminally anyway). For instance, a young woman has just been jailed for eight years for her complicity in a stunt that has become quite popular recently, called "Happy Slapping" – where an unwitting target is photographed with a cellular phone while being slapped around the head. Though, in this case, the "Happy Slapping" session resulted in someone's death. Each day that passes, we hear of new faddish scams and acts of violence that revolve around cellular technology – from "Happy Slapping" to downright mugging and even murder.


Now, it seems to me that this very same technology can be put to use to fight back against these new trends. A cellular phone is merely one cell of a vast network of interactive cells bound together by common servers and providers, which also store messages, photos, etc., remotely. It occurred to me that since most cellular phones now have the facility to take photographs, people are in a better position to police themselves. Actually, this thought popped into my mind while remembering a strangely garbled telephone call from a friend’s telephone number last year, which turned out to be the live sounds of a young thief doing a runner after stealing his cellular phone. Just imagine if it had also been taking photos and transmitting them to me simultaneously. In actuality, I probably would have seen little more than a jumble of snapshots of the street, a pair of legs running...


...But, I'm sure that you get the point…


The very obvious and simple idea that occurred to me crystallized while I was doing some surfing in an internet cafe recently. I wanted to find out how to get a G-Mail account. My principal motivation had to do with the prospect of being able to upload large chunks of data from my pc and save them on the internet. However, the official site informed me that I could not sign up directly by internet unless I had already received an invitation via a 'cellular phone' first. I was initially amused by this (as I don’t use a cellular), but then certain implications hit me...


If one thinks about it – in our contemporary Orwellian world of mass surveillance where we are used to the ever-present possibility of being photographed by hidden cameras, in the streets, underground systems, virtually anywhere – we are more aware of how we behave. The ubiquitous presence of this Big Brother's eye makes us more self-conscious and careful. The idea that we may commit some sort of transgression that could be caught on film or some other graphic medium and used against us is an ever-present risk. Well, how about using this very same mechanism to protect ourselves?


Here's a simple scenario: a young man is walking to his car in a parking lot and suddenly finds himself confronted by a couple of muggers who insist on taking his cellular phone. Not wanting any trouble, he begins to hand it over to the thieves. All of a sudden there is a click and a flash. Everyone in the scene understands what has just happened. The cellular phone took a picture. This places the potential thieves in a bit of an awkward predicament to say the very least. They can't simply proceed with the transaction by taking the phone / camera and deleting the picture that would incriminate them because the moment that the click was heard and they were dazzled by the flash the image was instantaneously uploaded to the intended victim's G-Mail account. It would be pointless to take the phone to destroy the evidence because the incriminating data was now stored elsewhere on a system that was inaccessible to them. This nullifies any use that the phone would have had for them originally, because it has actually documented their crime (pictorially, including date, time and, perhaps, even location). All that they would be able to do would be to drop everything, bluff it out and shout something inane like "April Fool!" while running away.


Or again, imagine a young woman walking home late at night and she senses that she is being followed. A few clicks and flashes suddenly brightening up the night would make a potential attacker think twice. If the same woman was directly confronted by an assailant, a click and a flash would be a strong deterrent against the situation further deteriorating. As before, it would not do to simply steal or destroy the camera because the evidence of the encounter has already been transmitted elsewhere. The potential rapist would know that his intended crime was marked before it had even taken place, thus giving him the choice to back down and to change his destiny.


"You can steal from me if you like, rape me, or even kill me but remember that you're on candid camera!"


Now, one may object, "Hmm, yes all well and good, but what if the assailant is wearing a mask? What if the attacker strikes from behind?, etc.,


It doesn’t really matter whether the technology is foolproof or not!


What was really scary about Orwell's vision of Big Brother being the all-seeing-eye is that the citizens that crowded his dystopic vision of 1984 knew that they couldn't possibly be watched 'ALL' the time, but this didn't make them less vigilant about their visible behaviour. It was even possible that any given individual was only observed for a very brief duration once a day, once a week, or even not at all, but there was no way for the individual to 'know' for sure. Big Brother is, most importantly, the 'UNSEEN' all-seeing-eye. The mere 'threat' of being observed and that one cannot 'know' for sure when this is occurring are enough!


Like Spielberg's "Minority Report" and the idea of pre-crime, the evidence of the crime lies in the future – let's say when the authorities are permitted to access the G-Mail of a missing person as part of a standard procedure after receiving a missing-person's report. Of course, in Minority Report, the future is given presciently as the present counts down toward it. The question is whether the future that has been glimpsed is irrevocable or not. The meaning of ‘minority report’ has to do with the possibility of an alternative future coming to pass and that there is always the possibility of 'choice.'


The specific import of the evidence that sits in the G-Mail account (picture, date, time and location) can only be nullified by choosing 'not' to carry out one's intended crime. By law, one may extrapolate an intention / motive from a crime that has actually taken place, but not the other way round. This is actually a more just scenario for all parties concerned – as opposed to a cruel metaphysics of fate.


"O.K. officer, so I changed my mind!"


"Yes," said the prosecutor, "but was that before or after you heard the click and saw the flash?"


"Objection, your honour!" cried the defence attorney "It would do well to remind the jury of the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and to explain the honourable prosecutor's misappropriation of the logic of Shroedinger’s Cat!”


A few new laws would have to be written to take this kind of scenario into account. But, one thing is for sure: the number of violent crimes would most definitely drop...for a while. And, that would be a good thing.


Naturally, it would also be a GOOD thing if there were some way of making money out of this very obvious, but so far unused, application of popular technology. Instead of being used as a tool in the perpetration of crime – e.g., "Happy Slapping" – it could be used as tool of prevention. Let's face it, we're stuck with this age of panoptical surveillance anyway so we may as well try to think of ways to turn it to the individual's advantage!





1.         Cellular phone with camera. The existing hardware is sufficient and does 'not' involve expensive modification.


2.         A Provider that offers at least 1GB of space for uploaded data. Consider G-Mail's campaign to offer accounts to cellular phone users...


3.         Either independent software writers or phone manufacturers or the big providers (e.g., Orange, BT) would be able to produce the simple programme whereby every shot that the camera takes is 'instantaneously' uploaded rather than simply stored in the cellular's memory. 'Instantaneity' here, is, I realize a problematic expression as it is relative to data size and upload speed.... but the relevant technology is advancing in leaps and bounds.


Note: It may be suggested that the cellular phone manufacturers hardwire the facility into their phones or provide a modular upgrade that is specifically designed as a security option. This could take the form of a security switch that may be activated at any time by the user, which effectively puts the cellular phone in ready-mode for fast transmission of data. Then, when the standard photographic button is pressed while in this ready-mode, it completes its task with an automatic upload to the Provider. The function of the module, when activated, would be to effectively modify the command string of the photo button to take pictures that are instantly uploaded to a remote server and NOT saved in the unit itself (thus an assailant would not be able to grab the phone and check whether the photos were potentially incriminating or not). In other words, the Self-Policing Security Mode would be a separate function to the standard photographic element of the phone that stores its pictures in its resident memory.


So, here's the pitch: Imagine police officers or soldiers or the general public having their cellular phones (or a bluetooth accessory) attached to their lapels. The major Providers could sell data space for the instantaneous uploads (for which it is the responsibility of the user to monitor and download their files – just like a Yahoo account). The increasingly complex issue of information privacy in our new cyber-spatial age would have to be addressed, but the system would work. No doubt, the military would be interested in the technology as a way of snooping on the enemy while simultaneously monitoring the safety of its operatives. It would certainly be extremely useful to the police. If a criminal made a run for it when an arresting officer tried to apprehend him, the frustrated cop wouldn't have to embark on a wild street chase. A simple "I'll catch up with you later asshole when I've checked my database!" would do. But, of course, it’s the popularity that such a facility would represent to individual and public paranoia on a large scale that would be the real money-spinner!


…Just a thought!


            Of course, it's the natural outcome of this, if implemented and monitored appropriately, that will produce the most profitable enterprise of all…


…Tune in next time folks…


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Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting corporation and Penguin Books 1972.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth f the Prison. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. 1977. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in French in 1975.

The History of Sexuality. Translated by Robert Hurley. 1978. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in French in 1976.

Madness and Civilization. A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated from the French by Richard Howard. Routledge. London: Tavistock, 1967, 1965. (Reprinted 1991).

Gamman, Lorraine and Margeret Marchment. The Female Gaze.

Moore, Suzanne. "Here’s Looking at You, Kid!"

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema."

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty Four. Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1949.

Pultz, John. Photography and The Body. The Orion Publishing Group. 1995.

Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. Methuen. 1958. [Original French text 1943].

Huis Clos. (In Camera / No Exit). No Exit and Three Other Plays. Vintage Books. A Division of Random House.

Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. University of California Press. Originally published in 1989. Revised edition, 1999.



1 One of the most significant texts that explores this theme is Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology. The section, entitled, "The Look" is an excellent example of the kind of shift in self-relation that is at work in the switch from merely seeing to being-seen. Sartre describes the event of someone looking through a keyhole. That which is played out before the eyes of the observer is merely an objective state of affairs that is ‘for’ him. However, when the scopophile hears a creak behind him, he looks away from the keyhole to see that someone is now observing him. This is the moment in which shame is generated. Prior to this moment, the observer was not self-aware. He was just absorbed in that which he saw through the keyhole. The moment at which he becomes aware that he is now an ‘object’ for someone else is precisely the moment at which he becomes aware of what he is: a voyeur – and this is introduced into the interiority of his self association. Sartre’s point is that even our most intmate associations with ourselves are mediated through the Other’s Look. In a world without others – where one never experienced the Look – one could not feel ashamed of oneself (which is a powerful argument against the solipsistic tendency of Cartesianism). Of course, one does not need the constant presence of the Other to feel ashamed, because Otherness originally means the possibility of alternative perspectives, which is a possibility that lies within oneself at the very core of consciousness. Conscience is the ever-vigilant alterity within one’s interiority. The ‘actual’ presence of the Other is not really required, except as a reminder that one’s current perspective is always capable of being transcended. Sartre’s play, Huis Clos (In Camera / No Exit) explores the more chilling aspects of The Look – where we are introduced to the thought that "Hell is other people!"