Voyeurism and Us
Posted January 7, 2009on:
I write not from the elevated vantage point of someone who has been there, done that, moved on, and can look back and pontificate. I write as a person who has been there and is there still. There’s no denying that humans at large do have a propensity for voyeurism. You might not be, but people on the whole are. There’s always this compelling need to find out what goes on behind closed doors in neighbors’ houses, catch our fellow humans with their proverbial pants around their ankles, to know what doesn’t concern us.
This need is manifest in the tremendous success of soaps (especially the saas bahu version) which depict elaborate family politics, reality shows which grow increasingly invasive, the thriving paparazzi brigade and even “serious” media reporting on personal and frivolous subjects, celebrity magazines/shows which seek to capture and broadcast the tiniest aspect of stars’ lives, the proliferation of scandalous mms clips which spread like wildfire, or even curious crowds gathering around a fight/accident. This emerges perhaps from a deep seated need to relate our private selves to the outer world and find parallels in the environment, parallels which are hard to come across in public and social life. Or it is a primal need which cannot be deconstructed, a dark side of human curiosity.
Nowhere does the temptation to peek inside the keyhole become more overpowering, than when there is no threat of social sanction or reprisal. An assurance that “noone will know”. God knows what humanity would be like if we were all “invisible men”. And with the advent of the internet, the ability to digitally travel through the vast network of wires in the world, enter peoples homes and lives through their computers, this impulse for voyeurism has found new expression. How many of us bolt ourselves in our rooms during twilight hours, plant ourselves in front of the flickering screen, the dim glow almost hypnotic, and watch and do things which we would rather not have the world know.
Some voyeurism, I guess, is of the “consensual” brand. The desire of the voyeur to see, overlaps the desire of the subject to be seen. This would hold true in the case of most varieties of porn (minimum age of consent applies) where the players perform their acts for the very benefit of the drooling onlooker. Or social networking sites and blogs, where our profiles and pages are a self managed PR campaign. We put up details of our lives (only good things please) for everybody to see (crushes preferably), and have private conversations in public forums (orkut) (almost like a group of girls talking in loud tones for the benefit of a group of guys standing by, who are only too pleased to listen in). Us wimps, who would rather type out our profession of love than say it, have never had it better. Also reality shows, where participants seek to show the world how adorable they are in pajamas in a bedroom setting, and the world is interested. This calls for an article on “Exhibitionism and Us”, which I shall undertake if I am able to escape the barrage of chappals that shall fly in my direction for being nosy and judgmental.
The other darker, sinister brand of voyeurism, is what raises questions for us humans. Here the subject is truly unaware of being observed, and is hence completely defenseless.
I would not say the inherent tendency for voyeurism is greater or more emergent than in past times. But the conditions are certainly more conducive than in previous eras. What was seen only by one pair of eyes, can be recorded easily and be put up for a million eyes to see on the internet.