America: The Peeping Tom

Nov 292004
Authors: Kathryn Dailey

Voyeurism is often associated with the sexual gratification someone receives by watching others' sexual acts, often without their knowledge. This concept could be broadened to explain society's obsession with watching the intricate and intimate details of strangers' lives on reality television shows and Internet sites.

America tunes into shows like "Big Brother" and "The Bachelor," enabling viewers to watch the lives of those on the television unobserved. It gives viewers a chance to live vicariously through television.

Part of voyeurism's appeal is the thrill of subversiveness, the wicked kick of peering through the keyhole, according to Neal Gabler of the Christian Science Monitor in his commentary "Behind the Curtain of TV voyeurism."

Watching these programs is a way to safely exercise mischievousness in a society that allows few opportunities to do so and allows viewers to be moral outlaws, Gabler writes.

I don't think that all Americans receive some sick sexual gratification or power trip as they watch these television shows. However, I believe that there is a reason for the shows' growing popularity.

The stars of these television shows are real people who up until the present have lived fairly ordinary lives. Almost everyone dreams of a chance to live in the spotlight and live the life of a celebrity, and these ordinary people are doing just that.

The average viewer can more readily relate to a reality TV star than to an incredibly attractive and sometimes surgically enhanced celebrity portraying an unrealistic character in television drama.

The celebrities of reality TV open their lives to us and give up their privacy. Their conversations, actions and relationships aren't secret to us and in a way we feel as though we know them. We are able to make personal connections with them in our heads.

On a more perverse aspect and more central to the traditional definition of voyeurism, the Internet is full of pornographic voyeur sites. Many sites are personal sites set up by men and women who place web cameras around their homes, in their bedrooms, bathrooms and other traditionally private areas.

Sometimes for free and other times for a fee, visitors to these sites can watch all the private and often explicit actions that take place in front of the cameras.

Society's voyeuristic tendencies are expanding outside of television and Internet. It has expanded to the social realm as well. The Remote, a lounge in downtown Manhattan, revolves around a voyeuristic theme. The Remote is outfitted with more than 60 video cameras covering the entirety of the club, and the live video is displayed on more than 100 output devices such as large format plasma screens and video projectors, according to the Remote's official Web site,

Lounge goers can enjoy their own small-scale celebrity. They can see their faces and actions on the large screens around the club and they have their own little audience among those also present in the lounge.

The role of voyeurism in our society is multi-faceted. Whether it is right or wrong, perverse or merely personal, is not for me to decide, but the fact that it is present in undeniable.

For this reason, I see America as a voyeuristic nation.

Kathryn Dailey is a sophomore technical journalism major. Her columns run periodically in the Collegian.



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