Are most of us natural born voyeurs? Why does the life of others hold so much fascination? Is there a peeping tom inside all of us?
I find myself asking these questions often.
I recently happened to watch Joel Schumacher's 'Phone Booth' (starring Colin Farrell) yet again.I never get tired of watching it.
On a similar theme(voyeurism), some other movies come to mind - Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window', Mark Romanek's '1 hour photo' and ofcourse the voyeur-meister movie of them all - Peter Weir's 'The Truman show'.
These are among my favorite movies and recently a real life episode involving security cameras set me thinking.
I recently went to my cousin's place and I came to know that they had installed one of these high tech security systems with cameras and stuff.It is fascinating, I tell you.I was watching the monitor which captures everything that goes on in the elevator entrance area in the ground floor and I must admit it took a while for me to take my eyes elsewhere.Some relatives arrived late and there I was playing shock jock as I announced to them on the intercom "Big Brother is watching you".Now they didnt know about the new system in place and I am sure that for a second there they must have jumped outta their skins.
I am yet to read the novel '1984' ,George Orwell's futuristic tale of a totalitarian government and its invasive surveilance on its people.I find its concept unnerving but at the same time tantalising and fascinating.What is it about watching others without their knowledge that we find so fascinating?
In 'Phone booth',essentially a morality play, a crazed sniper stalks his potential victims by planting a bug in his local phone booth and stalks people whom he reckons have lost their morals.Ironic isn't it? In this case the unsuspecting Stu Shepard(Farrell) gets caught in the sniper's web and is made to confess his sins to the entire world before before getting out of his ordeal.Didn't we all go gaga over the movie? Wasn't that one of the most gripping thrillers you've seen in recent times? Isn't it about voyeurism taken to extremes?
There have been quite a few movies on voyeurism but as always Hitchcock had 'been there, done that' years ago in 1954, when he made 'Rear Window', which is about a photo-journalist(Jimmy Stewart) who,owing to a fractured leg, has to spend some weeks cooling his heels at home where he finds amusement/entertainment by spending most of his time spying into the lives of his various neighbors in his apartment complex. With time he focuses on one particular household and eventually comes to realise that the man of the house has killed his wife and has managed to keep it under wraps.He eventually helps the police to nab him.Its one of Hitchcock's very best and a must-watch.
'1 hour photo' is a much more disturbing film than the other three and what we get is Robin Williams in one of his most creepiest roles as Sy,a photo lab technician.He is a loner and finds joy in imagining himself as part of the various families who entrust him with their camera film reels to develop the photos they've taken.He comes across one such happy family but also happens to realise that the husband is cheating on his wife as he develops some photos from the other woman's camera too.This causes him to snap and he goes hunting after the man and his mistress who are guilty of adultery and manages to do some shocking things before being apprehended by the cops.Another gripping morality play laced with irony.Its a very graphic movie and I won't advice watching it with family.
'The Truman show' (incidentally my favorite Jim Carrey movie) is a story of a man whose entire existence is nothing more than a TV show.His whole life is centered inside a massive TV studio and his every move is watched,heard and captured by hundreds of cameras,while the whole world watches with unabashed glee.The film clearly showed how people will lap up anything despite knowing that the protagonist is living a sham never knowing the truth.It brought to life that old Shakespearean adage about the world being a stage and all men and women being mere players.In this case the ironically named Truman is 'created' by the aptly named Christoff(the TV show creator played by Ed Harris) and a host of other actors 'play' the people in Truman's life.
Wasn't that a precursor to all the reality TV shows/fly on the wall type TV shows that followed(like Big Brother,Bigg Boss) where celebrities were locked up in a house and every move of theirs was captured by cameras running all the time.Let me confess here that I was addicted to the show Bigg Boss and saw every episode of it.
Which brings me back to my topic: Voyeurism.
As a little kid I remember getting my first pair of binoculars and after the initial excitement, and later disappointment of not being to see any planets with it, I started looking into my neighbors houses through the windows.It felt almost a natural thing to do and I felt nothing wrong when I did.Ofcourse with time I realised how wrong that was and unfortunately found myself at the receiving end when with time I had to ward off prying next door mamas(old geezers) or scary maamis(who are masters of stealth) and other pesky kids who do not know the meaning of privacy.
I've been paranoid of watchmen who've appeared to be constantly surveying the house, listening to every word spoken inside, and it didnt help that I used to live in a house where the watchman sat right next to my window outside and virtually had access to everything happening there.
Why is it, that if in an apartment complex, a main door is open, everyone passing by to get to the elevator or stairs will take a look-see inside?This unfuriates me to no end but invariably when I pass through an open door I too find myself wanting a look-see and I end up forcing myself to not do it.Thankfully, now I stay in a quasi-independent house which is far removed from such snoopy neighbors but I have to contend with a next door paati(grandmum) who's 80 plus and feels nothing wrong in coming and peering through our open door/window.Granted, she is only trying to locate my grandmum to have a chat but still I feel somewhat unnerved whenever she does that.
Another thing I used to do when I was young was tune in the radio to a particular frequency which picked up the house's cordless phone signal and whenever somebody used the cordless I could listen in on it.It used to irritate my sister a lot when I tapped in on her conversations with her friends hoping to catch some juicy inside info, but well, the fad wore off after a couple of days and I started respecting the need for privacy.
But we used the technique to have it as an intercom for sometime but that too was shortlived.
Ever found yourself armed with a camera, trying to take snaps of people off guard/unaware? Doesn't that thrill you despite knowing its wrong?
Only after seeing '1 hr photo' did I realise how much faith we place on our local photo labs.Our personal photographs are probably our most treasured and intimate possessions that are basically an open window to our lives and our family and to give an outsider easy access to that…aren't we putting ourselves at potential risk?
I am sure you have received all those mail forwards about the danger of putting up your personal pics on Orkut and how people misuse them.Orkut has become this easy playground for voyeurs.It is so easy to create a blank profile and go about looking into other peoples affairs without them ever knowing.Granted,its a brilliant social networking site and all that.I am happy that recently they have added privacy options to selectively block photos and videos to unwelcome visitors.
There are other things to fear like 2 way mirrors in hotels and dressing rooms.
Recently I asked my friend for her blog address and since she considers her blog to be private she refused to let me in.I was pretty upset about it as I have no qualms in letting her read my blogs.But to be honest,wasn't I trying to get a look-see inside her life by wanting to read her innermost thoughts and feelings?Wasn't I guilty of trying to pry?
This is a line in 'Rear Window' where the nurse chides the photo-journalist for spying on his neighbors:
"Oh dear, we've become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes, sir. How's that for a bit of home-spun philosophy?"
And that was 1954… I guess some things don't change.
The ending lines of 'The Truman show':
Truman: "Was anything real?"
Christof: "You were real. That's what made you so good to watch."
I guess that about sums it up.I guess all of us know and understand the moral implications of voyeurism but perhaps some of us still have a little peeping tom inside us that comes out sometimes and we dont mind him playing around for a while, before sending him back inside. Tweet