THE CULTURE OF VOYEURISM
Never in a million years would I have labeled myself a voyeur. The Merriam-Webster defines a voyeur as "a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous" and I thought I fell as far outside of that definition as was possible. However, the more I scrutinized my everyday habits, the more I began to, grudgingly of course, accept that I am a voyeur, and reader, there is a pretty good chance that you are too. In his book, Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering in Modern Culture, Clay Calvert examines mediated voyeurism, defined as "the consumption of revealing images of and information about others' apparently real and unguarded lives, often yet not always for purposes of entertainment but frequently at the expense of privacy and discourse, through the means of the mass media and Internet." The act of voyeurism has transcended the typically taboo picture of the dirty old man in a trench coat peeking into unsuspecting co-eds windows, to acts we perform regularly like watching reality TV, listening to Z100's phone taps, cruising people's MySpace and Facebook pages, or the less discussed but highly popular act of watching amateur porn. Yes, I said it PORN! (...)
While innocently cruising the internet one day, I happened upon a free porn sharing site called Youporn (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Set-up much like the ever so popular youtube site, youporn allows users to upload clips of their favorite pornographic flicks for viewing pleasure. The site is both free to upload and to view. What intrigued me most about the site, however, was that the majority of clips were not the Vivid production type porn we have usually associated with the porn genre; most of the clips were amateur porn—porn made by low budget filmmakers (think two frat guys and a camera) or couples in possession of a handheld camera and tripod. Herein lies the intrigue. When did we become a society so desensitized, that we are now willing to capture our most intimate moments and share them with millions of strangers?
A clip uploaded onto youporn begins with a young girl in what appears to be the bathroom in a private home. The clip is shot from an angle which the viewer can construe is either being shot from a hidden camera, or by someone hidden in the room. The clip allows the viewers imagination to take flight as the girl proceeds to go from one compromising position to the next seemingly oblivious to being taped. There are tons of clips like this on the website, while many others portray couples filming themselves in their homes. There are even Web Channels created by couples entirely dedicated to sharing regular clips of themselves with subscribers.
I breached the question to my friend Steve "why do you think this quality and type of porn is so popular now?" To which he replied, "Dude, if your mom tells you not to watch boobies, all you wanna do is watch boobies." While not the most eloquent answer, it got me thinking. Have we become so drawn to watching such intimate acts because we have been told repeatedly that we shouldn't? Voyeurism has for such a long time carried a negative connotation, that now that the floodgates have opened allowing the wave of reality TV shows, among other things, to flood our media, it has become cool to be a voyeur, and even cooler to become famous for being the voyeur's target.
Steve also mused that this type of porn exists specifically to be watched. It is his belief that the subjects of the videos are the ones creating this culture of voyeurism, "I mean, this is a fetish, you know? These people get off on being watched----if you think about it---who doesn't like being watched? Sex is everywhere lately. People wanna see it, do it, be it…what better way to get famous, or get people to watch you, than by giving them the very thing they WANT?"
Calvert also explores this phenomenon—called "marketplace accountability"—in his book, writing that "the public determines what is acceptable by showing their approval through tuning into the shows each week. It is what dominates the media system in the United States." Now, it seems, we are left with one of those "which came first" riddles. Are these couples filming themselves to satisfy a demand, or are these films creating the demand? Who is responsible, and who should be held accountable, for this destruction of society's respect for the intimate and private?
- Aisha Douglas