We like to watch. But while we sometimes may not like to be watched, which wanton watching are we worried with?
I’ve been stalked. Not your everyday ‘been stared at and chatted up in a club by some creep’ variety. Instead, this person was a legitimate prowler who assaulted me with a barrage of phone calls, posted yearning letters in my mailbox, screamed at me in a crowd with threats of physical harm and told outrageous lies to my friends about a non-existent physical relationship.
The bizarre twist in this is that I am a guy, and she, yes SHE, was actually mentally unbalanced and had skipped a few medicinal breakfasts and had got it into her head that I spoke to her from some place inside her mind.
Now this was a fair while ago, when video cameras came complete with trolleys for their batteries and needed focus pullers, boom operators, best boys and grips to operate. Given today’s hi-tech miniaturization of surveillance devices – cameras, microphones, phones even – I’m pretty sure my stalker would nowadays have picked up a full range of devices to peep into my inner sanctums, possibly to scare me even further with insider tales of my goings-on and embellishments of our truly non-existent relationship. If I wore a skirt I wouldn’t put it past her to grab a snap inside while I cruised a bookstore, I’d be worried about her picking up my mobile phone discussions with a scanner, I’d encrypt my emails and not use wireless internet, and I’d comb the gutter-press for a VCD attachment of my latest hi-jinks with my legitimate partner. Brrr, is it cold in here all of a sudden?
Just a few hundred miles north of Taiwan in Kyoto, and in a cute flat in Taipei County, and through the window of any Hong Kong skyscraper, and as a nanny bounces her charge upon her knee in the U.S., people are peeping and prowling with perverse panoptic play-toys. While once upon a time Orwellian readers where petrified of a single Big Brother viewing our every movement as a form of social control, surveillance technology, along with generous laws allowing the mass distribution of surveillance gathering and technology by anyone with upwards of NT$400, has permitted the Big Brotherhood – we can all spy on anyone else.
Where there are men involved, there is no doubt that the spying is devised to somehow peep at the bits of women that they deliberately try to keep covered. Japanese men’s magazines Shukan Taishu and Shukan Gendai spent a great deal of February 2003 fixated on an upsurge in up-skirt photography, speaking to experts like “Concealed Camera Video Critic Kamon Hei” and progressing beyond the tawdry press to the respectable Mainichi Daily Press which detailed how to achieve good up-skirt shots.
But we needn’t look beyond this little basin of innocence here in Taipei to find the most dramatic hidden camera moment of them all, a secretly recorded movie which had Chu Mei-feng in the most delicate and steamy of positions in her cute Taipei County flat, elevating her as the number one search term on the Lycos search engine for nearly a month in January and February 2002 and beating anything, that’s ANYTHING, searched for on the internet in the world. A strange fact as an adjunct: only 1% of the searches for Chu Mei-feng on the search engine came from Taiwan.
A colleague of mine at the time said that he “had to” watch the movie to be able to converse about current events in client meetings. Female friends in Taipei had no qualms of dreamily discussing the championship performance of the male quarry in the video in the company of blushing male friends and family members. Men, on the other hand, are far less likely to have seen the video, and for once were on the distant end of the pornographic divide.
Taiwanese consider themselves sexually conservative, yet in a December 2001 report titled Taipei Citizens’ Understanding and Attitudes on the Sex Trade, about the same time as the Chu saga was unfolding, 80 percent of Taipei citizens expressed the need for sex industries to be regulated, not stamped out. And while secretly filming private and sexually explicit material has always been blamed on the neighbors to our north, a magazine of secretly filmed train station panty-cam shots – yes, an overflow of Japan’s hyper-sexuality – somehow made it onto Taiwan’s newsstands. Overnight viewing in Taiwan has always had distinctly rape-scenario vignettes broadcast on public-viewable television after 2am on any day of the week.
Peeping, surveillance, hidden, secret these are all the dirty, pornographic buzzwords of a worldwide audience currently enjoying, during times of war and pestilence, such similarly intrusive terms as embedded, quarantine and reality TV. CBS has its staples Survivor and Big Brother, and news channels know full-well audiences truly enjoy real people in situations with their newsmagazine-style programs. 20/20 is a fine example with its “let’s seal a reporter in a car and drop it into a river so he can explain how scary it is drowning” story in early 2003
“The world as we knew it is over,” Les Moonves, the president of CBS Television, told The New York Times in late January 2003 of the rise of reality TV. I seem to recall George W. or his ilk saying the same thing after 9/11. Concealed Camera Video Critic Kamon Hei probably said the same thing – in Japanese – when camera equipment no longer came on a trolley and he attained his spectacular title.
Gazing out the window of a Hong Kong skyscraper at night you can see thousands and thousands of windows, all like little fish tanks with people moving around, watching the same television screens, some cooking, some getting dressed. The world of peeping and surveillance as we knew it is over – when it is nearly impossible to fix on just one window amongst the thousands in view, who really can watch it? Participate in it? Stalk it? Spend any time at all peeping on it when there are so many options?
The sheer overload of the view is enough to not care anymore what is happening in that microcosm in 296 Elgin St, Floor 32, Apartment C. I have my own life to live and I can’t go around worrying if someone’s going to see my doodle from 19 floors up. If I am worried, I’ll draw the curtains, take vague precautions, while all the while hope that someone does actually care enough to really get to know me amongst all this noise.
The scary girl we began with went back on her medication once I could get to have a word with her. And that was our little victory in all of this, that I was worried thinking she could do any harm to me – a fear that lessens as intrusion becomes so entrenched it actually becomes appealing in this world of fish tanks.