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A Culture of Pornography and the Surveillance Society

February 16, 2013

The student newspaper here at Queen’s carried a disturbing story this week – a hidden camera disguised in a towel hook was found in a women’s washroom*. Apparently a search was carried out and nothing else was found. I would be very surprised if this was something unique and isolated. Voyeuristic footage is a staple of both private perversion and Internet pornography, and I suspect that this is much more common than we realise. I remember at my old university in the UK a private landlord being prosecuted for having virtually his whole house, which he rented out to female students, wired up like this. Cameras are now so small (and getting smaller), and readily available disguised from shops that deal in equipment (largely intended for industrial espionage and spying on nannies, spouses etc.) and can of course now be wirelessly connected, so could be almost anywhere and everywhere.

We’re also immersed in a culture of pornography: it is what spurred the immense growth of the Internet in the 90s (a subject that remains to be given a proper historical analysis), and it is changing the nature of sexuality, especially in teen boys, in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. I’d hesitate to make any sweeping generalizations, but it would seem that if one puts together the kind of normalization of pornographic understandings of bodies, desire and sex with the rape culture alleged to pertain at Queen’s (as the same paper detailed the week before) and a surveillance society, you end up with not the hopes of an empowering exhibitionism put forward by more utopian feminist thinkers on surveillance like Hille Koskela, but something infinitely more seedy and alienated.

Perhaps if Nineteen Eighty-Four was written today, then O’Brien’s answer to Winston Smith on what the future would look like would not be “a boot stamping on a human head, forever” but “a man masturbating over a mobile phone, forever”. I’m not sure which is worse…

*As a note, the newspaper described it as a ‘co-ed’ washroom, a term so archaic, it made me wonder how much of the culture that engenders such behaviour is down to the continued underlying patriarchal belief that women being in education on an equal footing with men is still unusual, provocative and somehow so exciting to men that they cannot control themselves. And of course ‘co-eds’ is exactly how online porn sites that publish this kind of voyeuristic footage would describe the unwitting participants.

(Thanks to Aliya Kassam for the story)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink*
    February 18, 2013 1:13 am

    Coincidentally, Boingboing today had the story of a landlord in Maryland charged with exactly the same kind of thing http://boingboing.net/2013/02/17/maryland-landlord-used-tiny-ca.html

  2. February 19, 2013 4:50 am

    I agree that using “co-ed” as a noun to describe a female student is archaic, but I think in this case “co-ed” is being used as an adjective to mean the washroom is for use by both sexes.

  3. joem7894 permalink
    May 29, 2013 10:05 pm

    Doesn’t matter how pleasurable or attractive “porn” is to anyone. It is becoming a normal part of so many lives. It is successfully altering perception of reality for many. For instance, incest is being portrayed in many pornos. So it is desensitizing people in that area of thought and feeling. But the incest in the porn isn’t real. But it is slowly creating a society that will have no problem with real incest. This is just one example of the devastating effect of porn. it is getting promoted in all forms of mainstream entertainment and popular culture. It really does need to be stomped to the ground. Pretty soon, all the people in the community that are to be respected will be replaced by people like “Sasha Grey” and other filthy whores. Make it a place that no one wants to be.

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