Surveillance Humor

by Rob Horning

14 January 2011

 

Via the Epicurean Dealmaker’s Twitter feed I saw this YouTube clip of a woman falling into a mall fountain while texting.

And I laughed the first time I watched it. Then it bothered me that I laughed, not because of the schadenfreude but because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want surveillance camera footage of me doing various dumb things when I think no one’s looking to be circulated on YouTube. This is how the surveillance culture works, I guess. We’re texting and focused intently on watching little videos, maybe of surveillance footage, on our private screens, and we forget about the cameras pointed at us that are making content out of our own little humiliations. The panoptic society is fueled and legitimized by my little sniggers at clips like the one above.


  
I’m accustomed to thinking of surveillance as an issue of state interference into our lives, but it clearly goes so much further beyond that. The rapidly normalizing ethic of habitual sharing and the pretense that privacy concerns are just a fuddy-duddy pose have made it seem like any footage like this should just be redistributed by anybody who happens to have access to it. Every camera in every person’s hand (and who isn’t carrying a camera on them at all times now that they are built into every phone?) is always already a surveillance camera. Go ahead: Take pictures of that strange looking guy on the street and upload it to your Facebook—that guy has no feelings that matter (he loves the attention anyway, like we all do), or maybe he should get over them, especially once the image racks up some likes. You’re just remixing your reality—that guy has no special right to tell you what you can’t do to amuse your friends, or to even make you feel bad about it in theory. Maybe then you should put the image on Flickr and tag it “ugly dude” so it can be used to illustrate any number of posts about creepy looking people. Maybe someone will turn that pool of images into a funny app where you rate who’s uglier between two pictures! Ha! Or maybe it can get uploaded to an FuckYeahUglyDude Tumblr, where more people can laugh at him. Why not? You’re sharing! It’s fun!

 

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