Just Junk--But Who Could Resist It? (p.983)
I am not really sure where modern man's voyeuristic tendencies comes from, but it does not take much to see that a large portion of the population is compelled to watch without participation in some form. Now, this does not mean that all voyeurs are couch potatoes, is simply means that the cultural milieu is immersed with artifacts and activities that facilitate being born witness. And that people in their own idiosyncratic way, generally participate in some form.
You can split hairs and say television is not solely voyeuristic because the commercials and shows aired are designed to get you up off the couch and buy something. However the operative part of voyeurism is the birth and cultivation of the desire to watch. Whether or not a physical action follows at some later time is irrelevant. I do not attribute voyeuristic compulsions solely to television, and as I stated before, I am not really sure specifically where they derived. But I can speculate that with the advent of technology and institutions designed to bring desirable commodities and entertainment toward you, rather than require you to seek them out for purchase or entertainment, seeds of an attitude of voyeurism were planted.
At this point in time, voyeurism is primarily identified with unwarranted personal viewing, mostly private in nature. In other words, voyeurism is nuanced as sexual, but although it can indeed manifest sexually, highlighting this particular nuance really limits our understanding. My critique is language-based because the words, phrases and concepts we use on a daily basis steer our attention and mold our attitudes. This critique-of-nuance is simply a way of stating that I see a behavioral red flag, not that people are inherently gullible or wicked.
What's the red flag, you might ask, if the most extreme and invasive nuance is used to highlight the word? It's protecting people! Well, identifying voyeurism through sexual nuance surely takes a step in the direction of protecting people from sexual crimes, however all the other unhealthy and destructive forms of voyeurism become bypassed. When we bypass, we not only give license, but we do not even bother having the conversation with ourselves about what we are voyeuring because we do not categorize it as voyeurism. We categorize it as something else, something less suspicious, sometimes even positive. That may sound innocuous, but how we categorize determines everything from our values, relationships, habits to judgments. Yes, it is quite a serious topic.
There is one story involving voyeurism I cannot get out of my head. It has nothing to do with television or peeping toms. My friend used to be a paramedic and responded to a drowning call, though was unable to resuscitate the woman. She drowned in the middle of the street. But how? She had a seizure, fell face-down in a puddle of water, and all the bystanders merely watched in horror as the woman seized. No one flipped her over, and she died. If this sounds ridiculous, in that you think you would never (I am involved in the hypothetical as well) let some die like that, I associate with your sentiment, though history proves people permit this stuff all the time. People have been mugged or raped on the street and others have merely drawn the blinds. This is a mergence of the psychological concepts change blindness and confirmation bias, where we physically and emotionally draw our attention away from what is uncomfortable and toward what affirms us (ergo toward comfort).
What does this have to do with voyeurism? Well, going back to attitude, if we develop and cultivate voyeurism in multiple facets of our lives, then we have all the ingredients to watch someone drown in the puddle on the street. But first--and this is the really hard part--we need to redefine the concept of voyeurism, reverting its limited nuance of sexuality back to the original categorical parameters. Then we can understand if, how, and why we voyeur, and make an informed decision about how we will actively lead our attention and values. Then maybe we will not be one of those petrified people standing on the side of the road while some poor person seizes and drowns in a puddle. Those people were voyeurs, but did not even have a clue of that fact.
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