December 5, 2007

The End of the Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon worked under the assumption of a hidden power watching every move that one made- there could not be any escape from those watchful eyes. Even though invisible, the very presence of the symbol of ‘power’ – the tower, was emblematic of 360 of omniscience and omnipresence. I think Brett talked about this in a previous post, long time back, but I wanted to bring it back in the context of Baudrillard and the simulacra. Is the power of the Panopticon still felt in this age of the ‘spectacle’?

Baudrillard gives an instance of the 24 hour reality show “American TV verite” experiment to talk about the Panoptic gaze. The concept of the reality TV he explains, lies in the paradox- “They lived as if we were not there” (Baudrillard, 28). The producer’s accomplishment was in the fact that participants in this reality show ‘reacted’ rather than ‘acted’ in front of the camera. The end of the Panopticon lies in the fact, that even though the power of the gaze is present, and visible, it does not affect any decisions taken by the participants. This paradox, he explains fascinated the viewers more than the perverse “pleasure of violating someone’s privacy” (Baudrillard, 28).
It is hyperreal in the sense that, although we know that the camera is present, we do not for a second feel that the show presents a ‘manipulated’ reality. In the world of simulation, reality TV has reached the zenith of hyperreality. In shows like America’s Top Model, Project Runway, Big Brother- we, as the audience know and can see the camera following the participants, but we still assume them to be ‘real’ rather than a ‘tampered’ real. As Baudrillard says, -“such is the watershed of a hypperreal sociality, in which the real is confused with the model…”. There is no subject, no periphery that was seminal to the panoptic gaze; the simulacra only involves a diffused and ‘diffracted’ real, where the ‘medium’ (here the gaze of the camera and the TV) is eradicated altogether.


Through A Retina Darkly said...

I have an essay that talks about post-panopticism. It argues that the eye of power has become so fragmented and universal, so omnipresent, that it can no longer effectively execute its operations. For example, all those cameras in Philadelphia - how often have you heard of them actually preventing a crime? It is probably impossible to show something not happening, something that never happened. But that isn't what I mean. What I mean is: how often has someone seen the crime happening on the monitor, called a police office on patrol, and thus actually caught the criminal on the spot, in the act? The cameras are used after the fact - in part to collect evidence, but mostly, it seems, to feed the media images for the 11 o'clock news.

The VU bookstore is under 24 hour surveillance, but that didn't stop a laptop theft from happening. The email makes it sound as if the surveillance footage actually shows the guy in the act of stealing. Assuming they did, that didn't stop him. It isn't like they could just go find the guy - they don't even know who or where he is, so they send us the images and try to get us to be their eyes, to be their accusing fingers, to be their voice of judgment: "you are the guilty one!"

My point is, there are too many subjects to watch, too many "camera eyes" trained on the world, and not enough guards in the tower. I wonder what this will mean for a society whose ethical formation has been premised on internalizing the gaze of power, on the premise that no one escapes its gaze? Now it is a matter of statistics - you might get away with it...

Meg said...

and it makes you wonder if those "gazes" will become hazed over with information overload and "normalization"

Medea said...

I guess you guys are right in a way...but i wouldnt probably consider it the end of the panoticon...the 360 degree gaze has been internalized...we now see ourselves the way 7 other people would have seen us...isnt it a panoptic gaze in itself?