You are here

Introduction: Here's Looking at You

The desire to peer into the lives, not only of the stars, but of ordinary citizens like ourselves is the desire to take control over our sense of being violated.

Jeremy Russell, Kim Nicolini, and Charlie Bertsch,

Issue #62, December 2002

This issue is the result of a salutary compromise. Some members of the Bad Subjects Production Team wanted to do an issue on privacy, others on voyeurism. And then the inspiration hit us: do them at the same time. With all of the furor over privacy that has been generated by recent technological advances, it's clear that a great many people feel that they no longer have a place to hide. At the same time, we live in the era of "reality TV," which makes the very idea of privacy seem like a discredited television marketing concept from the 1980s. The more our own domestic space is penetrated by the information-gathering tentacles of government, credit agencies, and pollsters, the more it seems that we want to watch other people's lives made public.

It doesn't take a genius — though it did take us a few weeks — to realize that these two trends go hand in hand. The desire to peer into the lives, not only of the stars, but of ordinary citizens like ourselves is the desire to take control over our sense of being violated. Like the toddler who makes a game out of his mother's departure to inure himself to the real thing, our society makes a play out of being exposed. Indeed, it's not too difficult to connect the deterioration of our political culture, the endless tattle-telling that makes running for office into a close approximation of hell, with the same phenomenon. We're convinced that everyone has something to hide. And we're confident that they won't be able to keep it secret for long.

At the same time, we are living in a post-9/11 era that has given the lie to the idea of total surveillance. The Bush Administration's War on Terror has also been a War on Privacy. Civil liberties we had come to take for granted disappeared overnight. Yet, although these measures were supposedly taken to protect us, the government still can't find what it wants to find. Osama Bin-Laden is watching Arsenal football matches on satellite television. The person responsible for mailing anthrax last year has not been prosecuted. And, as we write this, a sniper was able to spend weeks roaming the Washington D.C. shooting random victims, despite the efforts of thousands of police officers and federal investigators.

It's understandable that some people regard these failures as evidence of a conspiracy. After all, we used to be told that C.I.A. intelligence could read your mail from a satellite. Now we're expected to believe that they can't even read what's right before their eyes. To call this an "Emperor's New Clothes" situation, however, is to reveal how deep our ambivalent desire for exposure really goes. Part of us still wants to believe in the absolute authority of The Man. But another part wants to be underwhelmed by his pallid, sagging underparts.

This issue explores this ambivalent desire from a wide range of perspectives, with special emphasis on the role it plays in ordinary citizens' lives. Steven Rubio, one of our Production Team's founding members, returns to the Bad Subjects fold with a sterling piece examining the weblog or "blog" phenomenon, in which people share their interests and thoughts with a potentially infinite but in practice usually tiny audience of readers. Our next piece is a companion to Rubio's, the unexpurgated entries that Christopher Pratt made in his LiveJournal — a close relative of the Blog format Rubio details — before and after September 11th, 2001. Pratt's journal marks a departure for Bad Subjects, serving as documentary evidence of the internet's capacity to facilitate both greater insight into other people's lives, rather than providing an analysis of its own (though you can read a theory of the genre into its abrupt shifts from public news to private revelation).

Alicia Brooks offers an incisive account of the ways in which classes on sexuality, particularly those in which "queer" perspectives are foregrounded, provoke confessions of identity. Focusing our attention on the relationship between voyeurism and travel, Mark Lundy recounts one of his experiences while travelling in China, in which his desire for something above and beyond conventional tourism was frustrated by his status as an American. Heidi Garcia then considers the cultural significance of tattooing, giving us another perspective on the desire to make ourselves into art.

Longtime Production Team member Mike Mosher looks into Americans' fascination with the British Royal Family, discerning within it a disturbing acquiescence to the logic the American Revolution fought so hard to supplant. His humorous barbs also provide a welcome reminder of the problematic undertones in the mass-mediated voyeurism of "stargazing." In another departure for Bad Subjects, Hadassah Hill then walks us through the experience of making oneself into a sexual spectacle for the beloved, promoting the voyeurism of one's lover while resisting the voyeurism of the crowd. Another longtime contributor and co-editor of this issue, Kim Nicolini, gives another take on what it means to make a spectacle of yourself, describing how she "acted out" in poetry readings as a way of freeing herself from her past.

Shane Brenkuss then returns our focus to the question of surveillance, asking whether, in a time of dramatic security failure, we wouldn't be better off fearing the Big Brother next door or, better still, the one inside us. Another Bad Subjects stalwart and issue co-editor Jeremy Russell marks his departure from our fold — for greener pastures in Montana — with a piece focusing on the return of Spidermania that shows why Peter Parker's alter ego holds a different kind of appeal than his superhero predecessors. Finally, our third issue co-editor and present Bad Subjects co-director Charlie Bertsch reels off a series of reflections on present-day consumerism, dissecting the paradoxes that attend target marketing.

Have a look inside. . .

Jeremy Russell, Kim Nicolini, and Charlie Bertsch are members of the Bad Subjects Production Team.

Copyright © 2002 by Jeremy Russell, Kim Nicolini, and Charlie Bertsch. All rights reserved.