Rhetorics of Surveillance
from Bentham to Big Brother
In 1785, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham
(1748-1832), founder of the doctrine of Utilitarianism, began working on a plan for a model prison called the panopticon. The signature feature of this design was that every one of the individual jail cells could be seen from a central observation tower which, however, remained visually inscrutable to the prisoners. Since they could thus never know for sure whether they were being watched, but had to assume that they were, the fact of actual observation was replaced by the possibility of being watched. As a rationalist, Bentham assumed that this would lead the delinquents to refrain from misbehaving, since in order to avoid punishment, they would effectively internalize the disciplinary gaze. Indeed, Bentham considered the panoptic arrangement, whereby power operates by means of the spatial design itself, as a real contribution to the education of man, in the spirit of the Enlightenment.
via ctrl[space] : Rhetorics of Surveillance.
Filmmakers render aspects of nature, human activity and imagination visible. The documentary film continues to be a potent form in all its variety, from the personal video diary to “objective” fly-on-the-wall shoots, to the hybrid fact/fiction (“faction”) film. But the most prolific documentarists are no longer to be found in film schools and TV stations. In some European and American cities, every street corner is under constant surveillance using recording closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras. Such cameras are typically operated by local government, police, private security firms, large corporations, small businesses and private individuals, and may be automatic or controlled (zoomed and panned) from a remote control room. Filmmakers, and in particular documentarists of all flavours, should reflect on this constant gaze. Why bring in additional cameras, when much private and public urban space is already covered from numerous angles?