Tag Archives: surveillance

Realism isn’t real?

We had the privilege of having Dr. Sharla Sava come in and present “I Shot Myself: Surveillance as Empowerment” in which she talked about the rising popularity of posting self portraits online as a “creative and strategic response to the experience of living in a surveillance society” as described by Aurelea. Surveillance was once mainly used for a close observation of a person or a group, especially if under suspicion. Now it is simply a source of entertainment with the increasing interest of reality television. Which begs the question of why are we all so obsessed with being “real”? A dictionary definition of realism is: the tendency to view or represent things as they really are. But aren’t most “reality” television shows sometimes scripted and stunted? Take the show The Hills for example. This show is a documentation of the life of Lauren Conrad and her friends after moving to L.A from Laguna Beach, California. The cameras follow these, I guess you can call them, characters day in and day out. As the audience, you have the opportunity to live their dramas alongside with them. This show easily became the show to watch as it raked in an average of about 4.7 million viewers with the demographic aged 12 – 34. What made this show so popular is that the lives of these people always seemed so complicated and dramatic … so “real”.

In my opinion, if this show was really that “real”, it wouldn’t be as popular as it is. Real life, or at least my life, has some days, weeks, or even months that go by uneventful with a blink of a lazy eye.

Inevitably, accusations of staging certain scenes start flying when photographers caught two of their characters, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag going to the airport as Pratt was dropping his girlfriend off early in the afternoon only to pick her up later on that same afternoon. Their way of showing that time has passed since the last two saw each other? A quick change of shirts but leaving on the same pair of jeans and shoes.

So how real is this reality show? Better yet, how real are all the other reality television shows like The Simple Life, Blind Date, and The Amazing Race. A producer of a popular reality show claims that his show’s story is “enhanced but genuine”. The enhancing process for a lot of the shows include of cutting of scenes, putting them out of order, and dubbing the audio.

Just like the millions of reality television viewers out there, I am sucked into the guilty pleasure of watching more beautiful than average people have their lives go awry and have them cry hysterically only to have a very fortunate pick-me-up (win the lottery perhaps?) a couple minutes after. Maybe it isn’t the realism in reality television that attract us, but the faux reality that we can escape to when we’re bored of our own.

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Dr. Sharla Sava, a guest lecturer for our CultureNet program, spoke to us about the transformation of surveillance over the years and how it has evolved from something that was once a “source of fear” to what is now considered to be an “antidote to fear”.

Surveillance is the process of monitoring the behavior of people or processes within organized systems to ensure conformity to the expected or desired norms for security or social control. The concept of surveillance originated as a “source of fear” used in prisons to watch over the prisoners. A famous form of surveillance was designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785 which was called the Panopticon or the “All Seeing Eye”. The concept of this design was to allow the guard to watch over the prisoners while the prisoners were not able to know whether they were being watched or not. This omnipresent sense of constantly being monitored caused the prisoners to internalize that process of control exerted by the guards and thereby motivating them to behave themselves.

An example of internalized control due to an omnipresent presence is illustrated by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four. In this book, a totalitarian super-state used computers to monitor and to enslave the population. This bureaucracy used surveillance techniques such as two-way televisions and hidden microphones. They even went so far as to brainwash children and informants to monitor its inhabitants. Those who did not conform to the rules of the Party were considered to have committed a “thoughtcrime”, which was punishable by death.

This fictional world may seem like a far cry from what our society’s surveillance system is like today, but is it really? To truly consider this question, one would have to take a closer look at today’s forms of surveillance. If one were to observe our state and its security services, it would be noted that they have the most powerful surveillance systems because they are enabled under the law. Our government and the government of many other countries are actively interested in controlling our ideas and actions. Due to the advancement in computer technology, the level of state security has been able to increase. Governments are now able to draw together many different sources to produce profiles of people or groups in society. Nevertheless, governments are not the only ones who have access to our personal information. Many companies legally trade information on people, buying and selling these mini profiles to other companies or government agencies, which are usually used for marketing or advertising purposes.

Today, most people find this type of surveillance to be an “antidote to fear”. They find comfort in having security cameras tacked up to the sides of buildings and having security guards patrolling high crime areas. However, I find it rather unsettling that because security cameras are installed almost everywhere, there are very few places that one can go without being picked up by some modern form of surveillance. In addition to being constantly surveilled, what many of us are not consciously aware of is that not only are there surveillance technologies and other groups recording information about us constantly, we are unknowingly putting information out about ourselves out to be surveilled. Dr. Sharla Sava states than an excellent example of this is Facebook. Full names, birthdates, location, schools, and even phone numbers of participants are readily disclosed to the general public. This information can not only be viewed by our friends, but can be sold to companies, or even used for criminal purposes such as credit card fraud.

In conclusion, I am not the Chicken Little, running around claiming that our government is out to get us. I do believe that surveillance is a very useful, and can and should be utilized to ensure the safety of our citizens. However, I believe that we should be cautious about the amount of information that we choose to reveal about ourselves and the level of surveillance we allow to be incorporated into our daily lives.

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The Politics of Self-Portraiture

CultureNet Friday Seminars

Friday, March 14th – Dr. Sharla Sava (York University)

11:00am – 12:20pm in Birch 125

“I Shot Myself: Surveillance as Empowerment”: The expanding popularity of on-line portraiture via Web 2.0 platforms such as Flickr and Facebook is similar in many ways to Reality TV programming, serving as a creative and strategic response to the experience of living in a surveillance society. Dr. Sava’s research and this Friday’s talk examine how the digital domain appears to foster individual agency and self-empowerment, transforming both performance and surveillance into accepted, and even desirable, social practices.

Biography: Sharla Sava received her PhD from Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication. She has lectured, curated exhibitions, and published a variety of articles about art after modernism, discussing the works of Robert Filliou (From Political to Poetical Economy, 1995), Ray Johnson (How Sad I am Today, 1999), Antonia Hirsch (Gridlock, 2007), and Robyn Laba (Precarity, 2007) among others. Since graduating in 2006, Sharla has taught art history, visual culture, and media studies, and is currently contracted as Assistant Professor at York University’s Department of Visual Art. She is working with McGill-Queens University Press on a book entitled Cinematic Pictures: The Art of Jeff Wall, which is based on her doctoral research.

Event open to all Capilano College students, faculty + staff.

For more information contact Aurelea Mahood at culturenet@capcollege.

Explore Capilano + CultureNet

Learn. Discover. Explore Capilano.
Join us for our next program information night and visit our beautiful North Vancouver campus.

Thursday, March 13th
General College Information Night
7:15 – 8:45pm
Student Speaker: Gregory Dashper (CultureNet)
Capilano College, North Vancouver campus
Library building, room 321-322

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