· Surveillance ·

“Big brother is watching you.”

This is the sentences that all citizens of the George Orwell novel “1894” have stuck in their minds. However, the reality outside this dystopian world in permanent war is not that different: God has always been that ‘Big Brother’ that could literally see everything.

Similarly, there are other symbols all around us in our daily life such as The Eye of Providence in the USA dollars bills. This, today considered Illuminati Eye, was first related to gods since the Ancient Egypt times and later on, in 1797, taken by Thomas Smith Webb, author of the “Freemason’s Monitor”, as an illustration of Masonry. Then, the “All-seeing-eye” became a symbol of secret societies, power and conspiracy.

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Constant surveillance was believed to be essential to keep people under control. Nevertheless, there was someone who dare to go little bit further. The philosopher and father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, laid down the theory that “power should be visible and unverifiable” with his new prison system, the ‘Panopticon’.

This new idea of prison consisted of a rounded building with a tower in the middle and all a the cells around following the round shape. Since the tower is mirrored, no one would be able to tell whether there might be someone in the tower or not, and therefore, all the prisoners will live with the idea that there can always be watched.

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Example of the Panopticon system 

Despite how efficient it was, the French historian and physiologist Michel Foucault argued in his 1975 book “Discipline and Punish” that “…the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.”

Nonetheless, this idea of the omnipresent and invisible power was not only applied to prisons but, once again, to control the entire population. As stated in by the essayist Niran Abbas in his book “CCTV: City Watch” only in the city of London there are approximately 4,2 millions of CCTVs and anyone who would wander around can easily be captured 300 times a day.

Taking this into account, it is easy to reckon that this is not only for the safety of the population but to record the behaviour of the society. Or maybe, just for the pleasure of gazing?

Throughout the history, many were the artists who found inspiration from voyeur practises. And, please, don’t think nasty, but there is an inevitable pleasure at staring at others. This can be reflected, for instance, in the work of many photographers such as the serie of pictures taken in the underground by the American Walker Evans or the ones from the window by the New York photographer Arne Svenson.

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Photography by Walker Evans 

 


Reference List:

Abbas, N (2003) ‘CCTV: City Watch’ in Kerr, J & Gibson, A. (Eds.) (2004) London From Punk to Blair. London: Reaktion Books.

Focault, M. (1975). ‘Discipline & Punish’. NY: Vintage Books

Glavey, P & Eysler, A (2015) ‘Sureveillance’ [Lecture to GMD Year 1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

Orwells, G. (1949). ‘1894’. London: Harvill Secker.

Smith Webb, T (1797) ‘Freemason’s Monitor’. New York: Crushing and Appleton.

 

· The Century of Self REVIEW ·

 

There are things we have never wondered ourselves about. For instance, why are women who smoke linked to the concepts of femme fatal? Where is the origin of this widespread belief? The answer to the mystery is the penis. Yes, you read it right! According to the father of the psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, the cigarettes subconsciously meant penis to women. In other words, women that would smoke were actually challenging the power of men, as a century ago women could not be seen smoking in public. Edward Bernays, nephew of the Austrian neurologist mentioned above, was the man who changed that and renamed cigarettes as “the torches of freedom” linking the idea of females smoking to powerful and independent women. Since then, the sales of cigarettes increased abruptly.

artworks-000012883436-lsjj2g-originalPhotograph of a woman smoking for the cover of the magazine ‘Life’.

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Frame of the documentary “The century of self” – the debutants smoking in front of the press for the first time.

This is probably the most meaningful example (and my favourite one) of how easy is to manipulate the mass using the knowledge and studies about human behaviour from Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939). This first part of four BBC documentaries begins introducing the audience the key idea that Bernays used to link mass produced goods to people’s desires: “there are primitive, sexual and aggressive forces hidden inside the minds of all human beings” and that “those forces that are not controlled lead individuals and society to chaos and destruction.”

The documentary strongly emphasises with live witnesses from those years fact that before that “social live experiment” started, no one was able to show in public their inner feelings and how people was keeping under control their desires by painfully suppressing them. Thus, the viewers can assume that beginning to talk about their own desires meant a liberation during the last years of the 19th century.

Moreover, it chronologically explains the start and establishment of consumerism in our society and the beginning of the mass democracy, which is the participation of the entire population of a country in the presidential elections instead of just the ‘privileged’ ones. For instance, when USA decided to take part in the IWW in 1914 “to bring the democracy to all Europe”. In this particular case, Bernays was required to portrait president Woodrow Wilson as “the man that made this world free” and made him become a hero of masses. After that, Bernays wondered himself whether he could produce the same effect on people in “peaceful times” as well.

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A frame of the documentary “The century of self” – the crowd.

And, indeed, he did it. Every company that required his services was only increasing their sales, doesn’t matter if it was the American Tobbaco Company or any retail company or even banks, all of them were indirectly taking advantage of Freud’s studies. Products were no longer presented as needs nor as desires, but just as goods that might talk by yourself. The way you dressed like was telling who you were, the car you were driving was telling which kind of driver you were, if you smoke… if you don’t…

In the other side of the coin, Freud began to write about human behaviours. He realised he had underestimated human instincts and that human beings were easily controllable in groups. That’s how he came up with the idea that democracy was probably not as factual as everyone thought, – like the philosopher Plató and many others discussed  hundreds of years ago, or as would claim Adolf Hitler years later.- and therefore dismissed the idea of trusting people despite their rational state, as their subconscious could still be manipulated.

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Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) 

And that’s the story of how his nephew made Freud lose all faith in human beings and become a pessimist while creating the bases of a new empire, that not even the Market Crash in 1929 nor the IIWW could pull down. This documentary sums up with an accurate flow all the mark spots that led our society to be considered the “century of self” at the same time that narrates how the shadow of Freud was following all the changes that were taking place meanwhile Bernays was using the crowd for his puppet show.

 

 

Alba