Monday, 25 August 2008

The Smell of CCTV

Within the CCTV culture we risk the feeling of no longer being integral to our own society when we are permanently scrutinized; pre-emptive guilt alienates us from law, order, and each other; we become as strangers in our home towns.

If two dogs meet, they are curious about each other; unfamiliar to themselves and possibly on unfamiliar ground, they go through a routine of scrutiny. One manoeuvre is the taking turns to smell each others private parts; possibly to determine the scent that marks a dog’s territory via urine or faeces. This procedure is fraught with tension, as each dog being scrutinized is temporarily vulnerable to the other should they decide to attack. The act of compliance to such intimate scrutiny maybe a social form of appeasement offered to purchase acceptance. Conversely if the dog being scrutinized feels more dominant, then a contest may ensue as the superior dog bulks at the other dogs approach.

Similarly for men, visiting a new place, especially a closed community, or entering a strange pub, full of regulars; you can be forgiven for the sense of alienation you feel. You will almost certainly be sensitive to any quirks and customs that the locals display, and probably be willing to accommodate to flatter, should any contact be made. Eye contact is very much a contention, as it is the means we scrutinize each other be that amongst familiars or strangers; it is our dog equivalence of smelling private parts.

Pointing is rude, and when on mutually uncontested ground, eye contact is frowned upon, cf. travellers on the tube trains, where the seats face each other across an open aisle; the passengers assume a display of spectacular asocial behaviour, by pointedly avoiding eye contact.

Being self conscious when overtly scrutinized, such as omnipresent CCTV coverage, will cause uncertainty. In a social setting, eye contact is part of the game to negotiate towards familiarity, and to help gauge each others moods and intentions. But how does one negotiate with a perpetual, unyielding, and impersonal observer?

Remember the self conscious sense of guilt when the headmaster at your school’s assembly barked out a report of the latest misdemeanour discovered by the caretaker? If you were like me, then you would have had your fair share of wrongful accusation, and can not help but to anticipate further injustice from pre-emptive guilt. Does the sense of safety professed by those that advocate CCTV compensate for the ill ease felt by those groups which are judged to be the usual suspects: youths, blacks, the unemployed, drinkers, combinations thereof? Could this all pervasive guilt inducing scrutiny result in a convulsion of antisocial crime: “Give a dog a bad name and hang him.”?

I have a relative whose partner operates the local CCTV system, and feels that when ever she is walking through town, her partner is watching her every step. What will happen if they have a falling out? Will she avoid the town? In George Orwell’s “1984”, Big Brother is a contrived face to evince strength and trust; but what is the face we have, that sits behind our CCTV system? Is it a convivial local bobby; a leather clad member of the Gestapo; or maybe a disgruntled council worker?

The people that gloss over these issues with the excuse that “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear” are simply overlooking how we interact as a social species. And I would guess that this is very much a gender issue, as men and women interact differently, with women being more comfortable than men at making eye contact; possibly due to sexual competition prevalent between men, lending itself to aggressive feelings; therefore civilised men will generally keep eye contact down to a minimum to avoid confrontations. In a CCTV environment, the system becomes an uncivilised and all pervasive opponent; putting men under high aggressive stress: “Are YOU looking at me!?”



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