Voyeurgasm

02/05/2009
Rodney King’s 1991 beating was a watershed moment in modern history. Not only was it groundbreaking because police violence was captured on video, but it also helped propel a new Ubertrend, Voyeurgasm, which points to a future where just about everything will be captured by digital cameras or camcorders.

Since then, an explosion in high-profile events have been captured on video, including Beyoncé tripping on stage (since removed from the Web with Sony’s assistance), the Concorde crash, September 11, Paris Hilton’s “sex-capade” and President’s Bush’s shoe-throwing incident, O.J. Simpson’s infamous car chase, plus countless other police-car chases, and violent teen beatings.

Voyeurgasm dates back to the beginning of humankind itself, but with the assistance of manmade tools became a force over the past few centuries. The painting was the first device to help budding voyeurs catch glimpses of others, in robes or not. Then, in 1839 Louis Daguerre came along with his daguerrotype and ushered in the photographic revolution that allowed any consumer to capture images on film.

But it was high-definition camera technology that dramatically raised the quality of broadcast television and home videos, many of which are bound to end up on mass media. Expect these concurrent trends to significantly turn up the graphic volume now produced by the world’s videophiles.

But there’s no question that digital technology, specifically camcorders; mobile phones equipped with cameras and video; webcams and surveillance cameras have helped whip this Ubertrend into a frenzy. In February 2005, the world’s videophiles gained an outlet, YouTube, that in four short years has grown into a medium that serves 14.3 billion videos each month, according to Comscore.

Sanyo DMX-HD2000Sanyo’s new DMX-HD2000 is the latest in a series of compact camcorders that delivers “full” high-definition video, 1080p progressive video at 60 fps, using a state-of-the-art SDHC card (stores up to 32GB without moving parts). Once tools like these get in the hands of the YouTube generation, all eyes will be on us.

In fact, it’s the video camera that will be built into every mobile phone sold in the very near future that will make it possible to record virtually every live event and distribute it automatically.

The first inkling of this came on new year’s day January 1, 2009, when a bystander used a cellphone to catch a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant. That mobile phones will soon catch every police misdeed was also underscored by a video that caught a New York police officer knocking a Critical Mass bicyclist right off his bicycle in front of horrified bystanders.

Of course, Voyeurgasm has also been a boon for the police themselves, catching an endless string of people red-handed in the midst of everyday crime. Madeline Toogood beating her daughter in 2002 was one of the earliest examples of child abuse caught on surveillance video. That has been followed by a flood of other captures, like that Orlando woman who was caught “power-washing” her child in a car wash last year.

But surveillance cameras have also done their share of spreading the good news, as when one camera on duty recorded the miracle landing of US Airways Flight 1549 for posterity.

Because video cameras are omnipresent, being among peers is no longer as safe as it used to be, as Prince Harry found out when he mocked gays and Asians in a secret video that somehow made its way to the press. Michael Phelps discovered much the same when he was caught smoking a bong during a college party at the University of North Carolina.

The Internet in particular has been a boon for Voyeurgasm, or “digital rubbernecking,” as you might call it. On President Obama’s inauguration, CNN alone streamed 21.3 videos of the inauguration.

Expect Voyeurgasm to completely remake media, as the YouTubes, Facebooks and Flickrs of the world conspire with billions of camera phones, digital cameras, camcorders plus surveillance cameras to create a brave new media experience where just about anything goes.

Our national obsession with celebrities led New Scientist magazine to conclude in 2003 that one-third of Americans were suffering from something it called “celebrity-worship syndrome” (CWS), a figure that’s probably around 50% by now, judging by the massive amounts of publicity that blogs like Perez Hilton and TMZ.com have attracted with their celebrity-peeking adventures.

Britney SpearsThe “pixel paparazzi” now stand at the ready for any opportunity to capture a Britney Spears “oops I did it again” moment so treasured by a celebrity obsessed culture.

Voyeurgasm’s impact on media consumption is already well-documented. In 1992, MTV debuted “Real World,” a show about seven strangers who share a house, which started the reality show trend in earnest. “Big Brother,” created in the Netherlands by Van der Mol Studios, became a big hit in the U.K. in 2000.

“Big Brother” was buoyed by the popularity of peeping-tom webcams, like JenniCam, and was quickly followed by a series of me-too shows, such as “Survivor” and “The Bachelor,” proving that people do indeed like to watch. Today, a plethora of reality shows clog the airwaves.

The public’s fascination with celebrities combined with reality shows produced a logical fad, “celebrity reality,” popularized by the 2003 MTV show “Newlyweds,” a reality show based on a celebrity couple. That unleashed “The Simple Life,” “The Osbournes,” “Celebrity Fit Club,” “The Surreal Life,” “Hogan Knows Best” and our favorite vomit-inducing reality NBC’s “Fear Factor.”

Today, reality shows have are a standard staple among TV viewers. Our look-at-me culture has fueled a dizzying array of TV shows, ranging from the bizarre to the outrageous. VH1’s “Flavor of Love,” starring Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, featured a “spitting” incident that defined the term “voyeurgasmic.”

Another change brought on by Voyeurgasm is the growing role of transparency in everything we do. From public disclosure to glass-walled bathrooms to see-through restaurant kitchens, society is rapidly vaulting towards a future where being able to see one’s innermost processes will become an essential element. Transparency certainly shaped the Obama presidential campaign.

The Emperor HotelBeijing’s The Emperor Hotel, designed by internationally-renowned designers, Graft Labs, shows how Voyeurgasm has even infiltrated hotel design: a growing number of hotels now feature transparent showers and bathrooms.

In the past few years, the video surveillance industry has experienced growth rates of 15% to 20% a year, double the rate of just three years ago, reports JP Freeman CEO Joe Freeman, a security consulting company in 2003.

London now has more surveillance cameras monitoring its citizens than any other major city in the world. In all, there are some 500,000 cameras in the city, and one study suggested that in a given day a person could expect to be videotaped at least 300 times.

The city’s highly visible cameras are posted on corners of many buildings, on new buses and in every underground station. And since 2003, the license plate of every car driving into central London during weekdays is being recorded as part of a program to reduce traffic congestion. London charges a fee to cars it records but also uses the videos to catch and fine cheats.

As “cams” become cheaper and sharper, it’s only a matter of time before virtually everything is captured digitally. Still, as Rodney King’s case proved, Voyeurgasm can often have beneficial results.