Opinion: Constant surveillance

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In 1989, Bob Saget (nee sitcom-dad extraordinaire Danny Tanner) delivered to ABC Television and “Full House” viewers a new concept based upon the successful series from Japanese television, “Fun TV with Kato-chan and Ken-chan.”  And “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has been on the air ever since.  Originally capitalizing on the home movie craze precipitated by the advent of more affordable, especially VHS, amateur recording technologies, it has come to prove that we are all, to some degree, voyeurs.

In advance of the first U.S. airing, producers advertised broadly to encourage folks to send in home movies of family members in accidental (and occasionally staged) physical pratfalls.  Then, good content was rare.

Today, picture-taking has become a daily routine. We are photographed, videoed and scanned more times per day than most of us can imagine. Each stop for a cup of coffee is recorded. Each walk into City Hall is preserved. Each fill of fuel for the Oldsmobile gets us from several different angles. Some fear that our phones and computers are recording us, ever so banally.

So, if we all take the stage daily – lights, camera, action – what are we doing? MTV’s “Ridiculousness” curates clips to mock our haplessness. Law enforcement posts photos and asks us to be on the lookout.  At home, we see whose cat is digging up the flowers and what neighbor is cutting across our lawn. The cameras record when the kids come home and when they go. But for all the footage, what good does it do? Are we better? In many ways, we are safer than ever, so why are we more anxious? In many ways, life is easier, so why are we more depressed? Can we humans live under constant surveillance like all-too-many Skinner’s rats? Maybe it is best not to know.


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