Are We All Voyeurs?

JUST SAYIN’-Quite frankly, I am a visual person.  I can hardly remember a thing if I don’t see it in some form—a picture, the written word.  I am fortunate, I think, that when I read, I can vividly picture the person or scene to the point the object is almost a reality.  I remember being disappointed when I first saw Lucille Ball in color—it took me a while to accept the red hair when I had always thought she was a blonde. 

I can see with my ears (as many of the visually challenged can).  How do they dream?  How do they picture what they have never seen and yet they all have learned how to get around the “glitch” and make life as fully beautiful for them as it is for everyone else. 

Yet somehow along the way, so many have denigrated the value of sight.  What is there about the need to see, witness, observe--that can border on obsession?  Why do we often seek vicarious thrills through our rather ghoulish, wide-eyed observations of often horrific situations in which others (generally unknown to us) find themselves while we simultaneously lack any semblance of understanding or empathy for them?  In our minds, we seem to prefer to transform reality into an illusion (while interacting with bloody video game) so that we can comfort our sensibilities by convincing ourselves that what we are seeing is untrue, fictional, made-up, ephemeral—something which we are not obligated to confront. 

Have we become jaded?  Are we inured to the impact of what we descry?  Are we desensitized? Compassionless?  Are we drawn to a sort of “misery porn” which impels us to witness real or fantasized gratuitous horrors and get a distorted form of gratification from doing so? 

Why is it that children run to the scene of a school fight just to see it?  Why is it that people gather at the scene of a car accident (secretly hoping to view a bloody scene)—just as audiences cheer on boxers, bull-fighters and cock-fighters, and don’t forget the gladiators (or the lions) from earlier eras? 

What compels us to want to view tragic situations without the need to do something about it?  Did you know that 94% of Americans viewed all or part of the recent decapitations of our news reporters?  Do we require a video of a vicious scene before we act to change the causes behind it.   Do we think our eyes are deceiving us?  Are we in denial about what is transpiring?  

How many have watched and re-watched the Ray Rice video?  When we did see Ray Rice drag his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator, did we need to see more before the authorities would take appropriate action?  When bodies are left on the street, often uncovered, for all to see, where is the moral imperative to demand respect for the dead?  When our televisions and newspapers display streets with gaping holes, buildings torn down, giant trees blown away, and whole communities washed away, why don’t we demand action to avert worse future crises? 

So many visuals are seared into our memories forever—like the childhood nightmare of the giant chasing us, or the Viet Nam War battles that were brought into our living rooms, or the horse that collapses right before us on the race track, or a brutal scene in a movie (like The Godfather series) or on TV (like Game of Thrones or Ray Donovan).  

And what of the animals that we confine in unnaturally small places (like zoos and aquariums) and wind up hurting their fellow creatures out of frustration and/or commit suicide in response to the inhumane treatment they receive (think Blackfish)?  We should not have to be subjected to such recollections! 


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In fact, we do recognize and can differentiate (at least eventually) between what is real and what is not.  We must teach (or reteach) ourselves, our children and grandchildren, our students, and friends how to view reality.  We can decide to minimize our voyeurism into the ghoulish and gory, but we can’t turn our backs or walk away when events demand our immediate attention.  

I think of the painting, The Scream, when I picture the ironies that we face and the quandaries which insist on resolution.  We can at least attempt to extricate ourselves from our man-made nightmares, but to do so we must act on what we see and hear and feel (as Conrad once said) if we are to bring a denouement to that challenge. 

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but they do provide thought-provoking food for thought.  See what I mean? 

Just sayin’.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)








Vol 12 Issue 74

Pub: Sep 12, 2014