Amidst the brouhaha over the airport incident which gripped the Filipino imagination like a national disaster, I have been watching with amusement how the broadcast media has been observing the event. One could feel a sense of discomfort from media personalities whenever somebody brings up the right to privacy vs. right to know debate that underlies the argument between Ramon Tulfo and the Santiagos. After all, TV news outlets have been actively promoting snooping into other people's business and capturing them on video for public consumption as a legitimate journalistic enterprise. This voyeuristic practice has even been given a respectable veneer as citizen journalism: audiovisual tsismis repackaged with hip titles like YouScoop, Bayan Patrol and JournalisMo.
It is really ironic that a fight provoked by an unsolicited photo grab has been brought to our attention by an unsolicited video grab that has gone viral. The ultimate irony rests with the Santiago couple who saw hellish intrusion in Tulfo's cellphone camera but, in seeking vindication, hoped that the incident was captured by the airport's CCTV cameras. We know by now that their hopes were misplaced as the CCTV cameras turned out to be blind. But the interesting point is that the Santiago couple's protestations of invasion of privacy stems not from the fact that they were caught on camera but rather that they were caught at an unflattering angle. Invasion of privacy has been reduced to not asking permission to make people look bad in public.
Our long love affair with television and movies has made us oblivious – most of the time even welcoming - to the gaze of the camera. We find comfort, not fear, when surveillance and CCTV cameras watch over us like an all-seeing security guard. We take pictures in the dining table as if the food's taste would linger less in our mouths if we forget to take snapshots of our meals. We spend half of our vacation time in photo and video documentation as if the happiness we felt would be less real if we entrust our experience only to our memories. We take pictures and videos while giving birth, dining out with friends, singing in karaoke, grieving the dead, sleeping, praying, reviewing for an exam, recovering in a hospital bed, taking a bath, copulating, and everything else in between. We live not a life of lived experiences but a life of audio/visual files stored in memory cards, hard disks and internet clouds.
When the novel 1984 was published, George Orwell sent chills down the spine with his vision of a negative utopia called Oceania where everybody is subjected to the videotaping surveillance of a totalitarian regime. “Big Brother is watching you,” was the dictatorial party's constant reminder to the populace of their encompassing gaze. Half a century thereafter, we have become an Orwellian world turned upside down. Big Brother is not needed anymore to engage in the voyeuristic documentation of our everyday actions. We are already busy taking care of that by ourselves.