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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars it works but nothing much happens, 5 Feb 2002
By A Customer
Groombridge (1972) argued television could play an integral part in democratic participation. Then CCTV meant the use of cameras by community groups or training and educational organisations. Today the Internet holds out the hope of a greater participatory democracy but also greater state intervention and commercialisation. Now CCTV is seen as the paramount weapon in the 'fight against crime'.
Whilst most of us have been the victim of some crime our knowledge of public violence - armed robberies on building societies and after-pub inner city confrontations - is mediated by CCTV footage on 'real crime' TV shows. Examples include America's Most Wanted, Crimewatch UK, Opsporing Verzocht (Netherlands) and Témoin No.1 (France). Whilst all these shows are able to mount 'public service' arguments for their use of video footage less scrupulous producers offer decontextualised compilations of car crashes and violence.
Yet as Norris and Armstrong show over 592 hours of their monitoring very little happens (45 'deployments' leading to 12 arrests). Six hundred and ninety eight people were surveilled as of primary concern. Only 7% were women and the majority were young white men but there was over-representation of black youth and the 'scruffy' or 'sub-cultural'. Whilst 30% were watched for 'crime' reasons (mostly suspicion of rather than caught in the act) and 22% for 'order' reasons (usually actual) the greatest number of incidents of surveillance were for 'no obvious reason'. The working assumptions of the operators are based on targets' behaviour or appearance being 'out-of-place' in their 'normative ecology'. Thus male on male violence was often reported to police but not violence to women from men they were with.
In the absence of a right to privacy in the UK local codes of practice have been adopted to secure public support or acquiescence. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a 'bounty' on offer for 'good' footage for inclusion in programmes or video compilations solely aimed at mass - or, at least, cheap - entertainment. Yet despite a left/liberal sniffiness about 'trash TV' the answer to such exploitation may not rest with tighter codes or legislation but with greater openness. That is to move from CCTV to OCTV. It is here that the Internet and cable come in. Residents of some council-owned blocks in Doncaster are already able to access a feed from monitors on 'their' estates - a technological extension of the spy hole in the door. The popularity of webcams shows that people are increasingly prepared to open their lives to scrutiny and that many more are prepared to watch. That is all CCTV output should be made freely available on cable and web; and, to complete the loop, a webcam placed in CCTV control rooms. This would have enabled Norris and Armstrong to carry out their research from their desk.
Mathiesen (1997) uses the phrase Synopticonism to describe the capacity of the mass media to enable the many to watch the few in contrast to the Orwellian reading of Foucault that posits CCTV as part of the few watching the many. Without directly intending to Norris and Armstrong show that many of the operatives of CCTV systems are as much couch potatoes (to the extent of taking in video tapes to watch on quiet shifts) and channel surfers as the rest of us. Perhaps I am describing an 'omnicon' where all watch, or might potentially, watch all. It is already too late to halt the spread of the cameras and developments in IT that will enable expert systems to improve target selection. It is a nostalgic modernism that believes that these can be held in check by bureaucracy or legislation as Norris and Armstrong hope. As their excellent research shows our current protection is substantively provided by the sheer volume of images (they estimate of 17 million hours of footage a week generated by cameras!) and the laxity of the operators. In Hitchcock's, Rear Window, James Stewart is temporarily confined to a wheelchair - and Norris and Armstrong note the numbers of disabled operatives. This could be taken for a metaphor of male impotence. However, more concrete evidence is provided in the examples they give of operators 'willing' a suspect to commit a crime. They are often disappointed in this and their dream of power at a distance is further dashed on other occasions when 'something' does happen but the police seize control of the system - sitting themselves in the Director's chair?
Nic Groombridge lectures in sociology and media arts at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill
References
Groombridge B (1972) Television and the People: A Programme for Democratic Participation Penguin Education Specials
Mathiesen, T. (1997) 'The viewer society: Michel Foucault's 'Panopticon' revisited' Theoretical Criminology 1(2) 215-234
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The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of Cctv
The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of Cctv by Gary Amstrong (Paperback - 1 Sep 1999)
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