“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Many people know this rhyme, but they may not also know that from this journey and the age of colonialism was created a surging change in the public eye of how they viewed and classified any deviation from their normal.
‘Oriental.’ A word in part created by Edward Said, this vague term was ostentatiously used throughout western Europe to define the new drug the Occident (Said’s term for western Europe) couldn’t get enough of. According to the dictionary, ‘Oriental’ is of, relating to, or characteristic of the East. But in western Europe, this term defined a new excitement, a new upstart that was different enough to be scandalously exciting but far enough away that it posed no threat of change to normal society life. And in this new word was amplified the idea of viewing and interacting with the “other,” the deviation from the normal way of life, in a voyeuristic way.
Voyeurism is defined as the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked, engaged in sexual activity or from seeing the pain or distress of others. But it is more commonly being used now to mean an enjoyment in viewing the intimate lives of others, typically without their consent. And this is the exact urge the “Orient” had to people who heard of these new far off lands with their strange customs. The desire to learn of the “barbaric” and “savage” customs of these countries had an insatiable thirst.
But why does this matter now? You probably do not want a mini history lesson on the colonial era in this article, so why should you keep reading? Because the theme of voyeurism has not only been perpetuated along with the colonial mind-set (much to its benefit), but it has prospered into a weed that has so entangled itself with American society neither can now go on without the other. For example, look at a typical day for a Lawrentian on campus. You wake up, get ready, head to class and you are a bit early, so you pull out your smartphone. BOOM. Right there. You are already engaging in the voyeuristic mind-set as you scroll through numerous social media apps, looking at various videos and pictures. By entering this world of the internet, where you are able to safely look at the intimate parts of other peoples lives without them knowing, you have become a voyeur. The American lifestyle in and of itself highly promotes a voyeuristic lifestyle, with its movie theaters, magazines and the biggest culprit—television. Children are taught from infancy as their bored baby-sitter plops them down in front of the television that it is okay to look at the private lives of others, and moreover, that they can do so with no consequence.
Now, you may make some strong arguments against my claims, such as the fact that due to the technology of today people are more connected and understanding of each other than ever before, as globalization is showing, and surely that is something that can only bring beneficial knowledge. Or, you may say my claim has firm evidence, but then what do I suggest we do to stop this? Destroy all smartphones so that people can no longer view the intimate lives of others? Heavily regulate all internet searches to make sure they contain nothing regarding unapproved peeking into other people’s private life? My mother, after reading an article about hackers being able to see through your computer’s camera, keeps a piece of tape over the home computer’s camera. But voyeurism, and the way I suggest we primarily recognize and then deal with it, has escalated far beyond someone hacking into my home computer to watch my dog sleep around all day.
Poorism. Until a few days ago I never knew it existed. But in my Spanish class, Latin@ Studies, after discussing the problems with the song “Despacito,” my teacher brought up the fact that there is a “Despacito Tour.” The tour lets people (by people I mean those who are well-endowed financially and usually white) be guided through the area where the music video was filmed. “Oh cool, that sounds pretty nice!” was what I thought at first. But then my teacher went on to explain poorism. Poorism, also known as reality tourism, is tourism of poor countries — exclusively the ‘off the beaten path’ parts which are hidden away from the white beaches and mojito filled hotels of most exotic locations whose economy benefits from regular tourism. The music video “Despacito” shows the artists performing the song in La Perla (a poor neighborhood) of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. So, the “Despacito Tour” is really poorism, as intrigued tourists peek into the various parts of this neighborhood that were briefly illuminated in the light of this music video. This is just one example of how far voyeurism has pushed people into forgetting their sense of decency, common courtesy, compassion, and morality. People are willing to travel to exotic places and go into the “scandalous” and “dangerous” areas, getting a thrill from this and gawking as they peer into the lives of people they do not understand and do not try to.
I can sit in my Post-colonial Writers class and condemn the people who instigated ideas like orientalism and how they marveled at the apparent oddities of these ‘exotic and morally corrupt’ peoples from other places. But, I cannot say I do not understand how they reached these horrible assumptions, because this idea of voyeurism, this idea of viewing the intimate lives of others without consequences, is still ongoing. And, while I cannot tell the world to stop using their phones, I can say to you all to think about what you are doing when you do.