Thursday, September 07, 2006

Rear Window

People like to look into other people’s life: to see it, to know it, to feel it, to experience it, because they feel like they are part of the person they want to be. It’s a desire to possess, to satisfy oneself while fully knowing the limit of this desire – that you can never physically “own” the person you are watching, or be the person you want be. It’s this desire among of us that keeps the paparazzi fed. A couple of weeks ago in Hong Kong, an extremely popular cute-sy female singer/actress, Gillian, got on the cover of a magazine. And it brought on some serious heat among the local community on how the law should protect people’s privacy, including showbiz celebrities’. Why? Because the photo on that magazine was a snapshot of this actress changing when she was on tour in Malaysia. The photo was clearly taken by paparazzi with some sort of hidden camera. It was actually, voyeurism. But that’s not the first time, was it? The paparazzi invades celebrities’ everyday life, home life, vacation life, to a point that I start to wonder if these celebrities would be known if their private issues weren’t covered. After all, these mag’s look like a big ass piece of entertainment – there are hardly any words in them anyway. I have been hating this kind of reporting by tabloids and “people” magazine all my life: since high school I have expressed my opinions on this entertainmentization through writings that school. But this trend never seems to die. In fact, with the photos of Gillian in changing room released, this entertainmentization has finally hit the threshold that it was never supposed to hit – body. In Foucaultian theory, our sexual experience and perception of which in everyday life is the window to relationship between us and the power under which we live. In a way, power and subject – or us – is shown through sexuality. This cannot be more obvious in Hong Kong: Celebrities’ private life could be shown all on paper, taken as the accepted norm, so long the sex part – which is symbolically represented by the body – is not touched on. Once this sex part made public in Hong Kong, the threshold is reached and all of us criticize those who report such unethical stuff – even we all have enjoyed those photos of others’ private life, the evidence of intrusion, the proof of the repression. Every issue of these magazines is about boobs, about body: before Gillian’s photos were on there had been tons of almost-nake photos of women all over the covers. You got ex-pornstar in bikinis, celebrities promoting slim products and show their cleavage, slip of gowns when some women go to galas. I mean, the bombardment of “sex” has always been there, the culture of voyeurism has always been going on. So why now? Because looking through someone’s rear window while they change is more wrong that take pictures of topless models sun-bathing? If what’s wrong is the fact we have intruded others’ privacy, then it really doesn’t have to be a “more-wrong” incident to make it “ah, now you are finally proven wrong”. Regardless of what’s on the cover this issue, the interesting part is that we always like to touch on sex in such public domain, just to flirt with the taboo, without really thinking about why we are interested in this anyway – why boobs out of million other things out of million other things you can talk about? – and that’s the dangerous part of our collective mindset. If we have been all wrong anyway, because we have always liked to look into other people’s life with all the little bit of details that didn’t really matter to us at the first place, then maybe we have all been a little retarded in our responses to such “entertainmentizing” way of reporting. Because the truth is, some of them celebrities need to have snapshots of their private life exposed – if objectifying me gives me to fame to sustain the life I been living, why not? I ain’t justifying the act of voyeurism. It’s wrong. Period. But it’s not really about blaming on the one who took or release some sort of photos, but to think about this question: what has gotten all of us to be so interested in someone’s body at the first place? Right now, the chief executive has said he would take care of it, the head of police in Malaysia has said he would investigate Gillian’s case. But what Mr Donald Tsang did not tell us is that it would be hard for him to put a stricter pull on the laws that protect privacy: because two months ago he himself was still talking about giving the police in Hong Kong more executive power in monitoring phone calls, emails and so on… (Yes, US Patriot Act Hong Kong version, though the target of patriotism is this vague image of Beijing up north of us). If law prohibits such acts of voyeurism by reporters, then how could the government check up what you just bought today? What a challenge for those politicians with mediocre political intelligence. And everywhere you continue to look, it's absurdity.


Blogger samuel said...

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1:10 AM  
Blogger samuel said...

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1:15 AM  
Blogger samuel said...

I think I am the most annoyed by the fact that people are turning the whole issue into a political monkey game.

Notice that the people that have been the loudest come from the pro-China camp: Orisun corp (oriental daily, the sun) and DAB (china-born singaporean Maoists basically).

And people forget that those magazines published by Orisun are just as bad (Oriental sundae, oriental weekly etc), voyeurist pics? oh yes, they have been going that for years, and those actresses were silent about it. Now NextMedia picked the wrong victim, she's from EEG (pro-China), this gives the whole pro-china camp an excellant opportunity to attack NextMedia: the only surviving publically anti-China media copr in Hong Kong. I'm not saying that NextMedia is right, but HK needs a media corp like that to neutralize the market.

the front page of Orisun (oriental daily and sun daily) for a consercutive three days was saying how NextMedia as a corperation has completely demoralized the HK newspaper industry (sheesh, who started putting prostitution ads on newspapers? I think it's oriental daily, WHO STARTED IT ALL??)

I believe that the photographer who took Gil's pics was a freelancer, and everybody had been bidding for those pictures: including the media corps from the pro-china camp.

Ah, freak show.

and yeah, this is totally irrelevant, but I think you might be interested in reading this

1:15 AM  
Blogger phil kam said...

Very solid point. In fact, that's another issue about the "dependence" of Hong Kong mainstream media.

As for the article, i love the word choice of appearance/disappearance. yet to read it in detail.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Weng said...

I'm over in England, and when this story got to our shores, it was prime time television on the Chinese Channel for 4 days straight! While my Chinese isn't that great, when I saw a report with pretty much all the famous HK celebs "standing in unison", I was quite shocked. I thought the media frenzy was uncalled for but I did think Jackie Chan hammered it home by saying "What if it was YOUR sister!"

6:56 AM  
Anonymous amardeep said...

I actually never understood when a reporter/journalist/photographer does something legal and when illegal. The world of reporting is so bizarre and modern world is simultaneously becoming more visible and more invisible. I think the biggest problem with out system is that in some places they enjoy too much freedom, immune to anything and in other places they have almost no freedom, refrained from seeking truth.

10:31 PM  

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