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Camera Phones, Individual Depravity and Institutionalised Depravity

Every age has its detractors in new technologies. Cameras, which are increasingly losing their analog and standalone characteristics, are the new age villains. They are at the heart of scandals involving criminals, stars and common folk. Stories of lesser known stars getting implicated in the video porn scandals of the past are being reenacted this time with the ‘little satans’ which come embedded with cameras, av players, radio, pedometer and what not. The mobile phones are fast emerging as the new sites of surveillance where permissiveness, risque behaviour and deviance bordering on depravity rule the roost. I dealt with the issues of camera phones and their potential to stoke depravity of the individual and institutionalised kinds in my other site Indiaphotoculture. Here are some extracts from the same.”Another cameraphone scandal has hit the society that has already been made panicky about the ‘dangers’ of the ‘little satans’ in our palms by the scare stories in Tamil Press. What is doing rounds this week in Tamil press is the supposedly no-holds barred coverage of the blackmail scandal involving a less known Tamil film actress (Padmavathy), her client (a local businessman), collaborators and their camera phones. According to news reports, the actress planted the camera phones in the room where they stayed and later threatened the businessman with the pictures for extracting money.

More than the scandal what interests magazines like Nakeeran and Junior Vikatan is the potential the story provides them to indulge in soft pornography by carrying lurid pictures of the businessman and the actress in compromising postures. The depravity of these magazines are at one level no different from that of the actress. And the intent of these magazines seems more vicious than that of the actress who sought to blackmail using camera phone pictures. The praxis of exploitation only grows menacingly when the functions of the depraved individuals are extended through the institutionalised process of depravity Tamil newspapers and magazines have cultivated over the years.

Anything new attracts ‘beware’ notices from the self-styled moral guardians of Tamil press. It seems to be a classic case of devil talking about humanism to humans.

Their stories repeatedly drive home the message that new technologies are embodiments of moral threats and they are the only whistle blowers around to take care of public interest. To them, call centres are dens of vices. Camera phones are ‘satans in our palms’ But the soft pornography reeking out of their voyeuristic texts and pictures are socially responsible whistle blowers.

As the likes of Junior Vikatan and Nakeeran seek to expose the darker sides of both new technologies and their depraved users what is at work is more than an old game of exploitation and mass deception by the media. The name of the game is not just another kind of media moral panic, but a re-jigged tool of what Adorno called as mass deception. More on this later (sooner?) when the ‘little satans’ once again become the favourite whipping boys for the big satans masquerading as self-styled moral guardians in another scandal.”


1 Kishore Budha { 08.31.07 at 10:48 pm }

What such commentaries provide are a narrative of deviant behaviour that threatens stable organisation of meaning. New technologies are the figurative embodiment of horror-excess that threatens disintegration of the SOM. Unable to confront the deviant behaviour (and its causes, which are probably best explained through psychoanalysis) itself, technology becomes the figurative horror-excess. Zizek anyone?

2 Paul Taylor { 08.31.07 at 11:08 pm }

I liked the piece very much and since Kishore mentioned the Zed word, I had to respond!

I’ve been thinking and writing about this issue for a while now in relation to both everyday life
See – http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/paul_taylor/2007/04/social_porn_the_grubbier_the_better.html
and world politics such as the Abu Ghraib furore
see –

the aspect I’m most fascinated by is the way in which in a society that consists more and more of explicit images, the actual truth behind those images paradoxically seems to get further away from us.

E.g. Hurricane Katrina showed the underside of US racial reality, but the endless images of dispossessed black people just became part of TV’s jumble of images. Cinematically, there’s a great scene in “The Man Who fell to Earth” where David Bowie playing the role of an alien in human form watches a wall of TV screens all on a different channel showing terrible events from around the world and he’s simultaneously transfixed and shocked – but no nearer to understanding what he’s watching …

thanks again for a great piece!



3 belkin { 09.15.07 at 2:48 am }

Popular cultural productions such as tell-all television programs (Jerry Springer), real-time law enforcement programs (Cops), news programs (20/20), reality-television (Survivor and Big Brother) may seem “dumbed down,” but one has to contrast these programs’ shared communal experiences with the disengagement of viewing without participating. One can note the confluence of technological, social, legal, and political factors that drive this mediated voyeurism, supported by traditional first amendment arguments even as the privacy of unwilling participants is invaded. Democratic principles have shifted to significantly boosting the profit lines of media conglomerates with little concern for the common good.

I think in the case of the Indian media, the recent sting operation of the Delhi school teacher borders on pornography.

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