Monday, February 4, 2008

"Oh Dear, Weve Become a Race Of Peeping Toms"

A peeping tom is defined as "One who derives pleasure, usually sexual, from secretly spying on others" by the Websters Dictionary. This is most notably looked upon as a terrible act. This story of the first ever recorded act of the peeping tom was found on

"In an age when we can speak of peeping Tom cameras or electronic peeping Toms we have indeed come far from the time of the legendary peeping Tom. Godgifu (fl. 1040-1080), Lady Godiva to us, pledged her legendary ride as a means of persuading her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes. In the original version of the story she was observed by all the townspeople as she disrobed, but in a much later version of the story a tailor or butcher named Tom was the only person to observe her as she rode by, everyone else having shuttered their windows as they had been asked. Peeping Tom, first recorded around 1796, has become a term for a voyeur, not at all a pleasant fate for this legendary fellow. As W.H. Auden has said, "Peeping Toms/are never praised, like novelists or bird watchers,/for their keenness of observation.""

The line that struck me from this paragraph was the last one. I happen to know of two such films where the peeping tom is praised. In Alfred Hitchcocks 1954 classic Rear Window we follow L.B. Jeffries as he "peeps" on his neighbors through his back window, simply because his leg is broken and he has nothing better to do. Fast foward 53 years and we are brought Disturbia(2007, DJ Caruso) a film starring new "it" boy Shia Lebouf about a kid under house arrest who has nothing better to do than also "peep"on his neighbors.

These two films have more in common than mere peeping. We are made to believe through each films structure that the only time our protaganists have "peeped" is once brought to complete boredom, at least this is at the surface of each film. Both films explore the idea that we are all peeping toms. In Rear Window Stella, Jeffs nurse of sorts, states "We've become a race of peeping toms. What people oughta do is get outside their own homes and look in for a change." Is she merely critiquing Jeff for peeping out his back window, or making a statement about the human race? Furthermore Lisa, Jeff's girlfriend, is seen reading fashion magazines in the end, peeping on the lives of others. Jeff may have quit looking out his back window, but Lisa hasn't, maybe not through a window, but through the pages of a magazine it is her window to the lives of others.

DJ Caruso's Disturbia follows this same ideology but brings it to the new age of technology. We aren't simply looking through the pages of magazines, or out our back windows. We now have a beautiful thing called the internet. Youtube is constantly mentioned throughout the film as well, a website of note that is all about peeping on the lives of others. The last scene in this film also helps drive this point home. Although Kale has finished looking out his back window at the neighbors they aren't going to quit peeping. When him and Ashley are kissing,Ronnie comes around the corner with a camcorder and says "Soon to be the most popular video on YouTube".

While both films are made in completely different times they both drive the same point home, which is completely wrapped up in Stellas statement about we, the human race, being a race of peeping toms.


David Drew Farmer said...

This review is very organized and sounds professional. I feel like Could read this in NY Times or in City Beat. You address the "peeping tom" subject which i completely agree with. great work.

Ty said...

I agree that we have indeed become a race of "peeping toms."

I find it interesting that you go so far as to say that Lisa's magazine is her way of peeping on the lives of others. Based on that example, one migjht go so far as to say that reading an auto biography is a voyeuristic act.

I understand the point you were trying to make (and I personally agree). I just think that particular stament was a bit stretched.

David hit the nail on the head, very well written. Nice work!