See!See!TV: the Logic of Self-Legitimizing CCTV Office Surveillance
The berserk employee captured on a CCTV system trashing and smashing an office in 2008 seems not to be an actor in a gag video.
Real deal or not, the video makes a nearly disguised, indeed almost lost point: CCTV office surveillance can be self-legitimizing.
That’s because installing it may necessitate having it, as employees seethe and boil over in response to its presence and the oppressive Orwellian monitoring packaged as “Oh, well-ian…I guess we just have to get used to it.”
As I watched and re-watched the clip, I got the very distinct impression that what flipped him out was what appears to be another staff member’s search of his waste basket.
Constantly monitoring and scrutinizing your office productivity is one thing and bad enough; also poking through your office waste may be one more too many.
This kind of ironic and peculiar self-legitimization is not unique to CCTV cameras. Continuously badgering an uptight employee with the (well-intentioned?) question, “Why are you always so angry?!” may be self-legitimizing in the same way: Do it long enough and the employee may snap, and indeed display the presumed anger (now triggered or exacerbated by the questioning).
However, such self-fulfilling lines of questioning and self-validating CCTV surveillance are rather unlikely to be fulfilling in any other way, especially emotionally, unless furious and emptying catharsis somehow counts as fulfillment.
Smile for the Camera!
The video rampage is at one end of a CCTV behavioral extreme, the other pole being continuous on-camera niceness. While I was in Scotland for the month of January, I half-seriously speculated that one reason the Scots were so consistently and incredibly nice to me everywhere was that they knew their behavior (and maybe even their speech) was being recorded. After all, I was in the UK, where CCTV-and-chips is a new staple of daily life.
Yes, things have changed. Whereas, once upon a time, “smile for the camera!” was a predictable exhortation for the Polaroid moment, it’s now a prudent policy for the entire day.
The CCTV systems can self-legitimizingly provoke rage and rampage (thankfully recorded!) in two different ways: passively or actively.
By “passive” provocation, I mean infuriating us or at least breeding seething resentment merely by their silent surveillance as they gleamingly glimpse and tape us.
Active provocation takes things a step farther—a goose-step farther, as my experience upon arrival in the famed tiny Irish village, Cong, Mayo County (renowned as the setting of the John Ford/John Wayne 1952 classic, “The Quiet Man”), Ireland taught me.
Getting off the bus and wandering onto the beautiful, famed Ashford Castle grounds, I meandered off into a deep, lush, lakeside forest, emerged somewhere else, asked directions, got lost and found myself at the entrance of what I thought might be the hostel where I had reserved space for myself. Very posh grounds, but not associated with the castle, the site was also sizable—an upscale lodge, requiring hoofing across it to find an entrance, which, alas was neither open nor my hostel.
Suddenly and scarily, a growling unseen female voice blared out a detailed CCTValkyrie warning: “Your actions are being recorded!…”, with a lengthy commentary suggesting how entirely unwelcome I was there, if not in danger of having Simpsonesque Montgomery Burns hounds set upon me or guards in towers open fire. Had I strayed into North Korea? An SAS training camp?
I retaliated with my own loud, forceful commentary, before allowing for the possibility that it was, from a PR-tourism standpoint nothing more and no less than a truly disastrous, if not utterly moronic, security recording to cover the winter shutdown.
It seems that sort of thing may be necessary in modern Ireland to deter thieves and brigands gravitating to the countryside in the wake or anticipation of more cuts to the “Garda” police forces and stations across Ireland (as part of Ireland’s—or should I say “Direland”’s?—austerity-cum-fiscal penance programs).
Shocked and infuriated (although not as much as video guy), I unwittingly advanced the cause of self-legitimizing CCTV systems. After all, since I was visibly agitated, I must be a menace to be identified and documented. “Catch-22”—“Innocent people will not object to being recorded and warned, until they are, which may make them unpredictable and the CCTV system a justified expense.”
That’s the logic and the beauty, if not wisdom, of self-legitimizing CCTV operations.
When I mentioned the CCTV incident to the very amiable manager of the hostel I eventually found, he described his own experience at that lodge (when he and his wife went out to pick flowers one evening) and his identical reaction—echoed by yet another resident, who said, “Shocked! You never dream of hearing such a thing!”
Perhaps never before Orwell’s 1984. Soon, maybe always…
…and as part of an endless nightmare rather than an errant dream.