Sally Blake is a co-founder of the Toronto-based documentary prodco Chocolate Box Entertainment and the director of a new doc entitled Peep Me. The project tests the author of a recent book on the culture of voyeurism to see how he reacts under the microscope. Blake shares with realscreen the realities of ‘peep culture.’
Just the other night, when it was hot and I was sleeping naked, I woke up and was sure the cameras were watching me. I was absolutely terrified. Terrified of being exposed, of being judged. I jerked my bare limbs back under the covers, my eyes searching frantically for the cameras in the darkness. In a minute or two the bleariness of sleep melted away and I realized with intense relief that it had just been a dream. I wasn’t being watched. In fact it was I who was doing the watching.
It’s not hard to guess where that dream came from. My partner Jeannette Loakman and I are spending most of our days this summer watching a 38-year-old Toronto writer sleep, eat, pick his nose and talk to hundreds of strangers on the Internet. It’s all part of a cross-platform doc project called Peep Me, based on the new book The Peep Diaries by the writer in question, Hal Niedzviecki. In it, Hal talks about the evolution of popular culture into what he calls ‘peep culture,’ in which we broadcast the details of our private lives online and on TV to millions of strangers and watch them in return. Think Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and reality television. It’s micro-celebrity gone berserk, the perfect storm of technological progress, social disintegration and our slavish devotion to celebrity culture. We’re trying to connect with others, to build new communities and to find some way, any way, of being recognized outside the mass-produced, bureaucratized, corporatized culture in which most of us live.
So, can embracing peep culture in all its forms – vlogging, Facebooking, Tweeting – bring us that happiness, connection and meaning we are searching for? To find out we put Hal in ‘deep peep’ where he experiments with total exposure by all means possible. Currently you can watch his everyday movements via the ‘peepcast’ on thepeepdiaries.com. The most popular view so far is the ‘cancam,’ an iSight camera perched above his toilet which in the first week alone had over 11,000 views. You can also watch him sleep, take his child to daycare, get his hair cut, play Scrabble with his wife and get drunk with his brother, all the while chatting with him in real time via the popular video chat application Justin.TV. This is no longer the pioneering territory of Jennifer Rigley (Jennycam) or Josh Harris (seen in Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public); this is mainstream.
At the same time you can follow us following him, because what is more peep than a documentary? While Hal might be finding new friends, he’s also turning himself into a product, exploited by us for your entertainment. As documentary filmmakers we like to think our voyeurism is generally for a noble cause, but let’s face it, we have more in common with reality TV than we care to admit. We mediate reality simply by turning on the camera and we use other peoples’ lives for our own benefit. But they’re not people exactly – they’re our ‘characters,’ ones who have been pre-approved by broadcasters because they can emote on cue. Thus, people with low filters are rewarded with 15 minutes of fame and the behaviors of confession, revelation and exposure are reinforced Darwinian style by an entertainment culture that puts Britney Spears at the top of the food chain.
By following our exploits behind the camera we hope to reveal the essence of peep culture as it is being created, from the perspective of the peepers as well as the peeped. Where all this will lead us is the point of the book, the film and our interactive website, thepeepdiaries.com. Is this a brave new world of constant connection and recognition, building new communities and friendships, or an Orwellian dystopia that turns us all into sleepless paranoiacs? Perhaps it’s a bit of both? We invite you to check out thepeepdiaries.com and decide for yourself.