Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy, and Surveillance Space

Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy, and Surveillance Space

Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy, and Surveillance Space

Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy, and Surveillance Space


In Loving Big Brother the author tackles head on the overstated claims of the crime-prevention and anti-terrorism lobbies. But he also argues that we desire and enjoy surveillance, and that, if we can understand why this is, we may transform the effect it has on our lives. This book looks at a wide range of performance and visual artists, at popular TV shows and movies, and at our day-to-day encounters with surveillance, rooting its arguments in an accessible reading of cultural theory.Constant scrutiny by surveillance cameras is usually seen as - at best - an invasion of privacy, and at worst an infringement of human rights. But in this radical new account of the uses of surveillance in art, performance and popular culture, John E McGrath sets out a surprizing alternative: a world where we have much to gain from the experience of being watched.This iconoclastic book develops a notion of surveillance space - somewhere beyond the public and the private, somewhere we will all soon live. It's a place we're just beginning to understand.


A body throws itself out of a burning tower, diving through the air in the agonizing moments before the impact of concrete below will smash the life out of it. We are watching live on network television. There is nothing we can do.

A group of unremarkable people are locked in a house for two months, bored and bickering; cameras record their every mundane move. We watch in our millions, interrupting busy schedules to catch up on the ins and outs of lives restricted to the entirely inconsequential.

If two experiences have defined my relationship to the recorded image in recent years they are the footage of September 11, 2001 and an addictive viewing of the UK version of television show Big Brother. I am undoubtedly far from alone. These two events-and particularly the World Trade Center attacks of course-shocked in a wide variety of ways; but in a world in which the average city dweller is caught on camera hundreds of times a day, part of our response to these images related to the daily surveillance of ourselves. In both cases, we obsessively viewed footage when it was clear that, in the case of the World Trade Center, nothing new was about to emerge since we were watching the same shots, perhaps occasionally from a different angle, again and again, and in the case of Big Brother-well, nothing much new was going to emerge there either. Yet this obsessive viewing, I believe, revealed not that we had all suddenly taken leave of our senses, but rather that we were in the process of realizing, of taking in the fact, that our world had been changed forever, not just by terrorism or television, but by surveillance itself.

Not so long ago, the words 'Big Brother' conjured in the public mind not the image of annoying, lovable or devious day-to-day people suddenly elevated to stardom by a television game show, but Nineteen Eighty-Four, the book by George Orwell, which, although perhaps not as widely read as it was referenced, had entered the popular consciousness as a representation of the repressive nature

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