2. Scopohilia in Film and Television
Elizabeth Cowie, in Spectacle and Documentary Film
, argues that documentary film is also largely oriented towards satisfying these voyeuristic desires. For Cowie, television, like film, is a medium designed to provide visual pleasure. Within the field of television documentary, she points to the recent popularity in Europe and America of reality television. On the surface, these shows claim to be motivated by intellectual curiosity and an interest in society and the human condition. But on a deeper level, Cowie argues, what they promise is the chance to witness sensational acts of self-denigration, satisfying the scopophilic desires of the viewer. Cowie exposes the psychological deceit involved here in the case of a reality-based police program:
The program's visual material, however, offered a highly entertaining mix of specular pleasures. We are shown police video footage from surveillance cameras on motorways and railway crossings in which motorists, coach and lorry drivers all take horrendous risks with their own and others lives. We are invited to condemn the criminal stupidity of such drivers as we watch--voyeuristically--with the same view as the hidden camera. Later the skill of police drivers is demonstrated in a series of video recordings of car chases, all shot from within the following police car giving an immensely exciting visual experience with the added pleasure of not only being with the "winners"--the police always caught the driver--but also on the side of the Law.
From police and hospital reality shows (like the 24 Hours with the Police and 24 Hours in the Emergency Ward series in Japan), to amateur challenge and dating shows, the popularity of reality television does not appear to be waning any time soon. The television news' fascination with horrible events and images of war similarly works to satisfy this desire for peeking in. Watching the news is never simply a matter of intellectual curiosity, but also taps into covert forms of visual desire.