Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Peep Culture

I know that I've already blogged about the popularity of various forms of electronic communication amongst today's society, but I found some additional points on this topic in an article from entitled: "Why We Can't Stop Looking" by Amanda Fortini.
In this article, she shares her points of view on what she refers to as "our exceedingly confessional society", Webster Dictionary's 2008 word of the year: overshare, as well as some of the negative outcomes that can arise from publicizing details of our daily life. She also conducts an interview with Niedzviecki, the author of the book shown below, Peep Culture. I have included the parts of the interview that I found the most interesting below; the article in its entirety can be found here:
How did you come up with the term "peep"? There’s the "peep show," of course, but what do you mean exactly when you use the term “peep” alone? Was it something that had previously been used elsewhere, or did you coin it? Is it a noun, a verb, an adjective?

It's everything! When I came up with this idea of “peep culture,” I was thinking of peep shows, and the poor unfortunate character of Peeping Tom, and I also wanted something that would have a nice alliteration with pop culture. Basically what I'm arguing in the book is that we're moving from pop culture to peep culture. In pop culture we spent a lot of time observing and enjoying the exploits of celebrities, particularly their performances — their movies, their music, their dance moves, their comedy — but in peep culture we're shifting to spending a lot time getting entertainment from our life, and from the lives of family, of friends, and of anonymous people around the world. The methods are similar in the sense that you have the mass media and we sit behind screens and engage in long-distance entertainment. But the subject is very different — the subject becomes our lives and the lives of ordinary people, which are not performed or scripted.

It's not like every single person has stopped watching television drama so that they can read their grandmother's blog. It's a shift. Both exist at the same time and will continue to exist, but I believe that peep culture is gaining the upper hand.

There's always been people who seek fame or recognition, but lately it seems as though it’s become an epidemic.

The two things that keep coming up in the book are community and fame. We are, I think, extremely communal creatures. We evolved from apes and monkeys, and they spend a lot of time in groups grooming each other. And that's pretty much how we lived, in communal groups where we depended on each other and groomed each other. With the shift to industrialization, to big cities, to urbanization came the end of the kind of communities that provide us with inherent recognition. We had lived in a community where everyone knew who we were whether we liked it or not, where anonymity was not an option, where we didn't have to work at being noticed because we simply were. But now we have these big cities, we have pop culture, we have everyone sitting at home watching television, and we don't have those kinds of communities anymore, and yet we are hardwired to want that.

But paradoxically, we also have the whole issue of fame and celebrity, which confuses things. At the same time as we are finding that we're getting the kind of communal stroking — the cyber-grooming — that we long for, we also start to think, hmmm, maybe I'm a celebrity now. That desire to have relationships with people in which they know a lot about you and you don't have to know anything about them, which is sort of the quintessential celebrity relationship — that creeps in, and it skews things quite a bit.
I find Niedzviecki's point about us shifting from us once watching staged performances by entertainers to now being entertained by the daily details of each other's life, so true! Before reality T.V., I remember watching my favorite artists sing/dance on MTV, beauty pageant contestants compete on Miss America, and comedians perform crazy skits on Saturday Night Live. Even though those shows are still on, I rarely watch any of them as I'm more drawn to watching reality shows. There is something compelling about being invited to some one's real life, and as Niedzviecki points out in his answer to the last question, we are after all communal creatures who require at least a small amount of daily human interaction. Even though I too consider myself private by nature, I agree with this statement.
I am interested to hear your thoughts on this subject of communal recognition and socialization, and what type of community (urban or small town) you like living in, and why.


  1. I first became an active member of the so called Peep Culture when you and your sister decided to go to Ireland on your own. I had discovered the world of web cams and my work group would watch the watering hole in Africa where one can see and hear all sorts of animal life which included the communal apes grooming each other - not that spectacular to watch but it was new to us and opened a window to the world. I especially liked the cam perched above the door on a local pub in Galway Ireland on High Street. I would check in on the daily street flow and enjoyed watching people stroll by the camera. One scene would be a bright sunny day and when the screen refreshed you could experience a little unexpected rain shower that keeps Ireland so green. The ability to see what you and your sister were seeing at the same time was fun and made your international travel experience easier for me to handle. When you landed you wrote..."oh mom...Irish eyes ARE smiling!" With this simple phrase I knew all was well and you were off for a great adventure. When your brother had his international study abroad program in Switzerland I took true delight in watching a web cam set in an auto repair GARAGE and even wrote to the owner asking why they closed for two weeks in August as I was afraid someone died. Pierre replied that they were off on holiday! Because he posted his musical likes and dislikes and photos of his friends I peeped into their world when mine seemed a bit mundane. He likes Harley Davidson motorcycles and even did a trip here in the states traveling over Route 66 with his wife and another couple.

    It was very interesting to see your comments that this type of viewing has been captured and catagorized and stamped "normal".

  2. I think I know who "anonymous" is.

    I'm finding it quite disorienting seeing people I grew up with blogging and commenting with each other.

    Anyway, interesting post.