surveillance 2

The Kooples advertising, France, 2011

The Kooples is a French ready to wear company, one of a number that use mass-marketing and manufacturing techniques (cheap off-shore labour for production, point of sale data collection) in combination with luxury market branding (good stores at good addresses, good design).  The image above is from a The Kooples advertisement.  It promotes couples shopping together, rather than shopping as an individual act.  Well fine, whatever.

What is striking about the photographs in this ad is that they are taken from the vantage point of a CCTV camera. And somehow this is made to seem okay.

Coincidently, I just finished reading The Dying Light by Henry Porter, written in 2009, about a very near future, maybe 2012 or so, in which security systems and the corporations that provide them are so embedded in government that they in fact run the government.  Since 9/11 so many civil liberties in so many western countries have been suspended because of anti-terrorist legislation that the right to privacy has been eroded to the point that there is none.  

This has long been Henry Porter's main theme.  After The Dying Light I quickly re-read Remembrance Day, written in 2000 before all this supposedly started. Cell phone technology was key to a complex plot to destabilise the Northern Ireland peace process.  As a document, this earlier book is very interesting: terrorism was still the purview of the IRA and Eastern Europe; Ireland could be understood in terms of retaliation and revenge, Eastern Europe in terms of greed for power.  Nine years later he writes The Dying LIght where terrorism is industrial, based on total surveillance of one's every action, and at the core of British government.  

My father, who was a great reader of a particularly addictive kind of action thriller where a captain (usually) in the British Army came up against all sorts of nefarious plots involving the abuse of power by the brass and/or the secret services, said that one reads novels to find out what is actually going on in the world, not history books, because novelists have a prescience gene; the act of writing is an act of gathering clues and thinking them into a future that the reader will recognise when they read it.  

So, as a reader, I look at The Kooples ad and see an acceptance of the state of surveillance. London has more CCTV cameras than all of Europe – a great help in the almost instantaneous arrest of 3000 people and the charging of a thousand in the August riots, which echoed similar riots in Paris in 2005.  A facebook group was set up to help the Metropolitan Police identify people caught on CCTV with 900,000 members.  Much was made of the tactics of the police, batons and water cannons, and of the causes of the unrest, little was made of how suspects were identified.

Charging anyone from the Vancouver riots is bogged down in too much surveillance footage, including voluntary surveillance from private cellphones.  The Canadian government has, for the first time, posted a most-wanted list on the web, inviting us as citizens to recognise and turn in these people, one of whom was apprehended almost immediately. We are being turned into informers.  And this role is being eased in to our society by images such as the one above, where being watched is normal, cool even.