Sexism follows when security arrives?

The New York Surveillance Camera Players thematize the dangers of surveillance cameras -- in Graz by invitation of the ESC and in conversation with The Standard.

Great Britain is the best endowed country on earth and has 600,000 of them distributed everywhere, Face Recognition Software included. Graz by contrast has about 40 near its pretigious object in the Haupt Platz, with the ratio between police to private being about even. We're talking about surveillance cameras.

Public opinion about surveillance cameras is split. Some celebrate them as the ultimate security devices, while others claim that they destroy the private sphere and prophesy a "surveillance society."

ESC at labor framed the New York activist group Surveillance Camera Players among the heavy-weights of their "Please Identify" exhibit in Graz, which has a solid history with precisely this theme. There has been a great deal of serious discussion about protecting large events held in Graz's Hauptplatz -- for example, rallies featuring Joerg Haider -- from persistent heckling and oppositional activism.

Bill Brown and Sean Kerby from the SCP-New York have experiences and ideas they want to introduce to Austria. "We stage theatre in public places and perform plays we have written in front of surveillance cameras. For example, we have adapted George Orwell's 1984."

The SCP were not surprised by the situation in Graz. Unlike other places, such as the USA and Great Britain, Graz is at the beginning of the drive to install surveillance cameras in public places. "I think that you can do something to stop them here. In England, people seem to have given up hope that they might be able to do something."

During their stay, the two New Yorkers looked for cameras in Graz's inner city and made a map of their findings. They used walking tours and camera-performances to inform the people of the town. "These cameras are sold as security devices. The crimes that take place in public places are mostly casually committed offenses. The cameras are not marked. And so, in what way are they a deterrent? If Graz's Hauptplatz, for example, is such a dangerous place, then why isn't there a policeman stationed there, where he or she might be helpful? Why have a camera recording in the background?"

What about the security of women in this context? Feminists have in the past supported surveillance cameras and the safety they supposedly provide. . . .

Bill Brown: "The camera in reality reproduces the patriarchal power-relationship. Women are not taking responsibility for their safety, but are depending upon the man behind the camera lens. And he is protecting these women against another man; and so the power relationship is really between the two men. And there's another factor that's important here. Studies have found that men, when they have access to the Internet at their jobs, spend 17 percent of their time looking at pornographic sites. If these figures are accurate, they can be applied to men watching the surveillance cameras. Even though the sale of surveillance footage is illegal, in England there's a TV show that shows such footage. Videos from changing-rooms, camera zooms that look down women's neck-lines and so forth."

The focus of the cameras becomes the voyeuristic observation of women and children and other so-called marginal groups. Hand-holding lesbian couples, cuddling punks and young people engaging in public sexual intercourse are the most popular targets.

(Written by Elke Murlasits, published in the 4 November 2002 edition of Die Standard, and translated from the German by Bill Brown.)

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