October 2006
Voyeurs and Exhibitionists

Somebody’s watching me

The above is part of the title of a popular ‘80s tune, but it may well be the anthem for this age. Back then, the notion that someone was out there observing us had malevolent undertones, and the proper reaction was wariness, if not outright fear. Nowadays, however, a great many of us seem to welcome being watched — and we’re not talking only of those who join shows like “Pinoy Big Brother” or “Pinoy Dream Academy.” As our opening piece in this month’s series on voyeurs and exhibitionists points out, the Internet and the proliferation of nifty cybertools like MySpace and YouTube have made it possible for practically anyone to take to the stage and perform whatever tricks he has mastered in the hope of catching some attention. In other words, we are now ourselves in constant search of an audience.

Indeed, technology seems to be redefining our concept of personal space, where even strangers are allowed in to explore perhaps a part of our most vulnerable side. For those of us who let such strangers in, the “comfort” is in our knowing — or at least in our assumption — that we remain very much in control of what they can see. That cannot always be true, of course, but so long as we want an audience, it is a delusion we like to entertain. At the same time, technology is also being used — often without our knowledge — to probe into things we would prefer to keep hidden.

Such trends, though, have found a willing partner in the Filipino trait of being usyosero. There appears to be no appropriate English equivalent for usyoso, although the closest is that of being habitually nosy. In most instances, the rest of our body also follows our nose when we stick it in something that interests us, whether it is our business or not. That may well be why that crucial part of Edsa became so full of people in February 1986 and January 2001. Pang-uusyoso, however, should not be mistaken for pakikialam, another form of nosiness. The latter implies participation of some sort. Pang-uusyoso is limited to just looking on. (Which may help explain why both Edsas I and II stopped short of being real revolutions.)

Pang-uusyoso has been with us for generations, and any incident in this country is bound to attract an onlooker or two. In far too many cases, there is almost always a horde of people wanting to have more than a glance at whatever is taking (or has taken) place. We do not need the paparazzi because we are the paparazzi.

That in itself already has negative connotations, but there is an even darker side to usyoso, which could degenerate to pamboboso or voyeurism; one need only Google the terms voyeur or voyeurism to find out the depths of that darkness.

In the following weeks, pag-uusyoso will take center stage. So, too, will blogging and the cult of public confessions, cyber peeping toms, and how we may have at least a pair of eyes on us even when we think no one is looking.

Keep your eyes peeled.