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Peeping Tom: The Shame of Being a Voyeur

Peeping Tom: The Shame of Being a Voyeur

admin / January 17, 2019

Although since the times immemorial people gave been struggling for a private life of their own, where no one would dare interfere, people have always felt the urge to take a look at the way the others live. What this phenomenon is derived from is a mystery now. People watch each other to gain the necessary information, and casting a glance plays an important part in the process of socializing. Thus, very close watching a person may be used as a substitution for communication.

However, it is impossible to trace the origins of all psychological twists that a man can possess – or, should I say, that repossess a man. Some of the modern psychologists say that this disorder is the result of the mankind development, with all its abnormalities developing just as quickly as its progress.

It seems to me that the problem has much deeper routs and that it emerged as soon as the mankind started its development. But still the scale of the problem has turned tremendous only in the twentieth century.

The motives of a man behaving in this very way can be explained rather easily, though. As Comer defines it,

Yielding voyeurism and assertive exhibitionism are constantly molding the ideas and modes of behavior of a civilized man. The voyeurism is secret, but the secrecy is a matter of psychological orientation and does not mean that the men must remain in ignorance of their feelings. (167)

As we can see the problem exposed is a double-sided sword. While voyeurism remains a psychical disorder, it can shape into something that can be considered a minor twist, just weirdness or a fancy passion. In this respect, the disorder can inflame one’s unstable mind and voyeurs can pose a certain threat to the society, as well as to themselves.

It is important to bear in mind as well that the phenomenon in question can take two basic shapes. One of them means that the voyeur remains hidden and the victims know nothing about his presence, which is covert scopophilia. The other idea is that the people who are being observed are perfectly aware of this fact and they take it as nothing out of the ordinary. Psychologists call it collusive scopophilia. The latter brings us close to another psychical phenomenon which is called exhibitionism, but that is quite another problem.

The aim that a voyeur pursuits is still a mystery. Is it the fear that a voyeur wants to see? Or does he expect the victim to stay unaware of his presence and his intentions? The problem is quite obscure, and the questions remain unsolved. However, it is quite understood that the chief goal of a perverted man is to get the pleasure he wants, so the clue to voyeurism as a psychological phenomenon might be utter egoism and even egocentrism.

It should be also born in mind that the border between exhibition as a psychical disorder and a normal situation can be rather thin. Thus, for example, a situation when a baby is looking at the mother’s breast is not to be viewed as abnormal.

The Feudist topic suggests that the roots of the problem were the result of a child brought up in a specific way that contributed to the development of the complex. Once being traumatized, perhaps, by the experience of being the victim of this very psychological disorder, a child can turn into a man with explicit voyeuristic makings.

However, the topic suggests that there would be more of assumptions than of the stable theories and the solid opinions of prominent psychiatrists. Even doctors themselves admit that psychiatry is a terra incognita to the modern science.

Considering the movie Peeping Tom, I would say that the problem of voyeurism have been increased several times here.

First, as the action in The Peeping Tom unwinds, it becomes clear that the leading character, Marx, has been abused in his childhood by his father, just the very way he would be treating his victims in future.

Then, there is the man himself who watches people’s private lives and takes his share of pleasure about that. This is the most obvious and the most intriguing part of the pattern, and the only one that audience focuses their attention on. The movie presumes that Marx with all his crimes must be in the limelight, and, actually, this is where the aims of Marx and the filmmaker coincide. Since most voyeurs want to know for sure that the victim is aware of their criminal actions, this is the pleasure for the former to know that the victim feels fear, and trembles in the anticipation of something dreadful happen.

And still there is the third aspect of voyeurism in the movie that usually escapes people’s mind. This is the voyeurism of the audience. According ton the psychological research, watching movies can be considered as a soft form of voyeurism, the psychological disorder expressed in such a small amount that it could be counted as normal. It is much like a game where the spectator puts on a mask of a criminal and gets a chance to be bad and release his or her psychological problems, not hurting the others. In this case TV can be considered as a social pill or, I would rather say, a social arrester.

A modern psycho-movie of today, the film shot in the distant 60ies has outrun the epoch. That determined the critics’ protests and indignant about the cruelty jumping out from the TV-screen and the movie was banned for long. Until today, the movie Peeping Tom has been mistreated and considered the most brutal and inhumane movie ever filmed. Like every horror film, it does make an impression of a misanthrope filming it, but the social problems it has raised makes for the violence showed in the movie in full.

The modern film critics consider that Peeping Tom has changed the concept of the horror film and has filled it with the depth one could never suspect the genre to possess. As Tudor puts it,

The first and the most obvious contrast with the tradition is to be found in the relative naturalism of both films [ The Peeping Tom and Psycho] – relative, that is, to the prevailing melodramatic idiom. (193)

The thing that has to be emphasized is that the film is not a movie in action, but the movie that has a lot to do with a documentary describing Marx’s life, which makes it even more realistic and close to the life situation, which makes the audience believe that what they see might actually be true.

The prevailing tone is a kind of documentary, candid camera if not exactly a camera verite. Peeping Tom, too, for all Powell’s characteristic dependence on stylized color, is naturalistic compared to the excess of, say, The Fall of the House of Usher: the film which opens with Marx’s viewfinder perspective on a prostitute victim as he stalks he, and continues in a similar vein of film-within-film retrograde (Tudor 193).

That makes the problem viewed in the film even more explicit, absolutely naked to the audience. And the latter involuntarily becomes a part of Marx, practically a voyeur, with the victim who’s every trace they follow.

Actually, these are not the usual people that Marx chooses. He picks a prostitute to kill and to fix her dying horror, the expression of fear in her glazing eyes, for no one cares about her, and no one is going to look for her as she disappears, and because the society does not consider that a prostitute is someone people should care about.

His next victim is a model, then comes an actress. There is something in common about the three women, namely their professions. All of them are subjected to being peeped at, and each of them has a certain fleur of exhibitionism about their jobs.

It is also very important that Marx takes the camera with him to fix the process. First, the camera substitutes the audience that Marx needs, it is a kind of an “eye” that watches him killing the women. Then, the camera makes it possible to be reviewed and replayed for the murderer. Why is it so important for him that he could watch the action once again? Is it the cruel pleasure to watch his victim suffering in his deadly grasp, or is there more than meets the eye about the strange idea of recording the show?

Actually, there is. As Freud would say, this is the explicit case of the murderer who has become such due to the problems he used to have when he was a child. Like a child who has done something bad, Marx uses the camera as the way to pretend there was no murder, make the crime unreal and turn the things the way they used to be. The question is whether he really wanted to kill all these women, and the answer would probably be ‘no”. All that he wanted was to see his power over these women, prove his superiority and satisfy his need for the pleasure the way he could. Unfortunately, the two aims did not mix well.

As Kring says,

A true voyeur, almost always a man, does not find it particularly exciting to watch a woman who is undressing for his special benefit. The element of risk seems important, for the voyeur is excited by the anticipation of how the woman would react if she knew he was watching. (241)

This is where the problem of crime and punishment comes. A true voyeur is actually willing to be caught red-handed, for he suspects that his behaviour is anti-social and he feels that he must be penalized for that. Marx is being driven by the same urge, and this is what makes him leave a physical evidence of what he has done, the cruel films that he has created.

In terms of the films, Marx does not associate himself fully with the filmmaker. In this case he wants to stay clear, and it is not him who is a cruel and cool,-blooded monster. He turns the camera into a spectator and a filmmaker, and he lays all the blame on it to get himself clear in front of his own eyes.

His personality is torn in two, and that makes people both hate him and feel sorry for him. He is a monster, but that is something that does not depend on him; he is, so to say, “programmed” to make crimes until his bloodthirsty nature hushes down and he stops ruining people’s lives. It is him who is to be considered as the victim in the first line, and his destiny is much more awful than of those whom he has killed, for he has to live with the awful secret and wear the disguise of an ordinary man, still feeling deep inside that he is not a human being, but a cruel bloodthirsty beast that kills for pleasure. That is far worse than being dead, after all.

He is a monster, that’s right. But those who have stirred the cruel instincts that have been brewing inside him and caused them to rise are twice as monsters. This is where the idea of the parental relationships that Powell has explored is stated. Parents are a model for a child to follow, a kind of gods in the child’s vision, and their actions are what will be used by the kid as the basis for his future relationships with the world. If the family members act unfair or cruel, the child may also do so as he or she grows up. That is the compensation law.

This was one of the points which drew the critics and the public to despise the film. It was a blasphemous idea to think that parents can do any harm to a child.

The idea of sanity and insanity opposed to each other is what the whole film is shot through. It is stressed even by the environment and the surroundings. The dark and gloomy place where the evil can reside is what Marx’s lair is, and it creates the atmosphere of something petrifying and at the same time pathetic, reprinting Marx’s soul and his childish experience of how violent the world can be.

Norm is something that can hardly exist, considering the controversies of a human nature. All people are said to have something extraordinary about their psychological state, and everyone has a certain degree of a psychological disorder. The whole question is about how big the degree is. In case it does not exceed the normal doze, everything is all right. The thing that people have to live with is that there are no absolutely sane people in the world. With all our phobias, neuroses and complexes we are all that people make. It is all counted as normal as long as these disorders do not disturb the people around.

However, there is another thesis that collides with the previous one. It means that a person that is known as completely sane and reasonable, who makes a loving parent and a perfect employee, a model for everyone to follow and a decent citizen of the state, can be a werewolf who turns into a violent beats in the night. The urge to destroy and to hurt can be hidden under such a brilliant disguise that it may take only a professional psychologist to figure out whether a man is sane or not.

Unfortunately, the modern society still has to face the same problems once again.

The problem of voyeurism has been examined perfectly. It has made people think about the voyeurism as a problem that has to be dealt with. Powell tried to make the society face the real facts, but in 1960ies people simply refused to do it.

Ostrich policy made them claim the film as dangerous and posing a threat to the society, causing violence and pushing people‘s thoughts in the unwanted direction. Of course, it was a cinematographic breakthrough then, but as for the nowadays culture, the film is something that does not step out of the ordinary – or, at least, out of the ordinary horror films.

These are all the ideas it conveys that frighten people. The society is used to search for someone to blame, and if even the criminal is a victim himself – a victim of the circumstances and the epoch – then who can take all the blame?

Tragic as it is, the film makes people think about what makes a normal person, what makes a humane person and if these qualities are interdependent. Showing a true human nature, it is an example of how tragic its twists can be. In this respect, the voyeurism exposed in the film plays the role of a social shocker that prevents people from being indifferent.

The voyeurism in Peeping Tom serves as the way for the spectator to see the other side of the world, where the dangers caused by negligence and indifference are lurking. And the more people think of the tragic aftereffects of the psychological disorder, the better they understand what consequences their moral blindness can lead to.

Together with psychiatry, the movie industry can help people to understand the secret needs of their own souls and explore their subconscious to have the heart to face the peculiarities of their souls, and to change something about they way people see themselves and each other.

Shocking and stunning, the movie makes the audience to be voyeurs as well and makes them not only understand the problem, but also feel it. This is what makes psychology and cinema together, and taking into consideration the power that cinema has over people, it is possible to say that intertwined, they can help people to bring their inner world and their own soul in order.

Works Cited

Comer, Ronald G. Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2004. Print.

Kring, Ann, Sheri Johnson, Gerald C. Davidson. Abnormal Psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2009. Print.

Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie. Cambridge, MT: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. Print.

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