Technology and Gender: Thomas I. Voire and the Case of the Peeping Tom
The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 43, Number 3, pages 407-433.
It’s not spying if you love someone.
--Broadway Danny Rose
Unveiled women who show their hands and feet excite feelings of onlookers without giving them the means to calm the excitement.
By Gary T. Marx
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Discussion papers in this series: Willis & Silbey: Self, Vigilance and Society | Nippert-Eng: Out of Sight, Out of Mind | Manning: Doubles and Tom Voire | Staples & Nagel: Gary's Gone... | Marx: Reflective Eyes and Moods Apart
A Brief Note From
Thomas I. Voire is drawn from a forthcoming book Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology (University of Chicago). I sought a way to communicate about the variety of new technologies for collecting personal information, and I also wanted to convey the subjective sense of being a watcher and being watched. A simple table listing technologies or reporting things such as the number of hidden video cameras sold each year and the use of elaborate analytic conceptualizations to organize the empirical material, however needed, seemed lifeless and unable to convey the sense that something striking was happening in our society with respect to surveillance technology. The ability to cross personal informational borders goes far beyond big brother or big corporation. It involves all of us in our daily interactions. One approach is to offer a detailed case study. But then I would be bound by whatever elements happen to be present in the literal case. I wanted my account to be representative of the broad range of surveillance technologies. I also wanted it to communicate the emotional wallop that is often felt when covert surveillance is discovered as well as the powerful attraction of secret knowledge. To do this, I turned to the ideal-typical case of a clinical interview with Mr. Voire.
Like any ideal type, this is a fictional account--but it is fictional only in the sense that it didn’t all happen this way, even though it all could happen and is largely based on actual cases and a composite from interviews. In my book, I follow this fictive account with traditional sociological analysis. Among some of the questions Voire’s case raises for me are:
1. How can we explain the gender differences in cross sex observation and use of surveillance technologies?
2. What are the major structures, processes, and consequences in the relationships among various types of new information technology that laws, policies and manners are intended to regulate? Are there examples of laws that effectively anticipate the problems of new technologies without inhibiting invention, commerce, and freedom of expression?
3. How should the feelings of a target be balanced with the intentions of the observer? Where does the “real self” stop and a fictional self begin? Can an individual be hurt by the collection of personal information intended only for the private use of the collector? What is the harm from secret surveillance if the surveilled never knows?
4. Given the ambiguity, elasticity, and frequently conflictual nature of values and norms, how is it that we have the degree of social order that we have? Why aren’t there many more Toms?
5. If visibility brings accountability and we seek transparency in government and organizations (a fundamental assumption of democratic theory), why does our society go to the other extreme in the valuing of individual privacy?
6. Is there a role for more fiction in sociological work (holding apart that too many of our critics already think that what we do is fiction)? Should the creation of such fictions be added to our methods kit, along with established methods such as the quantitative fictions of simulations?
I am indebted to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for the supportive environment in which this case study was developed. Many colleagues graciously contributed to Tom’s maturing or perhaps immaturing. For comments and ratification I am grateful to Janet Chafetz, William Darrough, Murray Davis, Mathieu Deflem, Pascal Gensous, Pat Gillham, Martha Gimenez, Cy Goode, Erich Goode, Val Jenness, Rosabeth Kanter, Peter Klerks, Don Haines, Peter Klerks, Rolf Kjolseth, Rob Kling, Jesse Larner, Kevin Leicht, Richard Leo, Kay Levine, Kristin Luker, Josh Meisel, Glenn Muschert, Joane Nagel, David Nasatir, Christena Nippert-Eng, Eve Passerini, Gerry Platt, Nicole Rafter, Pris Regan, Nancy Reichman, Norma Rodriguez, San Antonio Rose, Barry Schwartz, David Shulman, Susan Silbey, Mary Virnoche, Jay Wachtel, Ron Weitzer, Lenny Weitzman and Susan Wilson.
Pat. name: Thomas I. Voire AKA: Isidore Demsky
Pat. acct. # 21-18-19-13-1-18-20
Birth date: 6/6/66
Reporting physician: A. Funt
Presenting complaints: Subject seeks greater self-understanding and feedback on beliefs that he is a victim of a conspiracy to deny him his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments as these involve collecting and publishing information. Possible sexual dysfunction, inability to distinguish media depictions from reality, voyeurism, paranoid and sociopathic tendencies.
Insurance routing: Medical Insurance Bureau, Boston
WARNING: This medical report is CONFIDENTIAL and only to be seen by the more than seventy persons (or others in their agencies) who have a legitimate professional reason to see it. If the free and open communication between patient and professional is to be maintained, there must be a relationship of trust in an environment in which patient confidentiality is respected, and information is widely shared on behalf of our interlocking goals of quality treatment, efficiency, and profit-maximization. Remember: there is no such thing as nonsensitive personal information. On the other hand as professionals we know that knowledge is good and sharing it is a fundamental value of our occupational culture.
Whatever his deficiencies, lack of imagination was not among them. Unlike Peter Sellers in the film Being There or Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, he knew the difference between media fantasies and reality. He simply preferred the media. Thomas I. Voire might have grown up like any other typical American child raised in Hollywood on comic books and television, with an actress-mother and a science-fiction-writing-father, were it not for the fact that he spent the first seven years of his life in a full body cast. While other children played, he could only watch. He became an astute observer of the mass media and of other people. A school counselor even suggested that he become a sociologist. He loved comic books. Superman with his x-ray vision and Brenda Starr who could become invisible by pressing her wrist were his favorites. The Saint, a TV program with the same theme, was also a favorite, as was Candid Camera.
As a frail youngest child, Tom was carefully observed by his parents. From an early age he was accustomed to being watched and to inspections and examinations of all kinds. His earliest memory is of a bright yellow transmitter with a bear decal that was always clipped on his pants. A warning alarm sounded if he strayed too far from his adult monitor. As he grew older the range expanded from twenty to a hundred feet before the alarm went off. Until he was fifteen, his room had an electronic listening device and a video monitor that permitted his parents to supervise him during commercial breaks from their television set. As a teenager he gladly submitted to home drug testing, thankful that he had the kind of parents who cared about his well-being.
The ethos of surveillance to which he was subjected was reproduced in his world of play. The watched became the watcher. He was a curious and enterprising child who had many "toys" for listening and communication. As a child he loved to play peek-a-boo and hide and seek. Another favorite pastime was hiding behind the sofa when his older sister was with her boyfriends. He recalls being punished for lying on the floor and looking up when his mother’s friends came to visit.
Noting his interest in technology, his parents gave him a high-powered telescope and (as he recalls), "this really boring book about astronomy." It became his favorite toy. But he didn't look at the stars. From his high-rise apartment he aimed it at other apartments. It never occurred to him that this might be a questionable activity, since so many people left their shades up and also had telescopes pointing outwards. He had a “super-amplifier” listening device with a headset, a stethoscope-like device that permitted him to hear breathing through a concrete wall, and a tiny voice-activated tape recorder. Other favorite toys included the “visible woman” (a plastic anatomy kit), a great collection of Barbie dolls and clothes and a game called “I spy.”
Voire served in the Navy in 1986-9 where he was assigned to the equipment and maintenance section of a signet (signals intelligence unit). He received a general, rather than an honorable, discharge. He did not wish to elaborate on this. But he acknowledges difficulties as a result of (1) exposing his unclothed posterior from a moving military vehicle and (2) listing “gay” as his marital status in his America On Line member profile.
He saw a double standard in the Navy’s response to his behavior. At the same time as his exposure incident, a female sailor posed unclothed for Playboy magazine, without censure. His AOL profile was written off-duty as a joke. It had no impact on his performance in the Navy, and he was not gay, even though he knew gay sailors who were still on active duty.
On leaving military service he worked as a lifeguard, a job that fit his interests. However, when the winter came he took a job as a security guard at a women's clothing store. He joined an anticrime Neighborhood Watch group. But since he kept changing neighborhoods as a result of a part-time job, he did not stay with it. The job was with People Watchers, Inc., a marketing research company run by cultural anthropologists. The job required him to rent a room in a home and to report on the lifestyle and consumer behavior he observed. The only drawback was that he had to move every three months (and once after two weeks when the homeowners became suspicious).
Tom began studying communications and criminology. He became interested in the history of technology, particularly the cluster of nineteenth-century developments involving photography, x-rays, and the extension of the power of the microscope and telescope.
He sought to broaden himself culturally and spent many hours in the library and museums and in reading. His interests were quite focused. He loved to look at back issues of National Geographic containing pictures of native women. He regularly read the newspapers but mostly for the lingerie ads. He also liked to look at nude women in art and photography books and in paintings and sculpture. He particularly liked Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in which the female forms are simultaneously viewed from various angles. He liked Picasso’s engravings that featured famous figures such as Michelangelo hiding under a bed watching an amorous couple and Degas visiting a brothel. He was also taken with the work of the Italian baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi as expressed in her painting Susannah and the Elders, which conveyed her feelings about being spied upon. In contrast to the rare pictures of male nudes, he noted that the paintings almost always involved a frontal view of the nude female.
He became a regular in the Rodin room of the museum. He was never bored there. The statues were immobile but the human landscape was everchanging. Tom liked to watch women as they contemplated the figures. The security guards of course looked at the sculpture, Tom, and the women, while still another guard in a control room watched images from the rotating video camera capturing all four. This visual rondo could get pretty complex, depending on what was being looked at and who was looking at whom and the genders and sexual orientations of the actors.
Ever fascinated by technology and art, Tom was something of an innovator in his filming of private parts in public places. He was one of the first of his gender to capture images up the skirt and down the blouse in malls, subways, and parks by putting a hidden or disguised camera under or above a seated female. But he preferred using remote cameras because there was less chance of discovery or losing equipment. He was very proud of the tiny remote camera he attached to the lifeguard tower at a nude beach. He notes, “The camcorders and keyhole lenses make it a lot easier than standing under stairwells all day, using a telescope or looking for girls wearing shiny patent leather shoes.” He made several trips to Mardi Gras to film topless celebrants.
He was an avid, if ambivalent, fan of Candid Camera. He thought it was wrong to create reality and then publicly reveal it,--better to just record things naturally as they occur in public and consume them in the privacy of your own home. He was even more incensed, as he put it, at “the amateurs, reprobates, perverts and degenerates who post on Web sites the poor quality images they secretly collect. This gives photography a bad name and will result in more vague laws, further restricting the First Amendment rights to know of legitimate voyeurs.”
Most of his spare time was spent watching television or on the Internet (even on the subway or when waiting for a doctor’s appointment, he was never without his palm computer and handheld TV). Growing up, his nickname was TV--in this case his initials were denotative. In Internet parlance he was a “lurker” and enjoyed observing the communications of those in chat groups and postings on bulletin boards. He did not participate because he knew that old messages never die, they just rest in the ether waiting for someone to instantaneously retrieve them by doing a simple deja-vu search, or viewing the history file on an Internet browser.
He always wore reflector sunglasses and in the Navy was called “the man with no eyes.” Much of his watching had an invisible quality to it (at least to those being watched). His dark glasses were a metaphor for his way of being. He wanted to see but not be seen. He did not wish to trouble those he watched nor risk sanctioning should his behavior be misinterpreted. At one of our first meetings he insisted on playing a song called “The Invisible Man” by an English rock group named Queen. He held to a surveillance ethic of minimal, or better still, nonobtrusiveness, in observation.
Tom had only occasional success with women, and he had no male friends. While hardly a campus activist, Tom was interested in social issues and sometimes spoke (or acted) out. Both because of the principle and because he felt more comfortable around females, he applied to a women’s college and was rejected. On the coed campus he attended, he sought to join a sorority but had to settle for a coed fraternity. He was not allowed to even try out for (let alone be chosen to sing in) the women’s choir, nor could he play for the girl’s field hockey team. His documented arguments regarding the negative consequences of separation for stereotyping and the importance of diversity in social settings went unheeded, as did his claim that the quality of performance would improve if men were given an equal chance. He was banned from a bar near the campus for repeatedly complaining that if women didn’t have to pay for their drinks during happy hours, neither should he. Nor could he get a job as a waiter at Hooters.
To increase student awareness of gender equity questions, he arranged for a campus showing of several sexually explicit films including The Full Monty. This drew an enthusiastic overflow crowd, but to Tom’s dismay, no one was interested in signing his petition protesting the unfairness in paying female porn stars so much more than their male counterparts. Nor would anyone sign his letter of support for male gynecologists who increasingly were having difficulty gaining patients or for the male sportscasters who were banned from the dressing rooms of professional female athletes. Nor were contributions received for a fund promoting greater male involvement in cooking and cleaning.
Tom was confused and needed help. He saw an inviting photograph in an alternative newspaper advertising the services of “Cheri,” an applied therapist who specialized in helping men with less than satisfying social lives. The therapist, who believed (with Colette) that love depends on illusion, and ever aware of the role of fantasy and imagination in erotic consciousness, sought creative ways to help Tom. Cheri suggested the idea of videotaping their meetings. This served as a living tutorial that Tom periodically reviewed for help. While he had to pay a lot more money for these recorded interactive sessions, he concluded that it was well worth it. The nurturing therapist had no qualms about this since she needed the funds to pay for her Ph.D. studies and to contribute to the First Amendment Foundation.
Cheri recommended that (with his partner’s permission) he always tape his sexual activities so that, like a baseball player or golfer, he could work on improving his technique and also have a record of those truly great moments. An additional reason for taping was so that he could prove that the
encounter was consensual and thus protect himself against any false accusations. Tom liked the idea of videotaping but did not follow her advice regarding asking permission, being too embarrassed and fearing his partners would say no.
The tapes of Tom’s encounters with his sex therapist were consensual involving sound, as well as image. They contrast with the nonconsensual films Tom subsequently made using a camera hidden in an overhead light fixture with the sound recorder turned off. To capture sound nonconsensually would violate state law (although that wasn’t the case in many other states where as long as one person, the individual doing the taping, agreed, it was legal). But there were no laws against secret videotaping if one of the parties agreed to it.
Tom made a number of films but this was far more difficult than in his therapist’s office in which there was a script and mutual awareness. With hidden cameras it was not easy to get the correct angle, there were power outages and equipment failures or he forgot to turn the camera on. His encounters were often in the dark (and an infrared camera was too expensive). Many of the images were fuzzy and shadowy. Reality is hardly the stuff of which fantasies are made.
Such videotaping was a lot of trouble and he gave it all up after one unpleasant episode when the camera fell from the ceiling onto his partner’s head during a sexual encounter. Imagine her surprise. She demanded, "How could you do that?" Pleased that she was interested in technical matters he proudly said, "I used Sony state of the art Title III equipment." Before he could even tell her about his effective use of other kinds of cameras, such as the one he had hidden in the bathroom, she became even angrier.
She demanded the tape and any others he had made of her. He refused and said, “The tape and machinery are mine. I used them in my house. You have given implied consent by coming into my room and getting neked with me. I have a vivid image of you in my memory. What possible difference could it make that the image also exists on tape? I promise that no one will ever see it but me. An image is just an image, regardless of where it originates or resides. Am I supposed to return the love letters you gave to me as freely as you gave your image? Should I cut you out of the pictures taken of us in that Las Vegas nightclub?”
However, within his limitations, he tried to be reasonable. He said he would be glad to edit the tape so her face was blocked. He said he would make a copy of the tape for her--and to sweeten the deal and as a way of saying he was sorry--even throw in copies of other tapes she wasn't in and some commercially made family films with international stars of stage and screen. He said he would give her the first (or last) half of the present tape (since in fairness half of the tape perhaps did belong to her). He said it would be wasteful and environmentally harmful to follow her Solomonic solution and literally cut the tape cassette itself in half. It would also mean destroying their unique history and preclude him from learning from the experience. He thought that as an archaeology/history major she should have greater appreciation of the need to preserve the past. It was she after all who had told him about Andy Warhol’s argument for the importance of fifteen minutes of fame and about some foreigner with “a funny name” who said that things are only real to Americans on the screen.
The woman felt used and further ripped off after her attorney said that it was necessary for them to review the tape together and to question her about it. The attorney charged her thousands of dollars to research the case, only to conclude that Tom had broken no laws and that a victory in a civil suit was unlikely. She was further upset by the attorney's offer of a significant fee reduction (in fact the sum mentioned would even have created a positive cash flow for her), if she would make a film with
Meanwhile, Back at the Job
Tom was a conscientious and highly motivated dress store employee. However, his social skills were not well developed, and he sometimes showed doubtful judgment. For example, after his regular shift ended, he was caught off-limits (thanks to a recently installed hidden camera) in the video terminal room that was used to monitor the concealed cameras in the changing rooms. Only female employees were allowed in this room. Straight arrow that he is, Voire readily confessed that he was in the room. But he claimed that he was doing research for a paper on shoplifting for his criminal justice class. He thought his employer should be pleased that on his own time he was working to improve his detection skills, and he offered to share the results of his study.
In this case, as with some of the events described above, he sees himself as the victim while others view him as the offender. He feels he is often treated unfairly because of his gender. He sees discrimination in the fact that only female employees could work in the video-monitoring room, even though he had more detection experience and seniority than most who worked there. He states, “It has been well established in the courts that gender is not a bona fide occupational qualification for security or prison guard work.” When he asked why he could not work there, he was told, "It's not right to have men secretly watch women undress." To which he replied, "I am a professional and this is no different than a female doctor dealing with a male patient. My viewing is neither seamy nor steamy. They are just blobs of protoplasm to me. It's just a job. I have no personal feelings about any of this other than craftsmanship. If this were a men's store and I were a woman, I would be watching them just as carefully.”
Introducing a hypothetical (the last resort of the imaginative unbounded by the empirical) he asked, "Even if it's true that I obtain some gratification from this activity, so what?" He offers a reoccurring rationale:--"They didn't even know I was watching, so no harm was done."
Tom said that he resented the implication that he was somehow "a cowardly and exploitative free rider copping a symbolic feel while enshrouded in a prophylactic of invisibility and distance" (a phrase encountered in his women’s studies class from a reading critical of pornography). He wasn’t quite sure what that meant but it didn’t sound good. He said, “If anyone was ‘getting off’ [i.e., obtaining inappropriate sexual gratification] on this stuff, it’s not a trained professional like me. I just want to do my job. It’s those unprofessional . . . [degrading explicatives banned by the clinic’s manual on nonsexist report writing] female guards, most of whom have never even taken a criminal justice class or stolen anything themselves.” He then cited an obscure study that found that police officers with records as juvenile delinquents did better on the job.
There were also problems with customers in the store. Several female customers complained that Tom seemed too friendly. But as always, as a paradigmatic sociopath, he had an explanation. A company directive issued a short time before required employees to “smile, greet, and make eye contact with the customer.” Employees were told that “secret shoppers” would check to see if they followed this as well as other company policies. Tom claimed that in being friendly to the ladies, especially to those he called hot “ice queen machines,” he was just doing his job and following orders, although he added, “Having to always put on a happy face makes me feel like a robot.”
The above incidents along with numerous complaints about him to the store’s anonymous hot line, resulted in Voire’s being asked to attend a meeting with Andrea Comstock, the store’s newly hired gender relations facilitator. Tom was not sure what her job was but he thought it sounded interesting. He was not told whether the meeting was mandatory. But it had to be better than working. He also felt it important to explain his concerns in the hope of contributing to a less hostile work environment. He knew that authority was just, even if sometimes it seemed a little misguided and too responsive to political concerns.
The facilitator began by explaining that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the numerous complaints that had been received about his behavior. Tom was stunned. He assumed that the purpose of the meeting was to consider the signed complaints he had made about discrimination in the workplace. After listening to the range of nonspecific, anonymous complaints, Tom asked if it was true that the gender relations facilitator had recently immigrated from a country famous for its carpets, where she had worked for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. She had no idea what he was talking about and moved on to the real issues.
One type of complaint dealt with unwanted computer communication sent to female employees. Several individuals thought that Tom, with his knowledge of computers and distinctive personality, might be responsible. There were hints and allegations but no solid evidence to support this.
All unmarried female employees under the age of forty had received warm, even syrupy, e-mails that flattered them and speculated on what it would be like to be their friend and to know them in a more personal way. There was nothing overtly threatening in the messages, but many found it ominous to receive such a personal message from an unknown person. Had it been signed by someone they knew and had not the same personal tone and content characterized all the messages, this might have been seen as just the initial foray of a shy, au courant nineties kind of electronic guy. However messages were signed L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries, the name of the photographer played by Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.
There were also complaints about a Web site that actually was run out of Finland. But borders being what they were (or rather what they weren’t) with this new technology, it didn’t matter where the data were located. The Web site contained the photo image, height, weight, age, marital status, salary, latest performance evaluation, social security number, address, and phone number of all female employees. These data could only have been taken from the store’s personnel records. To make matters worse, the photos were rated on a scale from one to ten as to desirability. A disclaimer intended to soothe hurt feelings for those with low ratings did not have that effect. It read, “This is a purely personal rating. It reflects nothing more than my subjective sense of attractiveness. If you don’t like your score, please take heart and note that in a society as diverse as ours there is no single correct standard.” In some cases, however, suggestions were offered for how a rating might be improved.
Tom denied that he was responsible for the above. He said, “Women should be treated in all their rich individuality and should not just be checked out like pieces of meat and given a grade.” He said he agreed with Jack Nicholson who, in one of his films said that women must be seen as a whole. Yet Tom also said, “As a matter of principle I am not opposed to such Web pages. They are in the best American tradition of freedom of expression and self-help, while being responsive to feedback from others. If individuals aren’t interested in their rating they needn’t log on to the site. That’s what freedom of choice is all about and why America is a great country.”
Continuing on the theme of open communication, he volunteered that while he was not directly responsible, he had given some technical advice via e-mail to an anonymous individual. The individual subsequently posted information on executive salaries and compensation packages and “for your eyes only” memos on the company’s Web site. Tom said, “I did that because this is a publicly traded company and as an employee and stockholder, I have a strong interest in seeing that the company is healthy. I know that openness is central and that dastardly deeds are more likely in the dark.”
There were other complaints about the pictures of women that Tom had posted inside his locker and about his sometimes wearing T-shirts with vulgar language and images. Tom said the locker pictures had artistic value and he spoke proudly of his pinup collection. He felt hurt when his offer to share the pictures with his interlocutor was rejected. He noted that the pictures were inside his locker and if the complainants didn’t like that, they didn’t have to peer into his locker as they walked by. In contrast he said, “Unlike some employees, I would never use a sexually suggestive computer screensaver because it indiscriminately broadcasts to anyone in the vicinity.” Because he used his own lock, he said that his locker was a private place beyond the reach of the store’s policies. With respect to the T-shirts, he said duty compelled him to wear them in order to blend in as an ordinary customer when he was on plainclothes duty looking for shoplifters.
Several complainants noted that Tom continued to invite them out after they had refused him. While noting that he was always a gentleman, he didn’t deny his persistence. He believed they were just playing hard to get and thereby trying to increase their appeal to him (a ploy recommended by several “how to catch a guy” guidebooks he had strategically memorized in order to be prepared). Then, in a pattern that he frequently shows, he drew on a quote from a famous person to legitimate his actions. In this case, it was Winston Churchill who, according to Tom, was reputed to say, “Don’t give up, never, never, never.”
Tom acknowledged that his behavior might be misinterpreted. But he eschews any responsibility by saying, “My gender made me do it.” More subtle than an argument about raging male hormones, he noted research reporting that men are not as good at reading nonverbal and verbal cues as women and hence it is harder for them to take a hint.
Another type of complaint was more vague. Several women said they didn’t like the way he looked at them. They said it made them feel uncomfortable and objectified. But they could go no further in explaining the problem.
When told that the women didn’t like the way he looked, Voire’s response was seen as hostile and defensive. He began testily asserting, “Look, I’m sorry about the way I look. This is the face God gave me. If they don’t like the way I look, maybe they should wear those glasses that change reality or better still, just don’t look at me. I am proud of the way I look and carefully follow the dress code.”
The facilitator explained that it was not his appearance (his evaluations always noted that his uniform was proper and his shoes were shined), but the way he looked at women. Tom smiled at the misunderstanding, but he was just as well defended: “I’m really confused. As a child I was told to always look others in the eye. If you want to make someone you know feel bad, walk right by them without making eye contact.” He added, “From my reading of women’s magazines in supermarket checkout stands, I know that most women want very much to be noticed by men. The cosmetic and fashion industries do everything they can to make that happen. I see how women look at their reflection in mirrors and store and car windows and how they are always checking their lipstick. In my social psychology class I learned about Professor Cool’s ‘looking-glass self’ that says that our sense of self depends on how we perceive others seeing us. 1. Men, after all, are not the ones who carry a little mirror in their pocket and makeup to disguise their real appearance.
“The facts back this up. I read in People magazine about a study that found young women enjoy seeing and imagining themselves in enticing lingerie. They like the idea of being appreciated by men for their appearance. I will not deny that I take maximum advantage of what the situation offers. But I use neither coercion nor deception in doing that. That is very different from taking advantage of another person. Sure I like to look, but I do that to honor them. Even though I failed my one philosophy class, I recall reading that some really smart French guy named Sordid said that to look is to empower the other. 2. The fact that they can make me look and keep looking is a sign of their success.
My sense of masculinity comes from my adoration of women rather than from degrading, denigrating, debasing, defaming, disparaging, and dissing them the way some men do. My gaze is one of wonderment and appreciation --just look at Ginger Rogers who did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it backwards and in high heels. I want to be equal to and please women, rather than dominate and anger them. Looks have to be separated from words and words from deeds. I never suggested anything indecorous like threading the needle, getting my ashes hauled, or rifling her thong. 3.
“Whoever complained about the way I look is not being honest. If they don’t want to be looked at, why do they dress that way? If it is a virtue not to look, their behavior prevents me from being virtuous. While I don’t think I have done anything wrong (quite the opposite), whatever you call my behavior–they made me do it and are cooperating coconspirators. If anything, I am the victim and am harassed by the tension their appearance arouses in me. It’s like blaming the metal pieces drawn to a magnet because they can’t resist, rather than seeing the power of the magnet. If I am the one who gets in trouble here, it would be better to live in one of those societies where women were fully covered (or maybe absent altogether), offering nothing to look at. This is a cruel game in which men can’t win–the temptation offers either the agony of denial or the apparent sin of activation that in my case consists of nothing more than looking.
“There is something else here. This is like censors who get to watch the stuff people are not supposed to watch. It’s ironic that my accusers had to watch me, in order to complain about me watching them. I’d also like to accuse them of visual entrapment. How do I file a complaint?” He then ranted on about the behavior of Lot’s wife who lived in Sodom and the temptation that Eve offered. He said he thought the latter were not simply a function of the role of men in writing the Bible.
The facilitator asked him if he looked at men in the same way, and he said, “Of course not, what kind of a guy do you think I am?” Fortunately she didn’t have to answer that. He then launched into a long monologue about how as a child he had learned to survive in his tough neighborhood by avoiding eye contact with males. That pattern continued to the present. He said that some male violence, particularly that against gay men, was triggered by such eye contact. He ended his manic Lenny Bruce monologue wondering if gay persons got more pleasure out of looking at themselves than straight persons, since they were, in a sense, objects of their own desire.
Other anonymous hot line complaints said that Tom was often in the vicinity of the women's restroom and that he even sometimes used the facilities (some employees thought he was the one responsible for the toilet seat sometimes being left up).
Tom said he was fascinated by the feminist movement (he said any woman’s movement was of interest to him) and he was a strong supporter of gender equality. One issue that particularly caught his eye (so to speak) was the case for unisex bathrooms. But in this case he was no Rosa Parks and had more mundane reasons for his behavior. He states, “I have nothing to hide and once I explain the situation I am sure you’ll understand. Yes, I do sometimes use the ladies' room and for good reason. I have a stomach ailment, which causes nature to call suddenly and irregularly. The facility in the smaller men's room is often occupied and farther away. There is sometimes no alternative but to go into the larger women's room that is directly across from my office. I only went in when I was under extreme pressure and when I was sure no one else was there. Besides, the men’s room doesn’t have those nice chintz-covered lounge chairs, and the women’s room offers a greater level of privacy and cleanliness. The men’s room has vulgar graffiti and I feel harassed by the dope-smoking men hiding there. The women’s room feels like a safe place.
“In my sociology of law and gender class, I studied the law of ‘indecent exposure.’ Neither indecency nor exposure were present here, only need. I was in a stall with the door closed in a room with its outer door closed. Weren’t bathrooms designed for this purpose? In being denied the opportunity to use the women’s room when it was the most accessible, I feel the same way I did when I couldn’t join the gym across the street from my house because it was only for women. For reasons of women’s mental and physical well-being I was told there must be ‘man-free zones.’ I like being around women and can’t imagine wanting a ‘woman-free zone’. That would be discriminatory and cruel and unusual punishment. Like that song says, we need to all ‘come together right now.’”
Ever optimistic, the gender relations counselor saw this largely as a failure to communicate, not as a problem of structure, culture, or lunacy. Tom agreed with the counselor on at least one point: “There was indeed a failure to communicate, but it was on your part not mine. I explained my behavior and pointed out how I was victimized. Yet you refused to hear me or really listen to my words. I did no wrong, and I intended no wrong. I can’t be held responsible for other people’s misperceptions.
“I am a very moral person and apply two well-established standards in judging conduct. The first from the Greek tradition stresses behavior. My behavior was beyond reproach. The second from the Christian tradition stresses motives and intentions. I certainly intended no harm and my motives--of showing appreciation for others and of wanting equal access--are hardly the stuff out of which gender wars ought to be fought. I am truly sorry if their perceptions of my behavior made some women feel badly. If that is the case, they need to deal with their feelings and not externalize the problem by making me a scapegoat. They need counseling, not me. In a democratic society you also might at least take a survey before reaching conclusions–what about the silent majority who felt good about what they perceived in my behavior? Don’t we need some balance here?
“And one more thing, while we are talking about the Greeks, we are reminded to ask the question, ‘What’s the big deal about this privacy stuff anyway?’ For them, the greatest value was placed on public life. It was there that one’s sense of identity was to be found. Privacy, being the realm of slaves, women, and children who were restricted to the home, was not valued. To be private meant deprivation. Have you ever wondered where the word ‘privy,’ came from?” The counselor being a big city person thought that privy was an adjective and didn’t know it could also be a noun. “For the Greeks, the erotic was connected with self-knowledge. It was only those dirty-minded, copy-cat Romans who later claimed that there was something wrong with erotic gazes.”
In spite of her training, the gender relations specialist was flustered and didn’t know how to professionally deal with Tom. The role-playing sessions in graduate school were never like this. She tried to move on to the next issue. But not before Tom asked her if she felt uncomfortable talking about sexuality, either her own or in general. He noted that ambivalence was natural to the human condition. He asked if she had ever considered Freud’s suggestion that some women were angry because they were not men.
He pointed out that their meeting was very one-sided. She asked questions and he responded. Tom said he was interested in knowing her feelings, both as a professional and as a woman, about what he had said. He wanted a true dialogue. They were work colleagues after all. He volunteered to make his observations and references available to her and, in a supportive fashion, indicated that he would be glad to discuss her feelings or any problems. She gracefully demurred and resisted the impulse to press her personal panic button or the hidden alarm summoning a guard.
He asked her if she was aware of the irony and lack of equity in experts such as herself being licensed to pry into his life regarding his interest in the lives of women, while she refused to share her feelings and experiences with him. He asked if she had seen a recent issue of Psychology Today in which research showed the importance of reciprocity in relationships. He asked her whom she would share his information with. He then launched into another monologue about professionals and their inability to share power.
The counselor gave Tom a series of tests and realized that he was the stuff out of which clinical articles and even careers are made. In one projective test, she showed him a card with a series of lines all leaning to the right. When asked what it was, he replied, “A man chasing a woman.”
She showed him a card with all the lines leaning to the left and he replied, “That’s a woman chasing a man.” The facilitator said, “You seem to think an awful lot about sex.” Tom looked surprised and replied, “Sex is not awful. It’s wonderful. Guilt might be your chauffeur, lady, but it’s not mine. And besides, Doctor, they’re your dirty pictures.” He didn’t deny his interests and the fact that he liked to watch. But he said (in spite of having taken several sociology courses), “My genes made me do it.” Neither he, nor any other male, could be blamed for the research finding that in matters of romance, men were more responsive to the visual and women to words. He described himself as a “see-er.” He professed to see deep mythological and sacred meaning in the fact that this had the same roots and sound as “seer.” That being a “seer” could also sear was beyond his comprehension.
In her report, the counselor said the company needed to better explain its expectations and rules. She recommended additional testing and then counseling for Tom and also some upgrading and better maintenance and security in the men’s facilities. She thought some operant conditioning using penile plethysmography might also be appropriate. 4. She thought Tom was creepy and she didn’t like the way he looked at her. She thought a male gender relations counselor might be more understanding and do a better job of explaining the company to Tom (and although she didn’t put it in her report, of explaining Tom to the company). It all might have ended there but for one more little nest-fouling incident.
This Coffee Sure Is Strong!
Ever respectful of authority, Tom was never the less very upset after the meeting. He said, “Anonymous informers are the stuff of police states not democratic-capitalist states. I have a right to confront my accusers and for a detailed bill of particulars. This is no process, not due process.” He did not like confrontation and was a nonviolent person. He often contrasted himself with a distant cousin name Earl who had gone missing several years ago. 5. Tom said men were too quick to resort to violence and he wished they could become more taunting, snide, and gossipy.
Tom could become passionate over issues of justice as he perceived them. The passive-aggressive personality that kept him out of big troubles continually got him into little troubles. The great voyeur was again lifted on the petard of the technology he favored. The day after the interview, a hidden camera caught him urinating into the executive office coffeepot.
When confronted about this, as always, he was well defended and up front. He didn’t deny it or claim that the tape had been faked as some might have. He defended himself by principles of reciprocity, lesser evils, and the absence of harm: “The company treated me badly and I owed them one. They had it coming and this kind of fighting back is the only weapon a powerless worker like me has. Any company that treats employees this way should expect retaliation.
“After all, I hardly went postal on ‘em. I just pissed for a second, I didn’t empty my bladder. That coffee is so strong they’d never have known were it not for the camera. Lots of employees get away with far worse–beating up the boss, stealing, selling information, sabotaging production. What I did didn’t hurt anybody. It’s like those victimless crimes where if the ‘victim’ doesn’t know about it they can’t be said to be hurt. I even read in True Adventure about a man dying of thirst in the desert who survived by drinking his own urine. What about all the good work I’ve done and all the times I have followed the rules that you don’t have on videotape? Surely that overwhelms one minor mistake.
“Watching potential shoplifters with a hidden camera is one thing. It would be unprofessional not to do that. But it is wrong to do that to trusted employees, especially without telling them. I see how some literal-minded persons unable to see the big picture and mitigating factors might think that what I did was wrong, but it is far worse to use the sneaky means you used.
“My actions pale in comparison to the deceit and gross invasion of privacy the company demonstrates in using a hidden camera against its own employees. What kind of a message does that send to people like me? How would you feel if you were secretly videotaped while urinating and that tape was then seen by others of both genders and various sexual persuasions?”
Ogling female employees was one thing. Urinating in the boss’s coffeepot was quite another. This led to an investigation and a high-level review resulting in a decision to terminate employment.
The company's media relations specialist said, "This guy's a public relations Chernobyl waiting to happen. Let the explosion occur in someone else's neighborhood." The company's consulting psychologist, losing his detached, clinical manner, said, "This clown isn't funny. He’s a fruitcake, heavy on the nuts and likely contagious….He is either one of the world's dumbest or smartest people. Either way the subversive nature of his perceptions and claims are dangerous to the company's well established-routines. He sure as hell won't help us bring down those medical insurance premiums that my bonus depends on."
The company's legal counsel, aware of the recent trend toward million-dollar-plus settlements for fostering unwelcoming work environments, gender discrimination, and privacy invasions, was direct: "Terminate his employment--but not because he is a man. Let’s also be sure the transcripts of the [illegal] wiretaps on his home phone and computer modem get shredded since we didn’t find anything incriminating on them. I’d hate to have to explain those in court or to the public.”
In what he later claimed was just a joke and an expression of his feelings, not a call for direct action, Rocky Bottoms, the company's national director of security, was even more blunt: "Terminate with extreme displeasure" (a euphemism for assassination from his earlier days as an intelligence operative).
Voire was called to a meeting intended to be an austere degradation and departure ceremony in the normally off-limits presidential suite. The director of personnel, the epitome of grease under pressure, wearing a bulletproof vest, said, in the best syrupy, somber pseudo-sincere tones of a funeral director expressing the same sympathetic concern fourteen times a day, "Son, the hardest part of my job is making personnel decisions, but someone has got to do it. Whether it be hiring or firing, I always ask God for the strength to be fair, to get the facts correct, and to do what is best for the company and the individual. There is nothing personal here."
The director thanked Voire for his efforts on behalf of the company and praised him for his technical skills and ambition. He said he was sure these strengths would help Voire in his next job, and he was sure that if Voire received help, there would be a next job. There was a big demand in the security field, especially for those hard-to-fill minimum-wage jobs without benefits.
Voire listened patiently and with great dignity and composure, considering the fact that he had just been fired. He was never at a loss for a worldview that served his interests, however strange his views might seem to the more privileged and conventional people holding the reins of reality definition.
With all the stylish, macho chutzpa of a world-class sociopath about to prevail in a high-stakes poker game, he said (in the best of diplomatic and conflict resolution traditions), "Thank you, sir, for sharing your views. I have gotten a great deal out of working here and, while we may have had our differences, I am grateful to my fellow workers, my immediate and more distant supervisors, the janitors and kitchen crew, and even the stockholders and our customers whose efforts and belief in this company made it possible for me to do my job here.
“Yet you have erred badly in your analysis of these events and in the course of action you propose. You have obviously not considered the implications of the fact that I have a tape recording of the meeting at which my case was discussed. 6.
“Being in security work I have learned the importance of being discrete. I hold no grudges, although I have good reason to. There is nothing personal here. Jesus counsels me to have compassion and forgiveness. I don't wish to quibble about the past. It is best for all of us to look to the future.
“I am a reasonable person. I will give you the only copy of the tape and I will resign from my job (I would not want to work for an employer that discriminates against males, secretly videotapes employees and eavesdrops on their communications, destroying the trust and family feeling that I seek from my job). I will be pleased to accept a relocation stipend of $25,000 in appreciation of my contributions to the company.”
True to his word, in their second meeting, Voire handed over the “only copy of the tape” (although he kept the original) and received his check. The personnel director apologized profusely and said, "Son, we are all deeply sorry about this misunderstanding. The company very much appreciates your understanding and sensible solution.”
After his last day at work and receiving his severance pay, Tom was feeling dejected and lonely. He drove to the entertainment district and was arrested for “loitering for the purpose of soliciting a prostitute,” even though there was no mention of a sex act in exchange for money. The attractive "prostitute", dressed in high heels, hot pants, and a revealing halter was an undercover policewoman. Voire claimed that he simply wanted someone to talk to. She was wired for sound, but unfortunately much of the tape is garbled and static-filled, and even some of the clearly discernible conversation is subject to different interpretations. For example, when she runs her tongue across her lips while lasciviously staring at him and initiates conversation by saying, "Hi, honey, you look like you need a friend and could use a good time," and he says, "I just got paid, do you want to go on a date?" do we have entrapment, misdemeanor solicitation, or neither?
But the vagaries of justice apart, he had the misfortune to have this incident occur during a heated local election in which law and order was the central issue. Rival candidates argued about who could crack down most severely on crime, and they engaged in purity contests, challenging each other to provide tax forms, drug and sexually transmitted disease tests, and affidavits attesting to their marital fidelity and to the fact that they had never had psychological counseling. Some even went so far as to report their cholesterol levels and church attendance records. Voire was sentenced to six months in jail after a five-minute trial. Even before being found guilty, he saw himself on the six o’clock news. A “ride-along” television crew had captured his encounter. His image and his license plate (with the last numeral omitted) were recorded by a local self-help group and posted on a “videovigilante” community Web page. Since all of this happened on a “public” street his permission was not required. He felt terribly invaded by such behavior.
Yet fortune smiled on him. His jail was more enlightened than many and had a nationally recognized training program. Contracts with major health insurers gave prisoners on-the-job training in using computers to process medical reports. The program paid for itself (and even made a profit that was used to expand the jail system which then permitted putting even more inmates to work in a constantly expanding program).
Voire excelled at this, working many extra hours and showing interest in understanding the commercial, as well as the personal, side of personal data. Prison officials were very pleased with his progress. He was featured in a newspaper story that ran nationally about the prison's successful rehabilitation program. The program received an award from an industry group whose goal was the advancement of such public-private partnerships and the breaking down of barriers. Their motto was “the prison in public and the public in the prison.”
Yet Voire rapidly fell out of favor. He refused a generous offer to provide information on his cell mates. His filing of a freedom of information request to learn about possible food additives such as sodium nitrate (AKA NaN03 or Salt Peter) and aromatic engineering additives to the heat and air conditioning systems was not appreciated. He further angered prison officials when they discovered that he had created his own private database of young unmarried women who had recently seen an ob/gyn. This contained extensive personal information culled by characteristics of interest to Tom. This included digital photos (taken as a security measure to counter insurance fraud), addresses, and listed and unlisted phone numbers. He combined this information with other readily available computer information, including census track data, and sold it to pharmaceutical companies, sex therapists, and dating services. As a matter of principle, he refused to sell to individuals or to code ethnicity.
Once the yoke breaks it spills all over. Authorities were even more upset to learn on the TV program 30/30 that Voire had sent anonymous e-mails (using a forwarding service that strips the sender’s address) to many of these women. The letters were plaintive, friendly, and adroitly quasi-personal. As with some mass marketing material that addresses the individual by first name and offers some other specific biographical facts, the recipient could not be sure just what the sender really knew, but there was the distinct possibility that she was personally known, or known about, by the sender.
In his letter Voire described himself as a lonely, gentle, caring, and misunderstood person who had had a hard life and was seeking true companionship from another person in a similar situation. He wrote in general and tasteful terms about his problems with sex. He wondered if women had similar concerns and indicated a desire to better understand their problems and needs. Without getting specific, he indirectly communicated (or at least left it open to interpretation) that he knew and understood why the recipient had seen the doctor (whether for abusive, indifferent, or impotent partners, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, infertility, ambivalence about sexual orientation, PMS, HRT, or body-image concerns). Voire said his purpose here was only to help and he did send an attachment listing various Web sites offering advice on these matters. He said there was nothing in this for him, and he didn’t even include a return address. He pointed out that the prison even had a cyberspace program that sought to find pen pals for inmates as a way of connecting them to the community.
Voire thought he might balance some of the anger that prison officials (and many recipients of his letter) expressed by volunteering information about an altruistic act involving the database. He proudly acknowledged that he was the one responsible for faxing the complete medical history of a politician who was a candidate for the U.S. Congress to all of the state's newspapers. Among other things, the history revealed problems with drug and alcohol abuse and treatment for pathological lying (some constituents were reassured by the report's conclusion that this was more an occupational, than a characterological, thing).
Newspaper editorials praised this as a patriotic act involving the public’s right to know that aided the democratic process. Voire was a bit surprised, however, when the candidate easily won the election--perhaps this was sympathy for an underdog or the public's distrust of her opponent, a sanctimonious politician suspected of telling the truth and known for purity-proving challenges to his opponents.
The furor eventually calmed. Voire was forbidden to be in the same room with a computer and he was reassigned to work in the video-monitored kitchen. He was warned against any unauthorized additions to the soup.
Tom further angered prison officials by challenging personnel practices. He became a leader in a conflict over whether or not there should be female prison guards in the male prison and male guards in the female prison. As a committed egalitarian, he argued strenuously for both. He did not like being “scoped out” by the male guards and said that female guards had a calming effect. Since more than half the population was female, while nationally only about 20 percent of correctional officers were, there was a problem.
Tom strongly disagreed with another inmate who filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the presence of female guards was “embarrassing, humiliating, and offensive to my religious beliefs. My right to practice Christian modesty is denied when women watch me every day as I dress, shower, use the bathroom, and give a urine sample.” The brief argued that this was a form of cruel and unusual psychological punishment that the Eighth Amendment was designed to protect against.
In contrast, Tom filed a brief claiming that to deny women the chance for such work was discriminatory and that to deny men the opportunity to be supervised by them was cruel and unusual punishment. Consistent with modern jurisprudential trends that rely on social science evidence to document impacts, he cited a survey that found that 86.2 percent of male prisoners did not feel invaded by the presence of female guards. These figures actually increased to 88.7 and 91.2 percent when it came to being monitored while taking showers and for strip searches conducted by females. By overwhelming majorities, the prisoners said they actually preferred to be watched by females. Symmetrically, almost all of the female guards reported satisfaction in their surveillance roles as "Big Sister" and that they were not disturbed by male nudity. Tom felt that his case also received support from a survey of female prisoners that found that they, too, overwhelmingly preferred to be watched by women.
On leaving prison, Voire was strongly encouraged to move to another state. If he remained and was arrested again he might be subject to electronic location monitoring and have his whereabouts tracked by global positioning satellite. When not at work he would be required to be at home. He would receive random calls requiring him to breath into a remote breathalyzer and appear in front of a video camera. The parole officer, unlike a police officer, could search his home or person at any time without cause. If a subsequent arrest involved a sexual violation, on release from prison he would be required to send (at his expense) a postcard with his picture, name, address, age, and status as an offender on parole for a sex violation to everyone living in his zip code area. Neighbors might be contacted by his parole officer and asked to keep an eye on him.
Voire chose to leave the state. His Muddy Waters tape with the lines, “If I feel tomorrow the way I feel today, I’m gonna pack my bags and make my getaway,” broke from repetitive playing on the drive to his new home.
Given his avocational and vocational interests, he next sought private security work at a women's hospital. He reported his prior job at the department store but withheld certain crucial details. He said he left because of gender discrimination and a lack of professionalism by the security department in tolerating shoplifting and employee theft that could have been prevented by making more extensive use of available technology. On the advice of their legal counsel (fearing a lawsuit for defamation and the invasion of privacy and seeking to avoid scandal over the illegal taping), his former department store employer simply validated the dates of his employment and his salary but said nothing of the conditions under which he ceased to be an employee.
Because he was imprisoned for a misdemeanor he did not have to report that. The hospital was forbidden by 1988 federal law from applying a polygraph. Instead it gave him a battery of paper and pencil (actually computer keyboard) tests that were designed to ascertain his personality characteristics, honesty, and suitability for security work. Having taken a psychology course in personnel selection and occasionally helping the personnel director administer such tests in his previous job, Tom was ready with the right answers (he even gave a few answers that he knew were wrong, just so his test wouldn't be suspicious by looking too good). The personnel director, a person of stunning sensitivity to the ways that human bias can condition perception, placed great reliance on machine-scored “objective” tests in her hiring decisions. Tom was hired. But alas even machines can make mistakes.
Tom got off to rocky start. He of course claimed that this was not his fault and in this case appears to be correct. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. The hospital was concerned about the theft of drugs and suspected several nurses. Tom was instructed to hide a camera in the ceiling of the nurse's dressing room. He correctly followed the wiring document he was given in which the locker room feed was to go directly to a camera in a secure area (which was to be viewed by a female guard). Unfortunately the wiring document was in error and instead the images were broadcast through the cable of the hospital's main CCTV channel. Vasectomy patients in a recovery room cheered when they saw nurses taking off their clothes and thought this might even be part of their postoperative care. Some elderly patients mistakenly thought they were watching General Hospital and even rang for the nurse when the image seemed frozen. Rumors that Tom had been compromised by one of the nurses and had done this on purpose or that the operation had been sabotaged by a fellow employee involved in drug theft could not be proven.
Tom proposed that he probe the hospital's patient records security system for weak spots. His supervisor was appreciative and Tom did discover a few weaknesses. For fun he also did a computer match running “his” prison database against names in the hospital’s system. He was curious to learn about one Eve Spectre, from his prison database, who had relocated about the same time Tom did.
Every Move You Make and Then Some
After his prison experience, Tom vowed to avoid entanglements with real women and all the dangers they present. Even dating services were out because most now required criminal records and credit history searches. But he couldn’t resist learning all about Eve. Since he had her photo and knew where she lived and worked, identification was elementary. He found her to be exceptionally attractive and was immediately curious about all aspects of her life (beyond what he already knew from her health records). From that moment on, he reports that his private life, or rather his life away from work (being a loner, he did not have a private life in the communal sense that term usually implies), was exciting as never before. He suddenly knew what the poets and balladeers of love were about and he felt a sublime
His psychological problems prevented him from trying to arrange even a contrived meeting.
He followed (in both senses) the new laws on electronic stalking and knew how broadly they could be applied. Given his fear of rejection, or if successful, of sexually transmitted disease, unwanted offspring, his knowledge of the frequency of divorce, and his concern and uncertainty about how men should behave in an age of acute sensitivity to sexual harassment, where telling an off-color joke, complimenting a woman on her appearance, offering a supportive touch, or even looking could get you in trouble, he preferred to be on the sidelines. Nor within his restricted understanding and sensibility did he want to cause her any fear or discomfort. He had learned something about the importance of women’s feelings from his previous job. It seemed rational to opt for a well-developed fantasy life where he was in full control. This arrangement also prevented him from ever having to lie to his beloved about having an affair. Combining his modest understanding of Buddhism (with its emphasis on desire as the source of human unhappiness) with a Harley Davidson advertisement, he organized his social [sic] life around the motto “the eagle rides alone.”
His passive voyeurism received an enormous boost from recent developments in technology. New means of communication were appearing almost daily: cell phones, scanners, digital retouching machines, Web video and soon “smart dust”, “smart rooms”, “smart roads”, “smart clothes” and mechanical telepathy. For Tom, these were turbocharged adrenaline machines speeding up and expanding opportunities for him to satisfy his needs.
The chemistry, timing, and technology were right. Tom was happy as never before. The object of his fascination did not know that she had become the secret actress in a technologically enhanced fantasy. Eve never learned and so was in no way hurt by it (at least that is how Tom feels). The technology precluded the need for them to meet. Given his personality problems, she was probably much better off that way, even with her loneliness.
Tom is at pains to stress that his behavior is within the letter of the law. To insure this he even consulted an attorney and he audited a law class given by Droit Markenberg, a famous privacy advocate who had helped draft federal legislation regarding electronic privacy.
A full list of his activities would be tiresome and serve no useful clinical purpose (whatever its prurient value or anthropological interest to future generations). Let me, however, offer a sample of what he calls his "research techniques" in creating "a safe imaginary friend."
After a few months of waiting he was able to rent an apartment directly across the street from hers. He set up a continuously recording video camera with a telephoto lens directed at her window. By never closing the blinds she unwittingly cooperated. Another camera disguised as an alarm on his outside wall was aimed at her apartment's front door. He could have directly planted a tiny video lens in various rooms in her apartment. But to do that would require trespassing, or entering her apartment on a pretext such as by claiming to be a building inspector. The first was illegal and the second required lying, something he did not do. For several of her rooms this wasn’t even necessary as she unwittingly invited him (and who knows who else) into her home when she installed wireless video cameras. These send an unprotected video signal back to a nearby computer or TV base station (and to anyone with a receiver up to one-quarter of a mile away). Tom spent hours gazing at her furniture. He appreciated her thoughtfulness (or better thoughtlessness –A. F.) but worried that other less responsible observers would also take advantage of her gracious unencrypted offer. Since this was only in some rooms and even then there were blind spots, he closely followed developments in unmanned remote controlled photographic drone technology. However, the smallest commercially available drones were still too large for surreptitious entry, even if sending a fly-sized eavesdropping device through the screen was still legal. Such miniaturized devices were in the planning stages and not yet available.
A parabolic microphone disguised as a satellite dish was also pointed at the window but only worked when the window was open. (He did not use a laser listening device that would have picked up sound vibrations through a closed window because that was illegal.) He attached a specially wired cell phone under her car’s rear fender (he was careful to do this when the car was on a public street so as not to trespass). This continuously sent signals via global positioning satellite to his receiver, so he always knew where her car was, even when it was stolen.
He generated a “sociometric” diagram locating her within a context of family and friends. He did genealogical research tracing her family history. He developed dossiers on her friends, initially identifying many of them from their license plate numbers when they parked in the visitors’ space at her apartment. For a modest fee the Department of Motor Vehicles made additional information available to anyone. (The money from this was used to finance a program putting video cameras at all major intersections.)
He wanted Eve’s vicarious company, but he also felt a manly need to protect her. Eve had someone to watch over her even if she didn’t know it. Beyond satisfying his own needs, with this oversight Tom saw himself as a good Samaritan, unselfishly providing a service in a dangerous and indifferent world. He really believed that it was in her interest, as well as his, to have her under surveillance. For proof he referred to the time he called 911 when a gentlemen caller in her apartment became too aggressive. Another time when he knew she was at work and her apartment was vacant, the thermal-imaging device he also kept pointed at her apartment showed heat radiation from a living being. He called 911 from a pay phone (so it couldn’t be traced) and reported a possible burglary in progress. It turned out to be a neighbor’s St. Bernard that she was temporarily caring for.
He next did a full search of a great many databases. Some of these he accessed directly (e.g., public records files), but for most he relied upon commercial services found on-line. New search services were regularly offered. For a search, all he had to do was supply the name and birth date, address, or social security number.
He noted two items of particular interest. A newspaper search revealed that her father disappeared in 1980 after being released on bail from an arrest on charges of child abuse. Combining a public records search of legal documents with medical records, he noted that within a six-month period in 1990 she underwent an abortion, a tubal ligation, and a divorce.
It would have been easy for him to gain access to everything on her computers at work and at home because both were tied into a network (at home this was a high-speed connection through her satellite television). Eve used her birth date as a password and since she had nothing to hide took no computer security precautions. But Tom resisted the invitation to spy here because to do so would violate the 1986 Electronic Privacy Protection Act, not to mention the fact that it was unsporting and almost beneath his dignity, given the absence of any technical challenge.
From the video cameras (including one built into his sunglasses), his own still photography using a cigarette lighter camera, and images copied from her high school and college yearbooks (obtained from a company whose advertisement he saw on the Web), he developed a photographic portfolio. He scanned his favorite pictures into his state of the art computer. He digitally edited these so that he had only facial images of her. He then made modest changes to her facial appearance (lightening her hair color, changing her eyes to blue, raising her cheekbones, and making her ears flatter and a tad smaller).
Most persons seeing Eve and the new image would assume it was the same person (or perhaps her sister), even though the resemblance was not perfect. These minor editions meant that he could now claim that this was a work of art and not an exact photograph of a known person. This was also true of the images he created of her as a very young and much older woman described below. There simply was no analogue in "reality." If he was ever questioned, he could truthfully say, “I don’t know her from a coat hanger.”
Using a program that generated images of persons at various life stages he also created an age portfolio taking her from age fifteen up to seventy-five. He then did the same for himself. He digitally joined their images to create a photographic history of their "relationship" from the teenage years on up. In some cases (as with his high school prom picture), he used a "real" picture and simply replaced her face with that of the girl he had actually taken to the prom.
He then digitally edited the videos of his previous sexual exploits adding the retouched head of his obsession onto the bodies of the real women he had known. He also engaged in minor retouching of their bodies (covering a birthmark here, enlarging breasts, or adding a tattoo there), believing that they would never sue him for putting them in false light or defamation. He thought they actually looked a little better and that they would be pleased with his handiwork if they could see it. As a final leitmotif, inspired by the knowledge that in his paintings Degas had his benefactors watching the dancers from the wings, Tom created a window into the room and had several real and imagined former lovers looking through it.
He was surprised to see that with his digital editing it was possible to write on the body more clearly and at greater length than was possible with actual tattoos (and unlike them it didn’t hurt and wasn’t indelible). At first he just wrote "Tom's Property," "I [heart] Tom," and "touch here." Later he added a line from Thomas Edison: "What the hand of man creates the head of man can control." Another inscription read “Rosebud” and even more enigmatically, “Hey, hon, don’t forget the coffee.” These appear to have something to do with Hollywood movies. 7.
The sexual (and of course other) activities of participants, their appearance, and places that might be visually created here were literally only inhibited by deficiencies of imagination and technical and artistic skills. For example, he reduced and duplicated some of his favorite images so that they could be seen on the same frame--it was as if she had been cloned and become a triplet and each of her sisters was engaged in a different sexual activity with him at the same time. He used jump cuts to increase the realism, and there were also hints of cubist influence in his simultaneously presenting the subject from a variety of perspectives.
He further enhanced his creations with simulated conversations between Eve and himself. Using a speech synthesizer he was able to fairly accurately reproduce the sound and timing of her voice. Tom legally heard some of her phone conversations (until she obtained a more sophisticated cordless phone) through the UHF frequency of his old television set. Even if this had been discovered (which was highly unlikely), it is pretty hard to imagine him being found guilty for just having his television set on. If he wanted to, he could also have used a radio wave scanner purchased in 1984 before possession of this type was restricted. Cellular interceptors could still be purchased by those in law enforcement and for export. Nor did he want to risk trespass and possibly other charges in attaching a transmitter directly to her telephone or hiding a transmitter elsewhere. He also obtained a voice sample from her answering machine. Through a trial and error process he determined the two-digit security access code for her answering machine and voice messaging system at work (although he could have also purchased a machine for doing this). He kept current of her messages by remotely accessing her answering machine. He subjected her messages to voice stress analysis so he could determine who might be lying. He also obtained some live speech data (always using a pay phone to avoid caller-ID) by calling her at work and at home using a variety of subterfuges (wrong number, newspaper sales, charitable solicitations, political polls). He took an average of his (her?) (his possession of her?) voice samples and generated the appropriate logarithms for voice simulation.
With that data he could program her to say anything and could actually create conversations in which they "interacted" and discussed everything. These were a far cry from the mournful nineteenth-century soliloquies of undying and unrequited love delivered in front of the mirror or scrawled in a diary or a never-to-be-mailed letter. In being interactive, this technique went beyond one of Tom’s favorite cinema scenes--the opening to the Conversation in which the watcher, inside a surveillance van fitted with one-way mirrors, has a one-way conversation with a young woman looking in the mirror as she puts lipstick on. Were someone to overhear the conversations, they’d be convinced that Eve was in the room with Tom (although hearing the same exact conversations over and over would have aroused suspicion and gotten boring). This might be seen as the ultimate in narcissism or as an ideal merging (as the guidebooks and poets counsel) of the selves of lovers. They certainly never had any fights, and it was clear who was in control.
As noted, Tom was very up at this point and wanted to share the good news about being in love. After all, what was the point of being a voyeur if you could not advertise your triumphs? Unshared secrets were only half the fun, especially with the safety of cyberspace. He said his sociology class stressed this as a chameleon insight. 8.
He did all the work needed to create a Web site with a full account of his feelings for the woman, the sexual activities they engaged in, her past social and medical history, her credit ratings, and consumption habits and so on. He also wrote in nonpacifist terms about what he would do if she ever betrayed him (this was obviously academic since they had never met). He glossed over my suggestion that perhaps he was a bit like his cousin Earl after all. Tom said he was dealing in fictional hypotheticals. He programmed a Web cam so that anyone going to the cite could see the street in front of her house and her front door in real time.
His entrepreneurial imagination ran wild. He thought of offering a service to help others like himself create such partners. His own Web site would be proof of what could be done. For a modest fee, he would provide T and A (technology and assistance). For an even larger fee, he would offer a complete package. He even thought that with his knowledge of databases he could serve as a sort of matchmaker in the ether. He would of course open the site by announcing, “Warning: This site does not condone or recommend participating in any illegal or questionable activities. This site is meant for entertainment purposes only.” But for reasons that we are still exploring in therapy, he could not bring himself to activate the Web site.
He was able to find other more confined ways of communicating and sharing the joy. For example, he converted some of the images to postcards (although these only of her face) and he had others blown up to poster size to adorn his walls. In his photo class he offered some of the stills (with face disguised) as homework. Opinion was divided and the teacher even called in colleagues for their opinion. They concluded that while a few of the images showed considerable artistic merit, most were just plain smut.
Tom wasn’t content with two dimensional representations. He purchased five mannequin replicas of her. From Eve’s photo, the fabricator was able to recreate her facial appearance. These he placed with appropriate dress around his apartment (on the sofa, sitting at the kitchen table, etc.). From working at the dress store, watching the fashion ads, and years of observation, Tom was very knowledgeable about women’s clothes. He found it easy to reproduce Eve’s type of wardrobe and even improve on it, using more expensive clothes and colors that better suited her complexion.
A final example of his bizarre fixation can be seen in the rag kept in a small jar prominently displayed on his mantle, right alongside of his bowling trophy and his autographed pictures of Frances Ford Coppola and G. Gordon Liddy. In a criminalistics class, he had read of the high art form to which the East Germans had taken scent as a means of identification. Stasi offices were overflowing with neatly stacked sealed jars with little rags in them, each representing a suspected enemy of the people. Humans unknowingly constantly mark their territory. After suspects left an interrogation, police would wipe something they had touched or their chair with a cloth to get the smell and then label and bottle it. When graffiti or vandalism occurred, police would rub the site for scents and then use a specially trained dog to see if a match could be made. On balmy summer weekends, Eve often read on a bench in a nearby park. It was easy enough for him to rub the bench after she left in order to collect his (or rather her?–who does a smell or a sound belong to after leaving its creator?) scent.
Of course Tom didn’t need this to identify her since he already knew who she was (and where she was). But it gave him pleasure to think of Eve’s presence always there on the mantle in the same room with him, much as those who keep the ashes of a loved one close at hand in an urn, or a lock of childhood hair in a necklace, must feel. True, he couldn’t use the secret possession of her territorial markings the way he could the photographs or the conversations or the letters. The distinctive smell was too weak for the human nose. Nor could he even test the ability of a dog to identify it since his apartment prohibited animals. But as the secret colonizer of her scent, he possessed her in a truly original way denied her other lovers. The fact that a part of her was always there, for better or for worse and in good times and bad, filled him with awe about the universe. It was uplifting and wondrous to be reminded that there were many things under the sun that mere humans could not
perceive. He had the same feelings in his moonstruck gazing at her DNA patterns described below.
Voire at first was very excited by the thought of the riches the trash might provide. He knew that the U.S. Supreme Court (although not the city of Beverly Hills, even if contents had been shredded) had concluded that it was okay to dumpster dive, so there was no risk there. True, he did learn a considerable amount about Eve’s finances and her heating bills (the house was overheated, according to EPA standards), who she made long distance calls to (her mother, grandmother, a college roommate, and a famous psychic seen on national TV), and about her rhythms. He knew about her consumption habits from itemized credit card bills and barcode-generated receipts from grocery, liquor, drug, book, and video stores. In spite of his allergies, he occasionally sprayed her favorite perfume on the mannequins.
Eve’s diet left much to be desired. It was high in polyunsaturated fats and she did not consume the FDA-recommended minimum daily amounts of riboflavin, molybdenum, boron, or tin. Nor as far as he could tell did she take a calcium supplement. Her taste in videos included Cooking with Moldy Cheeses and Perry Como Does Denver and in books, Walking Tours of the Sahara Desert and the Autobiography of Lawrence Welk.
So compelled was he to know everything about her that he spent thousands of dollars having her DNA analyzed (the DNA sample came from cell tissue on her discarded depilatory wax). Ever the visual person, he enlarged the image showing her unique DNA sequences. It looked like some kind of 1950s modern art, what with the lines of varying width and length, to which he added colors of the rainbow. He did the same for himself and joined them in a large red heart shaped frame hung over his bed--a bit idiosyncratic but very personal and original. This wall hanging stood right next to the homey touch he added with pictures of all her previous residences. He obtained the addresses from a data warehouse. He then purchased high resolution satellite photos of these locations, reduced them, and created a collage.
The DNA medical report was fascinating. He noted with pride that she would make a wonderful biological mother. Yet one thing was troubling. She had a genetic potential for an incurable disease. He thought for a long time about whether he should inform her of this. After posing this as a hypothetical on countless computer bulletin boards, he decided not to inform her. First, because he couldn't think of an effective ruse to explain how he came to know about her DNA (although there is no law against this). After all, it’s not like finding someone's wallet on the street or getting a letter for them addressed to the wrong address. But mainly his reason was that she could do nothing about it.
The DNA offered still other distant possibilities. Ever mindful of not wanting to intrude into Eve’s life or in any way bother her, but very driven to want more of/from her, he became very interested in the idea of cloning. While he realized it was probably too late for him to clone her (unless a way could be found to vastly accelerate the growth process so he wouldn’t have to wait twenty years), he thought how wonderful it might be for others (regardless of gender) if this could be done. It seemed like a win/win situation. It offered the protective distance of voyeurism with the addition of physicality. The cloned version would be his property after all. Or would it? The strength of his desire precluded him from considering any of the ethical, legal, or social implications.
In spite of small gains, there was not much fantasy food in the garbage. Going through the trash was dirty work in more ways than one. He did not enjoy getting up at 4 a.m. to make his garbage runs. It was cold in the winter and smelly in the summer. He had to go through a number of trash bags to get to hers, and the bags sometimes broke. The world's insect overpopulation problem seemed to be centered in this row of trash. He had to compete with roving dogs and a particularly nasty rat with rival interests in the garbage. Sometimes, homeless persons got to the trash first, and several times he saw a better-dressed person, who he assumed to be a private detective, take a bag and leave an identical one in its place. He was amazed at what could grow on take-out Chinese food in only a few days. With so much rotting fruit, kitty litter, used tissues, and broken glass, the ratio of good stuff to garbage hardly made the search worthwhile.
There were occasionally some revealing personal passages in draft copies of letters to a girlfriend. One involved a description of a dream in which she is a biologist who specializes in the sex life of marsupials and receives international acclaim for discovering the source of an infertility crisis among kangaroos. But this ends sadly as U.S. customs refuses her request to import a special kangaroo who was central to her work. Mostly the letters expressed concerns about a boring job, cellulite, shopping, and a baseball team that always seemed to lose. Among the pharmaceutical remnants there were no packages for birth control pills or aphrodisiacs but many for constipation, diarrhea, acne, and the removal of unwanted facial hair. In his words, "This stuff was a real turn off."
At that point, a book he found at the laundromat by Professor Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, led Voire to reassess his behavior. The book argued for the importance, and even sanctity, of back-stage regions and personal borders. It claimed that these make it possible for us to cooperatively sustain appreciative illusions in our own eyes and in the eyes of others and are central to human dignity. It was then that he came to me for therapy.
1. Note that pop culture overwhelms his memory here. The correct name is Professor Horton Cooley.
2. Here he no doubt refers to Jean-Paul Sartre who borrowed these ideas from Hegel.
3. Note to reader. When I (A. F.) interviewed the facilitator, she had no idea of what he is referring to here.
4. This is a technique she was familiar with as a result of a graduate school internship. See, for example, G. Launay, “The Phallometric Assessment of Sex Offenders: Some Professional and Research Issues,” Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 4: 48-70 (1994).
5. As a good ink-blotter clinician, I try to keep myself out of our therapeutic conversations. Yet I did admit (to Tom’s great surprise) that I had never heard of his cousin Earl or a singing group called something like The Dipsy Sicks [Six?] or The Dixie Chocks who sang “Good-bye Earl.”
6. There was disagreement about how Voire came to possess the tape and he did not want to discuss this. Some said it came from a laser device aimed from across the street at the unprotected windows (i.e., no blinds or pulled drapes); some said it had been secretly recorded and given to him by the director’s own secretary, a talented older woman with warm maternal feelings for Tom and many reasons to resent her boss; some said it came from another executive and was to be part of a power play that he intended to use at the right time as a propellant in his corporate climb and that his briefcase containing the tape had been stolen. As is often the case with conspiracy theories, there is likely a simpler explanation. The meeting held just prior to the one on Voire had been openly taped. The responsible technician was called away just before that meeting ended and he simply left the equipment on.
7. Respectively, Citizen Kane and Good Will Hunting.
8. I believe he means Simmelian insight.
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