On September 25th, 2019 the James W. Carey Memorial Lecture committee presented – “Surveillance: Lessons from Popular Film” – Featuring J. Macgregor Wise from Arizona State University at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus.
You might wonder, what is surveillance and how is it relevant to me? In Dr. Wise’s words,
Surveillance is now a common part of everyday life. We not only expect to be monitored most of the time (from surveillance cameras in public areas to our phones tracking our locations throughout the day), we also participate by watching others, often for fun or entertainment (like on social media or reality TV). Surveillance is a consistent theme in much of our popular culture. But how do we understand surveillance? Analyzing films and television shows may provide a sense of how we imagine surveillance to be, and also point out the limitations of this understanding. For example, how may these films and shows shape our understandings of issues such as privacy? It is not that we take these shows to be accurate depictions of surveillance capabilities, but perhaps they shape what we think is possible or desirable regarding surveillance and our attitudes towards and feelings about these technologies. Surveillance is not simply an act of observation or control. Following James W. Carey’s work, could we say that surveillance is also a ritual that creates, reaffirms, and contests an understanding of social relations? It is important, therefore, to explore this cultural dimension of surveillance, analyzing the meanings we attach to surveillance and the stories we tell of it to further our understanding of the society in which we live.
The lecture was an exciting event, that left people contemplating today’s culture of surveillance. Proof of this was in the questions that the audience posed for Dr. Wise and the vigorous notes many were taking the whole time. Congrats to the Communication Studies Program that put the event on!
J. Macgregor Wise is Professor of Communication Studies and Social Technology at Arizona State University. He is author of a number of books, including Surveillance and Film (2016), which won the Book Award for the Surveillance Studies Network.