a woman changing

Above: A young woman lifting her shirt and exposing her bare breasts at New Orleans Mardi Gras (unrelated to the news report under review). Credit: Brian Lin.

Couple Hit Back

Daily Mail, 7 May 2018: A married couple have responded to an angry note from neighbours, who said they were sick of seeing them naked, by writing their own note, calling the angry people peeping toms. Karin Stone, 33, and her husband Jay, 34, were stunned when they received a letter through their door on Friday asking them to close their blinds [when changing]. The brutal note, which was sent by neighbours in Lemington, Newcastle, also threatened to report the pair for indecent exposure. It read: "Would you please close your blinds when getting dressed or undressing. We are sick of seeing big bum, big boobs, and little willy, and we will report you both for indecent exposure. Your neighbours." Karin and Jay, have now responded to the letter by posting their own note in the window of their house. It says: "Stop looking through our windows you peeping tom. Your neighbours."

The above recent news item underlines a basic Freudian psychoanalytic paradigm: the sadist's actions depend on a dynamic of control. For the sadist the question is always: Who is in control now? The sadist's greatest fear is of (suddenly and unexpectedly) becoming a victim. For Otto Fenichel, the sadist's logic is this: If I am the attacker, then it is demonstrable that I am NOT the victim!

What is interesting about the above scene is that it inverts commonly held expectations about looker-and-looked-at. It has become commonplace to berate the sadistic-violent voyeuristic (often male) gaze. But (as psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel so brilliantly elucidated), forcing a person to look upon something unsavoury, disgusting, frightening, or appalling (e.g., sexual), is also a form of perverse sadism--the sadistic exhibitionist enjoys controlling what the other sees, under the basic logic: If I am controlling what you are looking at, then it is demonstrable that I am the attacker and NOT the victim! (As Freud conceptualized it, masochism can be understood simply as the cruelty of the sadist "turned in upon thine own self.")

It is perhaps notable that the disturbing (sexist) male gaze as a format of perverse violence has passed into common usage (it has joined other quasi-psychoanalytic terms in common use, such as "projecting" and "anal"). Whereas, by contrast, perverse exhibitionism and the sadistic control of the visual realm is much less commented upon. (Sadistic-perverse exhibitionism is rife in contemporary art, theatre, cinema, and news-broadcasting, for example.)

(8 May 2018)