A vase of flowers

Above: A vase of flowers. Credit: Marianna OLE.


Activities designated and socially coded as taboo (prohibited, restricted, forbidden) are continuously shifting, evolving, and may be transformed at any moment by local custom, religious exhortation, or peer-group context, for example. Traditionally, the basic emotions connected with carrying on taboo activities are feelings of shame, embarrassment, or disgust.

Social media apps such as Instagram have encouraged many millions of end-users to share all manner of intimate details of their lives by posting revealing images and videos to the site--revealing formerly intimate and formerly private visual information. As photo-artist Hank Willis Thomas has said, "And then there is Instagram, which just makes me feel like my life is more interesting than it [really] is, every time I get a like from a stranger. It's kind of weird how voyeurism and exhibitionism have become married in such an explicit less shameful way [i.e., no longer taboo] in recent years." As Thomas clarifies, there is a symbiosis that has grown up as a definite aspect of social-media culture: the user shares more but also watches more; looking into the lives of others with greater urgency.

It is worth noting that semantically and forensically (UK Sexual Offences Act 2003, Section 67) a criminal act of voyeurism must be proven to have been sexual looking at a person who does not consent to being looked at sexually: "the voyeur commits an offence if ... for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification he observes [looks at] another person doing a private act and he knows that the other person does not consent to being observed for his sexual gratification."

Of course, a person who shares images and videos on social media shares them wantonly, with abandon, without limits, without reservation--who knows (or cares) how another user will enjoy or interpret my posts? In this way, the poster, the micro-blogger, does indeed consent to being looked at sexually. That is, the end-user's exhibitionistic urge (and freely-given consent-to-observe) tends to nullify the viewer's voyeurism.

Or, as J.G. Ballard (1930-2009) noted, "elements of psychopathic behaviour are [now] tolerated and annexed into normal life ... the general effect of all this is to normalize the deviant and perverse."

Coda: a few days ago my wife went into her local flower shop where she is a regular customer. While she was selecting flowers, the male florist (who follows her on Instagram) turned to her and asked, "these are for the vase you have in your bathroom, yes?"

(5 April 2018)