Psychology and Social Issues24 Dec 2010 02:20 pm

In this post I’d like to explore the ramifications of a style of our being in the world which is related to voyeurism. Let’s first start with standard dictionary definition of the term voyeur.

voyeur |voiˈyər; vwä-|
noun
a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.
• a person who enjoys seeing the pain or distress of others.

Some thirty years ago I wrote a song called Voyeurs. In the song I took some liberties with the literal definition of voyeur and broadened out its meaning beyond the strictly sexual context. In Voyeurs I focused on a person’s ability to get “turned on by” or “get off on” seeing while not being seen (noticed).

Voyeurs

To the city at an early age
Came a man who would remain back of the scenes
From a town where he was always viewed
In the din he felt serene for he could be

Voyeurs, voyeurs

Got a job on the telephone
Selling siding for one’s home
Good, but not content
Even though he liked much music
From TV he got his kicks
Watch but not be seen

Voyeurs, voyeurs

Found a job as a cameraman behind a one way mirror
Such a rush for him to doubly disappear
Love to see people with guilt on their faces
Then arrested by his anonymous look

Voyeurs, voyeurs

Took his camera to TV
Never felt so complete
Got his lucky break
Now he’s going to a war zone

Bullets flying everywhere
Bodies falling in the square
His camera whirring like his mind
He’s no longer there

Feels the power of life and death
This invisible god this astralette
Feels so strong and able
His goals been reached

A little later on that week
Apollo decides his time has peaked
Takes a gun to help him do
Only what a god must do

(To hear song, got to music tab and then go to Life in the Shadows CD.)

_____________________________________________________________

In the first verse the songs main character, Apollo, moves from a small town to a city. He loves the noise and activity of the city and enjoys avoiding the gaze of all those who knew him in his small town.

In his first job he was able to retain his preferred anonymity by being a faceless voice as a telephone solicitor. Though Apollo needed to remain outside the view of others view, he wanted to see, observe and watch them.

He found his second job of manning security cameras at a large store more rewarding, In this setting he could watch while remaining anonymous. He also got off on the power he had having shoplifters be arrested and their lives altered by his anonymous gaze.

Later he became a TV cameraman and enjoyed his growing influence and anonymity. When he was assigned to cover a war, Apollo felt like he had begun to realize his life’s purpose.

Covering the war he felt powerful, alive and completely invisible. The warring soldiers acted as if he was not there, with bullets zinging by and hitting their targets Apollo was able to walk on totally undetected.

Now convinced that he had become completely invisible Apollo reasons he must now be a bodiless spirit. Since he has become an invisible being that sees and is unseen, that can alter and determine the fate of others Apollo concludes he must be a god. Apollo, now God, takes gun in hand, and must do only what a god can do, and that is decide who lives and who dies.

In some ways the song depicts the birth of a psychopath, but it also epitomizes an extreme form of a way of being in the world which is very common. In this respect it calls into question the health and benefit of the ideal of objectivity and the goal of non-attachment commonly sought in science, religion and spirituality.

A review of the influences on my life while I was writing Voyeurs may be helpful in understanding what the goal and intention of its lyrics were. This will also help in understanding why this issue has remained pertinent to my current existence.

When I wrote this song I was working at a residential facility for delinquent youth. Many of the more difficult clients had mental health issues which fell or would now fall into diagnoses such as sociopath, psychopath, borderline personality, schizophrenia, and other such personality disorders. In many cases I noted how a progressive break with reality or human relationships was endemic to their pathology.

At this same time I was reading more than any other time in my life. My interests were in psychopathology (work related), phenomenology and Taoism.

My interest in all three was in identifying and experiences life as it actually happens. In Taoism I found the beauty and wisdom of learning about ourselves through our relationship with nature and the cycles of life. In phenomenology I learned how to “bracket” all our preconceptions and be open to experiencing and describing life as it authentically occurs. In psychopathology I learned how amazingly complex and rich normal human experience is by contrasting it with the experience of those who have suffered physical and neurological damage.

When I wrote Voyeurs I was performing at clubs with the band Ekstasis (scroll down to previous post). As you recall the band was named after the Dionysiac pagan ceremony whereby people “got beyond themselves” (ecstatic) through rich theater combined with pounding rhythm and song.

If you also recall that while the Dionysiac cults celebrated visceral life, the Apollo based cults revered the world of beauty and pure ideals of Plato. In an effort to blend the ecstatic visceral world of Dionysius with the cerebral and aesthetic world of Plato that I, being the lead singer of Ekstasis, referred to myself as Apollo.

In this manner I could avoid the pitfalls of both mediums. Through Ekstasis I could remain anchored in the sensorial world of visceral ecstasy without losing the ability to understand, savor and describe that experience to myself.

In the song Voyeurs Apollo is untethered to the sensorial world. He does not interact and participate in life, but only watches others. Apollo does not relate to or feel embraced in the bosom of nature and humanity. He is a detached observer who is objectively removed from the spectacle he observes. Apollo does not participate in life, he does not feel that he is connected to the world he breathes in or the people who he sees.

There is much literature which supports the idea that our sanity depends on our not feeling isolated and totally alone. Not only do we need touch and care as infants, but we all need to be seen and recognized by others, including animals to remain mentally healthy. The more removed, detached and isolated we are or think we are, the more prone to depression, anxiety and mental pathology we become.

An further exploration of the term Ekstasis might help understanding why I chose it to represent the goal of my life and not only my art. As I’ve said the word Ekstasis literally meant “to get beyond oneself”. Yet, in the ceremony one got beyond oneself by uniting in ecstasy with others and nature.

Ekstasis symbolized a total immersion and union with the world and with all people. It was the ability to get beyond one’s sense of self, one’s sense of isolation and merge with the very pulse of life. The reason I named the singer Apollo was to insure that this immersion with the audience and with life, was not blind and totally animalistic. Having Apollo partake, and even lead the ceremony, made sure that this immersion was done, with intelligence and sensitivity and did not revert to chaos, violence or domination.

It seems to me that we are so opposed to our animal nature. We use our inhibitions to cast our animal nature in a purely negative light. Our fears and inhibitions inspire us to make our human and animal nature things to master, overcome and deny.

In science we strive for objective, mathematical and logical truth. In the human sciences we often dwell on the foibles, shortcomings and illusions of our senses, our sense of self, and consciousness. In both pure and human sciences the goal is usually to overcome our animal and human nature. Yet, since we are animals and humans that experience life though our senses, and with our bodies, it necessitates that we denigrate our sensorial experience.

Likewise, the goal of the spiritual world, is to once again deny or overcome the sensual and animalistic nature of man. Spiritualist talk of the pain of attachment, and the illusion of the profane world. They speak of eternal essences, of spirit, the prison of the body, and the folly of the ego.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that we experience love, joy, meaning, satisfaction and empathy because of and through our bodies and animal nature, and not despite this carnal nature.
I think it is natural for those who demonize the body, our animal nature, and who feel the world an illusion to disrespect and destroy nature and their fellow men. When one’s eyes are on Absolute Truth, Supreme Beings, and the eternal, the day-to-day happenings of the real world can seem insignificant and vain.

It is this very detached perspective that I find dangerous and pathological. I think the sick attitude of Apollo in Voyeurs is cultivated and shared by many in our culture and on our planet. It is mainly a matter of degree as the differences between the average person and Apollo is quantitative and not qualitative.

Yes, the degree is significant, but one can’t help but wonder what percentage of war and depression could be averted if we learned how to embrace our humanity and our vital connection with nature. When we denigrate or ignore our own experiences it is easy to minimize the importance of the lives and experiences of others and of every living being on the planet. In many ways a return to animism would be a step forward, yet a larger step forward would be to truly appreciate the beauty and wonder that gives animism its compassion and wisdom.

Jim Guido

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