The ‘Peeping Tom’ Syndrome

Jul 28, 2010

A  spate of celebrity involved sex scandals, suicides and rumours of extramarital affairs involving sports personalities have hit the headlines in the last two weeks. One the one hand it shows our proclivity for some steamy news and it also proves beyond that sex and sleaze sells like a hot cake  in our country and elsewhere and the media which is always in the look out for some  ‘breaking news’  with a tinge of sex, is ready to pounce upon any scandals involving celebrities. We have seen and experienced it time and again as we are fed with such a doze on a regular basis.   If it has got something to do with the private lives of say politicians, sports persons, film stars, T V personalities, models  and singers, then there is no stopping the media from unearthing every bit of sleazy information and thus putting their private life in public domain.

The Tiger Woods Scandal  and the media scrutiny that followed  and its  repercussions on his private life are still vivid in the minds of the public. In our own Karnataka the sordid Harthal Halappa sex scandal had its own ramifications,  though many doubt the veracity of the allegations and the motive behind this sordid saga. However, the motive  has taken a backseat in this murky incident as of now.  But the damage was done. The incident  gave the media and public a steaming topic to discuss for  weeks and months together.  Then there was the author and publisher David Davidar scandal of “consensual and flirtatious relationship” with his former colleague Linda Rundle,  for which he had to pay a heavy price  though the consequences of it on his personal life are not made public. 

Now  the “jwala” in stylist batsman and former Indian skipper and Member of Parliament Mohammed Azaruddin’s life is the latest scandal to grab eyeballs in the Indian media, which has gone gaga over the supposedly  new woman in Azar’s life.  “Pati,  patni or Woh” theme  seems to be the perfect recipe for  ‘breaking news’ in the Indian context  as  that keeps the television channels occupied  for a couple of days and the viewers too hooked to the channels.  These media reports spoke about Azar planning to divorce his wife of 14 years Sangeetha Bijlani, a former model and actress  and that makes a grand cocktail of cricket-politics-sports-Bollywood,  enough to send the media and public into a delirium. 

At the same time Indian Women’s Hockey and Weightlifting teams are mired in sexual harassment controversies involving their coaches.  So the last  week gave the hungry T V channels and an equally hungry public something to chew upon on a weekend.  It is not the first time such sex scandals to hit public domain.  Just a few weeks back suicides by two top models Viveka Babajee and Natasha were discussed threadbare by television and print media thus satiating the curiosity of an equally enthusiastic and inquisitive public as to know what really the trigger point for their suicides was.  The media showed scant regards to the turmoil  of the family members  or the privacy they wanted in their hour of grief, and were bent upon seeking  salacious bites or reactions.
People’s predilection for celebrity scandals is well known and every time there was a scandal the media gained momentum.  The clamor to be the first to come out with such breaking news with new angles to the story,  results in adding more masala to make it a spicy dish. 

Why is it that people are so obsessed with celebrity private life?  Or what is it about celebrity that fascinates them so much?  One look at our  tabloids, yellow journals,  Television news  and shows, internet blogs and regular newspapers demonstrate that we are a celebrity-obsessed people who never get tired of celebrity news, gossips and scandals. Of course there are some regular page 3 people who go to any level just to be featured in the media, which in itself is a subject for discussion.  One look at even our standards newspapers show that some glossy pictures of celebrities are included daily with news of some gossip just to provide a steamy effect aimed at titillating the public.  Yet it looks as though we are not a satisfied lot and still feel more doze of information  surrounding them is always welcome.  It goes to prove that celebrity life has become an inseparable part of our culture without which we lack the zest to keep us going. 

There is a growing feeling that media is trespassing into the privacy of these individuals paying too much attention to the minutest details of their private lives.  In this information age there is an abundant supply of information that percolates from all corners and that pertaining to scandals has many takers.  At this juncture  we need to ask whether private lives of public people should be subjected to public scrutiny?   The general feeling is that once a person enters a  public life  he is subjected to constant scrutiny.  This is mainly because whatever their personal lives may be people look up to these public figures to lead by example and expect them to follow some personal probity in their lives completely forgetting that too have a personal life, just like all of us.  There is nothing wrong in looking up to these people and expecting them to be above board when it comes to their personal lives. But the lack of it does not mean one has to crucify them by denying them the right to privacy. 

The “Peeping Tom” is prevalent in almost all individuals and celebrity obsession is a natural human instinct where people develop passion for knowing about other people’s private lives. Basically we are very nosy or cheeky people.  There is some sadistic pleasure people derive from getting to know more about celebrity news particularly about scandals, suicides and crimes. We have a large number of television viewers addicted to murder related serials which corroborates this aspect.  Outwardly we express remorse when something goes wrong with a top celebrity but heart of heart we wished something to go wrong, though we may not   acknowledge it.

However, there should be a limit when it comes to getting into the celebrity private lives beyond which it nothing but voyeuristic.  It is like gossiping.  Though gossiping to a certain extent is said to be relaxing and healthy, once it becomes an obsession it is like crossing the danger zone.  People are generally fascinated by the unknown and the unfamiliar and that heightens the tendency to get a  peep into other’s lives.   

The degree to which the media is free to get into the private details of people in public life varies from country to country. The right to freedom of expression cannot be treated as a license to probe into private live. Such a probe can be justified if their private lives affect the public office they hold or they misuse the public office for their private gains.  Excessive public attention on individual privacy as happened in the case of Princess Diana is like playing around a danger zone and is suicidal.  What Tiger Woods or Mohammed Azaruddin do with their lives is strictly a private affair and somewhere down the line one has to have a borderline on giving them that privacy. 

by Florine Roche
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Comment on this article

  • Louis D'Souza, Udupi/Kuwait

    Thu, Jul 29 2010

    Well written. Nice Article

  • Yadav Shetty, mangalore

    Thu, Jul 29 2010

    I agree with most of the comments posted for this article.

    As human beings we are always interested in others lives. I guess one reason is that we all lead pretentious lives and deep down we know that it is all an act. In terms of sales, sex will always sell as it is our weakness. Before, it was not polite to talk about ones wealth or a lady's age etc. Now, people flaunt it. We do not go with subtlities anymore. It has to be "in your face".
    Look at the TV reality shows, it is no different than Voyeurism. There is a secret desire that is brought out from an individual due to this. Kids are loosing their innocense too early and in that too in a wrong way.
    I think this could be a price we are paying for the growth in economy and personal wealth. Instead of using the money for improving our lives, we go about living pretentiously. These day's it is very difficult to lead a simple life without being called a looser. Sad but true.

  • Vikas, Mangalore/Bangkok

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    This is called self-appraisal!!

  • adshenoy, mangloor

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    The most "private" matter of humans becomes "public". And there is huge apetite for this.

    Sex sells in whatever form, and it has become a buisness mantra in todays world.
    Do we need a half scantily dressed lady in front of a car sale advertisement or in a showroom? Or a half scanty man with muscles in some other sales advertisement?

    Scandals, relationships, exploitation both legal and illegal and these news real or fictional stories SELL, SEll and SELL.
    Why is such a madness, interest and perversion takes hold of human living?
    The answer is simple. Humans have lost the basic decency of living.

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    It is a good article.

    Sex and money are two creative forces, but when both of them fly in the wrong direction
    unchecked, thy are worse than  playing with dynamite.

    We are faced with three grave challenges in life, and as we are more popular in any field whether
    in religion, politics or business, very carefully watch the red signals of life. They are sex, money and fame. 
    How many well-known T.V. preachers with millions of audience have  lost their ministry due to the
    'sex scandal"? That is the no 1 trap of the devil (our nature is to put all the blame on the devil
    "the devil made me to do that").
    It takes a strong moral commitment and dedication to win over this hard test of life. King
    Solomon said " a person of self-control is greater than a  conqueror". Those who can win
    this battle of life is a great victor. But in a solid married life, sex has a greater role to
    play, and spend as much time as they can in the wholesome fun of sex life, which is good both
    mentally and physcially. Also spiritually to a certain level because God invented this magic
    of life for a happy married life.

    Since human beings are "social animals", the mishandling of  "sex" can't be a private matter,
    but it will be displayed as a  public issue. So, watch the  "sex serpent" with the utmost caution!

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    I am unable to decide whose fault it is (1) The Peeping Toms' or (2) The controversy creators'. Media wants stories else it won't survive therefore they peep. However, don't those who get people peeped at them know the meaning of a word called 'culture' ? If they remain within the brackets of decency, someone would peep, say 'grapes are sour' and leave.

    We have not forgotten famous tragedy of gossip death - Princess Diana. First she invited the gossip mongers into her bedroom then tried escape from them.

  • Rajesh, Barbados

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    Good article, good thought. Perhaps anything including just the write up on a peeps tend to be interesting! Can’t really agree with the bottom line! It can’t be just a private matter, it does if it’s with in the legal boundaries as long as it is not it can’t be just private!! Does it!! Hence all in tiger woods or MA can’t be justified for private matters though its nothing new for the characters. At least, for the later!!!!

  • Gabriel Vaz, Bangalore

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    Peeping Tom or Voyeurism?

    While invasion of privacy cannot be justified, a person holding public office, politician, religious person,celebrity, sportsperson & others in similar situation cannot complain, because they are what they are because of public acclaim, adulation & following.

    If what Azhar or Tiger does is outside public domain, Halappa or Nityananda can also take the same plea. The dividing line is very thin & might depend on case to case. It is also necessary to think of the wives of Azhar or Tiger Woods & their families. Can one imagine what Halappa's wife, kids & family or the victims may have felt? One can argue till the cows come home but it is difficult to say the final word.

    I personally feel we should be pragmatic. May be I am wrong but would not like to pass judgement on what others do in their personal lives.

  • Mahesh S Kotian, mangalore

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    A good article with collection of news on sex scandles,but tittle The ‘Peeping Tom’ Syndrom does not match the content.

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