75. Is America Becoming a Nation of Voyeurs and Cowards?

Voyeurs according the Merriam-Webster dictionary are: One who habitually seeks sexual stimulation by visual means. Initially, voyeur referred to someone who derived sexual pleasure from watching others undress or engage in intimate acts; it was synonymous with Peeping Tom. By the middle of the 20th century, its meaning had broadened to “an unduly prying observer,” particularly one interested in squalid or shocking details.

We all love seeing beautiful images, which often crowd our social media field. However, the commercialization of photography has also unfortunately unleashed a culture of perversity. As Susan Sontag said in On Photography, “Photography has now become a defense against anxiety and a tool of power.”

The International Society for Research on Aggression (IRSA) concluded that that evidence shows that media violence consumption can act as a trigger for aggressive thoughts or feelings already stored. “Violence in the media has been increasing and reaching proportions that are dangerous,” said Emanuel Tanay, MD, a retired Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University and a forensic psychiatrist for more than 50 years. It seems that pain has become someone else’s entertainment. Sheryl Ziegler a psychologist said: people record, then post violent videos for a chance it’ll go viral. “One thing I’ve noticed as a psychologist is empathy is trending down. The more exposure to violence, the more you see, the more you get desensitized,” Violence is contagious and spreads like a disease. The more emotional and shocking the images — as were those that emerged from Columbine — the more contagious violence proves to be.

A very frightening as well as disturbing fact of voyeurism is that many who watch videos of sex and violence don’t just want to watch the people they follow they want to know what it’s like to be them.

The voyeur does not normally interact directly with the subject of his/her interest, who is often unaware of being observed. The essence of voyeurism is the observing, but may also involve the making of a secret photograph or video on the subject during an intimate activity. Voyeurs are often not that interested in having sex with a real partner.

A study by the Parents Television Council found that prime time network television is more violent than ever before. In addition, they found that this increasing violence is also of a sexual nature. They found that portrayals of violence are up seventy-five percent since 1998.

A study has revealed sexual perversions, also known as paraphilia, are surprisingly widespread – occurring in nearly half of a population.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of a coward is one who is lacking in mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

Reportedly, people often mill around accident victims and click their photos or videos instead of helping them, and return to the spot later to tell the world that they were there. In some cases, the bystanders who witness incidents of sexual violence will record it and post it online - instead of actually intervening to stop it. I believe that whatever the cause given for not helping the victim is that the individual who stands by and not helping is a coward. The very least such an individual could do would be to step away from the crowd for an instant and call 911.

Violence is normal. Young kids, especially teenagers, can become desensitized to what may seem to the rest of the country as merely one horrific moment. Deborah Fisher, Ph.D. she states that children, on average, will be exposed to a thousand murders, rapes, and assaults per year through television. She goes on to warn that early exposure to television violence has “consistently emerged as a significant predictor of later aggression.”

So why do the people in a crowd not help when a person they are watching is attacked, beaten and sometimes killed. One thought is that people don’t care as much, they lack empathy and they do not want to get be involved. They don’t want to get physically harmed. This is a reasonable reason not to get involved yet these individuals who take no action could add the victim and still not chance being harmed. Others who stand and watch the horror of the incident do so as a form of entertainment or they just simply don’t feel like it’s any of their business.

The world in which some men and women live can be horrifying and the live-streaming of the horrible act that they watch is partly a reflection of that. What may seem appalling and evil to the wider world, may not be too far beyond normal for some of these people.

“It speaks to a kind of scary place in the culture where people are willing to expose their misled ideas, their sadism, their sexual perversion, their felonious behavior, for the accolades they’ll receive through social media,” so says Berrill who has made a study of such actions.

“Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects. I believe that the advancements that have been made in electronic communications is one reason that people today have less empathy. We can now through social media look at another individual being harmed knowing that we can remain anonymous. Before modern electronic communication was so available to the public when you wrote something about an individual or watched a horrible video of a terrible and perverted act it was necessary to look somebody in their eyes. It is now quite easy as well as convenient to melt away in the crowd and feel the power of numbers within the crowd seeing yourself as just another very small part of the crowd watching.

Social media is becoming increasingly intertwined with sexual assault cases. In the Steubenville rape case, graphic images of the victim were disseminated widely online, contributing to the evidence that convicted two high school football players and ultimately sparking national outrage over rape culture. In two tragic cases earlier Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott both ended up committing suicide after the images of their sexual assaults were passed around among their peers. A similar incident played out in Chicago. Jessica LaShawn, a blogger for Chicago Now, reports that several videos of a potential gang rape that occurred on the street were posted on Vine. The videos depict several men attempting to perform sex acts with an unconscious woman, some of them growing frustrated that she’s non-responsive. According to LaShawn, thousands of Vine users watched the videos and left comments laughing about the incident. Some of it is likely due to the “bystander effect,” the term that psychological researchers use to describe the public’s unwillingness to step in and help people in distress. Some researchers speculate that the bystander effect relates to the number of people witnessing a crime - everyone assumes that someone else will help, so they don’t need to get involved.

In Richmond, Calif. a 15-year-old girl was gang raped in a schoolyard during a homecoming dance. As many as 20 people witnessed the assault. In Chicago, where a 16-year-old honor student was beaten to death with a two-by-four after apparently stumbling into a gang fight. It was captured on a cell phone video that also showed a large crowd on the scene. No one there called for help.

The law’s of our nation general view is you have a duty not to help criminals, but to try to stop them is a moral obligation, not a legal obligation, and that it’s up to each person’s moral judgment and, in fact, sometimes people’s also practical judgment. All this is saying is that in America today our standards when it comes to what is moral and immoral is moving more and more to the acceptance of what is wrong and immoral.

As the popularity of live-streaming services like Periscope and Facebook Live grows, users have taken to these platforms to broadcast self-harm and acts of violence. Hundreds witness these tragedies in real time, but very few intervene.

The advent of live-streaming video services such as Facebook Live and Periscope has enabled people around the world to share and consume the daily lives of strangers even more easily than before. But just as life is streamed into your computer screen, so too have death and violence passed through that portal. Since the technology’s inception, people have raped, murdered, and committed suicide on live streams.

Judging from the stories that have circulated in recent years, live-streamed suicides seem to attract onlooker apathy the most. In 2007, 42-year-old Kevin Whitrick hanged himself on camera to an audience of around 60 viewers, some of whom encouraged him, the BBC reported. A 24-year-old Japanese man hanged himself on a service called Ustream in 2010, and according to CNN he was also “egged on” by online viewers.

Dr. Vincent Hendricks is a professor of media, cognition, and communication at the University of Copenhagen who has studied the way that the bystander effect has taken shape in the 21st century. Hendricks explained that the internet makes it possible for people to assume anonymity and express opinions without effort or personal consequence-which sadly makes the world wide web an excellent setting for bystander apathy to develop. “Watching [without acting] comes at almost no cost and quickly becomes the unfortunate norm,” Hendricks said.

“There’s no such thing as an accident without a crowd gathering and standing on tiptoes in order to see the person lying on the ground,” he said. Violence and destruction are everywhere in American society, from the news to the entertainment industry. “There is a fascination with the other’s pain because it’s only one gesture removed from our own pain,” he said. “We could be the one lying on the pavement, and most of us know that we could be the one killing ourselves.” wrote Dr. Henry Seiden, a clinical psychologist who specializes in suicide and the devastating effect it has on surviving friends and family.

Yes, America is becoming more of a place for voyeurism to take place and also a place that acting as a coward with little shame in doing so has become more normal.


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