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Wednesday February 16 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC News Network
Ever wonder why we seem to be tripping over ourselves to get on reality television, post our intimate secrets on blogs, or broadcast our lives via webcam 24/7?
Online and on TV there exists a never-ending spectacle of bodies and souls willing to bare all in the name of entertainment, self-betterment, and instantaneous recognition. Think reality television, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more. Pop culture has become “Peep Culture”, where we’ve traded privacy for notoriety and, in the process, reinvented mass culture. But what does it all mean and how is it changing us?
Writer and social commentator Hal Niedzviecki wondered exactly that, and his 2009 book The Peep Diaries was nominated by Oprah as one of the 25 must reads of that summer. But Hal, a 38 year old husband and father and self-confessed antithesis of “peep” (no cell phone, no Facebook account, no twitter followers) remained unsatisfied with his own work. How could he really understand how peep culture was changing our notions of friendship and privacy unless he turned on his computer and tried it for himself?
Enter filmmakers Sally Blake and Jeannette Loakman who plunge the lonely and ornery pop culture writer into “deep peep”, with webcams exposing his every move and millions of potential internet viewers invited to watch and engage in the spectacle. Would all that vlogging, Facebooking and Twittering bring Hal happiness, connection and meaning? Would the people he met be his “friends” - or his “fans”?
Hal in his home during the Peep Project (see right).
Thus begins the documentary Peep Culture, an insightful romp into the world of post web 2.0 technology and reality TV and where everybody with an internet connection can be a star for at least 3 minutes. Along the way, Hal meets up with some of the more colourful characters who populate planet peep, including an amateur pilot and wine connoisseur whose every move can be watched à la the Truman show on the popular lifecasting site Justin.tv, a gastric by-pass patient with six cats who plans to blog her way to superstardom, a reality TV mogul who takes Hal inside “the maze” where his contestants pimp their lives in return for fleeting cable fame, and a group of twenty-something hipsters who think privacy is something from the stone age.
Increasingly for this generation ‘privacy’ is a relative concept and no longer an inalienable right. But was it ever? Is peep culture a reaction to the modern phenomenon of too much privacy? And if YouTube and Chatroulette are simply high speed versions of lost village life, they are reconnecting the human tribe in the context of a culture that is celebrity and camera obsessed, when we are not so much connecting as “broadcasting”. As Hal and the filmmakers discover, in the age of peep it seems more and more that the challenge isn’t to protect your private life - but to figure out how best to capitalize on it.
Peep Culture isn’t so much a conclusion as the opening question in a dialectic that clicks provocatively through the deconstructed and pixelized forums of today’s village square, the film itself an example of the very phenomena it seeks to decode.
Peep Culture is produced and directed by Sally Blake and Jeanette Loakman for Chocolate Box Entertainment in association with CBC News Network.