An Abnormally Normal Study

Contributed by Elizabeth Good Student at University of South Carolina
June 26, 2011
goodee's picture
Part of the Cluster:

I See You--Columbia, SC (2011)

Site of Observation: Delaney’s Irish Pub

741 Saluda Avenue, Columbia, South Carolina 29205

Camera of focus: Black dome camera (pictured) affixed to the corner of Sid & Nancy. The camera has the ability to view both the sidewalk that runs the length of Saluda as well as any movement between the sidewalk and the alley way it intersects. The cameras casing provides a logo, but the company is indistinguishable.

Date/Time: 6/15/2011 – 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Interactive Maphttp://tinyurl.com/3dr3dkz

Explanation: The camera next to Sid & Nancy has a long view angle that can record traffic moving along the sidewalk as well as any movement that passes through the alley way towards the back of the shops. The cameras advantage to track so much activity on such a busy street made it ideal for mass observation.

Vantage point description: I sat outdoors, under Delaney’s canopy closest to Sid & Nancy and to the right of Delaney’s front door. This view gave me access to activity both in front of me (down the sidewalk toward Blossom Street) and behind me (the alley way).

Observation:

10:30 – 80 degrees. Three men stand down the street near the green awning. They are all different ages. The oldest man wears a long sleeved button up striped shirt. It is tucked in. He isn’t working. Another man wears reflective sunglasses and a glasses strap, and stands beside the older man. He is younger. Both men wear khakis. The third man wears shorts and a t-shirt, possibly college affiliated, but is probably in his late thirties like the second man.

10:35 - The third man uses a staple gun on the façade to a building as he stands on a short foot ladder to reach his mark.

10:40 – The third man starts using a caulking gun. I think they are repairing or replacing the façade.

10:45 – The man in the reflective glasses still isn’t working. He feigns interest. He watches the man work for a bit before walking inside. Both men have left the guy in shorts working alone. He is in the sun.

10:50 – Food service truck – blocks my view of the street. Pulls up directly in front of Delaney’s. Young black man starts to unload it. He wears a blue uniform and shorts. He says “hello” to me when I look at him. He has disappeared behind the other side of the truck.

10:55 – The lady at Sid & Nancy recognizes me, but I don’t recognize her. She’s wearing dark sunglasses and a black “Ramones” tank top. She looked nicer yesterday. She asks me if I know Carey. She offers that he is the “guy who installed all the surveillance cameras” and I should call him if I need some help.

10:56 – She disappears into her shop and reemerges with her phone and the number. I take it down. She leaves me. I’m invisible again!

10:57 – The reflective sunglasses guy is back from enjoying the air conditioning.

10:58 – People come and go:

* Young white lady. She wears a long flower dress and watches me. She seems to know the men doing construction.

* Fat white guy wearing long sleeves and headphones. He walks with a purpose, but doesn’t enter any shops.

* Lady in the flower dress smokes a cigarette. She also seems to know a bald man on the street.

11:05 – Waitress has feathers in her hair. She starts setting up the chalk board outside. She, too, knows many a passerby. The lady in the flower dress paces between stores while she smokes.

11:10 – The lady in the flower dress doesn’t litter. She puts her cigarette out in the bin that’s attached to the wall, but she’s smoked it to the filter. The waitresses have turned on the fans outside.

11:14 – Intermission – Check in with Cooley

11:27 - The two non-workers are back. A lady in a red ball cap talks on her cell phone near them. She doesn’t have any hair. She crosses the street, out of view.

11:30 – The working man in the shorts and t-shirt leans over his work table. A guy with his lap top walks by. It’s tiny! He wears shorts. He walks into the coffee shop, I think.

11:32 – The food truck still hasn’t left. A man with a manila envelope walks into the coffee shop. A lady walks out with too coffees. She is young and wears light blue jeans and black scuffed boots.

11:35 – A lady with red hair and an African patterned bag walks by. She wears a long black and tan dress that features a number of geometric shapes all over it. It’s very unlike her bag that she carries. She disappears down the street.

11:36 – The food truck man emerges from the back of the truck with a hand truck full of boxes. He wheels it down the alley.

11:38 – A young blonde girl lingers down the side walk while she talks on her cell phone. She talks for a minute and then goes into a store.

11:39 – A black lady examines an article of clothing on the rack outside of one of the stores. She heads inside.

11:40 – I explain “BOGO” (buy one get one free) to some confused middle-aged people. They walk away from Delaney’s sign, unimpressed. They stare in each window they pass as they slowly make their way down the street, examining everything that they see. I get the impression they don’t come to 5-Points often.

11:41 – A lady dressed in olive green scrubs walks up the street.

11:42 – The food truck man rolls up his ramp into the back of his truck.

11:43 – The working man starts putting materials that look like molding into the back of his truck, but he doesn’t leave. He measures something on the wall.

11:44 – The food service truck drives away.

11: 45 – The flower dress lady emerges from one store and walks into Delaney’s

11:46 – The working man continues to measure. Flower dress lady steps outside and lights a cigarette. She starts to ask me about my project.

11:52 – The conversation ends.

What I learned:

* The majority of the cameras I noted the day before are only about a year old.

* The 5-Points Association paid to have them installed.

* The Association pays a monthly surveillance fee to have them operated and serviced.

* Since the city owns the sidewalks, they monitor the cameras when they choose.

* The cameras have been successful apprehending car burglars, purse snatchers, property damagers (Revente once had their window broken in the middle of the night by a drunk kid who was later caught), and street thieves and drunks in general.

* The camera quality is “pretty good”.

* Carey (the guy who installed the cameras) is nice. I should call him. I do. He doesn’t answer.

11:59 – A couple shows up and sits down two tables from me. The woman has a tan and long brown hair. She’s probably in her 40’s. The man with her is probably around her age, but he looks younger. He is wearing sunglasses even in the shade of the canopy. I think they’re suspicious of me. They both keep looking my direction. They drink Pepsi’s.

12:02 – The working man has stopped working. He talks on his cell phone in the shade. A girl in a pink neon skirt walks into a store with a woman who is probably her mom. I don’t notice what the mom wears because of how distracted I am by the girls blindingly neon skirt.

12:04 - Neon skirt girl is back. She and her mom walk to their car. It’s a large black SUV. I notice her mom’s clothing for the first time. She wears pink Nike running shorts and tennis shoes. I immediately think of young college students who admire the style. Like her daughter, she wears a fair amount of make-up. I suspect the mom isn’t donning the running shorts and tennis shoes to do anything more than shop. They wander aimlessly from store to store.

12:08 – Neon skirt girl and her mom never seemed to have purchased anything. I don’t see any bags. They retreat slowly to their car and leave.

12:10 – A lady with full red rolling luggage walks into Delaney’s. Her hair looks wet.

12:11 – More people walk by:

* A fat middle aged man with a goatee sweats as he huffs by.

* A girl pushing a carriage and her mom shopping.

* Two friends both wearing large dark sunglasses pass me by.

12:14 – A girl in a mustard-yellow dress gets dropped off by her mom. She drives a Volvo.

12:15 – A young man with his mom walks into Delaney’s. He is tall, and wears glasses and tan military style work boots.

12:18: A different lady in pink running shorts walks by me for the 5th time. This is the first chance I’ve had to write about her. She has blonde hair and no seeming direction.

12:20: A mother and grandmother help a tiny baby walk into a store. Each woman holds the child by the hand as it wobbles towards the door. It (I can’t distinguish its gender from the distance) wears a bright red onesie.

12:22: The waitress distracts me with the menu. She brings more Pepsi to the couple sitting a few tables down from me. They aren’t talking.

12:25: Flower dress lady lights another cigarette and starts walking towards the coffee shop.

Busted

Before even making my way down to the second shop on Saluda on the first day of observation, I was quickly approached by a store owner who was suspicious of my activities outside her door. She had valid reasons for being suspicious of course. No human in their right mind would idle outdoors in Columbia, South Carolina in the middle of the summer and in the heat of the day unless they absolutely had to. Little did she know I absolutely had to, and thus found myself taking notes about the camera fixed on the other side of her shop window, placed high on the wall for pedestrians like myself to observe. That was what they were there for, wasn’t it; a visible deterrent? In any event, she came marching out and seemed a bit angry when she accosted me to discover the reason I was loitering outside her door with a notebook. After I apologized (she made it seem like I should), I explained I was working on a project for school and before my eyes she went from angry business owner to helpful South Carolinian and later came to offer the name and telephone number of the man who had installed the very cameras I was researching. The thing that I found the funniest about the situation was that it was the “alternative” store owner who approached me for not doing something normal. The store, which is named “Sid & Nancy” after the infamous duo Sid Vicious (bassist for the Sex Pistols) and Nancy Spungen (his girlfriend), functions as a kind of consignment store, selling a variety of things like “Space Invader” shaped ice trays and worn, torn cowboy boots. The fact alone that one of the stranger stores in town wasn’t strange enough for a loitering student outside their doors says a lot about what everyone thinks is “normal.” (Ewald)

Red Road, and Other Observations

While a camera may be an objective observer, it is the eye behind the camera that makes the ultimate interpretation of the images that the camera captures. For instance, in the film Red Road (2006) the protagonist, Jackie, has an army of surveillance cameras at her disposal as an employee of the “City Eye.” While the camera’s gaze seems limitless, Jackie gives value to only certain cameras and those images they capture that she very subjectively identifies to be important. Jackie’s interpretation of surveillance, her abuse of it, and what she deems important communicates a very important point about the individual and how they function within a society of constant observation.

Jackie’s job is “normal.” A sanctioned employee of the city, it is not unusual for her profession to exist. Unlike most people who would be fascinated at the prospect of being able to spy on an entire city, Jackie’s job as a surveillance camera operator is completely routine. Francois Ewald writes, “The norm finds meaning only in relation to other norms: only a norm can provide a normative value for another norm” (153). Thus, while it is abnormal for citizens to effectively “spy” (a very negative word) on others, Jackie is merely doing her job by “watching.” She is functioning within the norms of her title as a CCTV operator.

She watches people as if she is merely turning channels on a television, disconnected from the images through the screen. Until the illusion is broken by a familiar face, she functions as a machine, only bringing attention to images and situations that she decides are noteworthy, based on her personal beliefs and the norms she’s been taught to know by society. For example, a school girl getting stabbed in broad day light by her own classmates isn’t statistically normal. But then there are personal interpretations that come with what the eye sees, emotional reactions, and questions that arise that the camera simply can’t answer. It does ultimately offer only visual information. No more knowledge can be had than what is seen, and so is the life of Jackie, the surveillance camera operator, until she decides to venture out from behind the screen and into the image herself.

The film, which follows a single observer in between mass observations and personal vendettas of literal stalking, raises not only questions about what society thinks is “normal,” but also about how individuals react to observation and things that happen outside the “standard.” Clearly Jackie’s growing obsession with only one particular subject is indicative of her abuse of the system. Not only does she neglect to effectively do her job, but when she snags some of the tapes from her office for a second viewing, she does so in secret. Jackie is very aware that she shouldn’t be taking the tapes. Her job ends each day at the end of her shift, and thus her privilege to observe the city ends with it. As I discovered in 5-Points, people do not enjoy being watched by unfamiliar eyes. Jackie’s sudden lack of objectivity makes her equal almost to a curious observer off the street who is using the system to their personal advantage, whether that be for entertainment or private knowledge. Herein blurs the line between public anonymity and reasonable expectations of privacy as discussed by Christopher Slobogin.

In the film Jackie lingers on a number of subjects: a cleaning lady dancing to music, a man with his dog, a girl sitting alone on a stoop. Arguably, Jackie should have moved on after briefly observing the dog and his master or the lady dancing in the office. Does her insistence on continuing to view these images break some sort of code? Slobogin argues,

CCTV might trigger a number of unsettling emotional consequences….Staring, whether it occurs on an elevator, on public transportation, or on the street, violates the rules of “civil inattention”. The cyclopsian gaze of the camera eye may be equally disquieting, and perhaps more so, given the anonymity of the viewer and the unavailability of normal countermeasures, such as staring back or requesting that the staring cease. (95)

The people aren’t doing anything wrong. If they knew they were being secretly watched, for no reason other than entertainment purposes, would they feel their rights violated? Yet, surely the citizens must realize the ever presence of the cameras gaze. While they may not be hyper-aware of the prevalence of these security cameras, an innate knowledge is often had that the opportunity for surveillance is very real. Acceptance of this truth, suggests a different kind of public anonymity. Reasonably speaking, the average citizen can expect to be “anonymous” in public as long as they aren’t doing anything outside of the “norm,” like committing a crime for example. Here, Jackie subjectively unmasks these public individuals and allows them no means of defense or recourse. Arguably, this panoptic reality should be administered more carefully despite the fact that individuals will often not realize their anonymity was being compromised. This aspect of the film reinforces the camera’s powerlessness without an active viewer, and further suggests that the eye behind it ultimately determines its overall effectiveness.

Additionally, the form of the film communicates a very surveillance camera like feel to it. Much like the images captured from a surveillance camera, Jackie is often out of focus, awkwardly placed in the frame, and shown very close up or over the shoulder. The camera seems to follow her in a very realistic way, unlike traditional films where the shots are more seamlessly edited so that the viewer doesn’t notice the editing at all. The film is dark and gritty, equal to the narrative in Red Road, and often the protagonist is cast in dark and shadow or the faint glow of a grid-work of television monitors. This uneven approach pushes the viewer back and makes them notice the way the camera captures the images, successfully tying the themes in the film with the literal form of the film itself.

Overall, Red Road correlates with our project quite literally; each student responsible for their own set of observations very much like Jackie’s role as an employee of the “City Eye.” But are we crossing the line like Jackie did in the film by putting our observations up online? Would it make some of the pedestrians uncomfortable if they knew their every move on Wednesday, June 15th, would be uploaded to a public forum for the entire world to see? Or, is it OK by “common standards” (Ewald), because in fact we are all recognized and labeled as students, and that’s just simply what students are expected and allowed to do?

Bibliography:

Ewald, Francois. “Norms, Discipline, and the Law.” Representations 30, Special Issue: Law and the Order of Culture (Spring 1990): 138-161

Red Road. Dir. Andrea Arnold." Perf. Kate Dickie, Tony Curran. Verve Pictures: 2006, Film.

Slobogin, Christopher. Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2007

Relevant Links: Five Points Website: http://www.fivepointscolumbia.com/

Interactive Map (including pictures): http://tinyurl.com/3dr3dkz

Red Road (2006) : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0471030/

Comments

cooleyh's picture
Response from
Heidi Rae Cooley

June 28, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

So how does the normalcy of the various [other] labels we might inhabit function? Is it similar to the "normalcy" of "student"?

bmr729's picture
Response from
Brett Robertson

June 27, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

I loved all of the observations that were made apparent to the reader. The minute by minute observations really makes me feel like I was there! I also think that it was interesting that the lady who owned the store, the "crazy five points store", was so nervous about you being outside… you clearly don't look like you are a threat to society, yet it just proves how skeptical people are when it comes to being their own for of security for their own business. Although they have cameras installed, they still are very cautious. Very interesting.

johnryanbailey's picture
Response from
Ryan Bailey

June 27, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

  

The comparisons to our project and Red Road are pretty much spot on. It makes you wonder about how far of an extent do people watch you and take notice. In our case we actually took notes and wrote a paper. Other cases people may look at you and keep walking and mind their business. The case in Red Road is when Jackie basically stalks Clyde to get her own revenge. Surveillance can be used for good and bad and it is up to us how to use it.

Aaron McKissick's picture
Response from
Aaron McKissick

June 27, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

The descriptions you provide give a better visual of what you experienced and are informative. Your discussion on normal behavior is interesting. It is also curious that people don't like to be observed by another individual, but when they pass by the camera they seem to not care.

morgan.todd's picture
Response from
Morgan Todd

June 27, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

Your quote by Ewald is quite compelling here.  The fact that the norm of "watching" the surveillance cameras in Red Road is completely acceptable should call society to question the extent of our watchful gaze.  What crosses the line?  Her job is "normal" in her country, but would it be "normal" for us if we knew there was always someone watching?

smithjua's picture
Response from
Justin Smith

June 27, 2011

Re: An Abnormally Normal Study

I like how you related our observations to Jackie's job in Red Road; and then you go on to ask the question of if we are crossing the line much like she did.  In a way, we were "copycatting" her job but not to such an extreme.  To answer your question, I don't believe we crossed the line by any means.  We were simply recording our observations without breaking any personal barriers.  When people go out in public, they know immediately that they will be seen and observed, it's only when we cross these personal barriers that moral issues arise.