yesterday i posted links to articles in the nytimes online. you can't read them, however, unless you give in and sign up as a member. some of us are not, and i forgot that you had to be a member to read the articles from the links. so here they are again in readable form for everyone behind the cuts..
January 17, 2004
Greeting Big Brother With Open Arms
By EMILY EAKIN
or 50 years, Big Brother was an unambiguous symbol of malignant state power, totalitarianism's all-seeing eye. Then Big Brother became a hip reality television show, in which 10 cohabiting strangers submitted to round-the-clock camera monitoring in return for the chance to compete for $500,000.
That transformation is telling, says Mark Andrejevic, a professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa at Iowa City. Today, more than twice as many young people apply to MTV's "Real World" show than to Harvard, he says. Clearly, to a post-cold-war generation of Americans, the prospect of living under surveillance is no longer scary but cool.
Media critics have frequently portrayed the reality show craze in unflattering terms, as a sign of base voyeurism (on the part of viewers) and an unseemly obsession with fame (on the part of participants). But Mr. Andrejevic's take, influenced by the theories of Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault, is at once darker and more subtle.
Reality shows glamorize surveillance, he writes, presenting it "as one of the hip attributes of the contemporary world," "an entree into the world of wealth and celebrity" and even a moral good. His new book, "Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched" (Rowman & Littlefield), is peppered with quotes from veterans of "The Real World," "Road Rules" and "Temptation Island," rhapsodizing about on-air personal growth and the therapeutic value of being constantly watched. As Josh on "Big Brother" explains, "Everyone should have an audience."
At the same time, Mr. Andrejevic (pronounced an-DRAY-uh-vitch) argues, the reality genre appears to fulfill the democratic promise of the emerging interactive economy, turning passive cultural consumers into active ones who can star on shows or vote on their outcomes. (The series "Extreme Makeover" takes this promise literally, he notes, "offering to rebuild `real' people via plastic surgery so that they can physically close the gap between themselves and the contrived aesthetic of celebrity they have been taught to revere.")
As seductive as this sounds, in Mr. Andrejevic's view reality television is essentially a scam: propaganda for a new business model that only pretends to give consumers more control while in fact subjecting them to increasingly sophisticated forms of monitoring and manipulation.
As he put it in a telephone interview: "The promise out there is that everybody can have their own TV show. But of course, that ends up being a kind of Ponzi scheme. You can't have everybody watching everybody else's TV show. And since that's not possible, in economic terms, the way it's going to work is according to this model of a few people monitoring what the rest of us do."
Think of TiVo or Replay, he said. These digital recorders allow people to watch the television shows they want when they want to. But in return, he points out, the recorders' manufacturers get a stream of valuable information about viewer preferences. The same principle, he argues, holds true for online shops that offer custom CD's in exchange for data on personal musical tastes. Or Web sites that use "cookies" to track users' movements on the Internet.
Marketers aren't interested in exceptional behavior, he added. They want to know about the routine aspects of daily life, the same material that shows like "The Real World" and "Big Brother" — in which banality passes as authenticity — strive to capture on film.
In short, Mr. Andrejevic said, reality television's true beneficiaries are not the shows' cast members (who can wind up making little more than minimum wage for the hours — or months — they spend before the camera) or ordinary viewers (who don't really choose what happens on their television screens) but the marketers, advertisers and corporate executives who have a large stake in seeing surveillance portrayed as benign.
Of course, he conceded, his students don't necessarily see it this way. Raised on Web logs, Google, cellphones and instant messaging, they "divulge much more information about themselves on a daily basis than previous generations," he said, and they don't associate the idea of surveillance with a totalitarian Big Brother.
"The concern I have is that self-expression gets confused with the inducement to assist in marketing to yourself," Mr. Andrejevic said. "But my students say they've got nothing to hide. And until there are some consequences they perceive as detrimental, they're not going to be concerned."
At least in one respect, he added, reality television does conform to real life. "It portrays the reality of contrivance, the way consumers are manipulated," he said. "I look at it with the fascination of somebody watching a car wreck."
January 17, 2004
Girls for Sale
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
One thinks of slavery as an evil confined to musty sepia photographs. But there are 21st-century versions of slaves as well, girls like Srey Neth.
I met Srey Neth, a lovely, giggly wisp of a teenager, here in the wild smuggling town of Poipet in northwestern Cambodia. Girls here are bought and sold, but there is an important difference compared with the 19th century: many of these modern slaves will be dead of AIDS by their 20's.
Some 700,000 people are trafficked around the world each year, many of them just girls. They form part of what I believe will be the paramount moral challenge we will face in this century: to address the brutality that is the lot of so many women in the developing world. Yet it's an issue that gets little attention and that most American women's groups have done shamefully little to address.
Poipet, 220 miles on bouncy roads from Phnom Penh, is a dusty collection of dirt alleys lined with brothels, where teenage girls clutch at any man walking by. It has a reputation as one of the wildest places in Cambodia, an anything-goes town ruled by drugs, gangs, gambling and prostitution.
The only way to have access to the girls is to appear to be a customer. So I put out the word that I wanted to meet young girls and stayed at the seedy $8-a-night Phnom Pich Guest House — and a woman who is a pimp soon brought Srey Neth to my room.
Srey Neth claimed to be 18 but looked several years younger. She insisted at first (through my Khmer interpreter) that she was free and not controlled by the guesthouse. But soon she told her real story: a female cousin had arranged her sale and taken her to the guesthouse. Now she was sharing a room with three other prostitutes, and they were all pimped to guests.
"I can walk around in Poipet, but only with a close relative of the owner," she said. "They keep me under close watch.They do not let me go out alone. They're afraid I would run away."
Why not try to escape at night?
"They would get me back, and something bad would happen. Maybe a beating. I heard that when a group of girls tried to escape, they locked them in the rooms and beat them up."
"What about the police?" I asked. "Couldn't you call out to the police for help?"
"The police wouldn't help me because they get bribes from the brothel owners," Srey Neth said, adding that senior police officials had come to the guesthouse for sex with her.
I asked Srey Neth how much it would cost to buy her freedom. She named an amount equivalent to $150.
"Do you really want to leave?" I asked. "Are you sure you wouldn't come back to this?"
She had been watching TV and listlessly answering my questions. Now she turned abruptly and snorted. "This is a hell," she said sharply, speaking with passion for the first time. "You think I want to do this?"
Another girl, Srey Mom, grabbed at me as I walked down the street. She wouldn't let go, tugging me toward the inner depths of her brothel — but she looked so young and pitiable that I couldn't help thinking that she really wanted me to tug her away.
So I did. I paid the owner $8 to spring her for the evening and then took her away for an interview.
The owner let Srey Mom go out unsupervised, it turned out, partly because she had been a prostitute for several years and was trusted to return — and partly because her dark complexion meant that she was of little value anyway. The brothel sold her to men for just $2.50, compared with the $10 commanded by the lighter-skinned Srey Neth.
I asked Srey Mom what her freedom would cost. Payment of about $70 in debts to her brothel owner, she said. Two girls in her brothel had been freed after they found boyfriends who paid their debts, she said, and she spoke of her longing to see her sisters and the rest of her family in her village on the other side of Cambodia.
"Do you really want to leave the brothel?" I asked.
"I love myself," she answered simply. "I do not want to let my life be destroyed by what I'm doing now."
That's when I made a firm decision I'd been toying with for some time: I would try to buy freedom for these two girls and return them to their families. I'll tell you in my column on Wednesday what happens next.
they should generate some serious discussion....