"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Saturday, July 28, 2007

the panopticon: Cebu Prison, Philippines and the role of YouTube in society


have you seen the prison dance tapes from Cebu Prison in the Philippines? they're quickly becoming huge hits on the web, and for good reason. they're amazing! seriously, i haven't seen musical theatre this good since i saw Les Miz on Broadway!

to be sure, just check out these meticulous recreations of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "I Will Follow Him" from Sister Act:

now i'm not sure if this is considered cruel and unusual punishment in the Philippines, but it makes damn good watching on Youtube. which makes me wonder: is the Filipino prison taking the panopticon to new extremes?

consider the function of the panopticon, and these observations regarding these bemusing videos:
-the costumes (a balding, pony-tailed, made-up male inmate, wearing a halter top with falsies portraying MJ's steady girlfriend as she is mobbed by zombies)

-the music (are they singing? is there a band? is the music being piped thru the prison loudspeakers? or is the music dubbed over the original soundtrack? if the latter, what are the prisoners dancing to in real-time? a Filipino version of "Thriller"/"I will follow Him"?)

-the choreography (the spot on renditions make me think they had someone teaching them. how does one teach 1000+ prisoners intricate dance moves from the 80s with success? and that someone must have sat and analyzed the music video for weeks to figure out the whole routine. that's quite a commitment to the spirit of dance.)

-the filming (who's holding the camera? and what makes them suspect the performance they caught on tape is merely a practice round, as they say, and not the real thing? is it a guard? a tourist? are they ushering tourists thru the prison grounds and charging them admittance fees? and doesn't this bring Titicut Follies to mind?)

AND, when one searches for the "Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center," the reputed site of these performances, one can find nothing written about the actual Center itself, its prisoners, or its practices, other than the recent buzz on the blogs about - that's right - the very dances that brought you to search for the Prison in the first place. isn't there something a little bemusing, a little existentially tautological about that?

finally, consider all this in relation to the medium:
-we're watching these videos on YouTube, a site that has grown into somewhat of a phenomenon, injecting the daily monotony of the average person to the same level of consciousness as ground-breaking news and celebrity sightings. you can find as many videos of average people ranting about Britney Spears as you can find actual video of Britney Spears.

-Youtube, unlike network news, is always on and always available. = someone is always watching.

considering this in light of these prison videos is incredibly revelatory of the current role Youtube might be playing in our society: the media, always influencing us in the most surreptitious ways, when placed in our own hands, has the ability to make us repeat itself to our own detriment.

take a look at any Youtube video and you will see what i mean. genres are making and perpetuating themselves everyday. the vlog rant. the celebrity satire. the video journal. there's a degree of comfort in seeing "average" people "just like us" on Youtube, while at the same time, comments like "shut up you f*in whore, you ugly faced b*tch" proliferate on every Youtube channel.

while a sense of democracy and control is bolstered by the success of Youtube, we can't help but feel the media's ability to enforce certain standards of appearance and form and style is not altogether eliminated in the process.

thus the panopticon. always watched = always controlled.



Rae Jin Devine said...

Always watched...but what about heard?


Oh, I heard Jason Mraz's cover of "I' Melt With You" and it reminded me of your podcast.

stephan!e lee said...

i don't know about "heard."

perhaps it functions in the same way. in either instant there's a sense of audience and performativity.

but there's always something powerful in the spectacular.


Rae Jin Devine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rae Jin Devine said...

I just feel there are times when you might rather be watched than ignored. If invisible, you can work behind the scenes...or be powerless anyway. If watched, you may not be able to do anything...but then again you can possibly get a message across.

It's all very Big Brother type stuff and while I can see how "Always Watched" CAN = "Always Controlled," I don't accept it as an absolute. Affected maybe, but perhaps I'm putting to much weight on your usage of "control?" It's a heavy word for me.

Anonymous said...

i have seen the video myself and i was able to watch the "behind the scene" of that video. a network in the philippines made a documentary about it and just to give you a trivia about the video, it was a provincial security consultant who suggested that the inmates take up dancing as a morning exercise. the guy holding the camera is the consultant, and the choreographer is the cebu privincial capitol architect. it is not open to the public and they are planning to put the inmates in teh guinness book of world records for their thriller and algorithm dance. ^_^

stephan!e lee said...

wowza! thank you very much for the info! it's great to finally know what brought these videos into existence!

behold, the wonder of the internet!