Hitchcock’s Rear Window famously discusses voyeurism via Jimmy Stewart’s audience analog, L.B. Jefferies, and his obsessive monitoring of the compartmental lifestyles of his fellow tenants. Traditionally, Jefferies’ selective gazing has been compared with the medium of cinema, as he derives a comparable fly-on-the-wall pleasure from spying on his neighbors as audience members do from viewing a film. That is to say, both are allowed to witness events unencumbered by the judgement of those subjects receiving their gaze while also enjoying a certain vicarious relation to the events they are witnessing. While the cinematic discipline does hold such pleasures and comparing Rear Window to the medium is apt, the advancement of technology has carried these voyeuristic tendencies forward across each decade’s reinterpretation of the art form. Thus, Hitchcock’s masterpiece can also be re-read, currently supporting comparisons to this decade’s primary form of expression: the Internet.
During the film’s initial run in 1954, television was in a state of popular infancy as consumers dabbled with the burgeoning medium. Due to such an untested fascination and the relegation of theatre to the graveyard of the past, film stood as the primary interpretive force behind Hitchcock’s narrative and visual design. As consumption of television propagated the social body, the adjacent windows of Jefferies’ courtyard grew to take on a comparable approximation to the various station options of the small screen. Each apartment, formerly representing narrative options of the silver screen, now came to resemble the process of “channel flipping”, with Jefferies scanning from window to window until his attention is gripped. The private nature of TV viewing also related closer to Jefferies’ interned vantage point than that of the group dreaming inherent within cinema; Stella and Lisa sharing in his voyeurism is no different than friends gathering on a couch to share in a football game. Ultimately, the number of viewers was minimized, edging closer to the individual referenced in the definition of voyeurism.
The current decade holds sway to society’s new captivator, however, the Internet. Social media’s rise to prominence within the medium only furthers a relation to Rear Window. Through the lens of Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and the excessive barrage of socializing platforms, Hitchcock’s themes of voyeuristic tendencies within humanity find a fruition. In effect, Rear Window mutates into RrrWndw.
Examining Facebook for a second, one will find a mass fascination with monitoring others’ daily lives. As the open windows of the film allow Jefferies to freely, secretly spy upon his neighbors’ existences, so too do the status updates, picture uploads, and relationship statuses of the Internet’s most used platform. Equally, the choice of the characters within Rear Window to leave their homes and lives open to viewing by unfurling their curtains and drawing their blinds compares to Facebook users’ decisions to post personal moments; each has the choice when to close off the flow. Furthermore, characters within the film relate exclusively to the social pleasures of Facebook. Miss Lonelyhearts, the Thorwalds, and the newlyweds would easily be associated to the “single”, “it’s complicated”, and “married” relationship status updates found on the site. The songwriter would relate to music sharing apps such as Spotify or Pandora. And Miss Torso parallels “trolling” of pictures (extending Laura Mulvey’s male gaze further than she would have thought possible).
On a further subtextual level, another similarity arises. Facebook exists upon the notion of presentation. Each user shapes their image toward their desired summation; commonly this will incorporate actual “likes” and interests, but the freedom of the site can be used to create a fiction, as well. Ultimately, the choice of belief and interpretation falls to the viewer of the information. Jefferies serves a similar purpose in Rear Window, pooling snippets of data from his viewings, only to piece the narratives together within his imagination. However, imagination might be too strong a word. Jefferies concludes foul play is afoot by relating Thorwald’s relationship to his own. So too does a Facebook user compare their “likes”, relationships, pictures, and experiences with those of their friends, ending up with a similar voyeuristic/vicarious satisfaction where joy or release is found by way of others’ existences. The end result falls somewhere between anonymity and full disclosure, with viewers/users/Jefferies devouring formerly solely personal information at the discretion of the subject.
In total, these comparisons between the film’s themes and these social mediums concludes in one notion: voyeurism shapes our media. As the definition of the term relates to a single individual secretly witnessing sexual (personal) acts of others without reprisal, one can see social mediums have been working towards this goal for some time. Film theaters began the progression with a shadowed group viewing experience tailored to recreate individual dreams or fantasies. Television parred the process down further by moving the screen to a private location where only the residents of the location would share in the process. The Internet, via social media platforms, has finally realized the definition, however, by offering a solo, personalized viewing option, controlled by the viewer themselves. With close to 900,000,000 users of Facebook across the world, the conclusion holds. That is also not to discount the continued success of film and television, as well.
Technology may lead us further toward our subconscious desires, however, with future advancements edging toward our voyeuristic goal. Hitchcock’s unequable ability to tap into society’s hidden desires and fantasies will undoubtedly lead Rear Window to change with it.