The perverse coupling of surveillance and exhibitionism forms a cornerstone of American technocracy. Most Americans, be they liberals or libertarians, are unnerved by government agents, corporate data-miners, or high-tech Peeping Toms probing their personal details. And yet invasive, weirdly intimate technologies multiply like digital cockroaches, all but devouring the expectation of privacy taken for granted only a generation ago. Progress is simply too en vogue to resist.
Reality television brings a glamorous air to perpetual surveillance. The genre has enjoyed immense popularity over the last decade—comprising nearly a fifth of new broadcast programs this season—with cameramen poking into American life’s every facet. From moneyed luxury’s heights to the working-class struggle’s dregs, everyone’s in line for their 15 minutes of fame.
Consequently, the art of living on film is continually refined. But the recent success of TLC’s Sister Wives sounds an ominous warning as to who may be watching behind the camera’s prying eye. Immediately after the show’s premiere—which revealed a renegade Mormon polygamist’s fecund lifestyle—Utah authorities launched an investigation on Kody Brown and his four wives, with bigamy charges pending.