Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere!

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Leviathan
loves a flattering self-portrait.

Some
people envision Leviathan as a big hairy slightly benevolent monster,
the kind that you feared was hiding under your bed when you were
four, scary but a monster that your parents would have been able
to handle. It's the kind of monster that you'd notice if he were
standing outside your front door. If we go back a bit further than
Hobbes and look at what Job in the Old Testament says about this
monster, we'd see that it has "mighty strength” and that "round
about his teeth is terror. His back is made of rows of shields."
Things certainly calmed down a bit for Leviathan's image after the
Old Testament. In the illustration of a currently published Hobbes
paperback, Leviathan is merely a slightly-befuddled-looking giant,
protecting the masses that are contained inside the monster’s body.
 It is this version of Leviathan that we want to believe, the
slightly helpful, slightly befuddled monster of government that
is here to help us. Leviathan must love this more flattering image;
its existence depends on it.

How
else do we explain Leviathan's latest coup, a $400,000 federal government
grant, followed closely by another $300,000 federal grant, followed
by a generous donation by Motorola of $1,000,000 in equipment. What
modern government miracle does all this money grant us? Why, placing
security cameras in the Jordan Downs housing project in the Watts
area of Los Angeles, of course! What a splendid idea for the police
force there, ah, well, or what used to be the police force. Councilwoman
Janice Hahn actually said, after claiming that she was "cautious
about endorsing the cameras," and while apparently bearing
a straight face, that a loss of funding for the "housing police
department" prompted the Los Angeles Police Department's claim
that "they don't have the officers to patrol properly."

I
don't claim to be an economist – ask my husband, he'll definitely
agree. But it does seem as though $1,700,000, adding together the
corporate and government generosity mentioned in the previous paragraph,
would hire quite a few officers–possibly enough for a housing project's
security. Maybe Councilwoman Hahn doesn't know about the grants
– doubtful – or maybe she just doesn't put two and two,
or in this case, one million and seven hundred thousand, together.
I can relate – a lot of us were trained in government school
mathematics, the unstated purpose of which is to produce people
such as Councilwoman Hahn, people who merely want to be "cautious"
about Big Brother's moves and who don't connect enough numbers and
dots to say: Hey, if you're going to spend that much money, why
don't you just hire more police officers?!?

And
I don't mean only to place the blame on Ms. Hahn. She's probably
got enough going on in her life, trying to rationalize irrational
behavior such as spying on citizens with cameras. Anyway, she's
not the only one to be merely "cautious" about this camera
thing. In fact, she pales in comparison to such governmental luminaries
as Assistant Chief George Gascon, head of daily LAPD operations,
"Cameras are as much a part of policing now as handcuffs."

I
can't help but think of my husband here who, as young boy, opened
his Santa Claus presents before his parents woke up one Christmas,
and, finding a pair of toy handcuffs from Santa under the tree,
accidentally handcuffed his own hands behind his back, forcing his
parents out of bed way too early to fetch the key and unlock him.
I'm proud to say that my husband has learned a few things since
that time, things that apparently Chief Gascon has not. My husband
no longer plays with handcuffs.

As
with my husband, some people in the housing project have actually
grown up. A few residents have much better sense than those whom
Leviathan has chosen to protect them. While LAPD Cmdr. Charlie Beck
is telling us that "It's the criminals, not residents, we're
targeting," and admonishing that the "residents will grow
to understand this is there to protect them," the residents,
whom Leviathan has so generously helped with their housing needs,
have defiantly taken to thinking for themselves: "How do you
think they'd feel if I put a camera outside their homes?" asks
Robert Lopez. Robert obviously did not have enough public schooling.
He sees Leviathan for its sneaky monster self and is actually standing
up to this devious beast.  Never fear, Leviathan is working
behind the scenes to make sure that people like Robert "grow
to understand."

Sneaky
is as sneaky does; and this time, I must admire the craftiness with
which Leviathan has bundled this little security package. You see,
some of the grant money will actually be used to conduct computer
classes because, along with a little extra added governmental security
via surveillance, the residents will receive "free wireless
Internet access." Hooray! Now it's all okay, isn't it?
Our friend Robert, way too smart for Leviathan, has this one figured
out too. He knows of "few residents who have computers to take
advantage of the Internet access."

Police
Commission Vice President Alan Skobin, however, has people like
Robert all figured out: "This isn't about Big Brother,"
says Skobin, apparently without a hint of irony, "It is about
protecting and serving the public." So there, Robert! And let
Skobin's quote also be noted to everyone else who hasn't been so
desensitized by the reality show Big Brother that they have
forgotten the 1984
allusion. Oh, and then there's James Foreman, another thinking resident,
who ponders: "Do you think people around here are going to
trust the LAPD to use their Internet connect?" With so many
thinking people around, it's easy to see why the government wants
to monitor things.  "Maybe it will catch someone,"
another resident ponders. Maybe indeed. If Leviathan and its corporate
pal are doling out almost two million dollars, you can bet there'll
be some catching going on.

And
is Motorola merely being a good corporate citizen here? Or is it
hoping that this little camera snooping thing will catch on, so
that its investment in this housing community will yield more contracts
across the country?  All in the name of security and protection,
of course.

Nothing
much surprises me about this Leviathan move, or about its sneakiness
on the "underprivileged," as Bush's loving mother calls
those who are evidently not privileged. I'm assuming here that she
would apply the same word to the people in this housing project
as she did to the people who were unlucky enough to be caught in
Katrina's subsequent Superdome fiasco. Lest we be as smug as Mama
Bush – compared to the Bush family, most of us are indeed underprivileged.

The
supposedly underprivileged, though, have been guinea pigs for Leviathan's
creeping paws for quite a while. While Rob Reiner and his posse
are telling Californians that we should allow Leviathan to take
away our children and educate them by age 3–using the term educate
ever so loosely here – the coalition for universal preschool
in California is citing studies that show how taking away students
from their parents all day helps to improve their academic performance,
at least until they're in second grade or so. Diane
Flynn Keith has information on this ploy.

Never
mind that the studies were mostly done using that wonderful Leviathan
helper, Head Start, a program of the mid-1960s that resulted
in some of the very people that Mama Bush now calls underprivileged.
Leviathan was so successful with these guinea pigs that its ideas
spread to the more privileged. One theory of marketing shows that
it is much easier to take a product initially designed for higher-income
folks and market it to those of us nearer the bottom of the income
chain. Think Guess jeans in the 80s here.

But
in Leviathan's topsy-turvy world, things initially marketed to the
lower-income folks eventually become the desire of the middle and
upper classes. How else does one explain the recent campaign telling
those of us whose children watch PBS that we better make sure our
children attend the right preschool as early as possible, or else
they won't be attending the right college. Reiner and his ilk have
taken Head Start statistics, which show that children benefit from
early education programs, and applied them to all children.
The ploy is working and mothers everywhere now believe they are
not smart enough to teach their own children the alphabet and such. As
with many people born in the mid-1960s or later, I assumed
that preschool had been around for most of our country's existence.
Ah, the sneakiness of Leviathan, educating us masses to believe
that things have always been some particular way!

Ms.
Keith informed me that preschool is a relatively new invention.
I was indeed surprised to learn that prior to Head Start, most moms
stayed home with their children until the compulsory school age
of six or seven – that children learned at home and
became "school-ready," whatever that vague phrase means.
Tell that to the moms I know, most of whom are scrambling to place
their child into a preschool of some sort – all the better
if there can be some kind of developmental disorder with which to
diagnose Junior so that he can go to a special preschool program
on Leviathan's dime.

But
I digress. Or do I? Is it implausible that Leviathan is playing
another sneaky trick, this time with the Watts housing residents?
While we comfortably sleep, currently unwatched, in our middle-class
suburbs, supposedly free from the gang activity that Leviathan is
blaming for its candid camera experiment, we are tempted to believe
that Leviathan has a point this time. Maybe Leviathan is helping
the poor people to stay safe!

It
must have been easy for people in my Los Angeles neighborhood to
watch Head Start in the 1960s and say, Isn't that nice that they're
doing something good for the poor children? And here we are,
40 years later, with my being an anomaly because I keep my children
at home with me instead of having them diagnosed with some supposed
disability and sending them to a government preschool. Never fear
– through such programs as the sneaky camera project, Leviathan
is trying hard to condition my own children that cameras are there
for our protection. If you doubt me, go to your local intersection
with a camera that snaps your picture and license plate if you do
something it doesn't like.

There’s
no use in believing that Leviathan is the boogeyman or that its
biblical description is at all relevant to us today. Leviathan is
merely that nice police officer who's protecting you. And now it's
becoming the police officer's benevolent tool: the camera –
just watching. And patiently waiting.

Quotes
are from "LAPD to Train Cameras on High-Crime Area in Watts,"
Los Angeles Times. Friday, September 23, 2005.

September
26, 2005

Tricia
Shore [send her mail]
is the Comic Mom.

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