The future of privacy in literature and film; Or, a long rant that leads to discussion of Victorian literature, horror films, the Duggars, and (of course) the Hunger Games.

I just had an interesting conversation with my boss (and very good friend) about the future of privacy. I think of the important role privacy has played throughout literature, and the thought that the next generation may have no understanding of the private moment as a dramatic device or meaningful plot moment really concerns me.

We got onto this discussion when I told her about various Apps on iPhones and iPads having access to your personal information--information like your contacts list and your text messages. Then, she brought up the excellent point that so many of the young people in the generations coming up have no concept of privacy. Everything is out there for everyone to see (usually on Facebook or Twitter)--their baby photos, their mom's exasperation with their behavior as toddlers and teenagers, their college indiscretions, their love lives, etc.

I can't help but think that we are experiencing a major shift in the way we look at privacy and its actual definition. I am not talking about a political argument here or about whether or not we should have cameras on the streets. No--just the concept of privacy and how that has changed, especially in its role in literature and tension in the stories we read and tell.

Reading, in itself, is a very private act.


As I have mentioned before on this blog, one of the main reasons reading was and is considered dangerous is because you have no interference between the reader and what he or she sees on the page. In other words, it is an intensely private moment that can lead to various outcomes. In the past, women, especially, were told that reading was bad for them, and many parents refused to teach their female children to read. I won't go into all of that here, but the point is that the inability to control the private act of reading (when everything else could be controlled in a female child's life) was a huge deal to many (and still is, in some cases).

Then, in novels and plays (especially those of the nineteenth century), we see women struggling with the moral implications of privacy. Women are often portrayed as being in the company of other women or family members twenty-four hours a day. Women slept in the same bed together, went walking together, went shopping together, etc. All of this occurred because the idea of a woman being alone was considered dangerous and, in some cases, immoral. A woman alone was subject to becoming a victim of gossip--especially if she was in the company of a man without the observant eye of a chaperone watching over them.

When a reader sees a woman alone with a man in one of these stories or plays, there is a shift in meaning and in the tension of the story. Suddenly, the stakes are higher. Suddenly, something could happen.

I think about how this line of thinking has changed and how it has stayed the same, depending upon the group you are in at the time. For example, we think nothing (most of the time) of a woman and man alone together in a film or a book. In fact, we look forward to it because it is romantic. Or, even more incomprehensible to the Victorians, we think nothing of it because it is normal.

But this isn't the case in all genres of films or books. Take a horror movie, for example. We still know exactly what is going to happen if a woman is alone in a house at night. (Yes, this is an issue dependent upon the sex of the "victim.") We all know what is going to happen in a movie if a woman starts to walk down a dark alley, or, in a Lifetime special, what is going to happen if a young girl goes to meet someone she has chatted up on the internet. These are moments of being alone or private--and they lead to danger. We still depend upon these moments for dramatic tension in storytelling.

On a similar but seemingly different note: take a show like "Nineteen Kids and Counting," about the Duggar family. The children, once they are old enough to try to find a spouse, are chaperoned at all times. Everyone is with everyone else. Private moments between members of the opposite sex are considered to be immoral. In this instance, we see a shift back to nineteenth-century standards of behavior. (As a side note, I am not bashing the Duggars. I don't agree with everything they do, but I have nothing against them...and I really want to try some of their recipes.) Now, interestingly, there are moments allowed for privacy in the Duggar home. There is a prayer closet, where each child can go to be alone and pray and read the bible. I have only seen the girl children do this...but I don't catch all of the episodes. So, here is an important shift: private reading time allowed for female children. Still, it must be kept in mind that even those moments of privacy are as carefully monitored as they can be, for the space in which to read and the material to be read are controlled.

I know that I haven't explained my concerns as well as I could, but these issues are still forming in my head. So, why this long rant about nineteenth-century literature ending with the Duggars? Well, I can't help but wonder what is going to happen with future generations. Will privacy still be an issue outside of select groups like the Duggars? Though there is a growing community participating in their type of lifestyle, it still isn't the norm. So, what about the rest of the world? What happens when you have no concept of privacy? When first kisses and arguments and other important moments are captured forever by anyone in possession of a recording device? If the notion that everything we do is seen by someone else (or could be seen by someone else), will we ever end up losing the dramatic tension caused by the threat of the private moment? Or, maybe the threat of the private moment begins to increase even more, because it becomes  so rare...


Think of the Hunger Games series: what does the Capital consider to be the most dangerous moments in the story? The moments that are unpredictable...and usually, those moments come out of private thoughts and actions--or, even more threatening, the moments the cameras don't catch. I think that the Hunger Games is a great predictor of how this issue might turn out in the future. In that series, except for a few private moments not caught on film, the human mind experiencing a private, unmonitored thought is still the biggest threat to those in control. In book three, Mockingjay, my main criticism is that Kat feels so detached, but perhaps something else is going on. In Mockingjay, the stakes are at their highest. Though Kat is experiencing one blow after another, perhaps she has learned the ultimate lesson of her interactions with the Capital: don't allow anyone inside.

And that includes the reader.

So, at the end, in one respect, it feels like Kat should block us out, because in a situation of war and death on such a massive scale, it is dangerous to let anyone experience what is going on inside of your head. I often felt frustrated because I couldn't connect with Kat in that final book, considering that I had been privy to her thoughts before that point. But thinking about it today...well, I am okay with it.

So, there ends the lesson.   :)

I guess that we have an interesting future ahead of us. I am not sure that I like it so much, but I can't stop it..

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