- The Pornocratic Body in the Age of Networked Paranoia
And I don't need to see any more
To know that I can read your mind—Alan Parsons Project, "Eye in the Sky" (1982)
My subject is the relation between the pornocratic body and the scopic regime produced by the networked age. Pornocracy, to borrow from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's Pornocracy, or Women in Modern Times, here designates the way the sexual exhibition of the body is understood to secure political power. In the networked age, the totality of visibility promised by a new scopic regime, together with the shift in digital media from representation to projection, makes the public body, and with it pornocracy, subject to a new imaginary. Under the networked regime, a global imaginary threatens to make any body, including the pornocrat's, as irrelevant as it is visible.1 Contemporary pornocrats counter this trend, which diminishes the power of pornocracy, leading them, or the governing apparatus, to extreme forms of self-revelation. While the Marquis de Sade gets credit for imagining total enlightenment, or full frontal visibility (Judovitz, 171–98), the new regime ushered in by global surveillance exchanges his rational positivism for big-data mining, for an archive of objects that then serve as parts in a psychological machine. Neither this age nor Sade's has quite managed to treat bodies as interchangeable things, as Sade's philosophy recommends, but now the universal perspective produced by spectacle comes closer to making the exhibition of the body, and with it the securing of pornocratic power, irrelevant. [End Page 134]
The idea of a total scopic regime, a world in which nothing is hidden, has been heralded by aerial photography, x-rays, night vision, and other technologies that flatten out the distinctions between inside and out, day and night, public and private. In War and Cinema, Paul Virilio argues that visualization in general has evolved along with military technologies. "Just as weapons and armour developed in unison … so visibility and invisibility now began to evolve together," producing radar, sonar, and spy satellites (72). These technologies are not so much about the image as they are about perception and perceivability, detection, and exposure. The imagined teleology of intelligibility is the capacity of the apparatus to spy anything everywhere. In what is now a familiar formulation, a technical sergeant describes the global reach and effect of the military's Distributed Global System:
It spans the globe and it eats data, and it eats lots and lots and lots of data. This is global. This is getting information anywhere at any time, shooting people from anywhere, at any time. … It's like borders don't matter anymore. And there's a huge system that spans the globe that can just suck up endless amounts of your life, your personal data. … And we're not the only ones that have this—this is going to become commonplace, if it's not already.("National Bird" 11:50–13:06)
Akira Lippit writes that the shifting of perspective from locality to systemic vision becomes universal with the advent of the atom bomb, an x-ray that penetrates the body and makes divisions of here and there, inside and outside irrelevant (81–91).2 These precursor technologies produce global visualization and lead to what Rey Chow calls, after Heidegger, "The age of the world target." In the networked age, they become an imaginary government over and in relation to the world.
Several of these themes can be found, by way of introduction, in "The Magic Bush," a 2014 South Park TV episode about the ambiguous power of exhibition under the networked scopic regime. In this episode, Eric Cartman learns that Butters's father has a new drone. The drone is said to be the father's ("Your dad has a fucking drone?!")—and its object, as we soon learn, is the mother. "We can spy on everyone!" says Cartman. As Cartman explains later, we live in a world where privacy no longer exists. "We can see that girl from Hunger Games' butthole," he explains (11:30). The drone makes visible even those places where the sun don't shine: it's...