Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Sunday, 23 July, 2000, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Are we turning into Peeping Toms?

This month has seen the launch of a new, fully interactive TV show - developed from a Dutch idea - in both the UK and the US.

But what does the Big Brother series say about modern society? Television appears obsessed with fly-on-the-wall documentaries and on the internet we have had live births, surgical operations and weddings.

Are we becoming a society of Peeping Toms or is the trend simply a sign of the natural inquisitiveness of mankind? Is there something to be gained from watching other people living their lives?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Reality TV was an interesting novelty when it first came out as the Real World on MTV what was it, 9 years ago? But now it just seems much more interesting to go and live your own life rather then watch others live their lives while you sit and vegetate.
Osiris Johnson, Hawaii, USA

Big Brother was inevitable. If you look at the history of television, you see that it is a relentless progression away from a focus on paid celebrities and toward a focus on "real everyday" people.
Derek Zinger, Spain (but American)

If these people choose to indulge in voluntary imprisonment under constant surveillance they have missed an easier method to reap the reward. Simply steal £70,000, then they will be able to live out their desired lifestyle having already secured their windfall.
Ben Bartlett, England

The main thing about a programme like this is that the people taking part KNOW they are so their behaviour will NOT be natural (for me this invalidates the whole exercise anyway).
Mark Harris, UK

Next time you are watching Big Brother or any other banal and insulting TV show, I suggest placing a small mirror on top of your TV set. That way, whenever somebody does something interesting on the TV, you can glance up at the mirror and compare it to what you are 'doing' (i.e. slumping on a sofa, getting fat and wasting your ONE AND ONLY LIFE). This may then make you take the next logical step and THROW Your TV out of the WINDOW (check for passing pedestrians first)....GET A LIFE!
Mark, UK

Its novel and entertaining tripe

Brian Dawes, Australia
Its novel and entertaining tripe - the novelty will quickly erode and ratings will fall. See how enduring the style is when that happens!
Brian Dawes, Australia

I didn't know we funded all of the medical research necessary to find cures for terminal illnesses so that now we can spend on such foolish reasons.
Molly, USA

Maybe it's just a co-incidence but I find a strange parallel when one of the current best-selling PC games is 'The Sim' where you get to control a family on the computer and watch them go through their everyday lives. Meanwhile on TV you can watch a bunch of people going through their everyday lives. Surely a great deal of entertainment (books, plays, movies, TV) is based on watching or reading accounts of the fictional lives of other people. What is so repugnant about watching the real lives of other people?
Rob Williams, USA (But British)

Of course it's cheap voyeurism, but so what? Those ten people want to be watched, and there's no harm in it

Caspar, UK
Watching Big Brother is a bit like sitting on a bench and watching the people around you. Of course it's cheap voyeurism, but so what? Those ten people want to be watched, and there's no harm in it. Get some perspective - it's just half an hour's entertainment a couple of times a week, and it's good TV. After all, there's nowt so queer as folk.
Caspar, UK

There's no blame to be laid with the viewer for this sort of thing; if people want to make monkeys of themselves in pursuit of filthy lucre and don't care how much they debase themselves in the process, I think we can all stand back, have a good laugh at them and enjoy ourselves.
Jon Pendrous, UK

So we'll ban chat shows, stand up comics, documentaries, after-dinner speakers, news updates and wildlife programs.

Herman Mackie, UK
So we'll ban chat shows, stand up comics, documentaries, after-dinner speakers, news updates and wildlife programs. If it's so bad to do this for consenting humans, then out of interest, did Wildlife on 1 ever get written permission from the poor monkeys and hippos that they subjected to the Big Brother treatment? (And did they get £70k at the end of the series?)
Herman Mackie, UK

I can understand the for's and against, but why do they have to film them in the bathroom? Is anyone really interested in that?
Marsha, England

How can Big Brother be classified as 'Peeping Tom' television when the half wits they have chosen to appear on the show know they are being watched? I think a far better format for the show would have been to choose the same people but while they were living in the Big Brother house, install real hidden cameras in their homes and after the program has run it's course, see what this group of drama queens and attention seeking no-hopers are really like!
Steven, Scotland

It is a very good idea. If I had the chance I would be on the show.
Ben Pragnell, Northampton, UK

Where's the harm in having a show that is cheap for the TV companies to make, allows 1 of 10 people to make £70,000 and provides entertainment for the masses

Stephen, UK
Where's the harm in having a show that is cheap for the TV companies to make, allows 1 of 10 people to make £70,000 and provides entertainment for the masses. The arguments that those who watch it don't have a life are ridiculous. It just provides another forum for discussion down the pub as any Hollywood film would, but in this case you actually get to make fun of "real people". These 10 people have given their full consent to be filmed 24/7 so there is no issue of invading their privacy. People should get off their high horse and either enjoy the show - or watch something else - but don't patronise the rest of us with your old fashioned morals.
Stephen, UK

This sort of programme is more artificial than the Tory Parties election manifestos. Whatever you put on TV, there will be an audience. There are people out there who find it easier to indulge in the 'screen based culture' than go out and live life to the full. Enjoy it and miss out.
Abdul Choudhury, England

I think it's a genuine shame that we are served an increasing diet of fly-on-the-wall programmes, docu-soaps and now this

Simon Feegrade, England
I'm not a prude or a small-minded puritan who thinks it is sick and distasteful. I just think it's a stupid, tedious idea and a complete waste of broadcast time and resources, which - along with a lot of other shows, I hasten to add - underlines the growing creative bankruptcy in television. I like television, and I think it's a genuine shame that we are served an increasing diet of fly-on-the-wall programmes, docu-soaps and now this, while it seems there is less and less good-quality drama, comedy and documentaries that aren't littered with stupid background music.
Simon Feegrade, England

People are interesting and, largely, fun; provided you can interact with them. These vacuous TV shows will be watched by people scared of interacting with others. This is perfectly understandable since if they vented their sordid curiosity in real life, someone might hit them. Or, even worse, laugh at them.
Tom Holt, UK

The chorus of disgust about this programme seems to have missed the point. The contestants are volunteers, so there is obviously no invasion of privacy issue; and it's hardly a challenge to find sex, nudity or fly on the wall programming on TV so this show's contribution to that total is minimal. What is really fascinating in this case is to see each contestant manoeuvre to try to appear both likeable (to ensure their popularity with the rest of the group) and watchable (sufficiently interesting that the public won't vote to throw them out). The rising tension as the numbers slowly dwindle should make for great viewing - it's drama as much documentary.
Alistair Forgan, England

Programs like Big Brother are an insult to the human intelligence.
Roberto C. Alvarez-Galloso, Florida

It shows how lazy and unmotivated Western society has become

Stephen Kenney, USA
It shows how lazy and unmotivated Western society has become. It's far easier for a person to just sit on the couch and watch someone else having an interesting or entertaining life, than go and get one for oneself.
Stephen Kenney, USA

If you don't like it don't watch it. I think it is an intriguing idea and I will definitely be watching it. This programme has created a storm of controversy from the small-minded puritans that probably want to have violence, sex, and bad language banned from our screens.
Cameron Waaler, England

It seems there are more and more TV programmes spying on the public. They started off almost softcore, with us watching people at work or committing crime. Now we are watching people at home and seeing the minutiae of their private lives. If it is socially acceptable to spy on one person at home why not everyone's home 24 hrs a day?
Sarah Jane, UK

It should be made mandatory for all politicians that they be on air all the time. Besides, this could be extended even to their public life with cameras following their every move. This way, I am sure they would never indulge in corrupt practices and, in fact, keep on doing good things in life and so to society.
B H Kasinath, India

Get REAL people, it's not doing anyone any harm so if you don't like it, don't watch it.

Toby, UK
I think Big Brother is great. Yet many people think I am sick or sad for doing so. I wonder how that can be. I am well educated, I come from a pretty normal background and I have a wife and family. I got out a lot, socialise, watch movies, read books, read the paper every day while on the way to work, travel as much as my employment allows... In short, I have a life. Yet I also strive to learn and experience new things. I love to learn new things about my environment, how my world works and how people and things in it interact. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction. So I find it interesting observing these people, their arguments/problems/love affairs etc, big deal. Get REAL people, it's not doing anyone any harm so if you don't like it, don't watch it.
Toby, UK

A group of people being constantly watched in a closed environment with nothing to do? I'm debating making a low budget version called "Prison"!
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/USA

I think the only reason there are so many of this 'Voyeuristic' type of programme around is because they are cheap to make, which gives a much bigger profit for the TV companies. If people are dumb enough to watch them, then obviously they'll make more...
Gaz Thomas, UK

They are simply being themselves and acting and reacting as human beings. We are all interested in that on some level.

Jim, USA
Most of us are voyeuristic by nature, we may say that we think this is awful and distasteful, yet we find ourselves watching every day. Why? Because it is all about human interaction. These people are on camera 24/7 and they know they are on camera. Sure, they act up sometimes because of that, but at the end of it all, they are simply being themselves and acting and reacting as human beings. We are all interested in that on some level.
Jim, USA

I can think of few things less interesting than watching a group of people live their day-to-day lives. I have my own neighbourhood in the street where I live. I don't want to look in someone else's bedroom, just as I don't want these people looking in my bedroom.
John B, UK

Electronic net curtains.

J Cahill, UK
There's nothing essentially new about this. There have always been those whose own life is so dull that they need to tune into someone else's. Electronic net curtains.
J Cahill, UK

I think this programme is an EXCELLENT idea. It will keep thousands of socially inept people glued to their TV sets, living vicariously through the participants. Keeps them out of my way when I go out to live my REAL life!
Jonathan King, Switzerland (Brit)

In all fairness I suppose you could say that you don't have to watch whatever is broadcast, however, when you pay your TV licence one does expect a bit more for your money than a bunch of kids taking their clothes of and being stupid on camera. It all seems like a bit of a complete waste of time and money to me and totally reflective of the way society is going in general¿. The boundaries of what is acceptable or what the public want to see are being stretched further and further and at this rate, there will pretty soon be no restrictions on what is forced on us under the guise of entertainment.
Harriet, England

The viewer can identify with the people on the screen and I find it quite positive

Mark, Austria
I watched some of the German version and it's pretty harmless, tedious stuff most of the time - although the weekly highlights are interesting. The postings saying it is sick and morally wrong are from people who obviously haven't seen the show. Its success comes from its realism. There are no perfect Hollywood actors constantly excelling at everything, living the American dream and then shooting scores of people in a blood bath without batting an eyelid. The programme shows real life and how people interact with each other. The viewer can identify with the people on the screen and I find it quite positive.
Mark, Austria

These programmes don't say anything about the declining morals of society as a whole; they just show what sleazeballs run TV channels.
Paul B, UK

People are interested in each other. Watching other people's everyday lives on TV strikes me as somewhat sad and dull but as long as it's voluntary, I don't see a problem. It's when government agents start doing it without our knowledge we should worry!
Dan Peters, UK

There is no supply without demand. Obviously a lot of people want this rubbish.
Chris Klein, UK

Wow, a programme where I get to watch people live? Coo - maybe I might discover how to have a life myself if I watch it!

Paul Charters, England
Wow, a programme where I get to watch people live? Coo - maybe I might discover how to have a life myself if I watch it! People will steadily become desensitised to this sort of thing, the same way that sex in films doesn't shock us any more. If you want to watch a programme then fine. If you don't, turn it off. If people don't watch it then it'll get cut!
Paul Charters, England

The question of privacy which is one of the basic ideals of freedom in democracy is increasingly threatened by the internet. Suitable measures have to fall in line to ensure privacy of the net users, especially in the developing nations.
Parameswaran, India

But I wonder what kind of people would want to watch every detail of the lives of men and women locked in a TV studio? These viewers must be some of the saddest examples of humanity. Can't they find something else to do? How about reading a book. Or going for a walk, or getting together with friends for good conversation. In short, get a life!
Michael, Canada

Another good reason to get rid of the TV.
Jill McG, UK

Why should I watch other people sit around and do the stuff that I do all day long?

Reena Vadehra , USA
These new peeping tom shows are not really new and are not the effect of the internet. It really is the next step coming after forty years of television. Think about it. With television, we were able to peep into people's lives through soaps, dramas, and even news. For the past forty years, we have embraced these shows into our homes, idolising the characters on the screen. So when these new shows appear, people jump at the opportunity to become what they have always seen on the TV. Why should I watch other people sit around and do the stuff that I do all day long? But if you think about it, these peeping tom shows are the future step for the media - whether we like it or not. And are more likely not to be stopped.
Reena Vadehra , USA

There is only one thing that really needs to be said on this subject. If you don't like these programs, use your brain and the "OFF" switch!
Jenny, England

Some Romans had precisely the same worries about how people would be affected watching gladiators kill each other in the arena. It seems to me that this is a little better than that. Still unpleasant, perhaps.
Will, UK

'Peeping Tom' is an unnecessary slur against anyone with the name Tom or Thomas

Thomas Miller
I do not appreciate your use of the name Tom when describing voyeurs and voyeurism. It is an unnecessary slur against anyone with the common name Tom or Thomas. In this age of political correctness why cannot you use the correct terminology?
Thomas Miller

The nicest thing about a TV set is that you can switch it off. In The Netherlands there were numerous protests against the Big Brother programme. Lots of people advised us not to watch it. But so many people (including a lot of those who were against) must have seen Big Brother. What about hypocrisy?
Cees van Vliet, Netherlands

Besides the strong interest in voyeurism, there are other reasons why Big Brother was successful in Germany. One reason is "trash"-hype: to become a star it's helpful to be a complete idiot, so that others can talk about the stupid things you said in the last show. One of the big brother guys got famous by not knowing who Shakespeare was... etc.
Michael Hoffmann, Germany

This voyeurism fad is actually nothing new; how else would tabloids and magazines such as "Hello" stay afloat?
Martin Short, United Kingdom

X-rated movies and TV shows put people in competition to get better sex

Jahanur, USA
The TV and movies brought Peeping Toms to us. When people started to watch other people's private parts in public. Whether those people in the X-rated movies are acting or not, they were showing the ultimate secrets of human beings and those who were watching in public, rather then privately, shame started to fade from people's hearts. X-rated movies and TV shows not only took the shame out at the same time it put people in competition to get better sex. So people started compete in displaying sexual parts in public in order to attract opposite sex. At the same time those shameless people started to observe each other to gain or allow other to watch in order get partner.
Jahanur, USA

Ninety per cent of what's on TV is just electronic wallpaper, so I don't think it is a very important indicator of social values.
Tom, Australia

We haven't become peeping toms because of the internet. Titillation has always been sought from the tragedies/lives/scandals of others (see the everlasting popularity of rubbernecking, muckraking journalism and so on). The net has merely provided a hitherto undreamt-of means of indulging the habit, in a period in our evolution when there are fewer inhibitions about doing it openly.
Donald Bathgate, Italy

We must differentiate between visuals where the subject is aware that they are being watched (fly on the wall documentaries and *most* web-cams) and those where there is a genuine ignorance that the individual is being monitored (e.g. hidden web-cams and surveylance equipment at work). It is the latter that draws a voyeur due to the power that it gives the observer.
David Aspden, Wales

Peeping Tom Syndrome is a disease. There is nothing good to be gained to watching other people living. On the contrary it's harmful to society.
Kafi, Bangladesh

I think that somewhere along the way, we have all lost an essential ingredient in life. Call it self-satisfaction or inner tranquility, but we seem to be constantly searching for what is missing by dissecting and examining other peoples lives. I think that we should all take a look at ourselves and develop our own lives. A little mystique and imagination would be a welcome relief from all this modern reality. Maybe the escape into the fantasy world is the secret of success in the Harry Potter books?
Pat van der Veer, Nova Scotia, Canada

Welcome to the age of the plebian, the primacy of the vulgar and the triumph of the bland

We have become a society of Peeping Toms. However, it is inevitable as the pursuit of selfish pleasure remains the paramount goal, that people will want bigger and bigger enetertainment kicks. The decadence of American chat shows or some of the fly-on-the-wall" documentaries from the UK, where people's private life becomes a laughing stock, is the emotional and psychological equivalent of the Roman arena. Welcome to the age of the plebian, the primacy of the vulgar and the triumph of the bland.
Conall, Ireland

The vastly overhyped internet is responsible for the "apparent" interest in Big Brother type of things. It is like the mobile phone phenomenon, gullible people swayed by media pressure. For those of us, like myself, with a mind of our own, you are able to focus on what is important in this life and get on with it. Family, friends, your health and interests. wasting your life in front of a computer screen isn't my idea of a life, you only get one chance at life. Enjoy it.
Dibbs, England

Perhaps this sort of programme is more reflective of our natural inquisitive run amok and facilitated by advances in technology! Like a car crash one observes on the highway, one wishes it wasn't there, but we can't help ourselves from looking; pathetic, but base in its appeal! Still, this is one programme I won't be watching, though I'm sure it will be successful without my patronage
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

I don't want somebody watching me in the bath or the toilet or even bed or anywhere else for that matter. I not into this voyeuristic malarkey

Douglas Thompson
I agree with Mr Newdick, technological advances have certainly had a part to play in the world of voyeurism, I think natural inquisitiveness is a contributory factor but I think our desire to see natural expressiveness rather than starched personalities make these programmes popular. People should learn to interact more rather than sitting on the sidelines watching. (he says whilst surfing the net)
Mr Brown, UK

We are. I don't want somebody watching me in the bath or the toilet or even bed or anywhere else for that matter. I not into this voyeuristic malarkey.
Douglas Thompson, England

Reality-based television shows are only the latest chapter in journalism's penchant for snooping. The media, most especially the press, has always considered privacy to be nonexistent. Television is merely catching up to this fact. Privacy, as a concept, is only a bit over 100 years old in civil society. To the purveyors of media - just as to those of other personal information - what we regard as privacy is a commodity to business, whether media-owned or other commercial enterprises. The new shows only exploit the basest parts of human nature.
Paul Hartnett, USA

I find the concept of this show, and other like it, to be a sick form of entertainment. It might pass for a poor excuse for a psychological experiment, but it should not be for public viewing. It does not say much for our society when people willingly put themselves through this situation for publicity and money.
Diane Sands, USA

I don't see the problem. It's just the "new thing" in entertainment. The people who are being watched have given their full permission. It will have its peak and trundle off into the background like all fads. People should stop being so judgmental and uptight.
Mike Clarke, UK

This spring it was on German TV and it seems everybody was watching it, the participants became stars. We live in a media society, everybody can be famous for 15 minutes. It is a fantasy for the masses.
Marc Itschner, Switzerland

People would find it better to find out what their kids are doing instead of watching someone else's life on TV

Tim Williams, UK
I think the fly-on-the-wall series are a turnoff. I do not find it entertaining. People would find it better to find out what their kids are doing instead of watching someone else's life on TV.
Tim Williams, UK

We live in a Peeping Tom society. People have no privacy. That is what each and every person ought to know; but, doesn't. When, everybody has a camera on their computers it will be much worse. You can bet on it.
Dave Adams, USA

Sure, we are turning into Peeping Toms. To be more specific, we've been them for a long time. How else can one explain such popularity of tabloids and fly-on-the-wall documentaries. If people weren't Peeping Toms by nature, the media wouldn't snoop into people's private life.
Boris Marchenko, Russia

I took part in a documentary about my private life and it led to me splitting with my wife and losing job. Ban these programmes now!
Brian Kelly, Netherlands (formerly USA)

Big Brother has been airing here for a week now, and I can't see what all these people are talking about when they blast such shows for being immoral and harmful. Observing human behaviour can act as a valuable reminder of what worthless beings we truly are - think of it as a wildlife show.
Thomas Rey-Garde, USA

While big brother peeping is alarming, in its own twisted way, it can be very liberating. Soon to be gone, are the days when rogue cops and prosecutors can frame an individual as to his whereabouts or actions, when all is on film or file.
Sara McDowell, USA

It's natural for humans to be inquisitive about each other

Roger Thomas, Wales/Cymru
It's natural for humans to be inquisitive about each other, but such behavioural traits evolved to bind small bands intimately together. Those who seek to persuade (and control) others, eg orators and authors, have always exploited these traits to fool people into believing they have a personal relationship with something remote from themselves. Big Brothers of a more serious frame of mind - cult leaders and dictators - are probably the most sinister examples of the breed. Although banal, the docu-soap Big Brother is harmless enough, as are the associated voyeurs who con themselves into thinking that the folks inside the telly are more interesting than their own neighbours.
Roger Thomas, Wales (Cymru)

Commentators so far seem to be of the view that the current voyeuristic interest is new. TV 'soapies', and the like, have been catering to lounge-room voyeurs for years. Fly on the wall docos are simply a soapie extension. Some people who don't have sufficient interests in their own lives watch soapies to be fascinated by someone elses life, whether real or imaginary.
Terry Warren, Australia

No one so far has commented that these kind of programmes are cheap to make. The past ten years or so of UK television has seen an increasing desparation by producers to maximise audience and minimise costs in an increasingly competitive market. A genre of programming that is obsessively popular and cost-effective is bound to please TV companies.
Henry Yeomans, Wales

You must be lacking something in your own life if you feel the need to follow another's life in detail. TV and now the internet have given a new meaning to isolation. They transport you to some other real world. They substitute for an emptiness in your own life. This grows the isolation in your own life. Now the US Government has developed 'carnivor'- an internet means to spy on others. To me this is government imitating the sick Peeping Tom. How do we wean individuals and governments back to their own purpose? This more than an issue of Big Brother; it is an issue of societal health.
Richard Namon, USA

Banal voyeurism that contributes nothing to society. Try to improve society and one's own life.
Ted Oliver, England

You ask the wrong question. What you should ask is why TV makes show that appeal to the lowest of human instincts simply because people will watch. The media, including the BBC, has changed. They now seek the sensational at the expense of the truth, and the voyeuristic. What happened to Lord Reith's dictum that the BBC should lead taste, and not blindly follow it? The BBC of today is not the BBC I grew up with, and I no longer trust it in the way I once did.
Jon Livesey, USA

While everyone moans about media exploitation and intrusion (which ultimately these individuals have chosen to allow), the UK Government is passing into the law books one of the most invasive and sinister big brother acts we have ever seen. This programme is a fad, if the RIP bill gets passed, we will be living with the consequences of that for years to come. And those who believe the internet is simply a passing fad, are extremely short-sighted - a fact which I am sure the government takes comfort from.
John Wilson, UK

Society has become so materialistic that some people will do literally anything to acquire money and get their 15 munutes of fame in the process.

Wanda, Australia
Peeping Toms? Yes, I think everyone has it in them but nobody seems to be asking the question, why would anyone do this? Remember, all these people volunteered to do this. They are in it for the money and only that. They agreed to be watched. They are fully aware of what they are doing.
Wanda, Australia

I know that I am in a small minority, but I find the Survivor and Big Brother TV shows repugnant. I have no interest whatsoever... Watching other people seems to be increasing in popularity. The Internet did bring about web cams. Those sites were quite popular. Now Dennis Rodman, the tattooed flake of the NBA, is going to install web cams in his house, so you can log on, pay a fee and watch the drunken debauchery. Guess he needs the money, no fool will pay his salary for him to play anymore.
Collin, Canada

It is a sick exploitation of an increasingly sicker society. I am not proud to say that this horrible programme was in the Netherlands firstly some years ago. The rights were then sold to other countries after an enormous success there. I have only followed the hausse around this peepshow and it merely shows that we are becoming obsessed by seeing other beings in live action. Now that this vulgar stuff also has infiltrated other countries quite successfully I am disgusted by those simple souls who are making this a success. I take this opportunity to voice my disgust.
Han de Min, Netherlands

If this is really just about observing life,why not just do that, and switch off the TV, and interact with real life. If Neighbours no longer satisfies, then I suppose synthetic docu-soap is the next natural step.
Alan Cameron, Scotland

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

21 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother's bedroom antics
20 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Channel 4 hails Brother hit
17 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Former nun is Big Brother favourite
14 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother starts watching
06 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother hits the US
27 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother unleashed by Channel 4
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Talking Point stories