I have a new book chapter out called An ‘Office Sex Romp’ and the Economic Motivations of Mediated Voyeurism in Hinda Mandell & Gina Chen’s edited collection, Scandal in a Digital Age (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016).
In January 2015, about 50 patrons at a local pub in Christchurch, New Zealand, witnessed, recorded and distributed photos and videos of two office co-workers having sex inside an adjacent insurance building after business hours. The videos/photos quickly went viral after posts on Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit were picked up by mainstream news organisations and viewed by millions of people worldwide. Branded by the media as the “Christchurch office sex romp,” the event went from story to scandal within days; emergent details revealed that the individuals involved were a married, a senior-level manager in his 50s with teenage children and his 25-year-old secretary, who had just recently broken off an engagement. Both the man’s wife and the woman’s ex-fiancé reportedly learned of the affair on Facebook, just like everybody else.
This chapter offers a symptomatic reading of the discourses produced around this scandal by media organisations attends not so much to what is stated but what’s not. This chapter argues that the Christchurch office sex romp can be understood within the context of the contemporary surveillance society: a society based on post-panoptic, lateral monitoring practices that make up an increasingly central part of contemporary cultural practice. It examines the production, circulation, and “democratisation” of scandal (or at least the democratisation of those caught in a scandal) as symptomatic of a society that is neither critical nor reflexive about the economic value that motivates surveillance at the expense of other social, cultural, or ethical concerns. As this case study illustrates, the productive value of surveillance as entertainment — what the journalism scholar Clay Calvert calls “mediated voyeurism” – is particularly instrumental to the process of normalising surveillance in societies of control.