Want privacy? Buy shades. But more on that in a moment.
In 1954, Alfred Hitchcock took us on a voyeuristic tour of American apartment life. In his cinematic masterpiece, Rear Window, Hitchcock looked into the living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens of a New York City apartment building, through the eyes and telephoto lens of L.B. Jeffries, played by Jimmy Stewart.
Jeffries’ long-distance window stalking begins innocently enough—just the casual interest of a bored man stuck in a tiny apartment with nothing else to do but look out the window and watch his neighbors. His interest becomes more intense and focused when he begins suspecting one of his neighbors of murder. In the end, he’s proven right; it turns out the neighbor did commit murder and he’s brought to justice thanks to the snooping of Jeffries, his girlfriend Lisa (played by the incomparable Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (played by Thelma Ritter).
Along the way there are some soul-searching moments when Jeffries wonders if he’s doing the right thing. In one scene he refers to doubts voiced by a police detective about the case, saying, “he might have gotten ahold of something when he said that was pretty private stuff going on out there. I wonder if it is ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long-focus lens. Do you, do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove that he didn’t commit a crime?”
Lisa’s classic response: “I’m not much on rear-window ethics.”
Rear Window is one of my favorite movies—my wife and I probably watch it once a month on average, and more often during the hot summer months. One of the things I like about Rear Window is what I personally perceive to be the ambiguity with which Hitchcock deals with the question of “rear window ethics.” I’m no film critic so I’m sure I’m missing the boat in my analysis. However … On the one hand, there’s the undeniable sense that Jeffries is going on this voyeuristic adventure because he is trapped both physically and emotionally; he’s stuck in a wheelchair and can’t physically get out and practice his art as a news photographer. He’s also trapped by he realization that life as an adult means we all have to grow up and settle down sometime. The entire movie can be seen as being structured around that psychology: the wheelchair; the boxy smallness of the apartment; the enclosed feeling of the courtyard between the apartment buildings; the tantalizing view through an alleyway of a city street teeming with life; the plights of the various neighbors’ lives; and even Jeffries’ own troubled and (he feels) stifling romance with Lisa. Through his rear window Jeffries escapes what is to him a metaphor for conventional grown-up life and finds the action and adventure he so craves and chases. As the movie progresses, this realization seems to dawn on him. However, the movie’s ending can also be seen as a statement that Jeffries’ spying was justified because, in the end, it brought about justice, caused the apprehension of a murderer and, theoretically, prevented future killings by the same person.
This great movie—and the ethical dilemmas that come with it—have been on my mind since one of my co-workers brought a news article to my attention. The article, by New York Daily News writer Barbara Ross, begins with these words: “Want Privacy? Buy Shades.”
The article is about a Tribeca family losing a legal battle against photographer Arne Svenson. Svenson took photographs of the family—and others—in their apartments without their consent or knowledge. The photos are of Svenson’s neighbors, which he shot through their rear windows using a telephoto lens. They are performing everyday chores, taking naps—all the mundane things that make up an average day. The people photographed only discovered what had happened when the photos were part of a New York gallery exhibition called “The Neighbors.”
Sounding a little familiar?
Basically, the family lost their legal battle because the judge felt that—however horrible Svenson’s actions might have seemed—they weren’t illegal because they were done as art.
Looking at the photos, in Svenson’s defense the faces of the neighbors are not shown, and the pictures really can be seen as art with a message. But the question remains: was this invasion of privacy ethical, even if the art that comes from it tells us something about ourselves—about the human condition?
Click here to read the article and decide for yourself.
Whatever your take on it, we do have to say we agree with one thing in the article. It’s that first line written by Ross: “Want privacy? Buy shades.” Draper offers a full range of options allowing you to have privacy without completely shutting out the world. In an upcoming post, we will deal specifically with how shades can help with privacy issues, and how to walk the line between privacy and view-through. Meanwhile, call Draper to find out more, or visit the window shade section of our website: www.draperinc.com/WindowShades.
Deal with rear window ethics head on: Want privacy? Buy shades!