[Image: CCTV by (or perhaps via?) Charbel Akhras; check out Akhras’s blog for more].

You go home to visit your parents in a gated community built 15 years ago in the midst of what used to be virgin pine forest. As a teenager you ran there at night, before the other houses were constructed, when the only visible lights were the stars above and your parents’ house, self-reflecting in the waters of an artificial lake.

Amidst hills and rocks – most of which have been tastefully arranged – there are now cul-de-sacs and a members-only health club, 18 holes of golf and a 4-star restaurant that specializes in Gulf shrimp.

But, standing above all of it now, interspersed throughout the development on tall steel poles painted green to blend in with the well-trimmed forests around them, are surveillance cameras.

They watch parking lots, intersections, driveways, and golf paths; they look down along diagonals at the lobby of the clubhouse restaurant, at the tables inside, and at the various corridors leading to the indoor pool and weight room.

Alarmed by their sheer quantity and concerned that a wave of petty crime has perhaps broken out, you are instead reassured that these cameras are not here because of crime – not at all – but because a new private development outside Dubai wants to study how Americans live.

These camera feeds are reality TV for them; whole parties get together on Tuesday nights to watch an American suburb: BMWs parking in flower-lined driveways, teenagers mowing lawns, groups of two or three women jogging together in the morning as the sun comes up.

This is a research project by overseas developers, your dad explains, cresting a hill in his car beneath an especially well-populated mast of cameras, as formerly rural hills roll away for miles in the distance, and everyone in the neighborhood receives $1,500 a year for participating.

7 thoughts on “Subject”

  1. wow. fantastic story, think i read in the space of one breath. reminds a bit of the beginning of ‘war of the worlds’:
    No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

  2. I worry that I’m not 100% able to tell if this is fiction or not. If it is, I’m pretty sure someone out there is thinking “This sounds like an excellent idea!”

    How you’d go about actually convincing a whole neighbourhood to agree to this is an interesting question in and of itself.

  3. Surely the Truman Show is the perfect example of American living… why make is real?
    Could this lead to voile/net-curtains being drawn horizontally across gardens, terraces, balconies, etc. in an attempt to combat the overlooking web-surfer?
    Another boon is that you’ll be able to get footage of your burglars caught in the action.

  4. One day, while lazily scrolling through the results of a Google vanity search, you come across a blog, written in arabic, plastered with eye-in-the-sky surveillance shots from your community, most seeming to focus on you. A poor Babelfish translation later, you’re reading throuhg a slavish fan page highlighting the most awkward, personal moments of your life. You begin to follow links from the site, weaving through a network of pages and pages of community secrets, neighbour fan pages, neighbourhood guides, all translated into vague and sometimes confusing broken english through simple web tools. Eventually, you manage to track down several torrents of older video streams of your community through obscure arabic filesharing sites, watching and rewatching them obsessively day and night…

  5. and as you watch and rewatch them obsessively you come to realise you are still being recored and that they are watching you watch yourself!

  6. Davis, love the expanded idea! It’s like Borges by way of M.C. Escher, via, as James says, The Truman Show – an interesting combination.

    Thanks for the comments!

  7. I’ve always thought of security cameras as contemporary gargoyles. Maybe that’s romanticizing them a bit more than they deserve…

    Great story Geoff – and others.

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