I Spy With My 96 Eyes

“A few years ago,” the elderly Margit told Bob and Bianca, “somebody stole the door from the front of our building.”
“The massive double doors on the front of your block of flats?” inquired the inquisitive couplet in a unison that only happens in bad films or good Plotki articles.
“Yes. The ones that lead to the courtyard.” Margit’s wrinkled face almost displayed pride at the fact.
“Why?”
“To sell them, they were very good wood. It happened round then corner as well, but those doors were returned after a few days. Maybe somebody made them put them back,” she said mysteriously, “but ours were never returned.”
Margit lives in the middle of the notorious/dangerous/scary/wild/crime ridden/etc/etc/yawn/yawn/yawn Józsefváros district of Budapest. Of course, as with every reputation there’s a faint whiff of truth behind it, but if you head into the inner part of the district where, according to one middleclass kid from the posh side of the river ‘civilisation ends’, expecting to be mugged, beaten or chased by gangs of wild gypsy kids then you’ll be very disappointed. Just be careful with your doors.

 

“Isn’t there a CCTV camera right by your house though?” asks Bianca.
“Yes, and we reported it to the police, but they claim that they delete all the tapes within 24 hours so had no record of it,” replied Margit. Why it takes a whole building full of people over a day to report a missing door is a question for another day, the curious couplet of Bianca/Bob were rather more interested in what the district’s CCTV cameras are good for spotting if not people stealing three metre high, thick wooden doors from the front of a building?

The cameras started to arrive in the district from around the year 2000 onwards, and now number at least 96. Amidst the crumbling beauty of the 100-year-old buildings, the shiny new cameras in all their state-of-the-art glory are reminiscent of the eyes of aliens in 1980’s science fiction movies, or the control panels of intergalactic space ships.  To find out more Bob visited György Alföldi, the CEO of Rév8, the government owned company responsible for the redevelopment of the notorious/dangerous/scary/wild/crime ridden/etc/etc/yawn/yawn/yawn Józsefváros. “The district decided to introduce CCTV due to the large amount of crime that took place in the streets and since then, I think around 80 per cent of crime has been removed from the street,” the CEO enthused. It’s also very important, he pointed out, that only the police have access to the cameras. “But,” ventured Bob, “can we trust the police?”
“Well, we’re working in the district on a new neighbourhood police programme. We lecture the police on social skills and conflict management. The police captain told me that they even got a thank you letter from the public.”

 

 

 


Social Skills and Conflict Management

Away from the offices of Rev8 and back in da hood, Bob strikes up conversation with Dave the friendly shopkeeper who, when asked about the crime in the district, tells a tale chock full of social skills and conflict management.
“About 2 weeks ago I had a problem here. I beat someone.” Dave the friendly shopkeeper started.
“You beat someone?”  Bob was surprised because Dave the friendly shopkeeper was so friendly.
“Yes, yes, yes.  I never did it before in my life; I’ve never beat anybody. But he was drunkard, very drunk and he came in here and I told him, ‘man I have work, yes’ and he said ‘what do you want you son of a bitch!’ He told me very, very, very bad things. So I told him, ‘okay, go away!’ And he beat me, you know? Yes, because I didn’t realise what he was doing. So I gave him to box, one hear and one there. He was very small you know?” Dave the friendly shopkeeper smiled over the tic-tac rack and winked. “I called the police and the policeman who came was a very, very, very good man. Yes. Very, good man. We knew the drunk that beat me was in the pub next door and so he told me, ‘you have a big shop here, close the door bring him in and we’ll beat him together.’”
“And did you?”
“No, I’d beat him already, so I told them to forget it. But the policeman was a very good man.”

 

Assured that the police could be trusted and were responding to the needs of the community Bob sat down on a bench outside the shop. The video camera made a strange noise as it swivelled inside its protective covering, most probably attracted by Bob’s flowing ginger locks. Bob took out his camera and started to watch the watchmen. Bob liked the way the camera looked in his camera. Bob spent eight hours walking the streets batting his electronic eye back at Hungary’s finest, without getting so much as wink back for his camera-flirting efforts. Bob noted down where they all were. Bob thought about making a nice little map and putting it online, so that everyone knew the locations where the trustworthy policeman’s eye was watching and recording (as long as you weren’t carrying unbelievably big doors). Then Bob realised that’s exactly what they wanted. They wanted you to feel watched. To regulate your behaviour accordingly. Bob sat down on a bench. Bob read Foucault (or rather a beginner’s guide to Foucault with lots of pictures, small words and big letters). Bob stared into the camera. Bob screamed.

 

 

Links:

The company redeveloping the district
www.rev8.hu

Journal about Surveillance
www.surveillance-and-society.org

Discipline and Punish
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish

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