Calling an exterminator will not kill every type of New York pest. Some vermin are part and parcel of the urban territory, as quintessential to the landscape’s harmony as taxicab horns and catcalls. Peeping Toms are one such pest.
Wikipedia defines a Peeping Tom as a voyeur, or “someone who derives sexual pleasure from observing other people.” The invention of the camera phone in 1997 increased public concern about these vermin and the moral implications of up-the-skirt photos appearing on the internet. Congress responded by passing The Video Voyeurism Act of 2004, which prohibits the intentional photographing or videotaping of an individual’s private areas without consent. But the phenomenon of voyeurism itself is hardly modern. In 1905, Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in which he asserted that “scopophilia” – which literally translates to “the pleasure of looking” – is a natural sexual inclination. However, this inclination can become “perverse,” according to Freud, when the pleasure of looking is “restricted exclusively to the genitals,” “connected with the overriding of disgust,” or if, “instead of being preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it.”
The Manhattan grid is prime territory for voyeurs, who seek vantage points, such as apartments without curtains, where they can observe without being observed themselves. The city is crowded with both buildings and people, but it’s also largely anonymous. You can live across the street from someone without meeting them face-to-face. Or knowing that they watch you shower, whenever you leave the blinds open.