Invisibility and the Panopticon
Adults have neither presence nor influence at Alabaster Prep. If they matter at all, it's only as offstage dispensers of wealth, tradition or status. Instead (like its Gothic counterpart Hogwarts), Alabaster's architecture and geography -- ponds, woods, golf courses, dorms, libraries, and most importantly, off-limits and secret places -- are powerful historical elements in the novel. Frankie, once an invisible freshman geek within the school's society, now an uncomfortably visible sophomore, returns to and exploits invisibility as she spies on her boyfriend and the school's secret society. As Frankie penetrates Alabaster's mysteries and exploits that knowledge in the execution of grandiose pranks, she invisibly controls and subverts the Alabaster community.
It makes sense, then, that the only class to engage Frankie's attention is "Cities, Art and Protest," in which she contemplates designed communities, subversive societies and pranks, and Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, a theoretical prison designed to provide a 360 degree view of its prisoners at all times:
Theory of Surveillance: The Panopticon
The Panopticon was proposed as a model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform.
The Panopticon ("all-seeing") functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled.
Instead of traditional 'cellblock' designs, many modern prisons are built in a 'podular' design influenced by Bentham's Panopticon. Instead of rectangular buildings with tiers of cells and walkways, modern prisons are often constructed in triangular or trapezoidal-shapes with the cells laid out so that a single prison-officer sitting in an elevated central control station can see, and control, all cells within either a 270° or 180° field of view. An early example is the Presidio Modelo in Cuba, now a museum.
The concept of the panopticon has had a resurgence in modern day use, with some complaining that CCTV surveillance has become a panoptic structure; especially in the UK, which boasts 1% of the world's population but 20% of its CCTV cameras - over 4 million, 1 camera for every 14 people. As of 2006 and the introduction of the first 'talking' CCTV cameras, Big Brother is not only watching you he's shouting orders - the system allows control room operators who spot any anti-social acts, from dropping litter to late-night brawls, to send out a verbal warning!
This article was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the
August 2009 paperback release.
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