Peep show panopticon

Over the past few years, the diagram of the panopticon has often come up, but today I found myself sharing a personal experience on the panopticon with a student. This was not the iconic Bentham panopticon but one involving strippers and peeping Toms (or curious teenagers).

Back in the 90s before NYC's 42nd street was over-taken by Disneyland, when it was still edgy and interesting, where drug addicts and pimps lined the street. Best friend Wei Tao and I found our way into one of those shops with the sign “Peep Show” on it. Not knowing what to expect, we explored our way into the meandering paths and ended up in a large space with a circular room in front. The room was sub-divided into smaller booths, little more than a person’s width, each with an access door.

Upon entering our booths and without any instruction, we knew what to do. Just like a video game, insert the coins and we expected something will show up. But instead of GAME STARTS NOW, the shutter opposite from the booth door was lifted, and right before us were the female performers clad in thin veils. The strippers gazed towards me, or us (I can’t be sure) and waved. It was the moment when I realize we weren’t separated by a one-way mirror. In fact, there was no glass at all. Seeing the Toms literally “accessing” the strippers, we were shocked, or at least I was. More fascinating than the performers in front of me was the fact that I couldn’t see the facial expression of Wei, one of the shiest people I knew, because he was in the booth besides me. To this day, I don’t know how he reacted when the shuttle first lifted.

There it was, the reversed panoticon where the subject is seen by
peeping Toms and two curious teenagers. Where geometry helped to prevent embarrassing moments between two friends.