Surprise plus Surveillance

Inspired by my recent encounters with surveillance, both artistically and security oriented, I decided to go home to Chicago and surprise my mom, dad and best friend for Memorial Day weekend.  I made a short film called Surprise, Chicago documenting the adventure.

The project involved about 3 weeks of “soft” surveillance in which I spoke with other family members to plan the surprise, employing my aunt to arrange a Memorial Day bbq at my mom’s house.  I also planned to have my best friend come to the gathering with her family.  Meanwhile, I lay decoys, chatting with my “targets”, spreading lies about my inability to come home anytime soon, and lamenting about “how I wish I could be there too!”.

I LOVE surprises: the planning, the execution, the attention to detail, the lying…maybe I shouldn’t admit to the last one. BUT, if you think about it (i.e. hastily rationalize), surprises are a very positive way of lying to the people you love.  In fact, I think people should plan more surprises in order to channel our innate desire to tell the infamous little white lie.  Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? Then all our lying could contribute to positive outcomes that are about making people feel loved and important.

There is a guilty thrill in lying and I felt the same adrenaline rush in the purposeful surveillance of my family.  As I rounded the corner of my house, armed with my camera, scouting the whereabouts of my mom and dad, my heart raced. I felt nervous and giddy. I think I even sweated a bit.  All the lying and watching and planning was about to burst out into the open.  And when I finally ambushed everyone, the effect was much more meaningful than I had expected.

I didn’t necessarily plan to make a short film out of the footage; I just felt a strong urge to capture everything about the process, most importantly the outcome.  Seeing people react to something unexpected has always been a draw for humans, but with the advent of technology, the recording and replaying of these events is the pièce de résistance.  We can revisit the entire experience and relive all the pleasurable sensations over and over, much of which include a great helping of schadenfreuden.  While pranks have always existed, my little film is born out of grand television mainstays such as Candid Camera which has evolved into popular shows such as Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d. We watch and reveal, and in that combination, there is an innocence about surveillance.  It becomes harmless because ultimately the intention was not malicious. Surprise plus Surveillance equals funny, moving, touching, thrilling, laughter and tears of joy.

And really, can we ever get sick of fart jokes? I think not:



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