Originally posted August 31, 2017
The publication last year of The Voyeur’s Motel, Gay Talese’s controversial account of a Denver area motel owner who purportedly spent several decades secretly observing the intimate lives of his customers, raised a number of difficult ethical questions. Here I want to focus on just one: does the peeping Tom who is never discovered harm his victims?
The peeping Tom profiled in Talese’s book certainly doesn’t think so. In an excerpt that appeared in the New Yorker in advance of the book’s publication, Talese reports that Gerald Foos, the proprietor in question, repeatedly insisted that his behavior was “harmless” on the grounds that his “guests were unaware of it.” Talese himself does not contradict the subject of his account on this point, and Foos’s assertion seems to be grounded in a widely accepted piece of conventional wisdom, one that often takes the form of the adage that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. But there’s a problem with this view of harm, and thus a problem with the view that voyeurism, when done successfully, is a harmless vice.
The blog post is here.