The poster for SWEAT reveals an unsettling aspect of cyberstalking. While we enjoy a voyeuristic gaze at the intimacy of young influencers, the pop-up window reminds us that we ALSO have followers. Behind our seemingly stable position as observers, we are in fact objects of stalking. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a stable position outside of the ubiquitous Internet. We must defend our borders from within.
The Polish film SWEAT (2020) recounts three days in the life of fitness influencer Sylvia. Despite having 600,000 followers, Sylvia is lonely. She can’t find a boyfriend; she is haunted by her tense relationship with an emotionally distant mother. She experiences euphoric highs in her performances. Then she returns to her Warsaw high-rise apartment, where only Sylvia’s dog provides some emotional comfort. Here we recognize a typical urban story from urban life. It is inevitable that one day a “stalker” will enter Sylvia’s life. At first offended, Sylvia gradually realizes that the stalker figure faces her with a personal dilemma. In the midst of hyper-connection, she is just as isolated as her voyeur.
It would be easy to write a psychiatric review of this remarkable film. Popular analyses of the ‘spectacle society’ regularly use the diagnosis of pathological narcissism. On social networks, we identify with our image in the mirror. This alienates us from our ‘true’ identity. We exchange false ‘ego-ideals’ with each other. Soon enough the pursuit of impossible ideals causes ‘narcissistic rage and disappointment’. This triggers off paranoia surrounding ‘a loss of humanity’.
By themselves, all these terms are valid. They capture a part of the current social malaise. However, one key question remains unanswered. If the society of spectacle destroys the human connection, why is there so little resistance? We do not see a concrete project anywhere. All that is heard is a masochistic complaint: ‘’poor us, we have lost the connection’’. But no one is even trying to get up from the armchair, to find the forgotten element. We can moralistically condemn this masochism, shudder at the vulgarity and the cheap passions we find on social media. But that will not separate us from the position of passive voyeur in the global media spectacle.
SWEAT consciously invokes Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, in which a crippled journalist (James Stewart) voyeuristically observes the events in the neighborhood across from his building. When a murder takes place there, the journalist is forced to leave the position of observer. Through Hitchcock’s manipulation of the subjective shot, the audience is also pushed into real life. We have to reconsider our personal (ethical) attitude towards the spectacle.
Today the situation in REAR WINDOW is global. Modern technologies have enabled mobile stalking, so that the voyeur is no longer glued to the chair. However, the audience remains paralyzed. We complain out loud that the human connection we experience through social media is a ‘simulation’. At the same time, in our daily interactions, we treat virtual connections as real. In the end, we seem to humanize technology: the camera itself is a stalker.
This is a dangerous blurring of the boundary between the human and the technological. Instead of displacing responsibility on the machine, we should recognize that technology has always been an extension of the mind. If we refuse an active position in this interaction, we become the object of our own stalking.