A Life in Pictures

Whilst civil liberties groups have bemoaned the advent of ‘surveillance Britain’, with CCTV cameras seemingly appearing on every street corner, at least one man has welcomed their spread. “It’s bloody marvellous, I can’t get enough of them,” declares Norbert Grenville, a twenty-seven year old office worker from Bracknell. “Until they came along, people could lead their entire lives without being noticed – it’s just not right, if no-one’s recording it, what proof is there that you exist? I mean, celebrities lives are preserved on film forever – but what about the rest of us?” Indeed, so obsessed with having his every minute of existence validated by surveillance is Grenville, that he meticulously plans his routes to and from work to ensure constant CCTV coverage. However, he admits that maintaining his visibility to surveillance systems can become problematic when he has to leave the streets and go indoors. “Shops are OK as even the grubbiest local newsagent is bristling with cameras these days, just in case someone tries to whack off over the top shelf porn mags,” he explains. “But work can be a bit tricky – most office buildings only have cameras in the car park and maybe the lobby, if you are lucky.” Grenville even considered changing his job in order to surmount this problem, investigating the possibility of becoming a bank teller, casino croupier or car park attendant in order to guarantee constant coverage of his working life. “I finally solved the problem by having my camera phone all the time I’m in the office, even when I go to the toilet,” he says. “It’s hell on the batteries – I have to carry a spare – but it’s worth it in the long run. Not a moment of my working life is missed.” Grenville also films himself whilst driving car, with a dashboard mounted camera, sometimes deliberately speeding to ensure that he also appears on speed cameras, for good measure. “It’s well worth the fixed penalty fines and points on my licence for an official time-stamped record,” he observes, explaining that he has become highly adept at obtaining official surveillance footage of himself from police, security firms and shop owners. “Most are OK about it and are happy just to give me copies on DVD, but occasionally I have to invoke the Freedom of Information Act and threaten legal action.” Grenville has no such problems at home: his flat is festooned with cameras and microphones, all constantly monitoring him, even when he is asleep. “I’ve had to make sure that the cameras in the bedroom are concealed,” he admits. “When I just had a high definition video camera mounted in full view on the dressing table, a lot of the girls I took home thought I was some kind of perve making home porno movies. Since I’ve hidden it, I’ve found it much easier to maintain relationships.”

Grenville has now amassed thousands of hours of footage of his life, which he currently has archived in his spare room. “I’m gradually uploading it to the web,” he says, “so that my life is entirely accessible to everyone.” Several episodes from his life in pictures have already proven very popular on YouTube, gathering a cult following which includes several celebrities. “It’s really fascinating, I mean his life is just so mundane,” enthuses Paris Hilton. “I so envy him not having to deal with all the terrible stuff us celebrities have to – like what shoes to wear, or how to have your hair today. He just exists.” For his part, Grenville believes that surveillance has finally given meaning to his life. “What point is there to your life unless other people can see it?” asks the young office worker, who also believes that the visual record of his life will confer a kind of immortality on him. “What else would I have to show for my life? A few pieces of paper – birth, death and exam certificates? A handful of photos? This way, long after I’m gone, my life will still be being watched – I’ll still be alive to people. Surely that’s better than ending up as just a name and a couple of dates on a grave stone?” Whilst Grenville’s behaviour might seem bizarre, it doesn’t surprise academic Professor Bob Mincer, who believes that is symptomatic of an increasingly materialistic world. “Old notions of immortality – playing bowls with Jesus on a cloud – are inadequate for the consumer generation,” says Mincer, Head of Erotic Media Studies at Staines Institute of Remedial Education. “They want something more tangible – preserving every minute of your life for eternity on high definition digital media is surely the greatest statement of materialism you can make. It’s the modern equivalent of the Egyptian Pharaohs erecting those pyramids as memorials. They too believed that your existence in the next life was dependent upon the number of people in the living world who still remembered your name.” He believes that people actively recording their own lives is likely to become more prevalent in the next few years. “We’re living in a world where people’s worth increasingly seems to be based upon how ‘visible’ they are,” Mincer muses. “It’s all about how many hits you’re getting on YouTube or how many ‘friends’ you have on MySpace. ‘Fame’, is the only measure of self worth.”

Mincer is convinced that with a whole generation having grown up seeing social inadequates become ‘celebrities’ simply on the basis of having appeared on a realty TV programme, it should come as no surprise that they seem to have gained the impression that you don’t really ‘exist’ unless you are ‘famous’ and appearing on television somewhere. “It’s ironic really,” he says, ”at one time people believed that having you photo taken could steal your soul, now they seem to think that you aren’t actually real unless you are on TV! ” However, some people are going even further than Grenville. Not satisfied with simply recording their lives, some of his contemporaries are now actually having large portions of their lives scripted. Indeed, there is a growing online trade in professionally written ‘life scripts’, which can be either bought ‘off the shelf’ and adapted by the customer, or can be written ‘to order’ to cover specific events in a customer’s life. “Hey, life’s not a rehearsal – you’ve got to get those crucial moments right first time,” explains Doug Ropsopper, as he learns the script for a forthcoming date. “This only cost me a hundred quid, but it gives me all the lines I need. It even gives me stage directions, guiding me all the way: how and when to unzip her dress, which order I should kiss her breasts in, even what expression I should have during the ‘pop shot’! It’s worth every penny!” It isn’t the first time that the thirty-two year old insurance sales executive has used a script. “I’ve never enjoyed family get-togethers, they’ve always been torture for me, so I had a script written for Sunday lunch at my mother’s last week. Everyone was amazed by my sparkling wit and for the first time in years the occasion wasn’t ruined by rows,” he claims. “I’ve having another one run up for a meeting with my boss next week – it is to discuss some irregularities in my expenses, but I’m confident that with the right script it will be plain sailing.” The booming ‘life script’ business has lured several top script writers away from Hollywood. “It’s not just that it pays better,” says Jimmy Hornstetter, writer of such classics as The Corn Hole Brothers Meet the Ramrod Boys and Convoy Cock. “The fact is that you are more likely to actually see your work performed this way, without it having to spend years in development, being rewritten by baboons with a tin ear for dialogue.”