The Benevolent Intruder: Domescity and Television-as-Policing
In “Crime Prevention Tips: Preventing Residential Burglaries” a document circulated by the Dallas police in 2011, there were a series of tips for residents to safeguard themselves from random acts of burglary. The most striking element in this document was the uncanny reference to television’s spatial and sonic significance. The document foregrounded the television’s ability to convey a “lived in look” by metonymically standing in for the inhabited house itself. For instance, residents were advised to recreate the sense of habitation by leaving their television sets on at a conversational volume level, if they happen to be away from home for an extended period of time.” The imbrication of law enforcement and televisual space was nothing new to the Dallas police who had already dabbled with television earlier. For instance their reality documentary series Police Women of Dallas (2010), featured five Dallas police women whose lives were telecast in TLC in an attempt to render a positive image of the police and to boost recruitment. Attorney Bob Gorsky, who represents Dallas Police Association members, describes the show thus:
“You may be caught on camera in something that you have no control over that you want back […] You have to be on your best behavior. Don't play for the cameras; do police work.”
Therefore, the inference of television as a preventive tool for burglary seemed to be the next step in extending the supervisory function of television. This exemplifies the ways in which television has become imbricated in discourses about security and safety. As early as the 1980s, there were television sets that were patented with specifications that could control its display or respond in a pre-selection fashion when the viewer went too close to the screen. This was designed so as to protect the viewers’ eyesight from the harsh glare of the television screen.
With technological improvisations, devices that can mobilze the affective power of televisual images have also emerged. For instance “fake television” are now available in the market; these are aimed at functioning as burglar deterrents. The fake TV simulates the HDTV effect through the use of a super bright LED that generates different shades of color, as well as fades and scene changes. This is supposed to give a semblance of people inhabiting the space of home. What is interesting about this instance, especially when read in connection to the Dallas police advisory earlier, is the way Fake TV reworks the notion of habitation. If earlier, it was the presence of the viewers that calibrated the functioning of television within the confines of the domestic space, the fake TV can produce the semblance of the viewership through its manipulation of light.
The logic with which fake TV functions is mediated via the imagination of habitual modes of interaction and the binaries of public and private that seep into the discussions on security concerns. The presence of television is seen as an enactment of the displacement of the public to the indoors. In some cases, such as the one that regulates proximity to the actual television set, or the use of child-lock features, the television itself begins to exemplify a sort of a preventive disciplinary regime. In case of the Dallas police advisory and the example of the fake television, the narrative of paranoia that is built around the incursion of an outside threat into the domestic interior, makes the television a veritable policing tool. Anna McCarthy’s idea of television’s repetitive thrust and the culture of waiting that television entails perhaps allows us another way of reconceptualizing this. For McCarthy television becomes an integral part of the regulation of time and space in public spaces. The recent uptake of the television’s “policing” function perhaps allows us to push this idea of the regulation of time and space into the space of the domestic interior as well. For instance, consider this product description of Fake TV (FTV -10 Burglar Deterrent) which goes:
“Most burglars will not break into an occupied house. Why risk prison? So when a prowler sees that flickering glow that means someone is home watching TV, he knows to move on to an easier target. When you are away, FakeTV says "alive" far more than a lamp on a timer ever could. Buy a FakeTV and make your home an unappealing choice for a break-in.
An underlying rhetoric of policing and public space seems to imbue this description as well as the Dallas police advisory. It would perhaps not be too far-fetched to say then, that the television in some ways, erases the public-private boundary, not necessarily by deterring the burgler, but by inviting the grammar of policing and security—a very public grammar, into the space of the home.
 Chi C, Ho et al.‘Television set with supervising function of alarming burglary and safe watching distance’, United States Patent, March 23, 1982.