The hanged man, celebrity sea sex & the piazza

In Casanova's splendid and sprawling memoirs, there is one episode set in a Paris flat, overlooking a square where an execution is taking place. In the streets below the mob. Excitement runs through the room. Casanova stands behind a woman and, as the deadly spectacle unfolds before their eyes, breeches and petticoats come undone and an act of sex is committed as capital punishment reaches it climax. Le petite morte indeed. A similar story - if memory serves me right - is told by Anais Nin in one of her tales. Like a Bataille-field literature is strewn with such corpses.

Two events, and their juxtaposition in online video services last week, made me recall these stories. Three elements are involved: the death penalty; sex; and the historic role of the piazza (the town square) as the place where we gossip and gasp at the eros and thanatos that drive all human activity.

The first is Saddam Hussein's execution and the release of both the official and bootleg video versions. The latter, shot on a 3G mobile phone with jittering images and the sound of jeering guards brought back the brutal essence of executions as experienced in times past, when the practice was not presented as something cold and clean and professionally removed from emotion. An eye for many eyes captured by the gaze of a handheld device and posted on video sharing sites for a global atomized mob to see.

Only a click or a thumbnail or two away is a cheesy video of some supermodel caressing and cavorting with her banker boyfriend in the sea off Cadiz. Culture creates celebrity cults captured on a camcorder and gossip goes global. A Brazilian judges orders (or more correctly tries to order) a US-based company to remove it. Totally tricky in transnational times, when a cacophony of content spreads like wildfire.

In the early years of this new century the global sprawl has found its digital piazza in the shape of YouTube, Google Video et al.

January 11, 2007 | 07:17 PM