Film scholar Laura Mulvey theorized a “male gaze” that was structured and reproduced through cinematography, presuming a male hetero viewer and depicting women primarily as sexual objects rather than subjects. In this interview, Toni Morrison describes how she rejected centering the “white gaze” in her fiction: the presumption of a white audience and the white perspective as neutral. If Foucault used the idea of a “medical gaze” to describe how doctors objectify patients’ bodies to treat them, and the “panoptic” gaze to explore how carceral discipline is internalized, what might we say the Zoom gaze accomplishes? Whose perspective does it seek to naturalize? Whose subjectivity does it center, and in what sorts of forms? What does it condition us to see?
Even though the Zoom gaze existed pre-pandemic, its effects are now amplified, thanks not only to the increased volume of video calls but also the diversity of situations in which they have been adopted. As the pandemic pushes us to use these technologies for what we can’t do in person, let’s not forget what we are giving up to do so. Thinking about the gaze — who is watching and how we are watched; who controls the watching environment and how power dynamics are systematized — allows us to look beyond how companies would like us to see their products. Zoom would like to habituate us to these new power alignments until we regard them as normal and natural, but we do not have to accept this uncritically. We should question these alignments and resist such habituation now, so that we may more thoughtfully shape what we want togetherness to look like when the social is no longer distant.