In the movie Rear Window, Jeffries asks the ethical question, “I wonder if it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens. Do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove he didn’t commit a crime?”

In this film New York magazine photographer Jeff is housebound due to a broken leg and out of boredom begins to watch his neighbours through his rear window for entertainment, he finds him self peering in on the lives of various individuals including, a pair of newlyweds, a composer, a middle aged couple, a lonely woman, a dancer, often practicing her routines whilst scantily clad, and a seals man and his invalid wife. When the salesman’s wife goes missing, Jeff witnesses a series of events that lead him to believe the sales man may have killed her.

When considering this question “I wonder if it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens. Do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove he didn’t commit a crime?” We must first consider are moral obligations as people, weather that might be acting as part of a community, helping a person in need, or privately investigating a murder, these moral obligations and our decisions to up hold them, could be considered factors of what make us good or bad people.

Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing”, a quote that for anyone who has seen the film and knows its ending, seems substantially fitting when considering this debate. Weather Jeff proved the sales man’s guilt or his innocence is irrelevant, the fact of the matter was Jeff was doing it for the greater good.

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way…. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy; and religion, all in one.” [1]

If Jeff had been consistently watching the scantily clad dancer, with his binoculars and his long focus lens, then another ethical debate may have arose, for this would be considered voyeuristic and indecent. At the same time if Jeff was to have been working, photographing images for a publication that was going on to print these images, accompanied by text that accused the man of murder, then this to would be considered unethical as weather or not the man was guilty had not been proven, in todays world he would be left with grounds to sue for defamation.

Despite this Jeff was acting as an individual, his belief of wrong doing lead him to investigate the matter, in this case his moral obligation was to seek the truth and his actions were for a greater good. What made him continue what was originally a way of merely passing time was an ethical standpoint in it’s self. If you believe you have witnessed or are witnessing wrong doing, is it not your moral duty to act?

References

[1] 1904 John Ruskin – Quoted by Julianne H Newton – The Burden of Visual Truth – 2000 – Unknown – Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc – Unknown

 

 

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