In 1953, the staff at Agnews State Hospital in California discovered that the installation of TV sets had rendered their mental patients more docile (Tucker et. al.). Incidentally, the same year Houston’s jail installed North America’s reportedly first CCTV system for prison surveillance (BusinessWeek). This paper traces the parallel emergence of video surveillance and video therapy between 1953 and 1970, and the technical transformations that both underwent with the coming of videotape. It shows how the institutional overlaps between the two gave rise to a movement of “video self-confrontation” practitioners and proponents, culminating with the 1970 publication of the anthology Videotape Techniques in Psychiatric Training and Treatment (edited by Milton M. Berger). A forgotten psychiatric avant-garde which thrived on two remarkable postulates: that the invention of video is as important for psychiatry as the microscope was for biology and that it is a “gift” allowing us to see ourselves as others see us.
Foucault’s failure to address the relation between mass media and modern surveillance inspired Thomas Mathiesen to introduce synopticism as a supplementary concept to panopticism. He argued that the panoptic principle of the few seeing the many was paralleled by mass media as an “enormously extensive system enabling the many to see and contemplate the few”. This paper argues that Mathiesen himself overlooked a third operative function – seeing oneself – conditioned by the media’s acquired capacity to record and instantly replay moving images. The paper thus suggests that the historical practice of video self-confrontation, premised on particular configurations of patient(s), therapist(s), and video devices, can be understood as an autoptic apparatus – one that draws on but reconfigures both panoptic and synoptic functions.