Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: A couple who return to the hotel where they honeymooned are shocked to discover their wedding night activities were videotaped and made available to other guests.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1993]
Origins: What could be a more painfully embarrassing and shocking violation of your privacy than discovering someone had been watching you (without your consent or knowledge) while you were engaged in the deeply personal and intimate act of making love with your partner? How about finding out that someone had secretly made a video tape of the event — one which had been distributed to countless others for their viewing pleasure? Such is the premise of this legend.
Tales of peepholes set up to allow the furtive observance of people's private activities in bathrooms and hotel rooms — and lawsuits resulting from them — have been circulating for years, many of them based on real incidents. In one of the most prominent examples, an Iowa couple who celebrated their engagement night with a private evening in a penthouse suite at the Canterbury Inn in Coralville, Iowa, in 1988 sued the hotel after discovering a peephole behind a two-way mirror — a peephole that gave someone a view into their suite that night. They won their invasion of privacy lawsuit to the tune of
The Canterbury Inn case involved no cameras, but with the advent of home video equipment has grown progressively cheaper, smaller, and better in quality, the creation of a legend (real or not) like the example quoted above was inevitable. That version's setting of the Poconos ("the honeymoon capital of the world") is an obvious one, for the Pennsylvania Poconos feature no less than eight resorts that cater to couples by offering a variety of romantic facilities. Moreover, it was at a Cove Haven, a small hotel on a lake in the Poconos, where Morris Wilkins invented and installed the world's first heart-shaped bathtub in 1963.
What makes this legend particularly interesting from a folkloric standpoint is its age — tales of secretly-filmed sexual encounters antedate the development of the home video market by several decades. In these older versions, however, the victims are not sweethearts or married couples innocently engaged in private lovemaking (as in the example above), but characters such as adulterers or bawdy house patrons who are being punished for having transgressed the sexual mores of their times. The following version, for example, comes from a 1927 humor collection:
A gentleman from Idaho was in Paris and didn't want to make himself too conspicuous. So he asked a cabby to give him the address of a good whorehouse. HeWhat's even more remarkable is that a tale with all the same elements of this legend (lovers clandestinely filmed by an outsider, the results displayed to others, the principals' finding out through an inadvertent viewing of the film) date to the very earliest days of motion pictures. Consider this description of the 1903 film, The Story the Biograph Told:
"There is no charge," said the lady of the house.
Astonished, but not disposed to argue the matter, her guest left. All next day he hugged his secret to himself. He could barely wait till dinner time before he again presented himself before the bawds. Again he went through his performance, but this time, when he made a bluff at paying the piper he was informed the charges were seven hundred francs.
"What! " he shrieked. "Wasn't I here last evening, and didn't I go through every kind of screw, and you didn't charge me a sou?"
"Ah," said the madam, "but last night was for the movies."
The film opens in a business office, where a man is explaining the operation of a movie camera to an office boy. The boss and an attractive female secretary then enter his office and begin embracing, while, unbeknownst to them, the boy cranks the camera. The scene shifts to a theater, where the boss and his wife are watching a movie, when inexplicably the intimate office encounter is thrown on the screen. The next day, the incensed wife marches into the office, discharges the secretary, and replaces her with a man.A variation on the same theme — the movies' ability to place people in compromising situations for the amusement of an audience — is echoed in a related legend about a couple's accidentally returning a sexy tape of themselves to a video store. As the proliferation in recent years of amateur sexual videos and live performances via webcams has demonstrated, though, more than a few of us are quite willing to amuse audiences by sharing our intimacies with them.
Sightings: The plot of the infamous lost episode of the Fox TV series Married with Children ("I'll See You in Court," which did not air in the U.S.) involves Al and Peg making a trip to the seedy Hop-on Inn for a romantic interlude and discovering the porn video in their room is actually a tape the motel secretly made of their neighbors, Steve and Marcy.
Last updated: 28 August 2005
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