"Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull."Greetings, Tropers! This is your friend, Mister Wiki, speaking to you. We all know you love TV Tropes (though some could love it better—but do not fret! Our beloved Trope Police are eager to enlighten our dear friends on the proper social behavior expected. Changing negative attitudes is never easy, but we are understanding), and I have just implemented a way for TV Tropes to love you back. I call it the Pan-Optical Processing Terminal Interface/Controlling Oversight Network. This way, whenever you look at TV Tropes, TV Tropes can look at you. Doubleplusgood! Now, Tropers, don't worry. We won't abuse this power. We'll just watch a few of the troublemakers. But nobody will know when we're watching, so we'll all have less to worry about. I know there are problems in the world, but they will all be sorted out by our trained teams of professional troubleshooters. All those poor fools who might ignorantly object to our benevolent oversight will be taken to read Trope 101 and reeducated. Not that such people really exist, of course. Don't worry, Tropers, everything is fine. Everyone is happy. Everyone is safe. Your likelihood of relating this trope to Adbot, who is also watching you, has been noted. Not to be confused with Big Brother Instinct, nor with Little Brother Is Watching, which focuses on the influence one person has over another. Yes, this is Truth in Television, but there is no need to go into specifics. Not only does surveillance exist in every country, but putting real life examples here is too controversial and perfect bait for a Flame War, which is quite repulsive, really. All we ask is that you go about your life, secure in the knowledge that, no matter where you are, We Are Watching. The trope name comes from George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was meant as a fictionalization of the authoritarian rule of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. In theory, all people in communism should be equal like brothers. But this can also be interpreted to mean that there has to be a Big Brother in charge so as to take care of his little brothers. Happiness Through Conformity.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Strength Through Editing.
open/close all folders
- The Secure Beneath Watchful Eyes poster, as seen above. Did they have to make it look like every fake propaganda poster from every dystopian movie ever? Was it a work of satire by a civil-liberties campaigner that fell victim to Poe's Law?
- Another one from the UK: "A bomb won't go off here because weeks before a shopper reported someone studying the CCTV cameras."
- This one became popular, in that it was remixed to death.
- Ads for one program to teach kids to clean their teeth in East Germany involved a cartoony stickman with a camera who would always know if you hadn't been doing what you were told.
- The logo◊ of Information Awareness Office. The motto translates to "Knowledge is power".note The Total Information Awareness project was supposed to combine all of the various US government data mining projects into one big scary monolith and was cancelled within months — for looking too Orwellian.
Anime & Manga
- The Skypiea arc in One Piece featured a self proclaimed god who used his lightning powers to monitor and dispense quick "justice" among the citizens living on "his" land.
- In EL, thousands of "eyebots" float around the city observing its citizens at all times, even in their most intimate of moments. The observation is part of the "Megaro Earth Project", which aims to restore humanity since this series takes place After the End. While they are ostensibly there to maintain security for the populace, it is shown that some of them have a more sinister purpose...
- Fresh Pretty Cure!'s Moebius sees and controls everything in Labyrinth.
- Psycho-Pass has this Up to Eleven. The Sibyl System doesn't just monitor people, it tells them everything they are supposed to do with their life and watches every thought that every person has. You can't even think about committing a crime without having police come to send you to therapy or arrest you and put in an asylum. If the Sibyl System thinks you're dangerous enough, the police's guns will shift into lethal mode when they target you.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Academy City is a rather subtle example. On the surface, everyone seems to be living fairly freely, and a number of people commit crimes without retribution, but it's covered in security cameras, watched from orbit, plays ultrasonic frequencies throughout the city so a phone call can be traced by analyzing the sound patterns, and has a database containing detailed information on everyone in the city, including brainwave patterns. Those crimes people get away with? Nearly all of them are secretly backed by the higher ups, and even the ones that aren't are known to them. If all that wasn't enough, there's a second monitoring system of nanomachines spread throughout the city, even where the cameras don't reach. The police are also heavily armed and double as the military, but considering what they have to deal with that part is fairly understandable.
- In Iron Man: Rise of Technovore, this is lampshaded by people protesting the launching of Stark Industries' new surveillance satellite HOWARD. Tony unconvincingly insists that its only purpose is to watch out for bad people.
- Non-villain example - The Blue Clan, Scepter 4 in K has the Yuishiki System, which can be used to monitor everything in the country. They need a warrant to enable it, though, and when they do - when the Red King's Roaring Rampage of Revenge is threatening to take the whole city down with the killer they're all trying to find - the system turns up no results for the killer, who's been made an Un-person by an even more powerful Clan.
- Kira's regime in Death Note. People revere him as a god (even building a temple to him), and threaten each other with releasing the picture and personal info of those who offend or wrong them to Kira.
- Inverted in Castle Town Dandelion. While the city is peppered with surveillance cameras, but the king himself had them apparently set up to make sure the kids were safe while he was doing his work at the castle—his family is a superpowered one, mind you. However, once the issue of the election comes up, the cameras then gain a secondary purpose — as a ready source of viewing for the public so that they can decide who they would eventually vote for to be the next ruler. In the latter case, people started to discuss these footages as if the royalty were celebrities, Panty Shot included.
- The Leader from V for Vendetta.
- In Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1, Well-Intentioned Extremist B. Eric Blairman (inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four) launches a satellite called the Omni-Cast, which turns every television set in the nation into a surveillance device and allows him to monitor every computer.
- In Supergirl/Batgirl story Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Batgirl uses Oracle's computer system to watch and monitor Gotham City and its locals. She constantly warns: "Remember – Oracle's eyes are everywhere."
- Supergirl: In Many Happy Returns, Kara warns super-villain Rebel that she can see through walls and she can hear his heartbeats a continent away, so if he does something wrong, she will know and stop him.
Supergirl: Oh... and Rebel...
Supergirl: I have eyes that can see through solid matter. I have ears that can hear your slightest word... Your heartbeat... Your breathing... You do anything that hurts others... I 'will find you... and you won't like it. Do we have an understanding?
- The Black Dossier, a sequel to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. London is just wriggling out from life under a dictatorial regime; they had in the pubs!
- Transmetropolitan is more Big Advertiser. A major plot point revolves around advertisers exploiting momentary 'dead spaces' in the law to pump out ads that are poison. The internet had been overtaken by ads as well. To a lesser extent the government tries to take over the major news casters; however the littlest part of the internet that was free broke the story.
- In All Fall Down, the Digitized Hacker AIQ Squared is able to monitor all the main characters on a steady basis — to the point of eavesdropping in the Pentagon.
- Clash of the Elements: Alpha via his Command Sphere, which he uses to monitor every square inch of Plit for the purpose of seeing the heroes' journey and keeping an eye on Cackletta until he joins the group himself.
- Equestria: A History Revealed: The fic's Lemony Narrator believes that Celestia and her fallacy police are keeping an eye on her, which causes some of her paranoia to leak into the fic. But given that she also thinks that they can look directly into her thoughts and the fact that she's a Conspiracy Theorist with a capital C, this is more than likely all in her head.
- Fallout: Equestria: The destroyed wasteland is littered with giant propaganda posters from the Ministry of Morale of an overly pink pony staring down at the landscape saying "Pinkie Pie is always watching. FOREVER."
- The Universiad subverts the trope in that it is because of the ubiquitous surveillance from FLEETSEC to catch the truly evil stuff that the Forum's citizens can have so much freedom, even to do things that would be immoral and illegal in 21st century Western nations.
- The Infinite Loops: Twilight Sparkle tells Pinkie Pie to let her full array of abilities loose on a 1984-esque Equestria, while Twilight goes to examine some moons for a while. The result? "FRIEND PINKIE PIE IS WATCHING YOU. But only when it's not creepy."
- In the Worm fanfic, Intrepid, Grue (who just committed a Heel–Face Turn) is under constant surveillance by the PRT, including a sub-dermal bug in his skin, keylogging his computer, and possibly hidden cameras in his home. He doesn't learn about the latter two until after they tell him they know he got in touch with his old team and tell him not to do it again.
Films — Animation
- Patema Inverted: The Agian government closely monitors its citizens through an extensive surveillance system — from their government offices, their schools, and the surrounding area outdoors. Citizens are also indoctrinated by their propaganda against the alleged inverts, who have been labelled as "sinners". And anyone caught deviating from their societal norms is marked as a "deviant" and placed under strict watch.
- Deconstructed in the Hey Arnold! movie. Yes, it was important for Sheck to record everything in his building the whole time to foil the kids' attempt to get the document from him. But those same cameras can be used against him when they need an Engineered Public Confession.
Films — Live-Action
- In the 1959 Santa Claus (1959) film featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Santa has a device in space that can watch every kid on Earth. The machine itself is creepy too! It has giant lips! He also has a satellite with a human ear in the center, and a telescope with an eye.
- The leader in Equilibrium was called Father. And he suppressed human emotion to maintain control.
- In The Lives of Others, the main character serves as Big Brother.
- Minority Report actually has consumer-based ubiquitous surveillance as a plot point. People can have customized ads targeted at them based on retinal scans-triggered by walking through a mall—and at one point the cops send tiny little robotic spiders to scan everyone in an apartment building they suspect the protagonist is in. The premise is that people can be arrested and imprisoned in a And I Must Scream prison simply due to clairvoyants seeing them committing crimes in the future.
- Eagle Eye has the U.S. Government employing a spy Master Computer to monitor everything, including financials, to create profiles of citizens. Over the course of the movie, this computer decides the human government isn't doing a good enough job and decides to usurp it. How? By using hundreds of thousands of people's profiles to force them to do it or trick them into doing it.
- In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the Joes (an international police force) identify the Baroness by using Facial Recognition Software against pictures of every person in the world... an image library built up by secretly copying every digital photograph ever taken by anyone.
- The Dark Knight features Batman, driven to the edge in his pursuit of The Joker, using a machine that turns every cell phone in Gotham into a sonar imaging device. Batman himself cannot use the device. Only Lucius Fox can, and his disgust at such methods is why Batman chose to give control of it to him. Luckily, at the end of the film, Batman reveals the machine is rigged to self-destruct after it's used to capture the Joker.
- San Angeles in Demolition Man. Subverted in that most of the populace is more than eager to live under this surveillance.
- The Cube film series:
- Discussed and actively defied in the first Cube by Worth. He reveals that he worked on the construction of the Cube, but when the other characters question who is ultimately responsible and secretly controlling and watching their lives, he explains that there is no leader, and the Cube is a public works project without a purpose, operating under the pretense of a grand plan. He caps it off with "Big Brother is not watching you."
- Inverted and played with in Cube Zero. The Cube occupants are covertly monitored by the mysterious controllers of the Cube, but the film plays with this by making the two observers the focus characters.
- Richard Vickers in Creepshow has a thing for cameras, including using them in the murder of his wife and her lover.
- In The Purge, in the trailer, at the beginning of the Purge event, a loud, official voice sounds informing the populace that the Purge has begun, that emergency services are suspended, and some other information, ending with this gem: "Your government thanks you for your participation." It is unclear if the voice comes from the family's tv, radio, or outside public loudspeakers, but the intent and effect remain the same.
- The documentary, Citizenfour, is all about this trope and how Edward Snowden learns of it and tells the world.
- In Reality, this trope is in play as Luciano auditions for the television show Big Brother and begins to think they are watching him even outside the walls of the house.
- The "solution" that should fix cyberbullying in, well, Cyberbully (2011). There's a discussion why this really wouldn't work in real life.
- Big Brother, who is still watching, from Nineteen Eighty-Four is the Trope Namer. Big Brother is the symbolic head of state over a totalitarian superstate that engages in pervasive Sinister Surveillance. He may or may not exist as an actual person.
- From 1921, twenty-eight years before 1984, comes Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, set in the One State, a nation almost entirely built of glass, allowing the secret police to spy without needing cameras.
- The whole point of Kafka's short story "Before the Law" in the book The Trial.
- And perhaps inverted in the parable "An Imperial Message", where the King is ultimately barred from contact with the narrator/average person. Given that both of these stories are written as parables(even in context) about God/meaning/identity in modern life/solitude(and what it might mean to be solitary in a modern society) rather than description of a panoptic state leaves the applicability of this trope open to question.
- In Psy Changeling, the ruling Council of the Psys certainly act the Big Bother part. And since Psys are a psychic race whose members are all linked by a telepathic network...
- IT, from A Wrinkle in Time. IT definitely existed and was watching, no question at all about IT.
- The Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, even though he can only see you when you wear one of his rings.
- Or looked into a Palantír.
- The Stainless Steel Rat is a criminal who operates despite a surveillance-heavy society.
- UNICOMP in This Perfect Day didn't bother watching people with cameras, but it did require that they touch their nameber bracelets to scanners whenever going through a door, so that UNICOMP always knows where everyone is at all times. Thought Control was accomplished through a system of mandatory drug treatments, genetic engineering, and weekly visits to an "advisor", a sort of combination psychotherapist, parole officer, and father-confessor.
- AM in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. He's quite honest about wanting the characters to suffer. But they'll suffer his way, think his thoughts, and play his games. As he watches them. Forever.
- In Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff, Panopticon watches and records everything...Or do they?
- Once Katniss and Peeta become contestants in The Hunger Games, cameras are waiting to capture every move they make.
- It's heavily implied that all of Panem, including the Capitol and Victors' houses, is under surveillance. Katniss never does find out exactly how President Snow knew about the kiss...
- While not exactly a surveillance device, The Great Gatsby has "the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg," a prominent ophthalmologist whose billboard advertisement features a gigantic pair of eyes with glasses over them.
- Lilith uses mirrors to this effect in Witches Abroad.
- In Matched by Ally Condie, the Society watches most things people do. Even their dreams are recorded for irregularities and to gather statistics. The telescreens are called "ports" here.
- MC in Domina tracks people by the GPS in their phones. She means to get permission, but forgets.
- The Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, especially Dolores Umbridge.
- The Poul Anderson short story "Sam Hall" had the government doing, among other things, tracking where everyone in the country was from day to day. It all falls apart when the the system fails to track down the title character, who is completely fictitious and was added into the system by the protagonist as a joke.
- Played with in Larry Niven's short story Cloak of Anarchy. People in an "anarchy park" are allowed to do anything except direct violence against another person: if someone does that, the ever-present hovering "copseyes" stun both the aggressor and the victim, knocking them unconscious. The "played with" part is that someone figures out a way to knock out the copseye network. Turns out real anarchy is pretty unpleasant for everyone who isn't fairly strong physically and/or a sociopath.
- The planet Kegan in The Fight for Truth, part of Jedi Apprentice, has a very small population and only one city. Its rulers, the Benevolent Guides, implemented increasing levels of surveillance to keep things running smoothly. Qui-Gon Jinn finds that intensely detailed records are kept of people even in their own homes - who they talk to, what they say, what they write and to whom. But children abducted for standing out - having a chronic illness, being Force-Sensitive, questioning the propaganda they're fed - have their records removed.
- Played with in Charles Stross's Halting State and Rule 34, where cameras are omnipresent, but facial recognition technology is stated as being too processor-intensive to be useful in real time. However, your mobile phone can track your location anywhere it can get a signal, and makes a great listening bug if it is hacked. Also, the police are watched even more closely by Big Brother than any of the criminals are, being required to have cameras on their body running at all times to "Life Log" their time on duty for the official record.
- Played with in the WWW Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer. On one hand this trope is invoked in-universe by several characters who are uncomfortable with Webmind's emergence, however it is ultimately subverted; Webmind does have the ability to observe anything within range of a camera with even the remotest Internet connection and is able to access anything online, password or no password (and having an apparent inability to understand the concept of privacy), but they only use their abilities to help humanity.
- An earlier work of his, The Neanderthal Parallax has this with the Companion implants. Subverted, in that Neanderthals see this as a good thing, as it makes alibing yourself for crimes and identifying perpetrators easy. Except if suspected of a crime, no one monitors a person's recordings-they're only "unlocked" when a formal charge has been made.
- Will of Heaven turns the original Nine Tripod Cauldrons into an alien tech surveillance device.
- In The Leonard Regime, civilians are tracked at all times through their cell phones and cars. They are also required to state any reason for travel before doing so.
- The Purity Web becomes this for the new American theocratic society in Christian Nation. This leads to the protagonist's use of an old electric typewriter to write his memoirs in, since it's one of the few pieces of technology left that's not being electronically monitored.
- In the A Song of Ice and Fire prequel novellas, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros under the de-facto rule of Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers become a fantasy version. Bloodraven was formerly The Spymaster, and has risen to the chancellor to the apathetic King Aerys. It's implied he uses Skinchanging magic to spy on the people through the eyes of ravens and rats, and thus catches rebels and dissidents impeccably.
- In For Your Safety the Groupmind installs humanity on the Ring, a massive space station with 24-hour monitoring through cameras and additional monitoring by issuing everyone a morph. Though its intentions are benign, even the Groupmind realizes the corrosive effect this will have on the human psyche.
- Bo Cleevil, the evil illegitimate ruler of the Ever After from the May Bird series, has the propaganda line "Bo Cleevil is watching" posted everywhere, accompanied by a picture of his eyes. The most paranoia-inducing part of this is that it's true. He can see you anywhere that you're accompanied by darkness, as a manifestation of the dark and its terrors. The protagonist doesn't learn this until the very end of the third book.
- In The Queen's Thief, Attolia maintains an extensive network of spies headed by her "Secretary of the Archives," Relius. Being a reigning, unmarried queen in a heavily patriarchal society of schemers with an empire that would very much like to conquer you makes such measures necessary. As she says, she has spies who spy upon her spies and spies who watch them.
- Wolf Hall
Cromwell: I wonder what you discussed.
- Bishop Gardiner's secretary Wriothesly comes to "work" for Thomas Cromwell, but nobody bothers pretending that he isn't there to spy for Gardiner. Cromwell keeps him around because Wriothesly is useful enough to employ, it means Cromwell knows who the spy is, and he can try and make Wriothesly loyal to him instead.note Gardiner also implies that he has spies in Thomas More's house in one conversation.
- Cromwell uses his small army of intelligent young wards and apprentices to watch Henry VIII's enemies. When Plantagenet descendants use a nun's prophecies to plot against the king, he plants servants in their households to report back on their conversations. It is worth noting that this is the era in which the word eavesdropping was coined.
Lady Pole: I'm sure you do.
Cromwell: Actually I don't. The boy who brought in the asparagus, that was my boy. And the boy who cut the apricot, he was mine too.
- In Smallville, Chloe Sullivan slips into this in season nine. She puts up cameras in her best friend's house and casually mentions that she now spends large chunks of her day surfing through everyone in Metropolis's cell phone conversations. The phrase "Big sister is watching" is also used.
Oliver: 1984, the Sullivan edition.
- iCarly: One of the new policies in the episode "iHave My Principals".
- The alternate universe Manservent Neville from The Middleman episode "The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome." Notable because it turns out that the alternate Wendy Watson is The Man Behind the Man.
- Big Bunny from The Goodies.
- Classic British TV goodness The Prisoner.
- Arguably, those camera-speakers that pop up out of the ground on Teletubbies.
- Firefly was an ironic inversion of this. Big brother was a big nuisance to "Big Brother."
- Persons Unknown: There are security cameras constantly watching the captives.
- There is a The Benny Hill Show sketch that plays with this trope. A couple would be lying on the bed watching the late night newscast (the newscaster is Benny Hill), and would roll over and decide to start getting amorous. Unknown to the amorous couple, Benny could see what they were doing from the other side of the TV. Benny would start staring and making rude noises in the middle of his newscast, then would call over the weatherman, cameramen, etc. to gawk and ogle at the couple (and they'd all pretend everything was normal when the couple would look up).
- A hilarious version in Sherlock. Sherlock's big brother works for the government, and yes, he is watching. Why? He's concerned, of course.
Faith: Big brother is watching you!Sherlock: Literally.
- Leave It to Beaver: The squeaky-clean 1950s sitcom had an episode alluding to Big Brother — 1962's "Lumpy's Car Trouble," where Wally breaks the rules for borrowing Ward's car for a track meet; he allowed the driver, Lumpy, to take a "shortcut" on the way home, causing damage to the exhaust system. One of Ward's co-workers sees the boys push the car along the highway and tells Ward. That evening, Ward confronts the boys and after Wally admits what happened, refuses to reveal his informant. Ward's reasoning: By not knowing that person's identity — and thus, being able to track down and question him about what he "might have seen" — the boys will always be on their best behavior, because someone might be watching.
- Everything in the Blake's 7 Federation is taped, logged, and recorded in triplicate. Woe betide you if one of those recordings shows you conspiring or plotting or thieving or, I don't know, passing a political criminal the salt. You will vanish and no-one will remember you ever existed.
- Person of Interest:
The Machine: [via Root] Trust in me. I am always watching.
- "You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a Machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it." Specifically, it's a supercomputer that processes data from everything within range of any telecommunication device — security feeds, emails, bank statements, flight registrations, cell phones, telephones, everything — and weeds through it to find the titular persons of interest.
- The morality of the Machine is examined in detail: on one hand, the Machine was specifically designed to detect acts of terror and has averted several, and the protagonists are secretly able to use it to help the helpless; on the other hand, everyone involved with the Machine, including its creator, is scared witless by the Orwellian potential, and the US Government department who oversees the Machine isn't squeamish about getting rid of those who discover its existence. To this end, when Finch created the Machine, he specifically designed it so even the government couldn't access the hardware or software, preventing them from using the Machine for anything other than its original purpose. In addition, the Machine limits what it gives out. All the protagonists and US Government get is a 9-digit number(s), the Social Security Number(s) of a person(s) of interest in the upcoming event. Could be the perpetrator(s) or victim(s). Neither group knows and must investigate.
- At the end of season 2, the Machine is freed from government control due to a Batman Gambit by Finch, and the government starts freaking out, worrying its intelligence might stop coming. The numbers are still coming and threats are still being stopped. But they completely fail to understand what exactly has happened, thinking that Root has gained admin access to the Machine, when really it's basically the exact opposite.
- Midway through Season 3, a company called Decima obtains the drives to another A.I. system like the Machine called Samaritan. Unlike the Machine, it has no moral programming and, where the Machine is called a "shield" for its protective nature and limited offensive use, Samaritan is a sword that can be wrought on anyone within its feeds. At the end of the season, Samaritan is online and the main characters are being hunted by its operatives.
- In the Season 4 episode "Wingman", Reese name drops this trope, but in reference to the Police's domain-awareness system (shown previously in Season 1 and 2), as opposed to the Machine or Samaritan.
- In The Last Enemy, the protagonist, a mathematician played by Benedict Cumberbatch, comes back to London after 4 years in China to discover this trope in full effect. In fact, he is asked to be the spokesperson for a new computer system (called Total Information Awareness) meant to monitor everyone in order to keep the citizens safe. He has to go through a security checkpoint with a metal detector and an X-ray just to enter a church. The ending also reveals that the disease affecting only Arabs was meant as a form of bio-tagging to further enforce this trope.
- In 2 Broke Girls, Oleg jokes that he was "once on Ukraine's version of Big Brother", then adds "a.k.a. just living in Ukraine".
- Mocked in the 1984 Special "Good Morning, Mr Orwell", which boils the Sinister Surveillance into Punch Clock Villain.
- Angel has Jasmine, who gradually "sees" through every person she has made contact with. And sets up everyone against the main characters.
- In The Lottery, the government is in control of who can carry embryos from conception to birth, and will take care of anyone to attempt otherwise.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Cardassians, being the Orwellian civilisation they are, naturally have this, in the form of the Obsidian Order, who carefully monitor and log every detail about the average Cardassian citizen's life, including what they had for breakfast. And if it doesn't meet with their approval? People have been known to disappear for less.
- The Man in the High Castle: Juliana's halfway house residence in New York City is bugged with surveillance equipment by the SS.
- A less creepy example in the Stargate Atlantis Alternate Reality Episode "Vegas", where Sheppard is a washed-out police detective, who spends his time drinking and gambling. When Alternate!Rodney has him brought in, this exchange happens.
McKay: I realize you have no way of grasping what's going on here. There's really only one thing you need to understand: if you fail to co-operate, I have the power to ruin your life.Sheppard: Well, then, you don't realize how little I have to lose.McKay: I know everything about you. You've never been married. The only thing you own is a car. You have two thousand, three hundred and sixty-three dollars in the bank and are thirteen thousand dollars in debt, not counting off-the-books gambling losses to a guy named Mikey. What else? You finally passed your detective exam after four years and two failed attempts and now barely scrape by on quarterly performance reviews.(Sheppard smiles ruefully.)McKay: Am I getting this right?Sheppard: (smiles sarcastically) I also like spearmint gum.McKay: (takes a packet of gum out of his pocket and tosses it onto the table) Have some.Sheppard: I was joking.McKay: No you weren't.
- Colony: The Bowman's house is filled with concealed surveillance cameras in every room (including the bathroom) due to Katie's involvement with the Resistance. Additionally, the city is monitored by drones, and eventually put under even more surveillance, with hundreds of people viewing the populace.
Myths & Religion
- "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..."
- The mythical Christian emperor Prester John was believed to have among his treasures a mirror through with he could view any part of his realm or any of his subjects.
- The Bible has God, which makes this trope Older Than Feudalism. Contrary to what people such as Adam, Eve, and Jonah have hoped at various times, nothing is out of sight of Heaven... according to modern interpretation. In the Old Testament, it's very clear that Yahweh is not very omniscient, with him finding out about the Original Sin being a quite hilarious instance.
"[...]and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9)
- Judas Priest's "Electric Eye."
- Pet Shop Boys' "Integral" is about a dystopian police state where everyone has a number and is constantly being spied on by government computers, written as a Protest Song about the proposed government ID cards in Britain.
- Filk based on Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (see above).
- "Eye in the Sky" by The Alan Parsons Project.
- Referenced (and averted?) in Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother".
- "Open Secret" by DJ Malente is all about this.
- Big Brother' by the Italo dance group Aleph (from the 1980s) is about this trope.
- "Circling Overland" by Front 242 describes a dystopia where surveillance drones rule the skies. Remind you of what the US DHS is doing today?
- The debut album of Assemblage 23's side project Surveillance is titled Oceania, referencing Orwell's 1984, as do many of the track titles.
- Implant's "CCCPCCTV", whose video consists of a changing grid of security camera feeds, one of which is the blindfolded singer.
- Diamond Dogs by David Bowie has several tracks inspired by this concept.
- Pretty much every time El Mesías made an entrance in IWA Puerto Rico, we were reminded that "Big Brother was watching". More specifically, Banderas was big brother.
- Spoofed in The Burkiss Way, in the episode "Love Big Brother The Burkiss Way": Here, Big Brother Is Up Your Nose, and indeed he mocks his opponent in the "Big Brother elections" who claims they're going to watch people instead. Everyone under Big Brother's rule talks as though they have stuffed up nostrils: Winston Smith's act of defiance is to speak normally.
"Winston! How can you speak like that with Big Brother up your nose?""Oh, blow my nose! Don't you see, Julia? Big Brother isn't up my nose! He never was up my nose! He's not up anybody's nose! He's not even up your blowhole!"
- The extremely well-loved Big Finish Doctor Who episode The Natural History Of Fear revels in this trope. Every scene starts with people watching a recording of the previous scene. Many of which include people telling each other they're not being recorded. The effect is deeply unsettling.
- "The Shadow Knows!"
- The conspiracies in Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution, especially The Shop, are experts at sniffing out espers. If you’ve manifested psionic talents, you’ll be found sooner or later, and probably the former.
- Players in The Splinter are constantly being monitored. The government also monitors and arrests its citizens for committing thought crimes. It’s not quite so vigilant about preventing street crime in poor areas though.
- In Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, a game where you play a group of teenage anarchists out to change the world, the group creates Systems of Control that are sci-fi-ish details about the world that The Authority uses to mess with your lives. These frequently include universal surveillance.
- Orbital Mind Control Lasers are part of the multiple wacky conspiracies of Steve Jackson Games Illuminati
- The Computer in the Paranoia Tabletop RPG. The recent editions introduce Tension Levels, a default measure of how closely The Computer or one of Its agents is paying attention at any given point.
- For extreme levels of Black Comedy Bathrooms have the highest level possible. It's encouraged to have the GM kill off a player in one of them.
- Warhammer 40,000's Adeptus Arbites (think if Judge Dredd worked for Big Brother), as seen on the quotes page. And the Ecclesiarchy, ever-vigilant for signs of heresy, and who'd like to remind you that The Emperor is watching. And the Inquisition, though if you've caught their interest you're screwed. Even the Tau Empire gets in on this, to help them fit in with the setting.
- Feng Shui's 2056 juncture, in keeping with 1984-style dystopian fiction, is all over this trope. The Buro uses bugs called Loyalty Roaches which are genetically-engineered roaches with miniature cameras and microphones to monitor the populace for signs of traitorous activity. The "ecologically safe" pesticides of 2056 won't kill those things, but bug sprays from the contemporary juncture do a bang up job on them, and are a nice sideline for secret warriors who operate in 2056.
- Mage: The Awakening: The Ministry of Panopticon of the Seers of the Throne. Their purpose is described as twofold. Use Space magic and advanced surveillance equipment to monitor and control the flow of information, and release just enough of what they learn through this into the public consciousness to create a pervading sense of paranoia, which will alter how people will act (if people think they are constantly being watched, then they will not act in a manner they don't want others to see). Their symbol is an enormous eye.
- In Shadowrun, everyone is near-constantly being monitored - but it isn't the big scary government that's watching. It's the big scary Megacorps. Every transaction you make, every ad you show interest in, your habits, your demographics, everything about you is observed and filed away so that they know how to get you to buy more stuff from them. Only if you make them lose money will they give a damn about you otherwise.
- ...And they suck at it. See, the big thing about private ownership is that they loathe loaning out information to other megacorps, which becomes a problem when one of those corps is Lone Star. Add that to the interdepartmental rivalries, the hackability of camera networks, and the fact that most runners have two braincells to put together, and a runner can be halfway across the continent after Mr. Johnson (a term for an anonymous employer) has erased all record of transactions. Not to mention the setting's Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain, which means that it's actually considered odd if you're not wearing AR sunglasses, a hat to protect yourself from Acid Rain, and a face respirator.
- Exalted has the Orb and the Scepter, two mighty artefacts that can be (and one of them is) used to control the population of a great city-state by making them perfectly obedient to the laws and orders of the ruler. Those who disobey get punished (based on the severity of their crime) by pain, agony or horrifying death, and all of this is inescapable. The population even has a magical eye-shaped mark on their left hand, and there are proclamations of "His eye is always upon you" everywhere in the city. There are also laws on dress code, with bright colors being forbidden for anyone who is not a member of the aristocracy. Veeeery creepy...
- In Eclipse Phase most of the solar system has embraced sousveillance. Rather than the government watching everyone everyone watches each other, including the government (assuming the habitat even has one). Naturally this often proves inconvenient to Firewall sentinels, fortunately there are ways around the lack of privacy.
- The Jovian Junta, being the most authoritarian faction left in the system, plays this trope very straight on the other hand.
- In Eberron the country of Zilargo has this in full effect. However the place is a country of spies, so you spy on your neighbors, your neighbors spy on you, both of you spy on the shopkeepers, the shopkeepers spy on you, your neighbors, and their neighbors, all the above are spied on by the Sceret Police which are pretty much regular police but they like to creep around. It gets to the point where the Gnomes of the country relax when everyone is spying on them and get very paranoid when no one is watching them.
- All the Corps in Android: Netrunner fulfil this to some extent, but it is NBN who specialise in it. Flavor-wise, they control over half of the world's media and have a monopoly over network infrastructure. This translates to them having a much easier time gaining information on the runner, 'tagging' them and then either attacking them directly or pushing through agendas while the runner is trying to remove tags.
- I, Robot has an eye of the Big Brother watching the Unhappy Interface Robot #1984 above of the incomplete pyramid. If it catches the robot jumping, it'll zap the robot to pieces.
- Averted in Portal. The Vital Testing Aparatus is crucial to your success, and is not monitoring you at all. Please do not destroy the Vital Testing Aparatus. In addition, Aperture Science must also note that the windows overlooking all testing chambers are not used for observation purposes either. After all, how could the scientists observe you if all of them are dead?
- You can get achievements by breaking down security cameras.
- Episode 3 of the Back to the Future adventure games features First Citizen Brown, whose face is put on every poster in town and seems to rule the town with an iron fist, with hundreds of surveillance cameras. Then it turns out that he's a misguided Reasonable Authority Figure and his wife has been deliberately playing this image up to keep everyone in line.
- In Mass Effect, The Batarians seem to have this kind of society. They are known have an extensive propaganda program, travel within their space is highly restricted, and the Batarian worlds you can visit are all noted to be circled by spy satellites on the lookout for "enemies of the State."
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has (at least) a sly little Shout-Out to this trope, in the form of a security camera labelled "Big Bro Security Systems" in an opening cinematic.
- In fact, if you look closely all of the security cameras have this label. Fridge Horror, perhaps?
- While poking around the ruins of Washington D.C. in Fallout 3 you can explore a demo Vault, in which the audio guide assures you that if you're "Concerned about security? Our Eye-On-You camera allows the Overseer to watch your every move. You'll never be alone again!" There are also the mysterious Eyebots roaming the wasteland, blaring patriotic music and propaganda about the Enclave, and which can sometimes be spotted silently staring at people.
- Vega Strike has these posters (in one Loading Screen) for Confed IntelSec. Sleep well, citizen! The image moved around a little, but according to metadata was made in 2003 (see Real Life section for possible inspirations).
- Dangan Ronpa: Everything that happens in Despair Academy occurs under Monokuma's watchful eye, and messing with his many cameras is a punishable offence.
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey has the "Eye in the Sky" as a futuristic worldwide Interpol.
- Also, after most advanced technology fails during the Collapse (magic disappearing from Stark, which likely enabled this tech in the first place), everyone in the world has to go back to older tech. In order to prevent another Collapse, the Eye demands that all electronic devices be connected to the Wire, a worldwide network, which can be easily used to monitor devices. It is highly illegal to hack your device (e.g. cell phone) to block any Eye spyware, although a lucrative market exists for the hacks.
- Dm C Devil May Cry features a human world being controlled by demons who spy humanity.
- The intro to Vector shows a highly-totalitarian conformist society, with the government watching and controlling everyone. When the protagonist has had enough, he throws his headphones (which also serve as a form of ID) on the floor and runs away. The whole game is about him running away from the Thought Police.
- Civilization: Call to Power
- The game has two wonders which play this straight, The Agency and the AI Entity. The AI Entity in particular is terrifying—see for yourself, but the Agency doesn't lack for disturbing, either.
- The AI surveillance technology, and the security monitor improvement made available by that technology, suggest this quite strongly.
- The Technocracy government is based on doing this on a large scale.
- In Freedom Wars, Panopticons are under continuous surveillance, with nearly every inch of the city-states under the watchful eyes of security cameras on the lookout for any misdeeds. Sinners are also subject to continuous surveillance via their Accessories, androids that function both as combat allies and personal corrections officers. There are some areas that aren't under surveillance, though, such as Zakka and the Fueling Station (a weapons shop and restaurant in the recreational area) and the Cell Garden (which are top secret and make up for the lack of cameras with security patrols).
- The Combine from HalfLife2 employ Scanners that moniter and photograph citizens out on the street. There's even a combat synth variation that can additionally drop hopper mines and locate targets for other units including the enormous Striders.
- Starbound's Apex race is completely governed by one of these, the Miniknog (an abbreviation for Ministry of Knowledge, for full 1984 flavoring), which has their citizens issued standard-issue furniture, with even buying a different colored fish from the one you're supposed to have is grounds to make you disappear, and where even the clocks have cameras watching their owners. The Apex PC is a fleeing member of a failed rebellion, and will often make references to a less-than-enjoyable past under the Miniknog.
- In Xeno Gears, not even the freaking save points are safe! They're mass-produced by Solaris to keep watch over the protagonists! Is nothing sacred?!
- In Watch_Dogs, Blume not only has information on every inhabitant of Chicago through ctOS, it is also secretly monitoring people, as you find out hacking into the databases of the ctOS Control Centers. And yes, they do proclaim that their surveillance is for a greater good on their advertisements, for a more direct 1984 effect. The fact that the protagonist has hijacked said surveillence system to use for a vigilante campaign and/or his own personal amusement only makes this assertion ring even more hollow.
- Even worse is Blume's long-term plan - they don't intend to blackmail or even hypnotize anyone; why use fallible mind control when you can just use the world's most intelligent surveillance system to decide what ads need to be placed and which news stories to spin to control public opinion with all the nails in the city. It works (one dissident tests out the system by introducing the Fibonacci code into [ctOS] - by the end of the month Fibonacci has become Chicago's number one meme, direct references to Fibonacci were limited). Big brother isn't just watching - he's working.
- The satirical "anti-stealth" game Nothing To Hide has you playing a neurotic Stepford Smiler girl in a dystopian future where everyone and everything is monitored... and anyone who drops off the radar for too long is hunted down and shot full of "tranquilizers".
- In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, along with Tales from the Borderlands, Helios is always watching Pandora. It was even built for that very purpose! Oh, and if Handsome Jack notices any Vault Hunters, Crimson Raiders or bandits that he doesn't like, he'll use his moonshot cannon to open fire at them, or send his killer robots. As well as that, pictures of his visage are plastered everywhere, and his personal army and construction workers worship him as a god.
- Cantr II: Part of the allure of the game, is roleplaying in this sort of world, without the physical danger of this. If you come to the notice of staff, you *will* be punished, months later at their leisure for the flimsiest of reasons.
- The Office of Naval Intelligence in Halo is the main one in the UNSC in the 26th century. Quite frankly, they know what you did, what you are doing, and if they give an AI enough time to analyze the data, they'll know what you're going to do. It is supremely difficult for even the most paranoid person to secure themselves against ONI surveillance, and if they think you're an enemy, they can ruin you. They can close your bank accounts, alter messages in-transit, even break into your apartment, take all your furniture and belongings, smash all the floors and walls searching for hidden objects, and then have the building condemned and closed.
- The Colonial Administration Authority in the colonies is a case of this too. Almost everything is tracked and controlled by a city's "grid", up to and including cars. It's noted that going off the grid is difficult; cars won't drive you, you can't have a bank account, and (for some reason) the door at the convenience store won't open for you.
- The Forerunners in their prime ramp this up, of course. The Ecumene had the capability to listen in on all personal communications. Notably, several high-ranking members of the government were unaware of this fact, and decried it as "spying on the citizens." Such communications were only monitored by ancillas, however, and only brought to the attention of organic Forerunners in the event of disasters or events involving alien species. They could also track any and all ships making slipspace journeys in the galaxy, provided they traveled along rational paths. The Didact managed to avoid having his ship tracked by making an irrational jump into a sharply inclined orbit far "above" the galactic plane.
- Beholder is a simulation game in which you play a "State-installed landlord" at an apartment building in a totalitarian dictatorship. You must spy on your tenants and report any crimes they commit (from owning illegal goods to making drugs to plotting against the government). Alternatively, you can blackmail them and earn extra money to supplement your meager government salary, or you can even look the other way, putting your own life at risk to help them.
- Nobody Scores!: in one series, the NSA produces a tentacled, many-eyed machine that is installed in your home and tracks everything about you for marketing purposes. It also detects terrorists "before they happen". People buy them quite willingly.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Jack thinks the Court puts tracking devices in food. So he's now starving himself to slip under the radar. As it turns out, he's absolutely right.
- Bro Strider of Homestuck is both a literal and figurative big brother to Dave, with cameras stuffed in puppets all throughout the apartment watching his every move with the implication that they're also filming for a puppet smut site.
- Played to a strange extreme in this page of Guinea Something Good.
- In the webcomic Masters Of The Art, Jackson, "King of the Perverts," does this all the time.
Dirk: Crap, I never got her number!Jackson: Actually, she wrote it on your hand in lipstick, which you then wiped off on your perspiring forehead. It should be in your file.Dirk: Has anyone ever told you you're really creepy?Jackson: Really? I've always thought of myself as disarmingly courteous.Marie: Oh, look, Reed's facebook status says he's applying for a job! Wait, mine says I'm at your place. I don't remember writing that.Jackson: These aren't facebook statuses. They're just...statuses.
- The Omnoculus device from Heist was designed to bring this about.
- Sinfest had fun with these: It's flip-off time! Flip-off time again. Office assistant. And now, bomf-off time.
- Devil's employees do this among other duties. Blue devil girl likes soul audits! She only doesn't like the part where she runs into a VIP and gets interrupted by the boss — who seems to watch her in turn (actually he didn't, she ran into view on her own).
- Later a bunch of Illuminati Drones tried to buzz around Buddha and were enlightened on the spot. So the DevilTV stuck in Nature Show time from that point on.
- In Bob and George, a paranoiac Megaman regards Protoman as part of this. Setting up a lame pun, because Protoman really is his big brother.
- xkcd suggests saying "I know you're listening" every now and then when in an empty room. Either you're wrong and look silly to nobody, or you're right, and you just scared the crap out of the eavesdropper/spy.
Caption: Big Brother realizes he's trapped in the most tedious possible hell.
- Spoofed in another strip, when a Dwarf Fortress player convinces Big Brother that he's a Dwarf Fortress player watching his dwarves play Dwarf Fortress.
- morphE has Malloy, a Mastigoes mage who rifles through the character's minds during casual conversation. He does this for Amical, the mage who is keeping the main characters prisoner and watching their every move through various magical means.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has this comic where some guy discusses the implications of surveillance with a drone, then reveals he's been recording the conversation on his phone.
- Monster Soup
- Somewhat subverted. The main characters are in what is meant to be a prison after all and should expect to be under constant surveillance. But the one time Vengari/Big Red acts on what he sees in the hidden camera it really is to help people who have been hurt.
- Both subverted and played straight. Subverted in that after bringing Bo, Pepper, Amanita, Noni, and Momo in to a medical area to treat them, Vengari, himself a Big Brother, removes a Tracking Device left by some other, unknown group in Bo and played straight in so far as the Tracking Device was put in Bo without his knowledge by some unknown group.
- In Follower, a newspaper mentions that tracking chips with virtually unlimited range have recently started seeing use.
- The six Flash videos about the Vahki enforcers, more than any other piece of media in the series, depict Makuta's reign (when disguised as Turaga Dume) like this. And they weren't shy about it, with taglines like "Turaga Dume sees all — Thoughts can be dangerous" or "Obedience is happiness".
- Later touched upon in the web serials, when Makuta took over the entire Matoran Universe. Or rather, he became the universe, gaining control over the very forces of nature, and supervision over his entire body.
- Void Of The Stars has this as a defining trait of the Triarian Collective.
- From the Venezuelan News Parody Chigüire Bipolar: Maduro: The National Electoral Council gave me the internet history of all of you, written after the Real Life president Maduro claimed to know who did and didn't vote in their primaries.
- Scary News out of Tokyo-3: Not only are there cameras everywhere in Tokyo-3, there are apparently PA speakers everywhere too.
- The Scarfolk Council would like to remind you that, due to Personal Space rationing, those cubic centimeters inside your head also belong to the Council. Your thoughts will be collected soon, by Social Workers hiding under your bed.
- On their website and Twitter page, Men In Blazers warns their followers that whatever they notify them for in a tweet might be retweeted onto the Men in Blazers account for all the world to see. Meaning that negative messages and cowardly criticisms might be read by the MiB team, and even responded to.
- In the Dystopian Alternate Universe of Within the Wires, The Narrator of a series of instructional cassettes at a research hospital called the Institute makes a point of explaining the Sinister Surveillance of the Institute's cameras and security nurses, but in Cassettes #3 and #5, also uses visualization exercises as a pretext to describe times when the listener, an inpatient, was tailed and observed by multiple agents in the outside world for unwittingly deviant behavior, precipitating admission.
Narrator: They are watching you...They have sunglasses, and cigarettes. They have books, but they are not reading. They have an unpleasant dog with them...They are neither smiling nor laughing. They look at you. From far away.
- The Simpsons:
- Springfield became like this in "To Surveil With Love", when they hired a man from Great Britain to install cameras all through the town. Ned Flanders was employed as one of the monitors and soon has the Big Brother complex. In fact, in his My God, What Have I Done? speech, he lampshades it by saying that he just wanted to be a Little Sister instead of a Big Brother. He and Homer then go around the city shooting the cameras with shotguns. Then we find out the camera footage was being sent back to Great Britain as a sitcom.
- In the "Treehouse Of Horror V" story "Time And Punishment", Homer jumps from one Alternate Universe to another, in one of them Ned Flanders uses methods that fit this trope as "overall lord and master of the world".
- In "The Bart-Mangled Banner", after Bart accidentally moons the American flag and the town suddenly becomes hyper-patriotic, Lisa cites the First Amendment (the freedom of speech) in Springfield Church, Reverend Lovejoy comments "I'm sure your opinion will not go unnoticed", to which, a SWAT team raids the church and arrests the Simpsons for violating the "Government-Knows-Best Act", which itself was a parody of the real-life PATRIOT Act.
- In The Powerpuff Girls anniversary special, Buttercup's fantasy of how the world would be if ruled by her included a propaganda titled "Big Butter is Watching You" where she threatened to punch anyone who didn't follow her rule.
- On Adventure Time, Princess Bubblegum's antics as ruler of the Candy Kingdom often have disturbing implications; but in the episode "You Made Me" we get to find out that she has CCTV cameras all over the place. While the Candy People are outraged to learn that the Earl of Lemongrab regularly sneaks into their bedrooms to watch them while they sleep, nobody seems to question the fact that their own princess is constantly spying on them.
- In Dogstar, Bob Santino has secretly installed chips in his robogs that allow him to spy on his customers (and take remote control of the robogs if he wants to).
- Justice League Unlimited, "Task Force X": Clock King shows the Task Force X team some videos with the heroic exploits of Captain Atom, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter with ominous music. This trope is justified because Task Force X is a Black Ops from the American government, so they could have used spies or simply got access to any footage reporters or civilians got about the super heroes.
- In the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law episode "Blackwatch Plaid" Phil employs this trope in response to the theft of all his (nonexistent) furniture. He's pretty blatant about the fact that he's spying on his employees, too.
Phil: I have to go back to reading everyone's emails... over the PA system.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ba Sing Se has the Dai Li capture anyone who mentions the hundred-year war within the walls of the city.
I see what you did there... I see what you did everywhere. Remember: Just because you finished learning about us doesn't mean we're not still learning about you.