Reading the Surface: Body Language and Surveillance


  • Mark Andrejevic Communication Studies Department, University of Iowa, USA



Body language, surveillance, poker TV, Lie to Me, lying, homeland security


This article explores the role played by body language in recent examples of popular culture and political news coverage as a means of highlighting the potentially deceptive haracter of speech and promising to bypass it altogether. It situates the promise of “visceral literacy” – the alleged ability to read inner emotions and dispositions – within emerging surveillance practices and the landscapes of risk they navigate. At the same time, it describes portrayals of body language analysis as characteristic of an emerging genre of “securitainment” that instructs viewers in monitoring techniques as it entertains and informs them. Body language ends up caught in the symbolic impasse it sought to avoid: as soon as it is portrayed as a language that can be learned and consciously “spoken” it falls prey to the potential for deceit. The article’s conclusion considers the way in which emerging technologies attempt to address this impasse, bypassing the attempt to infer underlying signification altogether.


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Theme: Surveillance