Meaning of Peter Gabriel’s Panopticom
Peter Gabriel dropped his 10th studio album, a project titled I/0, on 1 December 2023. Panopticom was issued as its lead single (as well as being the first track on the album’s playlist), coming out as such the following month, on January 6th. And it has been pointed out that Peter specifically chose that date because it coincided with a full moon. Also, a music video to this track eventually came out in September of 2023, spearheaded by an artist named Lamson who specializes in AI animation and who accordingly had won a contest which Peter Gabriel, alongside a company called Stability AI, held earlier in the year.
This track was both written and produced by Gabriel, and its issuance was backed by a label he founded back in the 20th century, Real World Records. And amongst the instrumentalists backing him up is Brian Eno, a well-traveled, well-known and primarily behind-the-scenes musician, who has worked with the likes of U2, Grace Jones and Damon Albarn.
Interpretation of Panopticom’s Lyrics
According to the Peter Gabriel website, this song is based on a project that the singer and “a likeminded group of people… might be able to bring… to life” centered on, again in the artist’s own words, “the creation of an infinitely expandable accessible data globe: The Panopticom”. Judging by the way the site goes on to describe this initiative, it isn’t abundantly clear how it’s supposed to be different from the internet. But it is interesting that Peter decided to name it “the Panopticom”, as that term was obviously derived from Panopticon. And the Panopticom, most simply put, is an idea that originated in the 18th century to build a prison whereas a number of inmates can be simultaneously monitored/surveilled by a single guard, which we would imagine was somewhat of a revolutionary idea back then, before the invention of CCTV and what have you.
With that in mind, you have to wonder if the ever-unconventional Gabriel is really serious about bringing this plan into fruition or is rather trying to be satirical, although, by the looks of things, he is deadass. And as far as the lyrics go, the “Panopticom” is seemingly being presented as this sort of ubiquitous, all-seeing, interconnected, internet-based technology, similar to “God’s Eye” from the Fast and Furious franchise, if you will.
The vocalist goes on to liken being within the confines of the Panopticom to the sensation of having “tentacles around you”, which definitely doesn’t sound like a good thing. But for the most part, it does read, even if somewhat subliminally, that Gabriel does favor this technology. As implied, it will grant all of us the ability to research and investigate and discover the truth, even that which is concealed behind “the barriers”. But it can be gleaned that the further implication is that possessing this ability will also entail the sacrificing of personal privacy.
Under normal circumstances, we would be compelled to believe that “the Panopticom” is meant to serve as a metaphor for the current state of the internet or perhaps more specifically a foretelling of what it may eventually become. Usually when we come across songs like this, the singer would be criticizing this reality, i.e. the fact that many of us live under what may be classified as surveillance states.
But this being Peter Gabriel, you never know. It appears, based on his website, that he truly is looking forward to a day when all information is accessible to everyone so to speak, not in the name of spying but rather under the belief that such a reality would minimize human rights’ abuses for instance.