The controversy over Gay Talese’s Voyeur Motel

The Voyeur's Motel

Ever been both disgusted and insanely curious at the same time?

I’m having one of those moments regarding the release of a new book and it’s causing me an existential crisis. Making matters worse, it also happens to be the kind of book I wish I wrote myself.  

The book in question is called "The Voyeur's Motel" by Gay Talese, who is no stranger to controversial subjects. It’s set to be released July 12 and contains all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster.

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The Story 

In January 1980, Talese is sent a mysterious letter ahead of the publication of the book "Thy Neighbor’s Wife," which focused on the sexual proclivities of average Americans. The letter describes something incredible; a man who bought a hotel with the sole purpose of spying on his guests. The man, Gerald Foos, says he has created an observation platform to watch guests through vents in the ceiling.

Calling himself a voyeur, Foos utilized this platform to watch people in their most private moments. To me, being a voyeur is not one-sided. People being observed must be complicit in being watched in order to be called a voyeur; otherwise, it is spying, a morally reprehensible act in this specific context.

But first, a disclaimer. Controversy is afoot as to whether the details in the book are factual. Turns out Foos may have sold the motel before some of the claimed events in the book. Even so, because the book is predicated on fact, I am left with a moral dilemma.

See the article in the New Yorker about this book, here: 

The events take place in the Manor House Motel, located in Aurora, Colo. Some of what I have heard is shocking, yet simultaneously a perfect match for our voyeur culture created by the prevalence of so-called “reality TV.” Which as we know is not real at all, but designed to appear real while saving production companies money by not having to pay writers.

Sex, Drugs and Murder

The book focuses on all the stuff Americans love: sex, drugs, murder and it’s all deliciusly lascivious from all accounts I have read. It is sure to be at the top of many people’s summer reading lists. But because the book is based on an immoral premise—snooping—I am not sure I could, well should, ever read it. Yet I am left really wanting to read it. I love hotel-related entertainment and would love to dive into this book.

I am getting so tired of the fix-it hotel TV shows as they are too formulaic and would love something new. Yes, the hotel is run down. Owners are confused, disinterested and bickering with each other. And there is dirt in places were dirt shouldn’t be!  

But this book is just not right.

A Moral Stance 

I don’t watch Woody Allen or Roman Polanski films, and will not stay in a hotel with the name Trump on it. However, all that stuff is easy because if I have to be honest with myself, they’re pretty easy to avoid. Movies are easy to avoid, and frankly the design aesthetic of Trump Hotels has not traditionally matched up with hotels I enjoy staying in. I am just not into hotels gilded with gold, so that’s easy, too. For me, this book will be harder to stay away from, but I feel I have to do it.

All this brings up much larger questions beyond my crowing about how morally righteous I am claiming to be right now. I certainly am not that, but we all must take a stand from time to time on issues important to us. And I feel this is one of them.

Morally, we must never, ever, never spy on hotel guests. And a book like this puts the entire hotel industry in moral jeopardy. Have you ever fought the instinct to do such a thing? It is so forbidden, yet an insanely captivating thought of seeing people behave unvarnished.

I know where I stand, but what about you?

Are you going to read this book? Have you ever considered peeking on guests without their knowledge? What did you do? Drop me a line here at [email protected]. Or find me on Twitter @TravelingGlenn.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.

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