December 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Exams! Has god ever created a more irritating exercise in self-loathing and manic depression, designed to call attention to the terrible life choices that have brought one to academia? I don’t think so!
The categories you are apparently now pursuing (first of all, why) –Oh My God Exams, Folklore, Symbolic Power Y’all and/or Digital Culture– were designed as study repositories for a series of PhD qualifying exams I took in the Fall of 2011, then promptly forgot ever happened. Such, such, such are the joys. In case you were wondering wtf you were looking at!
November 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
It feels weird to be done. Of course I’m not exactly done, I’m not even close to being done, though tomorrow will mark the beginning of a new chapter of FREEDOM, just like the discontinued sex robots are uncanny valleying about above. It’s like the marathon runner who finds herself weirdly droopy the day after her race, until she finds a new race to train for. In my case, come Saturday I’m going to hop back on board the 4chan train — need to reframe some things, make the Jenkem shit nice and digestible for my imagined audience, which ideally will include people who don’t know anything, or all that much, about trolls (prepare your anus, is all I’ll say). Then I travel to Spokane for the 4 day summer vacation I never got, then it’ll be all prospectus all the time. I can’t wait for that shit (no really, I seriously can’t). My god! And I’ll also get back onto a normal trolling schedule! Since of late –barring major news stories, which require immediate and unbroken archival attentions– I’ve been conducting research via appointment, which sucks. Ok, yes, I’m starting to feel much better now. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE WORK TO DO TOMORROW.
10 minutes of clicking later, somehow I ended up here.
But I digress. In preparation for tomorrow’s exams I figured I’d sketch out a list of
questions I hope I’m asked claims I hope to defend. What do I want to talk about? What are the important issues? I doubt very highly that my examiners (save for my advisor, who luckily is chair) will approach this material from the same perspective, and therefore doubt very highly that the following list will line up with the questions I’m actually asked arguments I get to make. But a girl can dream. Questions Claims about the general list
- The shift from text-based to graphical interface(s) has significantly impacted discussions/performances of online identity.
- There are two basic levels at which the raced, classed and gendered body is (en)coded online.
- The internet is still pretty fucking white.
- Facebook is the worst, especially this shit about the authentic online self.
- Persistent online identity has serious and not always pleasant implications. (see above)
- Web 2.0 is a study in cultural and economic hybridity.
- Digital natives’ assumptions about online culture differ greatly from the oldz, who in most cases need to stfu & get over themselves.
- The relationship between humans and digital technologies is co-evolutionary; people grow to fit the tool, and the tool adjusts to fit the hand.
- Wikipedia is an important pedagogical tool.
- “Because they can” and/or “because they want to” are legitimate (partial) answers to questions about why people do such wacky shit online.
- People should not make general statements about internet users.
- “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring” (Shirky 2008).
- Anti-fans and the internet were made for each other.
- Lockdown –within technical and content layers– only makes whatever problem worse. (also applies to trollshit)
- Online, speech is behavior; in order to decode what has been said one must take the context into account. (also applies to trollshit)
- Trolling, “cyberbullying” and harassment are not interchangeable terms; legally this is very important.
- One does not simply walk into Anonymous.
- Equating trolling with hate speech (as “just” racist, sexist, homophobic) is counter-productive.
- Trolling culture is intertwined with internet culture.
- “Modern” trolling has ample historical precedent.
November 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Here is a video of white people (possibly) pretending to (possibly) pretend to emulate what is assumed (facetiously?) to be coded as black, which begs the question of where exactly the joke is hiding, and/or if the joke itself is the joke, or one layer of the joke, because who exactly is under this microscope, white people for being/seen as stereotypically white or black people for being/seen as stereotypically black, or white people for thinking black people are funny, or white people for thinking white people who think black people are funny, are funny? Who can even tell these days, on the internet!
Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity and Identity on the Internet (2002)
The Internet is dead long live the Internet! In this post-Internet world (“post-Internet” = annoying PoMo way of referencing the 90s dot-com bubble), it is important to consider the racial contours of the ongoing cultural transformation ushered in by CYBERSPACE NETWEB. It is possible to explore these questions through the examination of cybertypes, images and performances of racial identity necessitated by the digital medium. i.e. the human layer interacting with the machine layer, i.e. how race emerges where there are no (physical) bodies (in the representations themselves).
This book explores the various rhetorical and technological spaces where this process unfolds, and posits a kind of neo-liberal Dyer-ing ideological effect (the default avatar is presumed white; everything else is Other; this Other can be exotic, but never the norm). You’ve got your bourgie lamer identity tourism and/or explicitly racialized avatars on LambdaMOO & graphic chat textholes like Club Connect! Your marginalization of brown and black bodies in the fictions of/about/surrounding cyberspace! Your weird contradictory messages about how awesome it is that the Internet collapses racial and national boundaries, except there’s actually no such thing as either, because it’s the Internet! Your check-box-for-phenotype auto-racing interfaces, complete with clever niche marketing strategies! In conclusion, race happens online, whether or not you’re looking for it! So what do we do? The territory is fraught, people! Due to! CAN THE MASTER’S TOOLS EVER DESTROY THE MASTER’S HOUSE? This, ultimately, is the question. And the answer is…maybe?
November 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (2004)
When people talk about copyright law they typically think of “piracy” and how they absolutely would download a car. But that’s not the actual issue. Granted, “piracy” –i.e. taking shit without adding any value to whatever thing, “value” of course being a huge wildcard– warrants some form of legal response (proportionate to the thing being “pirated,” I mean let’s be reasonable). The problem is that copyright law is a very dumb machine and hasn’t been programmed to distinguish between “stealing” and “transforming.” All it cares about is copies, and the making/taking of similar — meaning copyright law as it’s currently written ends up prohibiting (at least theoretically) basically everything people do on the Internet. This is fucked up and bullshit and only serves the interests of corporate entities who find themselves in competition with the creativity and innovation of others, thus creating a system in which “fair use” merely means “the right to hire a lawyer” (187). This is very very bad! And runs counter to everything we’ve ever valued as a culture! You know like innovation generally!
Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008)
Look you guys. We can go on flipping our shit over anachronistic conceptions of “intellectual property” and “piracy” and the rest. But this war is already a lost war. Continuing to fight only makes things worse, not only by stifling creativity and innovation but by criminalizing the behaviors of an entire generation, i.e. turning our kids into collateral over what basically amounts to a corporate vanity project. Furthermore this war would be a terrible war to win, since the triumph of Read/Only (RO) over Read/Write (RW) content would be bad for everyone. Our culture is, and will continue to be, enhanced by the RW imperative, as mashups and remixes and sampling of every stripe encourages engagement and critical thinking and creativity, all good things. This isn’t to say that RW should replace RO; one benefits and is benefited by the existence of the other, in the same way that commercial and sharing economies are neither logistically not ideally mutually-exclusive. Verily, we’re entering (have already entered!) an era of unprecedented hybridity.
In the first section of Remix, Lessig quotes Victor Stone, a friend and fellow Creative Commons advocate/architect: “You know…this discussion will be over in ten or twenty years. As the boomers die out, and they get over themselves by dying, the generation that follows…just don’t care about this discussion. They just assume that remixing is part of music, and it’s part of the process, and that’s it” (97). I laughed because dying really is the best way to get over oneself, but also because Stone is entirely right — internet people (and especially young ones) just aren’t operating under the same set of assumptions as the current –and increasingly– Old Cultural Guard. The issues that needle at the former don’t needle at the latter, and vice versa.
This reminded me of an early this-changes-everything Copernican revolution moment brought on by someone else’s offhanded comment — in this case my dear brother, who in terms of intellectual influence is rivaled only by my shadowy consultant. This was way way back in August of 2009, before I knew shit about shit. Despite that (not knowing shit about things has never stopped me before), I’d written a short thing about the Obama-as-Socialist-Joker poster that had been cropping up on Los Angeles freeways. This is the work of Anonymous, I argued, and outlined the connection between this particular iteration of the Obama/Joker image and 4chan. A few days after my piece was published (I’d link, but can’t remember what all I wrote and would need to read it again, due to vanity; I’m afraid I’ll want to kill myself when it turns out I was an idiot), a reporter from the Los Angeles Times identified the artist as one Firas Alkhateeb, a college student from Chicago who has posted the (uncaptioned) image to his Flickr account. Alkhateeb didn’t know how his image ended up in Los Angeles, and didn’t know who added the “socialism.” Still, mystery apparently solved!
I first heard the news while shopping in a Humboldt County Target— two separate friends of mine, both eager to undermine my original argument, had emailed me the headline within an hour of its posting (dicks). As I stood in the Cookware aisle, helping my brother pick out plates for his dorm room and scanning the Times article on my phone, I began second-guessing my argument. What if the Obama/socialism/Joker image really was the work of a single author? Did that invalidate my entire analysis? Basically, fuck. I asked my brother, a CS student and sometimes-troll, what he thought. He wasn’t impressed –his “meh” shirt already suggesting as much– and told me not to worry. “Newspapers get most things wrong about the internet,” he said. The kid may have uploaded the image, but that didn’t mean anything; as soon as something goes online, it belongs to everyone. Saying that any one person is responsible for any one thing online is stupid, because you can’t. Also meh. This really was a cartoon lightbulb moment, and for the first time illustrated the profound, even ideological tension between how the old guard sees the world and how the new guard lives in it. Hence my appreciation of the above quote, the end.
October 30, 2011 § 4 Comments
MAKE SURE YOU’RE DOING YOUR SCHOOL REPORTS AND NOT ALL THAT CYBERNET STUFF
Yochai Benchler, “Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom” (2011)
The series of tubed networks that is INTERNET allows users to bypass traditional channels of power, i.e. WikiLeaks. These new avenues aren’t in themselves game changers, not necessarily, and are a mixed bag politically (depends on who has the freedom and who has the power to do what for what reasons), but represent a shift away from older, more contained/containable models of control and towards bottom up (or perhaps more appropriately, every-which-way) collective-ish power, depending, again, on who exactly is doing what with what, and why, and how — details that need to be filled in before proper analyses can be run. Still, the shift in itself is a very big deal –not exactly “good,” not exactly “bad,” but certainly “different” and “important”– even if said power is still mostly nascent.
Tom Bissell, “The Unbearable Lightness of Games,” Extra Lifes: Why Video Games Matter (2010)
Video games are fun because they’re fun, and sometimes that’s a difficult position to articulate. It is easy to sound a bit douchey or apologetic when talking about video games, and this can be distressing. Because one’s love of games generally and/or one game in particular is so closely tied up into who one is. Making them an odd topic of criticism. Easier if you take more of a structural approach. Still, that I is a difficult I to navigate.
Yesterday my dear friend at lemonparty.gov sent me this, a newspaper article examining the “dark side” of Facebook’s ascendancy. He assumed said darksidedness would loop back to standard cybertroll rage brigading, so was surprised to find a much more nuanced argument about the unintended political consequences of Facebook’s fetishization of “authentic” user identity. As I have previously bleated, “authentic” user anything is a weird and highly annoying concept; it assumes that “authenticity” isn’t just possible but is the ideal mode of being online. This article doesn’t address the saliency of Zuck’s basic assumption (i.e. that “authenticity” is a real thing even in real life), but does suggest that Facebook’s push for “true” identity, which simultaneously solicits and exploits personal information, is naive at best and culturally myopic at worst.
Because sure, as a citizen in a relatively stable, developed country, it might be shitty that Facebook mines all your data, but having your real name attached to the fact that you like snowboarding and just ordered season 1 of the Gilmore Girls is unlikely to put you in any immediate physical danger. Again, if you happen live in a place where those sorts of details don’t matter to anyone but advertisers. In other parts of the world, “authentic identity” –here synonymous with “traceable identity”– is a huge, the huge, liability. Where you are and who’s in charge matters, and matters in a big way, as systems that keep privileged people connected with all the friends they don’t like can also be harnessed for various stripes of repressive fuckery — harkening to Benchler’s claim that networks themselves are value-neutral. It’s the people we have to watch out for, because a really kool social tool for one person can be a mode of oppression for another. Picture definitely related.
(thanks for the protip nightguy)
October 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
Hit mute on the above, and press play. Then play the following, sound blasted to the heavens. And bathe in the glory that is my Halloween costume.
Bryan Pfaffenberger, “If I Want It, It’s Ok: Usenet and the (Outer) Limits of Free Speech” (1996)
Oh Jesus Usenet! No really because it’s 1996, this shit is crazy! Totally new communications medium! Which is why we have to think about how and why we got here — there “here” being a place where everything is tolerated except that which impedes the network from functioning (well sort of). In short, this hasn’t been a smooth or beautiful process! Much CYBERBLOOD has been spilled over the years, this whole puppypile of admins and architects and users all clamoring to control a thing that nobody entirely knew what it was. And even after they did! Because things kept changing! The result of (and also ensuring) persistent social conflict! Like everything worth talking about!
Suzanne Scott, “Repackaging Fan Culture: The Regifting Economy of Ancillary Content Models” (2009)
All sorts of shit can go awry when you try to smash together market and gift economies! The resulting epic fails, however (see: FanLib), often overshadow those spaces where negotiation can be you know like negotiated. Because this idea of “value,” it whizzes all over the place, between markets and producers and produsers and back again, occasionally forming/being harnessed to form “a regifting economy of ancillary content” that reseeds the magic transmedia circle with a precarious hybrid of grassroots and corporate content. So regifting (“packaging”) fandom itself, like on official websites for cult shows. Something about that one Seinfeld episode? Yes! Yes it’s exactly like that, I think.
Look everybody, just in time for Halloween — Beibses’ latest X-mas single!
Money quote: ”Playin for the King, Playin for the title….I’m suprised ya didn’t hear this in the Bible.” Indeed, you flirty rapscallion.
October 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
Here enjoy the latest news about my personal hero and world renowned pumpkin jammer, Courtney “and not a single fuck was given” Stodden. If I hadn’t already decided on “slutty honeybadger” for this year’s Jesusween I’d totally be rockin them boots. She’s one in a million y’all! But I digress. To the exam cave!
Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins, “The Moral Economy of Web 2.0: Audience Research and Convergence Culture,” Media Industries: History, Theory and Method (2009)
Problems arise when you put the “We” in “Web!” Due to fans make all the content, companies take all the credit! Or smack these same fans with DMCA-type take down injunctions-o-corporate-fuckery! Fans –both as individuals and within groups– got power though; in order to crest the participatory wave, companies must reassess (trans)media landscape. This can be complicated! But ideally ushers in “moral economy” between top-down and bottom-up models, where everybody wants everybody to be happy. Mutually-recognized symbiosis, in other words. Recognizing/mapping/harnessing these sorts of negotiations requires a transmedia and flexible cross-pollenatory approach, since where does one thing end and another thing begin anymore, god!
Jane McGonigal, “Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming,” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (2008)
Massively-multiple human users! Working together to do a thing! We think, therefore we are! Case study: I Love Bees, an investigative playground-cum-multimedia user-generated backstory designed to bridge the gap between Halo and Halo 2! Which is sort of badass because it was never marketed as such, and no one got any instructions, save for a few cryptic messages from the admin of the initial page. She bolted & then users had to figure out what to do next! Choose your own adventure, using the scraps and pathways provided by the architects! And the hivemind did! Because hiveminds are smart, and like to build things! THESE ARE SKILLS IMPORTANT FOR OUR CHILDREN.
John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Narratives (2008)
Kids! They don’t build ‘em like they used to. What with their iPods, and The Twitter! They’re not like Digital Immigrants, who have to figure things out as they go, if they ever do, because CHANGE IS SCARY. Kids (and we’re talking about a particular population of “haves,” here) born after 1980 don’t know the meaning of change, because that’s all they’ve ever experienced, making “change” synonymous with stability. There are other things too! Like how they’ve naturalized the breakdown between online and real life (in fact wouldn’t stop to ask what the difference was, or why it might matter)! And how identity for them depends on what platform they’re on! And other things, that confuse and frighten the elderly! IT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE ELDERLY TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT’S NOT THEIR WORLD ANYMORE LOL [ed. note: my conclusion].
Geoffry Pingree and Lisa Gitelman, New Media: 1740-1915 (2003)
OMG what’s so new about new media! Every “old” media was new at one point! It’s a fucking misnomer is what it is! Because NEW! In relation to WHAT! And assumes there’s not a built-in continuum, and that technologies don’t feed into and harken back to each other! And all that jazz! Gesturing towards some technological telos or whatever! GTF over yourselves, and consider the following: Zograscopes! Physiognotrace! Optical telegraphs! Telegraphy generally! Stereoscopes! Phonographs! “Telefones,” whatever those are! In conclusion, media.
AND NOW I GO VISIT MY BROTHER.
October 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
Oh no reason, I just like it because it’s awkward.
Searle Huh and Dmitri Williams, “Dude Looks Like a Lady: Gender Swapping in an Online Game,” Online Worlds: Convergence of the real and the Virtual (2010)
Online anonymity is problematic. It can be an ambivalent social force. Sometimes people gender swap. BUT NO ONE KNOWS WHY. Sex and gender aren’t the same thing. Gender is coded, even in real life. People experiment with identity online, because they can. But real life is never far behind. Maybe this is why people gender swap. Yes, probably; we predict that women will be more likely to swap, as will homosexuals. Because gender roles, they’re binding. And predict that men and women will approach games differently. Like lady players will chat more. And male players will FIGHT more. And this will factor into whatever swapping. Oops looking at the data, turns out a lot of our initial predictions were wrong. Also hardly anyone gender swaps. The end!
Tanner Higgin, “Blackless Fantasy: The Disappearance of Race in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games” (2009)
There aren’t a lot of black or brown bodies in video games (focusing here on EverQuest, EverQuest II and WoW), and the ones that are featured are stereotypical at best and outright racist at worst. Cybertypical, you could say, per Nakamura. The first problem is that black people haven’t been sitting at the negotiating table, and the second is that the technologies of representation/mediation are racially exclusionary. Case in point, “humanity” is coded as white in WoW — which pretty much sums it up.
Thomas Malaby and Timothy Burke, “The Short and Happy Life of Interdisciplinarity in Game Studies” (2009)
Thinking about games and play is so hot right now, and the methodological approaches to these topics are as varied as they are pragmatic! You’ve got your law! Your anthropology! Your communication studies! Your literature! And many more, often all mushed together like some sexy academic puppy pile! It makes sense that the field would be so diverse (well in terms of method) and open-ended — the subject itself is diverse (well in terms of behavior) and open-ended. That said, the interdisciplinarity we’re currently enjoying is unlikely to sustain itself, due to you know what a killjoy academia can be! All borders & territory & departmental land-grabs, plus where do we put all the grad students we’re training? In conclusion, our success thus far almost ensures entry into the establishment, and this is a mixed blessing.
You know what, Mother is tired. Here, watch this video of Courtney Stodden and Gayface McToombs talking about how they got kicked out of a pumpkin patch that one time, for being in love. And while you’re watching, pretend I’m saying something smart about the importance of factoring the above picture into analyses of online behaviors (including this one) — namely, people do things because they want to. While you don’t want to say that people’s behaviors are motiveless or meaningless –they never are– it’s also important to recognize that FUN can be a reason unto itself. Obviously, FUN can’t easily be quantified via analytics. And it can’t be the only conclusion one draws. But it matters, and matters a lot, and if you’ll excuse me I need to go watch murder shows on Investigation Discovery, America’s fastest growing network.
October 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
T.L. Taylor, “Does WoW Change Everything?: How a PvP Server, Multinational Player Base, and Surveillance Mod Scene Caused Me Pause” (2006)
Online behaviors don’t exist in a vacuum, especially in the context of games; researchers can’t and shouldn’t make generalizations about gameplay or game players, since how groups and individual players behave depends not just on the particular game (and particular rules) but on the server and even the guild itself. Systems of stratification and forms of social control vary greatly depending on where a person is playing and with whom and why, and those details –including native language, nationality and age of players– need to be taken into account in ethnographic analyses, as do the ways in which game functionality/mods overlay and influence (and are influenced by) whatever set of social circumstances.
T.L. Taylor, “Beyond Fun: Instrumental Play and Power Games,” Play Between Worlds (2006)
Shifting focus to EverQuest, it makes no sense to talk about a “generic” MMO player! There are categories that break it down –achievers, socialized, explorers, killers– but even these are too broad to capture the heterogeneity of player styles, proclivities and personalities, both online and off. Nor do they adequately capture the tensions between gamers, real super serious us v them shit, the “us” of course depending on where and how the player happens to be playing, and consequently, what a particular player regards as the “correct” way to play (see rift between “power gamer” and “casual gamer”) as well as his/her notions of “fun.”
T.L. Taylor, “Where the Women Are,” Play Between Worlds (2006)
Games are more diverse than people assume, and yes for chirssakes there are girls on the internet. In order to legitimize their experiences –thus in turn legitimizing their existence– we need to think more about the kinds of pleasure women and girls derive from games, particularly MMOs. Why do women enjoy spaces that haven’t been designed for them? Relying on knee-jerk assumptions about what women naturally do/want/think (community, friendship, a place to explore one’s identity) is a problem, because it flattens women’s experiences and doesn’t account for the complex ways women experience the game-space. And don’t even get me started on the pink-games movement ffs.
Last night I was engaging in my own version of massively multiplayer online gameplay when I –well, my alt– invoked the wrath of a fellow let’s say player. “Hey [alt name], why don’t you stop being such a self righteous cunt?” the gentleman asked, reacting to my female name and profile picture. “Actually the more important question is, why is there a computer in the kitchen?” “Hey [alt name],” my alt responded. “Why don’t you stop being such an impotent misogynist?” –then proceeded to mock the group for their predictability and stale image choices. Needless to say my friends from Yahoo News didn’t much like this.
If this had been real life, such an interaction might have turned real ugly real fast — the “players” in this particular game all presented as male, and my alt was the only female present. Not a situation I’d necessarily choose, on a Saturday night. But this wasn’t real life, this was a thread on Facebook. No matter how brazen my alt got, the I behind that she was safe — not unlike the experience of female players in EverQuest and WoW (how ya like them transitions). A player might get her ass soundly kicked, but at the end of the battle not a single stitch of harm will have befallen the actual ass. That’s part of the fun, and as Taylor explains, is why these sorts of spaces can be highly engaging and even empowering for female players, who are able to go and do as they please without fear of any (real life) repercussions. The trollspace isn’t a traditional game space, not exactly, but the idea holds. Again, with some major caveats having to do with that all-too-fuzzy line between the computer screen and living room, but that’s a topic for a different post.
Which is not to say –and in marches yet another caveat– that name-calling and (ostensible) misogyny is awesome, or is something we should encourage, or any of the knee-jerk moral responses these sorts of situations tend to generate. Not everyone knows how to respond to trolling situations; many women would (and do) feel threatened by the kinds of language trolls routinely use. I’m not saying this response is wrong, and am not denying the real world side of online behavior. But I am saying that in many cases there’s something…I don’t know, politically problematic? frustrating? maybe a bit regressive? about the assumption that the only role women (and GLBTQ people, and people of color, though suddenly my scope is spinning wildly out of control) can occupy online is that of the helpless victim. Yes, in real life, women (and GLBTQ people, and people of color, and oh man this post is far too small for all there is to say here so let’s pretend it’s possible to focus on one category at a time) are disproportionally victimized. But the internet provides a space where fighting back isn’t just an option, it’s easy. And, frankly, lots of fun. I understand the need to protect people, and I get that words (can) do all kinds of terrible things. But when these protections –and proposed prohibitions– are at the expense of female agency, I can’t help but rankle. Because sometimes, the best response to “hey cunt” is an impotence joke. Dudes who think a woman’s reproductive system is inherently offensive tend to hate that sort of thing. So it’s perfect.