The Warming Glow, or, My Favorite Box, or, The Great Good Place

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sharon Marie Ross, “Fascinated with Fandom: Cautiously Aware Viewers of Xena and Buffy,” Beyond the Box: Television and the Internet (2008)

Xena and Buffy! The cult of tele-participation! These are not prime-time people. lol but I’m not a nerd! -per Ross’ online survey results. Internet plays huge role in newfound sense of fannish ownership; ushers in widespread, top-down, bottom-up interactivity. Also various forms of engagement, described as producerly! Lurkish! Phatic! Slashful! Encyclopedic! Defensive! Us v. Them-y! All constitutive of highly social audiences! And generate discussions of taste as well as senses of empowerment (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as actual empowerment). “Something beyond cult!” TV beyond the box!

Rachel Prentice, “The Visible Human,” The Inner History of Devices (2008)

Virtual corpses! Somewhere between real and artificial! Not dead bodies, but digital reproductions of actual dead bodies! A project sponsored by National Library of Medicine, with many pedagogical applications! The original dead human fleshcorpse was frozen and sliced like delicious lunch meat! All in the name of Science. I showed these images to some random folk to see how they reacted to this not-exactly dead sort-of body. All three projected their own sensibilities and backgrounds into their “reading” of the corpse-text. They might have reacted differently if this had been a “real” body. I guess we’ll never know.

Sherry Turkle, “Virtuality and Its Discontents,” Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995)

The great good place! This was a thing, once upon a time, and it’s mostly moved online. Cue Baudrillard, dreams within dreams within dreams, I call it the Disneyland effect! Which is a real problem due to virtuality makes RL inauthenticity seem comparatively real! And fake things generally much more compelling! THE NEW CYBEROPIOID OF THE CYBERMASSES. And we can’t forget about the cyberpanopticon i.e. the blessing/threat of the archive. Which reminds me! DARKSIDEDNESS, what are we to make of that. Especially in terms of violence and rape! Bungle Bungle Bungle, where’s the mind end and the body begin? Though we can’t feasibly force unitary expressions of self online, the goal is to integrate “some meaningful personal responsibility in virtual environs” (254) because “we still want authentic experiences of self.” GOD THOUGH CAN THE WORD AUTHENTICITY EVEN APPLY, BECAUSE OF POSTMODERN FLATTENING?

To respond to Sherry Turkle’s above question, no. The word “authenticity” doesn’t apply. Not because of postmodern flattening, but because it’s such a weird question. First a quick caveat — yeah she’s cranky, and I’m normally pretty lol @ u in the face of academic crankiness. But I sort of like Turkle — mostly because she keeps looking at things even if she doesn’t approve of what she’s seeing. There’s something admirable in that.

But where was I. Oh right, no. Except not exactly, it’s not that I think her analysis is bad or wrong. It’s that I don’t accept her basic premise, this business about how we still want authentic expressions of self, if only we could figure out how to strike the delicate balance between our rl and online selves. I take particular issue with the “we,” the “still,” the “authentic” and the “self.” I’m cool with “expressions.”  Everything else strikes me as…….loaded…….in ways that prefigure the direction of the resulting discussion. Dang assumptions! For example, that “we” collectively do or could want the same things for the same reasons; that this desire is a continuation of an earlier universal desire (the “still”); and perhaps most importantly, that it ever makes sense to talk about inauthentic, somehow not or otherwise less-real-than-the-really-real self, which is an unassailable thing except when it’s fake? — a line of reasoning that reminds me of the trying to be helpful but actually just annoying suggestion that emotional distress is “all in your head,” as if there were an alternative. Similarly, how can the self ever be false? How can some behaviors be more real than others? Not ideologically, that’s its own can of ringworms, but epistemologically (on second thought, if you can even discuss those two things separately?), which is often the implied question at issue. Except when it’s not? Wow things suddenly got real tangled real fast.

The problem, well one of the problems, may be exactly that, now that I write it out — namely unobtrusive, unintended slippage between ordinary language and epistemological (ontological? metaphysical?) uses of the terms “self” and its modifier here, “in/authenticity.” So like, the difference between what it means to be a social being (subject to any number of adjectives) and what it means to be. Throw in questions of virtuality (OMG IS IT REAL? IS IT NOT REAL? WHAT IS REAL??????) and suddenly you’re dealing with a tanglebang (…think about it) of already-sippery abstract nouns, exacerbated by the fact that (COMMENCE FAST-FORWARD TO 2011) the people writing this kind of theory and the people to whom the theory is said to apply are often operating under entirely different paradigmatic assumptions, the cartoon version of which is that outsiders (the somewhat qualified PC term for OLD PEOPLE) worry about these kind of questions but active practitioners (users with a certain background and level of technological access, highly qualified PC term for YOUNG PEOPLE), would probably be like…my authentic self? On which platform?

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