Hi thesis committee! Please find below my thesis in its entirety (not including references). This page was created in hopes of making the “reading” of my thesis easier as the “reading” requires you watch lots of youtube vids. Hope this helps.
Additionally, a playlist of all videos is available (without text) here. To begin the playlist, you will need to click on the 1st video, located at the far, top right.
Cortney, an ideaassassin
In-between the real (?) and the virtual (?): The Performance of Vlogs on YouTube and the Asent-Body-Subject
© Cortney Lohnes 2009
In 2006, Time Magazine published their annual Person of the Year volume. The cover depicts a white Macintosh computer and keyboard. On the screen is a YouTube video player, and in big, bold block letters, the screen reveals Time’s choice for person of the year: You. This simple cover and accompanying article articulates the en masse shift to the digital—a global transition away from other mass-mediated forms of information, and a phenomenological shift in the ways people interact and live in the world. From the article:
Look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes. (Grossman)
Although a utopian perspective, Time’s analysis of YouTube and sites like it, helped to articulate the shift from media consumer (passive consumption) to media producer (active participation).
Fig. 1. Time’s Person of the Year 2006. Time.com 13 Dec 2006. Time Magazine.
YouTube emerged in 2006 when other social networking and media-sharing sites like Friendster and MySpace were becoming increasing popular. All of these websites had in common the capability to have its users create their own content. Serving as virtual networking sites, these interest-based communities grew exponentially. Translating this niche to video content, YouTube, by providing a video platform for anyone who had access to a computer, webcam, and the internet, completely altered the ways in which media content traveled, was accessed, and was manipulated. Allowing users across the globe to respond instantly to events via video, YouTube quite literally allowed users to extend their bodies online—the webuser’s videos left a trace of their body online via their video blog. Along side this innovative shift in cultural production, YouTube also helped to facilitate the ongoing debate surrounding copyright infringement and access to culture spawned by the increasing popularity of social media networking sites.
The nature of this widespread debate focused on the reuse of “old” culture- the remix, revision, and decontextualization of content already a part of popular culture. Seemingly missing from this debate was the YouTube content that was focused on the individual creator, or in other words, content that was focused on the reporting of events, emotions, ideas, etc. The online video blog, or vlog, is one of Youtube’s most accessed video forms, and one of its least discussed. Although the vlog is inherently public–generally published online for anyone to see– the vlog function like a journal of sorts. It is a personal testimony that inhabits the space in-between the real world, the actual space that the vlogger and viewer lives in, and the online, virtual world that the video inhabits. It is the vlog’s inherent ability to function in-between these real and virtual spaces—regarded most often as completely dichotomous— that creates a dynamic new to the digital age.
This thesis will attempt to explore the in-between as the ideal iteration of the contemporary subject position and what this means to the vlogger’s transition to the offline world. By examining the vlog as a virtual performance and by questioning the role the virtual plays when theorizing about the performing body of the vlogger, can these online interactions, however engaging they may be online, impact the actual bodies of the performers and audiences in the offline world? Is the binary between the real and the virtual representative of the contemporary subject, or is this in-between a more effective way to discuss the connections between the two? The following chapters will attempt to fuse the digital body in its virtual space, and more particularly, how these online performances may extend to the offline world, encouraging critical thinking and active participation. If a close examination of contemporary subjectivity, which is facilitated by the virtuality of the internet, leads to an increased awareness about the webusers role in the offline world, how do these processes move offline?
Central to this argument regarding the in-between is the question of what constitutes a contemporary subject. Although each mode of inquiry discussed in this thesis examines the contemporary body/subject in a specific and unique way, each mode focuses on the in-between, between the live and the mediatized, the public and the private, the real and the virtual, and between presence and absence. In fact, the in-between serves to shift these traditional binaries toward a continuum of subject-hood. The either/or paradigm becomes useless, and the middle ground, the grey, the fluid state, is what emerges to locate our body/subject. Removed completely from the Cartesian mind/body split, the contemporary subject is composed of limitless combinations and interactions between the mind, the body and technologies. This constant in-between existence of the subject prevents it from ever being entirely present or entirely absent. Jonathan Marshall, an emerging cyberstudies scholar has coined a term that accurately describes this in-between, and Marshall names this state as asence – “the almost ontological uncertainty, or suspension of being, between presence and absence” (2). Marshall argues that the online body is always crossing borders and boundaries thus inhibiting it from becoming totally present or absent:
The asent body, the asent self, as neither present or absent becomes a virtual body like a ghost. Sometimes the virtuality is taken as real (as in the narrative of how the virtual world allows true expression of authentic being), and sometimes it is the offline world which is taken as real (as in the narrative of how computer use is an escape from, or abandonment of, real life). However, the overwhelming of one category pole by “the other” might not tend to solidify the dominant pole but unsettle it. The Ghost becomes not pure spirit or matter but an uneasy oscillation (12).
Extending Marshall’s notion of asence, I choose to refer to this contemporary reworking of the body/subject as the asent-body-subject. It is this iteration of the subject that is found online – and thus in vlogs. This naming of the contemporary subjectivity will serve as the through-line for this thesis, and will be examined throughout the following chapters, and more specifically, how this mediated, fluid subjectivity relates to virtual space.
Chapter One- The Vlog and its Audience: The Ngen Perform New Media will introduce and elaborate on contemporary issues central to my argument regarding the in-between. Stemming from new media and performance theory, chapter one contends that the virtuality of the asent-body-subject body establishes the in-between—between performer and spectator, between the live and the mediatized, and between the “body” and technology. Serving as the central theory chapter for this thesis, chapter one will situate the vlog in virtual space, and discuss the implications of the vlog’s virtuality. Additionally, this chapter will expand on the naming practice of this contemporary subjectivity. Named by many cultural critics as the Ngen (or some derivative of the combination of internet and generation), the Ngen remains the ideal representative of the in-between subject, and will be used in chapter one to highlight some of the main characteristics of this body/mind/technology hybrid.
Chapter Two: IdeaAssassins’ Vlog Series and The Performing Digital Asent-Body-Subject, will elaborate on the contemporary notions of performance discussed in chapter one, particularly the quality of the live body that most definitions focus on. This chapter will also elaborate on several notions of the asent-body-subject, and will aim to highlight the connections between body, subject, and medium. As an example for this chapter, IdeaAssassins, a performance collective of which I am a member, will produce a vlog series which will mark the progress of this particular chapter, and will ultimately aim to perform the theory discussed. Having others record their own responses to my thesis progress, this chapter will highlight the contemporary spectral subject position I will argue is created online, and shifts offline, affecting subjectivity in actual space, and ultimately, breaks the binaries established by earlier notions of what constitutes the body, and in fact, subjectivity.
Chapter Three: Pretty Things, Meta-Performance and the Virtual in Cyberspace will continue to locate the term virtual and the virtuality of the internet within existing new media and performance scholarship. The vlog inhabits the virtual space of the internet, and as such, acts as the digital representation of the bodies on the screen. By examining the diverse array of definitions and concepts linked to the notion of the virtual, how does the space the vlog inhabits lead to an intersubjective subjectivity? Using the vlog series Rantings of a Retail Drone, this chapter will examine how YouTube facilitates connection between users, including text responses, number of hits, and similar video links. Chapter Three will additionally attempt to locate the virtual space of the internet as queer. Highlighted by the Drone series, which features strategic gender-dragging, Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer invigorates the virtual space as potentially radical. Here, the virtuality of the medium, and in fact it’s in-between-ness is located as queer- the intentional mimicry used as a strategy in many Youtube vlogs will highlights this.
Although the examples used in the final two chapters of this thesis focus on content created as an artistic reaction to the use of YouTube as content and as a mode of production, the conclusion of this thesis will use an example pulled from recent headlines to articulate the political and social ramifications of this theoretical examination. On June 12, 2009, Iran held its tenth ever presidential elections. The violence that erupted in the streets of Tehran after the election was streamed live on YouTube and other media networking sites. Thousands of response videos made their way online as well, creating a live reaction to the events in Tehran across the globe. One particular series of videos, which captured the seconds-long death of a protest observer created a reaction to the violence that made its way offline, after being accessed by millions of YouTube spectators. Vlogs, protest videos, and video memorials swamped the site, and as of December 30, 2009, a YouTube search of “neda” brings up over 15 000 related videos. While the shift from artistic representations to live political event responses may seem like a stretch, it is the notion of the in-between that locates the similarities between the two—particularly the activation of participation so clear in each example. The online reaction to the offline events and cultural markers represent the lack of distinction between what has until quite recently constituted our reality and its virtual counterpart. The performances of these online reactions, and the shift to Internet 2.0 have raised questions regarding the split between the problematic binaries that have shaped our understanding of contemporary subjectivity.
Chapter One: The Vlog and its Audience – The Ngen Perform New Media
In the last several decades the emergence of the internet has revitalized discourse on media and the way it shifts the reception, perception, and the way all media is produced and absorbed in culture. In line with performance theorist Philip Auslander’s argument that television “transcended its identity as a particular medium and is suffused through the culture as the ‘televisual’” (Liveness 2), so too the internet has moved from a medium that serves as a platform for content, to a way in which we can conceive perception in the 21st century. The internet helps to shape and define contemporary culture, and serves as the central space of our time. The emergence of the internet, has, over the last twenty years, created this new space—a virtual reality where notions of community, new forms of interpersonal communication, and tactics for subversion are increasingly possible. The internet is a part of our real world and functions as an extension of our real, sensory, lived experiences. Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum provides a particularly apt description of the internet that also highlights the contemporary notion of what constitutes the real world: “simulation is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. [. . .] It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Simulacra 1). However virtual, the internet serves to extend our previously constituted notions of reality (linear space and time). The internet exists in cyberspace and is virtual in the sense that it exists outside of quotidian time and space. The virtualness of the internet is at once the feature that defines it, and its most valuable component.
The video-sharing site YouTube, since its inception in 2005, has been the ideal iteration of these online, virtual possibilities. In almost four years, the site has grown from a mode of production (medium) to a cultural manifestation mapping the way people connect to the internet, live in the world and communicate with others (mode of perception). Kansas State University’s online Digital Ethnography Project notes that as of March 2008, the total number of uploaded videos on YouTube was just over 78 million, and that this number was growing by close to 200 000 each day. One of the most popular video formats on the internet, the online video blog (vlog) accounts for almost 5% of all videos on YouTube, and over 10 000 new vlogs are added to the site each day (Digital Ethnography Project).
Usually recorded in the performer’s home, the vlog serves as a means of expressing thoughts and feelings important to the performer in their everyday life. These testimonials are emotional responses, and what is also easily recognizable through the form is the immanence projected since the videos rarely feel rehearsed and reflect an seemingly spontaneous experience. There are no editorial cuts, and the performers often stumble over their words, focusing instead on the transmission of their emotions. The ‘amateur’ quality of the videos does not negate aesthetic implications, but instead, emphasizes them. The quickly made, immediate responses articulate the feature of the videos that is most important—sharing ideas and emotions with cyberspace, and with other people. Vlogs are a performed first-draft of the webusers offline, and in some cases online experience in/of the world, and perform how webusers interact with their world.
Critical discourse about YouTube has somewhat quieted in the last few years as other social media networking sites emerged and gained popularity. However, YouTube not only remains a top internet site, but has changed the way most webusers access, create, and communicate via the internet. Being referenced increasingly in movies and television, YouTube, like the internet, has grown from a mode of production to the cultural manifestation of the way people connect to the internet, live in the world and communicate with others. YouTube also presents a series of limitations when contextualized as a space that sells advertisement space, has a front page that is clearly facilitated by these funders, and in certain countries, is affected by legislation that limits accessibility to some content. Additionally, although the online video blog can exist on the internet without YouTube, it is the accessibility of the site that enables this video format to be used by the majority of computer users. On Youtube’s regularly updated blog, the site boasted daily views of over one billion, and so, the site clearly dominates the internet as the space where users create, publish, share, and monitor personal videos and blogs (Broadcast Ourselves).
While globally over 1.5 billion people have regular access to the internet, this thesis will focus on one particular group- the world’s largest generation to date, the Ngeneration (Internet World Statistics). Coined by Don Tapscott in Growing up digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (1997), Ngen is the classification for the more than 80 million North Americans born between 1978 and 1998. This generation represents the shift in cultural economy that is emphasized by Y2K, YouTube, and the pressing influence of interactive media—from broadcast (television) to digital (internet) culture. This shift is defined by the move to interaction and consumer activation, and is also the central trait of the Ngeners.
As an informed Ngen, my own ideas about the world are based on a system of mediated constructions that are very similar for all Ngeners. Born in 1982, I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, Princess Diana’s car crash, and 9/11. My memories of these events are all found footage. Available to the Ngen via the television that was in most of our homes, our reality was, and continues to be constructed via highly mediated information that travels around the globe instantly. For the Ngen, the world is a small space, and every corner, perception, and ideology is available the instant an interest is piqued. Ngeners are webusers that do not just access the internet for entertainment or static net relationships, but regard it as entirely integral to their daily lives and relationships. Ngen is the generation of Internet 2.0; that is, the internet is not only a tool for them to use, but represents the way they network, share, and communicate online and offline.
On October 11, 2008, The Globe and Mail published an article titled, “The Class of 2012: Mr. Google’s children” in which several Toronto high school students are interviewed as they prepare to leave high school. These Ngeners don’t remember what it was like not to have a home computer or even internet access. One of the article’s interview subjects, Julien Hernandez, points out the key difference that sets this digital-savvy generation apart from its predecessors:
See, our generation grows up so much faster. We’re exposed to everything online or on TV- bad language, beheadings, porn, people getting shot, whatever. We grew up with this stuff. You can’t shelter us. I don’t want to say older people are stupid or anything, but I’ve been exposed to a lot more than a lot of them. (White)
The Ngens experience of the world does not simply rely on lived, actual, personal experiences. The media, which many Ngen consider a part of their daily lives, shapes, filters, and spins all information. Webusers know this and respond reflexively within these media. The internet, and sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook, are a part of the everyday rituals that mark the subjectivities of its users. The internet is the definitive mode of production of the Ngeneration, and the vlog is the generation’s ultimate symbol of the asent-body-subject. As one of many ngeners, I will attempt to articulate the contemporary subjectivity I recognize as belonging to my generation. It is also the asent-body-subject that frames the discussion of this chapter. The binary of live performance and recorded, digital performance is examined, and via the reworking of the contemporary subject, is completely shattered.
Vlogs, in both their performance and reception, create a space on the internet in which its inherent virtuality forces webusers to locate an in-between-ness (asence) as they are neither entirely present or absent. The performance of the online vlog enables the webuser to locate this in-between-ness or the asent-body-subject. These in-between spaces extend explicitly to the theory that serves to highlight these digital beings. Regarded as a performance, the online vlog problematizes contemporary notions of what constitutes performance. Performance and cultural theorists Peggy Phelan and Joseph Roach both contend that what connects spectators to performance is the simple idea that we are watching bodies- the ultimate signifiers of any semblance of reality. Phelan notes that:
performance indicates the real through the presence of living bodies. In performance art spectatorship there is an element of consumption: there are no left-overs, the gazing spectator must try to take everything in. Without a copy, live performance plunges into the visibility – in a maniacally charged present –and disappears into memory, into the realm of invisibility and the unconscious where it eludes regulation and control. (Unmarked 148)
Joseph Roach, although discussing performance in its larger social and cultural embodiment, also supports the notion of memory as a process of performance. Roach defines performance as the “kinesthetic and vocal embodiment of social memory and self-invention” (23), which, along with Phelan’s, focuses on the body’s ability to connect with memory and subjectivity. The internet interferes with this definition—if digital beings on screen are representations or copies of offline, live body-subjects, are webusers part of a reverse process, perhaps always approaching presence?
Phelan and Roach’s description of live performance can be still applied to the vlog. The process of enacting memory though the perception of body-subjects is the same. Roach even goes so far as to name bodies on stage as “effigies of flesh” (26). Performing body-subjects are living, and so, approaching death, or disappearing. Vlogs are recorded in one place and time, posted on the internet, and accessible for viewing in other environments. The argument of their missing liveness loses strength when discussed outside the strict boundaries put in place by early performance and theatre theory. Most notably, Auslander’s problematizing of the live has helped to soften these borders of genre. A popular topic in performance studies since Auslander’s Liveness (1999), modern definitions of what constitutes the mediated, and so, the unmediated, or live have been called into question. In fact, Auslander argues that all representation is in fact mediated. So then, the live, or original, unmediated representations of bodies no longer exists. Much performance studies scholarship remains caught in the live/mediatized binary, preferring the live over the mediatized. The internet, and more specifically, the asent-body-subject forces a break from this binary.
I posit that the virtuality of the internet regards the live and the mediated not as opposites, but sees both as part of the same process that reflects the culture of simulation and of the copy. The vlog’s digital body approaches liveness via the medium’s indeterminacy and intermediality, and as such represents the performance space online, which as a result of its virtuality may facilitate critical engagement with its users. The vlogs’ inherent virtuality, as a result of its being on the internet, and the unique subject position afforded as a result of this virtuality, enable a sort-of liveness that invigorates webusers. Auslander points out the flaws in Phelan’s notion of performance, noting that she clearly favors the live over the mediatized (42-43), and argues for the breakdown of the binary between the live and the mediatized because it simply isn’t possible to split the two especially after the emergence of the digital image:
Disappearance, existence only in the present moment, is not, then, an ontological quality of live performance that distinguishes it from other modes of technical reproduction. Both live performance and the performance of mediatization are predicated on disappearance: the televisual image is produced by an ongoing process in which scan lines replace one another, and it is always as absent as it is present; the use of recordings cause them to degenerate. In a very literal, material sense, televisual and other technical reproductions, like live performances, becomes themselves through disappearance. (45)
Focusing on the entire performance of the online video blog, which not only includes the posting and viewing of a video, but the text and video reactions to the vlogs, this chapter will attempt to connect several dominant theoretical constructs that I will argue frame YouTube’s most popular video format. The performance of the vlog is intermedial. Here, the asence of the internet does not only reference the subject or the space the subject is inhabiting. Intermediality becomes the gap between media and the effects these gaps activate in the webusers participating in the performing and viewing of the vlog. In Aesthetic Art to Aisthetic Act: Theatre, Media, Intermedial Performance (2006), Peter M. Boenisch extends the concept of the intermedial regarding it not only as the use of digital technologies on stage with live bodies, but as “an effect performed in-between mediality, supplying multiple perspectives, and foregrounding the making of meaning rather than obediently transmitting meaning (103). By examining the vlog’s as both a performance and as intermedial, the concept of the virtual becomes the key notion with which to read performance on YouTube.
Cyberspace, as mentioned previously is virtual in the sense that it exists outside of quotidian time and space. However, when considering the webuser, the term takes on an additional phenomenological meaning- it becomes the capacity to be in excess of one’s actual state, enabling though this active spectatorship, the webuser’s tendency to think critically. In a recent collaboratively authored article, Performance Research describes the virtual as being “imbued with a sense of location, function and body state” (Virtual/Virtuality 137). Although several layers of meaning are necessary when discussing the virtual in terms of cyberspace and of performance, what connects all of these variations is the webuser’s body. More importantly, the article locates the body and the virtual as a primary space for critical awareness and change—“virtuality becomes the space of radical potential, with scope for existential, artistic, and political transformation” (139). Part of this “radical potential” lies in the ability of the webuser to seek out information and ways of simulating/representing themselves online. This “radical potential” also references additional meaning for the term virtual as it becomes the possibility of potential outcomes and connections.
It is the concept of the virtual that links performance within different modes of representation, and the virtuality of the digital image that makes performance on the internet potentially transformational—moving from online to offline space. The internet is then, to borrow from Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer, a space/place where new ways of being can propagate, establishing a “geography of resistance” (99). Although the space on the internet is virtual, it is a facet of our reality. Chris Nunes, a new media and Baudrillard specialist, explicitly links the internet and the hyperreal: “It is this blurring of the real and the unreal that marks the [. . .] hyperreal. From this perspective, the [. . .] internet pushes us beyond the world, beyond its containment” (320). In fact, the virtual environment of cyberspace actually works to reconnect the Cartesian mind/body split. No longer casually engaged, the asent-body-subject re-connects the two seemingly opposed notions.
The virtuality of the internet defies all rules pertaining to space, time, and distance. Whereas space and time are segments of information we need to define ourselves in the world, on the internet, these are replaced, or covered up by an experience of immediacy. This fully engages the webuser with the markers of the digital world, which, in addition to immediacy, is marked by transparency. The form (the internet) is implicated in the content.
The digital culture markers of immediacy and transparency lead to another useful mode of inquiry dominating cultural studies. New media, the various definitions this term locates, and the vlog as a form of new media help to locate this emergent form as a performance process that initiates critical thinking. A recent addition to the discourse on new media is Mark Tribe and Reena Jana’s critical survey of new media—New Media Art (2007). Discussing both the historical avant-garde and the emergence of the internet as historical and cultural antecedents of this growing movement, the two authors define the term new media in two ways. First, Tribe and Jana define new media based on its original coinage during the early 1990s, when it was used to “describe digital publishing forms like CD-ROMs and the Web” (6). Artists and cultural critics also began to use the term new media at this time, but in regards to contemporary art practice that “were made using digital technology, such as interactive media installations, virtual reality environments and Web-based art” (6). Tribe and Jana attempt to engage with these broad and general definitions by supplying their own. For the authors, new media is a process that engages critically with its audience. In fact, it is not the technology, in this case, the digital image, that defines new media, but the effect these technologies can potentially have.
One of the main concerns many critics have with the term new media is in fact the use of the word new. Much like the prefix post, the new in new media seems to define itself by what has come before it— the old media. In fact, following the lead of several contemporary media theorists, this is not at all the case. Jay David Bolter’s and Richard Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media (2002), provides us an alternative to this simple old/new binary. Now seminal, Bolter and Grusin’s writing on the process of mediation in the twenty-first century make clear the necessity to define new media not with a focus on the new, but instead on the gaps between the terms new and media. The process of remediation involves two seemingly disparate concepts: immediacy and hypermediacy. Remediation argues that although these two notions seem opposite, it is actually the ability, and in fact a necessity of our time to have both processes work simultaneously. Hypermediacy, or the ability of a medium to be reflexive, or to shed light on itself, seems to be the modus operandi of the majority of popular television and film. A simple example of this would be the proliferation of the reality television show. Baudrillard argues that we are no longer simply unwilling voyeurs, but have become complicit this process:
We feel an immense desire for events. And an immense deception, because the contents of information are desperately inferior to the power we have of disseminating that information. This disproportion creates a kind of craving that makes us jump on any incident, crystallize any catastrophe. [. . .] This is not a question of voyeurism or of release. It is a spontaneous reaction to an immoral situation: the excess of information creates an immoral situation in that it has no equivalent in the real event. (Event and Non-Event 128)
Immediacy functions to locate the connections between the medium and its spectators. Concerned with the speed with which connections are created, immediacy gains momentum on the internet. This can be directly linked to Baudrillard’s idea of the hyperreal: “The screen-scene of simulation is a depthless surface that allows for no play of images between metaphor and the world it represents” (Nunes 315). Baudrillard contends that these processes are both contrary to each other and necessarily simultaneous. Although referring to the real and the fictive, when paired with Bolter and Grusin’s hyper- and immediacy, an unavoidable link is made. Connecting hypermediacy with fiction and immediacy with the real, the conclusion again supports the break of this redundant binary. Performance on the net, as new media is not concerned with the real or the fictive, instead it focuses on where these two notions meet. this idea could use more unpacking. Not surprisingly, the above reference to Baudrillard’s hyperreal relies on the term simulation in place of reproduction. This leads us to Mark BN Hansen’s definition of new media, where the body of the spectator becomes the manifestation of this meeting. Another emerging new media scholar, Hansen highlights shifting perceptions and the location of performance in these newly emerging inter- and and multi- media forms. Hansen contends the following as the definition of new media: “it is the body– the body’s scope of perceptual and affective possibilities– that informs media interfaces. This means that with the flexibility brought by digitization, there occurs a displacement of the framing function of medial interfaces back onto the body from which they themselves originally sprang” (22).
Hansen locates the term new media not by focusing on the new in reference to the medium itself, say the internet for example, but instead references the medium’s emerging, and in fact, new ability to activate the spectator via asence. The process of the real into fiction is now simultaneous, just like the dual processes of hyper- and immediacy. Baudrillard adds that we are complicit members of this process, and in fact, seek these forms of information out: “there are no more actors and spectators, everyone is immersed in the same reality, in the same revolving responsibility, [. . .] we are hostages of information, but we secretly acquiesce to our captivity” (129).
The study of new media is also heavily interested in the body-subject as the centre for meaning-making (Hansen). Regarding the body as the frame with which all interactions with technology must be read, technology and the webuser become one and the same. This actively stages the processes at work regarding how webusers perceive the offline world and their own subjectivities within this world. Hansen describes the shift of perception of the contemporary subject position as one that is enabled by technology: “technology allows for a closer relationship to ourselves, for a more intimate experience of the very vitality that forms the core of our being, our constitutive incompleteness, our moral finitude” (106).
In order to locate vlogs on the internet as potentially transformational in their location in-between, we must accept all of these definitions of the term new media. Lisa Nakamura, a cyberculture theorist and author of Cybertypes: race, ethnicity, and identity on the Internet (2002), adds yet another layer to the new in new media by contending that the creation and proliferation of the term new media focuses dialogue about the internet in a new way. The “new” refers to the need to move away from current critical models, and move instead, to a shift in focus “that takes the indispensability of the computer-machine into account” (2). Furthermore, new media is layered, referencing both the cultural and the computer. The cultural refers to content, while the computer layer refers to the infrastructure, or the virtuality of the computer and internet. Therefore, “the computer layer can be expected to have a significant influence on the cultural logic (layer) of media” (2).
The seemingly similar, but ultimately, very disparate notions of interaction and interactivity continue to dispel the problematic binaries under question in this investigation. Both apply to the workings of the virtual on the asent-body-subject, and it is this connection that serves to re-inscribe this contemporary subjectivity of the online video blog. Writer Yael Kraplack traces the historical use of interaction, recognizing it as a term stemming from early biological sciences references the connection between humans, animals and their natural environment. Ultimately, webusers are interacting—they are responding to other webusers, however, this connection is extended as a process involving mediation including the webuser’s computer screen and keyboard. The use of facilitates an additional level of interaction. Interactivity, which is located as a much more recent term, is about the body’s connection to technology (Kreplak 4). The screen as mirror, which is a widely used metaphor in cyber- and new media studies, extends the notion of interaction/interactivity as the webuser is always a part of the performance- not only metaphorically, but actually, as writer Isabella Bernini articulates: “the medium of the mirror [is] a vehicle that permits the highlighting of certain concerns with the body’s sense experiences and potentialities, the notion of the artwork as a game, as well as visual identity and its fragmentation” (11).
New media theory, particularly Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation (1999) can potentially pair with Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1991), as the internet and its digital technologies shape the content and the way the users interact with the content. The users work to define and shape the never stable, always re-imagined medium/technology. Haraway’s cyborg subjectivity “is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (34). Here the splits between live and mediatized, real and fictive are again rejected. Online, the “boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion” (34), and what instead emerges is an intersubjective, spectral subject-position, that, in performance, decides what it is and how it would like to portray itself: “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all [. . .], theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism. In short, we are cyborgs” (35).
The cyborg identity is spectral and asent as it can assume any subject-position it likes, and however virtual, extends the body-subject of the webuser. The cyborg is also an intersubject as instead of relying on the markers of oneself in order to piece together a static subjectivity, it is through the interaction with other users online that this becomes organized. This notion of the intersubject, a key term of phenomenology derived from Heidegger’s “being in the world” is an inherent feature of cyberspace: meaning cannot be made without referral to other’s impact (Valdéz 568). In today’s world(s), virtuality approaches and takes the place of, or becomes the real. The concept of identity therefore moves from a stable, fixed notion, to a spectralized idea of the body, and as an extension, the subject is multiple and distributed. Not clear. This highlights the intersubjective quality of the online world, and the theoretical underpinnings of the virtual. In its spectral form, identity and subject position is never stable, and nomadic in the Deluzian sense.
So this connection between the human and the machine, with its reference to interaction, is about activity. Both concepts are about the integration of communication and action. Simply separating performers and spectators becomes completely redundant on the internet as all webusers, working through both interaction and interactivity, perform both roles simultaneously. However virtual, the webusers, as they connect to others via the mirror/screen/internet, participate in each instance of performance, reception, and reaction. Continuing with this useful mirror metaphor, the webuser is ultimately interacting with herself. Undeniably narcissistic, what is actually emphasized is the asent-body-subject’s attempt to connect with others online. This is online intersubjectivity which exemplifies the asent-body-subject.
The link between the concepts introduced above and the way vlogs are perceived by viewers can be traced to a contemporary understanding of how memory works. Alison Landsberg names a type of memory specific to the 20th century in Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture (2004). Her notion of prosthetic memory serves to implicitly extend the idea that art forms communicate shifts in perception, as opposed to being simple purveyors of affect. Prosthetic memory:
emerges at the interface between a person and a historical narrative about the past. In this moment of contact, an experience occurs through which the person sutures himself or herself into a larger history. The person does not simply apprehend the historical narrative but takes on a more personal, deeply felt memory of a past event through which he or she did not live. The resulting prosthetic memory has the ability to shape that person’s subjectivity and politics. (2)
Differing from other forms of memory, prosthetic is the first to be inextricably linked to capitalist culture, and even more specifically, to the way images are transmitted around the world. Although this link to capitalism can clearly work as an extension of ideology and systems of power, the emergence of prosthetic memory as a way of knowing, and by extension, as a way of perceiving and spectating actively, speaks to the relationships forged by the virtual space of the internet, even in the face of capitalist organization and ideology. This is particularly true for the Ngen. As modes of representation, mediation, and politics of perception become increasingly more accessible as ideas and constructs, the Ngeners move from being complicit voyeurs to active webusers.
Art historian Jonathan Crary refers to the West’s current mode of vision as cybernetic (qtd. in Lenoir xiii). Unlike other modes of vision, the cybernetic mode of vision places its spectators in a precarious situation. As a result of the explosion of the digital, we can hardly decide how we relate to images we see because we first have to try to determine their authenticity. What the internet has done to our cybernetic mode of vision has been to normalize this process- surfing the internet, however sedentary it may be, is an active form of perceiving. Although not always, this activity opens the webuser’s ability to through perception, think critically.
Unlike other modes of representation, YouTube complies with the shifting modes of vision that demand a change in perspective and a focus on creative accessibility of its users. YouTube’s community of online participants (both vloggers and viewers alike) functions within the dominant discourse of the status-quo, but, through performance, engages in a popular subversion of the status-quo and of cultural production in general. Again, it is the active engagement between webusers that makes this medium a space for critical awareness and cultural subversion. The internet, as a reiteration of progress towards globalization, squashes all previously regarded ideas of community. What has emerged, and is in fact highlighted by the internet, is the notion of community as a group of individuals without geographical borders, but instead based on interest, cultural identity, and interpersonal politics.
The reasons the internet, and particularly the online video blog, enable critical awareness and intersubjectivity are due to its inherent virtuality, and the ability to have its users seek out and create according to each user’s ways of perceiving. This is not to say that the rules put in place by frames, genres and conventions don’t exist. In fact, the internet manifests all of these just like the world we live in and are familiar with. The difference resides in the ability of its users to decide what their rules will be for each interaction, each trip online. The asent-body-subject facilitates active spectatorship and engages the cyborg participant, creating a space for an accessible, user-generated performance medium that enables the potentials made possible online to manifest themselves in the body-subject of the webuser, creating critical awareness, and possibly, personal, social, and global change.
Chapter Two: IdeaAssassins’ Vlog Series and The Performing Digital Asent-Body-Subject
If the space taken up by the digital presentation of the webuser in the vlog is virtual, then, so too is the actual webuser that is presented in the vlog. This second chapter will continue to explore the inherent virtuality of the internet, and particularly of the online webuser as it is manifest in a variety of similar contemporary subject positions. Stemming from the fields of new media and post-feminism, which both consider the contemporary subject outside the traditional markers of subjecthood (male/female; body/technology), these alternative subject positions all focus again, on the in-between. It is not only the indeterminate space that the webuser takes up in the virtual (the digital presentation), but it is the webuser herself that becomes the central site of this in-between. The vlogger’s asent-body-subject includes all manifestations of the vlogger, in this case, the actual entity (real time and space) and its online manifestation. These two fragments are not separate entities, but are both part of a limitless, spectral subject that is defined by, and as, the virtual. Similarly, the vlog viewer’s body also inhabits the virtual. In this case, the viewer and vlogger–the participants–all help to facilitate the “amalgamation of different dimensions, [and] an integration of different perceptions, materialities, corporealities” (Virtual/Virtuality137).
In Chapter One a connection was made between contemporary performance scholarship (Phelan; Roach) and prosthetic memory. If performance is predicated on a live body, and is, according to Roach, the “kinesthetic and vocal embodiment of social memory and self-invention,” (23) then, the asent-body-subject’s refusal to pick a side (live or mediatized), enters the virtual and, as such, can fluidly move in and out of a limitless series of subject positions. It is the connection the asent-body-subject creates with Landsberg’s notion of prosthetic memory that engages these two apparent opposites–the live and the mediatized.
Referring to the way memory functions as a result of mass-mediation and globalization, prosthetic memory helps to bridge the live/mediatized binary as, the emergence and proliferation of the digital image inhibits this strict binary from manifesting. In fact, prosthetic memory ignores the live versus mediatized debate, and what instead emerges is the virtual body’s ability to inhabit the in-between, or asence. Just like Phelan and Roach’s definitions of performance, the notion of the virtual can also be linked to memory. As defined by Performance Research’s unauthored article on the topic, the virtual is “embodied, perception and memory, [and] as potential” (Virtual/Virtuality 137-39). So the virtual webuser, in the space and subjectivities between the live and the mediatized performs embodied memory. The vlog’s location online facilitates the performing body’s connection to the prosthetic. Landsberg contends that prosthetic memories work within capitalist structures, and so threaten the authenticity of perception: “these new technologies of reproduction threaten to dissolve the difference–between ‘authentic’ and mass-mediated memories, between individual and collective memories (15). However, it is exactly this quality—this disintegration of difference—that locates a contemporary subject position. Focusing less on a firm and dated definition of authenticity, the indeterminacy facilitated by the webuser reworks the notion of the authentic as a spectral, always-shifting, fluid experience. The “suture” created by the body in order to create a prosthetic memory—between a public, highly-mediated occasion and a private, singular memory—remains in the in-between. The virtual, like prosthetic memory, functions as the state in-between, and as such, requires a reworking of what constitutes the body:
The virtual can be seen as a challenge to our standard notions of the material and the immaterial and as an extension of the material world where the bodily senses are remapped and reconfigured. With notions of virtuality accessed through computers, the reworking of materiality is an integration of the digital and physical; it is also the recognition that in order to access computer-mediated virtual worlds we do so by channeling our senses and awareness into the computer, through an interface such as a keyboard or camera. (Virtual/Virtuality 137)
Articulated by theoretical examinations of the virtual body (Haraway; Hansen) and supported by the popularility of the vlog, the in-between is a space willingly inhabited by webusers. The webuser’s ability to move fluidly from one subjectivity to another supports this. This notion also extends to the binary between performer and spectator. This dualism is shattered online, as the virtual is inhabited by all participants. The separation normally thought of as integral to any performance is regarded as a construct, and, in such a space, the potential for each participant to take on active roles within a given performance grows exponentially.
The virtual space of the internet is space-less and place-less, in so far as it doesn’t take up actual space. This lack is again what supports the virtual webuser’s connection with its in-space/in-time counterpart. It is this space-less-ness that facilitates the activity of the webuser: “rather than having an existence independent of the potential action of the perceiver, the image exists only in and through the actions of the perceiving body” (Hansen 58). Although the internet serves as a space where information is stored, this information only enters our ‘reality’ when it is perceived—when a webuser frames the information.
This in-between space/temporality/subject that exists as a result of the online, digital breakdown of the live and the mediatized does not entirely disintegrate the two polarities. In line with Bolter and Grusin’s notion of remediation, these two seemingly separate notions work together reflexively. The online vlog is mediated—it is framed and screened—and, it is live. In its space in-between, the asent-body-subject is always approaching liveness. As discussed earlier, contemporary notions of what constitutes liveness, and so performance have been called into question. This notion of liveness has been predicated on that which it calls its opposite–the mediatized. However, Auslander points out that everything is mediated, including any live performance, and so, the definitions of liveness that have helped to make up contemporary performance theory are flawed. YouTube, as a site where performing bodies are presented reiterates this activation, enabling a sort of liveness that is facilitated by the virtual. The basic assumptions about liveness, including the need for actual space and time become totally irrelevant on the internet and when discussing performing webusers. As Auslander himself points out regarding liveness: “digital technologies have reopened those fundamental questions. A new technology has created a crisis that may lead to a different understanding of liveness” (Live From Cyberspace 17). Any YouTube page, in its entirety, activates liveness as it activates its participants. Any action on the site promotes this- clicking the mouse, choosing a video, commenting on a video, etc. Auslander furthers his problematizing of the live as he considers robots, or chatterbots, and their increasing visibility online:
The chatterbot [. . .] undermines the idea that live performance is a specifically human activity; it subverts the centrality of the live, organic presence of human beings to the experience of the live performance; and it casts into doubt the existential significance attributed to live performance. (21)
Auslander’s discussion of the chatterbot—an online robot which masquerades as a human on chat sites—focuses the notion of the live on the relationship between the performer and spectator, instead of focusing solely on the performer. Extending this notion, the live Auslander refers to could perhaps be focused on interactivity and the other major problematic binary between performer and audience. Online, this happens naturally as the form demands it. Every webuser is potentially a participant, and this online interaction facilitates an activation that leads to liveness. It is not just online content that facilitates this. The entire online structure has the potential to activate this sort-of-liveness, or asence. Consider any YouTube page: all of the elements of a YouTube page can be explicitly linked to a virtual subject position, and in fact, to the webuser’s asent-body-subject. All sections act as representations and extensions of the webuser. First, you see the video screen itself. It takes up the most space, and because it is not static, it is often the first place you look. This is where the actual digital representation of the webuser is manifest. You see the performer in her own actual space and in virtual space. You are seeing double. While you are watching the video online, you consider the fact that the video is representing a space in real time and real space.
Directly below the video you find information about the popularity of the video. This includes the number of times it has been viewed, the average rating the video has received, and most significantly, text and video responses to the video. These seemingly extraneous components , in collaboration with the video itself, activate the webuser watching the video and emphasize the fact that each individual viewing of the vlog will be unique and completely dependent on the vlog’s spectator. As a result, and similarly to Phelan and Roach’s notion of performance, the vlog and its participants are always disappearing. Each viewing of the vlog is fleeting and completely unique. Additionally, each viewing adds something to the vlog itself. This can be manifest as an additional viewing in the number of hits section of the page, and could also include a video or text response. This is online, virtual liveness- asence.
Additionally, to the right of the video, you find information written by the performer about the video specifically. You also find information like the date the video was added to the site, a link to the profile of the video’s creator, and “more from this user” and “related video” columns. This built-in intertext extends the video’s frame, first to the other areas of the YouTube page, and then, via this intentional indeterminacy, back on to the webuser. So then, the digital representation of the space the vlog takes up becomes a direct digitization of the performing, participating webuser. The webusers are always approaching liveness, and so, are asent.
In an attempt to ‘stage’ these theoretical assumptions about liveness online, a vlog series was created which aimed to chart the writing progress of this thesis. Although completely contrived, in the sense that it was planned and performed, the series highlights the subject positions discussed in this chapter. Performed by three different people, this series of seven vlogs all assume the same context. Each vlogger is writing a thesis about the virtual body on YouTube, and each vlogger has decided to post their progress in a vlog series. Although each vlogger maintains their own subject position—by naming themselves and remaining completely distinguishable—the series works as a whole, discussing one thesis. Conceptually, the vlogs in the series can be viewed in any number of ways: as unique videos that are not related, as a series that is intentionally contrived, or as a series that actually charts the writing of one thesis chapter. Any of these perceptions would be encouraged, and each of these divergent perceptions is what highlights the in-between that facilitates the asent-body-subject.
Additionally, the video series doesn’t only exist on its own. The video series exists as a part of IdeaAssassins (IA), an online performance group that explores the space and subject positions between the online and offline worlds. Made up of two University of Alberta graduate students (Kim McLeod and I) and a small number of artistic associates, IA “believes the cultural economy, efficacy, and authenticity of an art form is not measured by its content alone, but the ways in which the form itself reflects the world in which we live” (website citation). Using techniques installed by the original avant-garde, IA attempts to question, disseminate and create contemporary notions of shock and provocation in order to activate the transmission of ideas. IA’s previous work, which includes a Futurist re-imaging experiment and a poster-provocation project, all continue in online manifestations. From their online mandate:
Questioning the institutions we help to make-up, participate within, and yes, fight against, is not a radical notion, and is a quality we believe any artist should not only have inherently, but support in others. We believe artists have a responsibility to shake systems, as our space within the in-between allows these interrogations to be possible.
The online manifestations of IA’s projects are intended to function separately and as a whole. For IA, this focus on online intertext and indeterminacy is consciously created in an attempt to mirror the virtual in-between.
Returning to the vlog series created by IA specifically for this thesis, the seven-vlog series uses the same performers and themes, and the content of other projects is explicitly linked within the thesis vlog series. This intertextuality furthers the inherent virtuality of the series. Like all of IA’s projects, the vlog series began with a theoretical construct which served to facilitate the online creations. This Baudrillard quote, from Simulacra and Simulation began the vlog creation process:
Of all the prostheses that mark the history of the body, the double is doubtless the oldest. But the double is precisely not a prosthesis: it is an imaginary figure, which, just like the soul, the shadow, the mirror image, haunts the subject like his other, which makes it so that the subject is simultaneously itself and never resembles itself again, which haunts the subject like a subtle and always averted death. (95)
Created over a several weeks, the first vlog, which I posted, served alongside Baudrillard’s quote as the idea the other vlogs responded to.
Like this first video, the remaining vlogs were filmed with webcams in each participant’s private space (an office or bedroom). Although the specific theory used in this chapter was only ever discussed casually, each response is meant to clearly reflect each participant’s dissemination of the general ideas presented overall. Conceptually, each video functions on its own, but also emphasizes one spectralized, online subjectivity.
This notion of an extended subjectivity is supported by multiple notions of the subject as iterated by several prominent media theorists. Although not specifically referring to online virtuality, each articulate that the contemporary body/subject is always in transition. The webuser’s inherent virtuality demands a constant process of renewal. Extending the notion of the intersubject, the online body and its representation are entirely dependant on the other participating webusers. Much like the way a computer interfaces, the body multiplies in an online, virtual world: “today we move beyond the body into multiple selves, existing in multiple windows, beyond flesh into sounds, waves, currents and programs” (McCutcheon 1).
IA’s vlog series makes this connection between users explicit. In addition to comments and the vlog responses, the three performers virtual shift to one fluid subjectivity emphasizes this multiplicity. Baudrillard argues that the clone—in this case the double, or the fragmented subject—puts an end to the body:
This is how one puts an end to totality. If all information can be found in each of its parts, the whole loses its meaning. It is also the end of the body, whose secret is precisely that it cannot be segmented into additional cells, that it is an indivisible configuration [. . .]. (Simulacra and Simulation 97-98)
The live webuser, in the sense that she is completely present at any given moment in performance, no longer exists. It is again, the in-between that focuses the asent-body-subject on a constant renewal and multiplication, instead of on its disappearance. Baudrillard’s reference to an “end of meaning” also shifts in this current interpretation. While his “end to totality” stays in tact, meaning doesn’t end, but instead becomes completely dependent on each individual webuser’s interpretation and perception.
If presence has disappeared, are we then all disappearing? Again, the in-between supports the break from this either/or binary. Jonathan Marshall’s notion of asence theorizes that it is not the body that is disappearing, but that it is in fact the alterities of presence and absence that are gone. Marshall continues by arguing that online, the webuser is always crossing borders and boundaries (1). Further, it is this continual crossing that inhibits the online webuser from becoming totally present or absent.
Key to exploring the asent-body-subject is the process of remediation discussed earlier in chapter one. Bolter and Grusin argue that technologies and media are not the only constructs that are remediated, and I posit, that the asent-body-subject, which becomes the frame with which participants perceive these new media is also remediated: “we see ourselves today in and through our available media” (Remediation 3). YouTube is an explicit example of this. Our subject position, and as a result, the way we communicate is radically altered by the proliferation of YouTube and the way media is staged on the site. Again, and in line with Auslander, the internet is not just a mode of production, but the way in which culture is manifested, expressed, and disseminated. The subject–in its dual functions as a performing body and as a spectating body–is aware of this contemporary complicity: “this is not to say that our identity is fully determined by media, but rather that we employ media as vehicles for defining both personal and cultural identity” (3).
In much the same way it activates a sort-of liveness (asence), the actual set-up of the YouTube site also represents the remediated self. The site is an extension of the webuser, in both its actual and virtual manifestations. The YouTube page is fragmented, and although each section works to fluidly represent the vlog and its creator, each section can be perceived on its own. The two processes of remediation—hypermediacy (the ability of a medium to be reflexive) and immediacy (the connections between the medium and its spectators)—function alongside each other explicitly on any YouTube page.
As hypermediated, the site includes additional information about the vlog. This ‘extra’ information all functions to shed light on the processes of posting vlogs and of watching them. The form itself is reflexively part of the content. Here, form and content become a process, both of which are necessary in order to participate on the site. You can link to videos by other users via seemingly unrelated content. All that is necessary is a matched word in the “tag” section of the page. It is these same components of the site that enable its immediacy—the site itself demands its users make choices about what they watch and post. This immediately establishes a connection between YouTube’s users and the sites content. Take for example thesisvlog1, the first of the seven produced. Below the information about the video, you find the vlog series playlist, linking you immediately to the rest of the series. Directly below this you find a list of related videos. Automatically generated, this list includes links to other webuser’s vlogs, other IdeaAssassins’ videos, and completely random “related” videos about Bill Moyers, Ashlee Simpson, The Mickey Mouse Club, and a variety of others. This list is generated each time a user accesses thesisvlog1 and each time, is completely dependent on the specific webuser. Also unique to each visit to this particular video is the number of times it has been viewed, its rating, and text/video comments.
Online the webuser herself becomes a medium. The function of new media which places the frame back on to the spectator’s body-subject creates this dynamic. As such, “as a medium, the body both remediates and is remediated” (Remediation 9). This virtual quality of the body initiates, like the YouTube site, a fragmentation of the self that potentially activates the webuser: “because there is no single, privileged point of view, the self becomes a series of “other” points of view—the intersection of all the possible points of view that can be taken in a given space” (14).
This dynamic is emphasized explicitly in the IA vlog series. Starting from the Baudrillard quote referencing the double and the first vlog installment, each additional video expands the notions and subjectivities prevalent in the source material. Take for example loganus’s vlog installment (Fig. 3.) At just over seven minutes, this vlog doubles the length of the source vlog. These two vlogs, watched in either order, serve as mimics of each other. Both feature performers attempting to explain the theoretical constructs of their thesis research, and the mimic extends to the way this information is conveyed, and in fact, performed. Thesisvlog1’s performer articulates her argument via contemporary notions and constructs which she names. She frequently looks away from the camera and pauses often, in an attempt to figure out how to articulate her next idea and connection.
Like thesisvlog1, loganus’s vlog installment, thesis vblog also attempts to structure the argument using these contemporary theories. Loganus’s mimic extends the source video’s expression, as he repeats and emphasizes the performance of the source vlog. Loganus exaggerates certain qualities; he pauses, and breaks eye contact continually. Although he refuses to attribute any of his ideas to authors/thinkers, he maintains the casual authority of the source vlog. At first glance, these two vlogs do not seem to be for other webusers, and are instead an additional way for the performers to work out some of their ideas. With the additional information provided on the Youtube page, this private moment becomes a public exchange. From thesisvlog1’s information about the video:
This is vid 1 in a series of about 10 which will be posted over the next weeks, and is an appendix of sorts for chapter two of my MA thesis, which is explores the vlog as a performance, and YouTube as a performance space. Looking for feedback.
Watched together, a new dynamic is created. These two videos–as mimics, mirrors, and doubles of each other–fragment their subjects, creating a co-production of repeated goals and intentions. These explicit remediations lead to, what Bolter and Grusin refer to, as the “networked self” (4). This additional subject position is manifest as a result of the emergence of the virtual:
The logic of hypermediacy, expressed in digital multimedia and networked environments, suggests a definition of self whose key quality is not so much “being immersed” as “being interrelated or connected.” The hypermediated self is a network of affiliations, which are constantly shifting. (4)
The networked self, in much the same way the remediated self works, is predicated by the notion of the intersubject. Referencing the interaction between webusers, and the subjectivity that emerges as a result of this interactivity, the intersubject is not a static subjectivity. Extending this, the networked self “is constantly making and breaking connections, declaring allegiances and interests and then renouncing them” (4). The networked self is consistently, and willingly, in flux. Each interaction is completely dependent on each webuser, and every interaction that has preceded it. It is within the spaces between these interactions (within the gaps), that this contemporary re-working of the self—of the asent-body-subject is manifest. “Kim”, an actual person, and an IdeaAssassins character, makes continual reference to haircutting. This is a direct and intentional extension of two previous IA projects, all of which are linked on the IA YouTube page, alongside the thesis vlog series.
The majority of Kim’s five vlog installments begin with her introduction as Kim and as an IdeaAssassin.
In her first installment, Thesis Vlog: Take One, Kim explains that as an IA, she “looks at things on the internet,” and “thinks about things on the internet.” This first installment immediately references the inherent, online intertext—the connection between IA and the thesis vlog series. This confession emphasizes the importance of the traces that exist in-between each of these projects. Kim’s second vlog, Thesis Vlog: Take Two, again begins with her introduction as an IA. She then immediately emphasizes the gaps created in her first vlog (Fig. 6). Next (Fig. 7) is IA’s first vlog related to haircutting, Please Help Kim.(1 of 2). This video is available in the same list as all of the thesis vlog videos, and Kim intentionally references this first manifestation.
Linking her online subjectivity as an IA to a hair-cutting performance, Kim begins to fill in the gaps created earlier. However, these extensions are never close-ended. With each sentence, Kim’s performance remediates her previous performances and articulations. These extensions are explicitly referenced by Kim: “so really, I cut my hair on the internet,” “so that I can expand my own subjectivity.”
The second half of Kim’s vlog installments emphasize another subject position articulated by contemporary theorists, in this case, of post-feminism. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1991), again extends and breaks the binaries rejected by the virtualness of the internet. Haraway’s cyborg subject rejects polarities and instead finds a space in the in-between—in the traces that emerge when these binaries are shattered. Explicitly breaking the body/machine divide, the cyborg subject extends the actual body-subject. Here, technology (from a pen and paper to a computer interface) becomes a part of the body-subject. Having already rejected the Cartesian mind/body split, the cyborg subject integrates these two connected body parts with the tools it uses to communicate. Cyborg subjectivity is “ a going further than the nature-culture polarity, an identity made up of body-mind, animal-machine, inside-outside, an ego-world where the two poles interact productively” (Finza).
This actual/virtual hybrid is completely in charge of its own subject-hood, as it is aware of its ability to shift between poles. Working within the hegemonic structures that support and sustain the internet, the cyborg is the subcultural other, remaining completely aware of its power and powerlessness. The cyborg is aware that it must never pin itself down. If this were to happen, the cyborg would lose the subverting power it creates via its indeterminacy. The cyborg is active—it is constantly re-imagining itself. Again, functioning and thriving within the intersubjective, the cyborg relies on interaction and interactivity.
A creation of new media, the cyborg recognizes its responsibility to become the frame—performing and spectating is an active process for the cyborg. Kim’s vlog installments emphasize the cyborg subject, and articulate the fluidity of its form and its frames. In fact, a noticeable shift occurs in Kim’s performance half way through her vlog installments. Shifting from a casual expression to a sort-of hyper-performance, Kim begins to highlight the way she chooses to perform in her last three videos, and like the cyborg, “is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppostional, utopian, and completely without innocence” (Cyborg Manifesto 35). In Thesis Vlog. Take 3., Kim begins to explore the notion that she doesn’t actually want to be vlogging as it’s “really revealing,” and she’s “not really interested in vlogging.” Continuing, she argues that she doesn’t “actually know what type of person likes to vlog,” while simultaneously, her performance tells her audience otherwise. She is vlogging, and she seems extremely aware of her performance and intentions.
Thesis Vlog. Take 10? extends this again. She repeats. “It’s so revealing and close.” We see that although she is articulating her discomfort, it is the in-between that enables her to share this. Kim’s digital representation is at once aware of her discomfort and her desire to express herself virtually.
Her final installment, Thesis Vlog. Take..about 11?, continues this expansion. It is here where the cyborg subjectivity becomes fully realized as a fragmented, spectral, fluid identity construction (Fig. 9). In this last installment, text comments are embedded in the video, and were produced by IdeaAssassins. Kim again introduces herself and reiterates that these videos are for her thesis. The first text comment argues with her performance: “my thesis is actually about intermediality, puppets, and adaptation. My thesis isn’t really about the internet.” The text comments continue to interact playfully with Kim’s virtual representation: “I am the type of person who likes to vlog,” and “I am very interested in vlogging.” The interaction between these two mediated components extend Kim’s indeterminacy.
This unsettling playfulness is a key feature of the cyborg:
The relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This [. . .] is an argument for the pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction. (Cyborg Manifesto 35)
While Kim’s installments function as a clear articulation of the cyborg subject, so too does the thesis vlog series as a whole. Depicting three different subjects, (myself, Kim, and Loganus) the vlog series actually highlights one, spectral, cyborg subjectivity. The subject of the video series—which clearly shows and names three different performers—is found in the gaps that occur in the vlogs interaction with one another.
The virtual subject, as asent, remediated, networked, and cyborg, questions its own liveness. As virtual, the body-subject enables a sort-of liveness. This is in fact, made manifest by the subject’s awareness that the actual body-subject and its digital representation are extensions of each other. Breaking the boundaries between live/mediatized, body/technology, and performer/spectator, the virtual webuser activates participation. These contemporary notions of subjectivity are not only attributed to their online representations. Baudrillard’s hyperreal emphasizes this—without a separation between the real and the virtual, online representation become extensions of offline, actual entities.
Chapter Three: Pretty Things, Meta-Performance, and the Virtual in Cyberspace
The internet’s ability to activate performers and spectators is located in its virtuality. More importantly, it is the virtual space of the internet that facilitates this activation. This chapter will attempt to locate the virtualness of the internet in relation to its webusers. While a discussion of the webuser’s body has already been examined in the previous chapter, it is important to reiterate that the internet’s inherent virtuality forces a break from the distinction between body and space. Traditionally, although the body has taken up space, it has remained a distinct entity within it. The internet disintegrates this separation, as the digital representation of the webuser becomes a part of cyber-space, as is highlighted by the asent-body-subject. Examining several prominent theories of the virtual, including Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreal and Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer temporality, the vlog becomes the in-between—of body-subject and space—that highlights the asent-body-subject.
Our twenty-first century reality is made up of any and all facets of time and space that individuals interact with. The additional facets, which can be linked to the notion of string theory developed over the last several decades surpass our general understanding of space and time. String theory reformulates the number of dimensions we understand to exist by expanding the possibilities, and forces us to completely rethink time and space as continuous and linear (Lemonick). The internet becomes the metaphorical “other” dimension of this emerging understanding of the world we live in, and also serves as the ultimate marker of our current temporality. The computer and the internet have radically altered the way information is created, shared and disseminated, highlighting Baudrillard’s hyperreal. Defined in his seminal book Simulacra and Simulations (1994), the hyperreal “is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality” (1). The emergence of cyberspace and its effects on perception, reception and communication have shifted reality from a place of representation to one of simulation. The major difference between these two paradigms is the focus on an original. Simulation disregards this beginning of sorts, and as a result, “it is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real [. . .]” (2). Hyperreality highlights the in-between discussed throughout this thesis, and hence, the asent-body-subject. Removed from notions of representation, the hyperreal focuses on the simulatory nature of the in-between. The vlog as cultural product becomes an exploration of the process of asence.
To continue this discussion of the asent-body-subject and of the vlog as in-between, I have chosen to focus on one particular performance group that uses the internet explicitly as a stage for their work, and as their mode of presentation, or simulation. Pretty Things is the group title for Michael Lucid and Amanda Barrett and their plentitude of internet-based performances. The two video artists have been collaborating for almost ten years, and the majority of their work highlights virtual identity construction on the internet. Using the conventions of gender switching, dragging, and doubling, Lucid and Barrett focus their videos on gender construction and the internet- the creation, playing of, and shifting between roles. It is not just the content of the videos that highlights their virtual stage. Although they almost always work from a queer subject position, it is their use of the internet as form that helps to highlight the virtual move to simulation. Although there are many artists that have chosen to explore similar themes online, I have chosen to discuss Pretty Things as they are particularly useful to demonstrate the theories I have introduced.
Pretty Things began while the duo, originally from Los Angeles, were living in New York City. While hosting an NYU music video show, Lucid and Barrett began to make videos to air between segments. By the end of the year, the videos made by Lucid and Barrett completely took over. In 2001, the two headed back to L.A. and continued making videos. The group has since established a website, made a noticeable imprint on video-sharing sites such as YouTube, and has work shown at film festivals across the country. Although their work has evolved since the group’s inception, the use of drag and of doubling serve as clear markers and conventions that define the work of Pretty Things. Both Lucid and Barrett are working from alternative subject positions. Both are gay, and more importantly, most of their work maintains this queer subject position, whether explicit or as a commentary. In their online music video titled Straight For A Minute, Lucid’s character tells us that sometimes it is just easier to let people think he is straight: “I’m proud to be queer in this day and age but on occasion I must confess, I put on my facade. I become straight for a minute.” We see these scenarios acted out with various other characters, including a homophobic jock, a shy girl with a crush, a old woman set in her ways, and a little girl, filmed using a traditional long-shot, and all played by Barrett. After all of the characters are introduced, camera angles switch, and a double split-screen of all the characters participating in the song and accompanying dance end the video.
The notion of connection and authenticity on the internet is found in all of Pretty Things’ work. Their close reads of relationships of varying sorts are established through clear experimentation with role, and role construction. Most of their work is created through improvisation. The artists use a box of wigs for inspiration and employ simple camera techniques–shifting back and forth, from one character close-up to another. In Straight for a Minute, Lucid plays himself, but when juxtaposed against Barret’s myriad of characters using a simple split-screen, the duo highlights their use of stereotype. Lucid is playing himself, he’s queer and he’s proud, and, when he puts on his “facade” he is simply a double of himself. This facade is nothing more than the ability of the performers to double themselves. Here the screen is literally, a mirror image. Barrett’s role in Straight for a Minute emphasizes the opposite way in which stereotype works for Pretty Things. Transferring from one character to another is easy and expected. Barrett’s split screens also work as the mirror-image, even though her costuming and performance is altered. More than doubling herself, Barrett occupies multiple subject-positions. Instead of attempting to hide the fact that Barrett and Lucid play these multiple roles, it is aesthetically emphasized, and as a result, the fluidity of the asent-body-subject explored. Multiple selves are not emphasized in a positive or negative manner, but instead are used in a humorous way to highlight contemporary subjectivity.
In the videos, the setting or background is rarely important to the story- it remains secondary. As audience members our gaze is focused on the clothes, hair, make-up, and expressions of the characters. This is all that we need to read in order to establish the characters. This minimalist use of signs highlights two aspects of the work of Pretty Things. First, we see the conventions they are parodying as constructs, as hyperreal, and as in-between. For example, one Pretty Things series, Getting to Know You, follows Damiana Garcia, a simulation of Barbara Walters, as she interviews various subjects. Instead of reproducing ideals, subjects and constructs, Pretty Things focuses on simulating these notions, and forces their audience to recognize the past simulations, both on- and off-line.
Although Pretty Things has over a dozen online series, prominent characters, storylines and storylines cross-over continuously. Lucid and Barrett themselves also figure prominently as characters in their video performances. One of the Getting to Know You videos is an interview between interviewer Damiana Garcia and Lucid and Barrett. Here, the performance emphasizes the asent-body-subject Both Lucid and Barrett play two roles, and each of the four characters is integral to an understanding of the work of Pretty Things.
Although this video has a very playful feel–especially in the video’s opening sequence which features whispered interview tropes while the two interviewers walk through the screen shot, smiling–this video also seems like a serious attempt at explaining the group’s impetus, major themes, and process. It is this juxtaposition, of themes, of the real and the fictive, and of the doubling of characters, which again highlights the asent-body-subject. The interview itself, which predominately figures the actual Barrett and Lucid, is cut with shots of the two interviewers listening intently, giggling, nodding, and sometimes asking questions. It is as if Pretty Things saw an opportunity to use one of the video series–the characters and conventions–to tell their own story, while simultaneously furthering the narrative of one of their fictional video series.
The vlog, a cyberspace genre of sorts, is the ideal iteration of the hyperreal, virtual intersubject. Lucid and Barrett’s Pretty Things extend this notion in their mock-vlog series Rantings of a Retail Drone. Categorized under news and politics, this is our first introduction to Layla, the Rantings vlogger:
hey, this is me, layla, indiegirl1138, what have you.
Check out the first installment of my video blog if you care to do so, check out my profile, be my online “friend,” gawd, that word has been so denigrated by the internet. (i’ve somehow evaded myspace thus far, but i’ll probably soon succumb. my bff ricky is seriously twisting my arm to jump on that bandwagon) laters, me. (online profile for video series, Rantings of a Retail Drone)
Explicit is the group’s use of the internet as their primary performance space. Layla is performing for her webcam and posting her vids on YouTube. The Rantings series, like the internet, is located in cyberspace. This is a simulated space that extends our actual world and its emergence can be traced to the global shift from reproduction to simulation. Scott Bukatman defines cyberspace as:
an abstraction which, diegetically and extradiegetically, provides a narrative compensation for the loss of visibility in the world, the movement of power into the cybernetic matrices of the global computer banks, and the corresponding divestiture of power from the subject. The planes of cyberspace enable the activity of spatial penetration and thus produce the subject’s mastery of a global data system. (93)
Bukatman’s definition centers heavily around the subject. Cyberspace becomes an active, subjective space—time and space are completely reconfigured—the subject connects to each proponent of reality (time and space) in a context-specific, non-reproducible occasion. Bukatman also links cyberspace as a concept to the city: “on one level, cyberspace only represents an extension of the urban sector located at the intersection of postmodernism and science fiction” (Bukatman 82). The size of the city and the breadth of information contained in that city become only a sample of information, as the city expands and its borders becomes obsolete. The rising popularity of the suburb mirrors the way cyberspace works. Bukatman explains:
The present moment is characterized by a radical decentering of the urban environment. The rise of shopping malls, industrial plazas, cinema multiplexes, and numerous service operations has yielded a set of dispersed “metrocenters (Eric Lampard’s term), in which the functions of the urban environment are replicated, in miniature, along the highways. These new clusters, “edge cities” or “plug-in cities,” remain connected to the larger cultural whole. (82)
So, in line with Baudrillard’s shift to simulation, cyberspace stages this shift and extends again, our concept of information, size and speed. Whereas the city once represented a limitless field of opportunities and experiences, cyberspace is the twenty-first century’s expansion of this notion (101). Now, information and the ways of accessing said information are limitless, as cyberspace is defined and constructed by “its spaceless space, its scaleless scale, and its timeless time” (81).
Returning to the asent-body-subject in cyberspace, it is through the interaction with other users and information online that the webuser as asent thrives. This notion of the intersubject, a key term of phenomenology derived from Heidegger’s “being in the world” (Valdéz 568) is an inherent feature of cyberspace: meaning cannot be made without referral to other’s impact. Although the intersubject is not limited to cyberspace, its life in this space is not only the ideal, but an expected function of the space. The internet is indeed a part of cyberspace, but this is not to say that the internet is cyberspace: In fact, the internet is a subset of cyberspace, it provides a platform, or perhaps a frame for this emergent space. As such, it highlights and forms the subject position for those that inhabit it: “cyberspace is clearly a produced space that defines the subject’s relation to culture and politics. Like all such spaces, however, it does not simply exist to be inhabited; space implies position and negotiation” (101).
Cyberspace emphasizes the asent-body-subject as the lack of distinction between the real and the virtual becomes apparent. According to cyberstudies theorist Mark Nunes, the internet as hyperreal emphasizes this: “ th(e) figuration of the internet as a kind of cybernetic terrain works to undermine the symbolic distance between the metaphoric and the real. It abandons ‘the real’ for the hyperreal by presenting an increasingly real simulation of a comprehensive and comprehendible world” (314). Online, the difference between what is considered real and the representation of this reality disappears. Instead what emerges is a focus on the in-between or asence.
Pretty Things vlog series, Rantings of a Retail Drone, posted between May and December of 2006, is a series of video diaries performed by a character named Layla, (indiegirl1138) and traces the evolution of a new relationship. Of particular significance is the response to the Rantings videos. The text responses to the videos range quite dramatically, and are either in response to the performance of Pretty Things or to Layla’s actual issues and concerns. However staged the Rantings series may be, its interaction with others in a virtual environment enables all perspectives—particularly the real and the fictive—to work simultaneously, allowing for multiple perspectives, and particularly, the asent-body-subject. These perspectives are represented side by side. For example, in response to the third video in the series degavabu comments with “you are totally my new blogging hero. i love you”. Posted almost directly above this response is AdventurePigStatue’s series of comments: “i love how in like, all the videos she is tired and has to go sleep. oh yeah, and i do know that this is michael lucid”. (source) Perhaps in an attempt to let other Ranting’s viewers know that what they are watching is fake, AdventurePigStatue’s comments go completely unnoticed. The authenticity of the videos is almost never called into question, and instead multiple comments and perspectives share the same cyber-space. what kind of monitoring is involved here? Each vlog ends with a black screen and a link to the Pretty Things website. Each video plays to every type of audience member. This intertext only adds to the playful character of the videos, and is again, another facet of the group’s online work that initiates an active spectator. The virtualness of the internet, and of YouTube remains cyberspace’s most intrinsic feature and is indelibly linked to the way perception works as a result of the internet and the emergence of the digital image. Art historian Jonathan Crary’s technology/perception analogy describes our contemporary perception accurately and serves well to highlight the asent-body-subject. Crary notes that the model of vision for the nineteenth century was the stereoscope. This shift produced subjectivity, in the sense that the observer was aware of his/her affect on the perceptions of the viewed image: truth and meaning were now subject to the perception of the viewer (123). In opposition to the stereoscopic model, and as a result of the internet, webusers have begun to employ what Crary calls the cybernetic mode of vision. Within this mode, spectators are “unable to tell visually whether an image is representative, computer-enhanced, or wholly computer generated” (122). The manifestation of computer-generated images is directly responsible for this shift in perception. The Rantings series and the vlog in general uses the form and context of the internet to highlight the cybernetic mode of vision and emphasizes the asent-body-subject.
Additionally, Ranting’s central character Layla exemplifies asence: although Layla is clearly a digital representation of an actual person, her performance is full of gaps that the audience must confront when watching the series. Is Layla male or female? Is the video a fictitious representation? Is it improvised or rehearsed? All of these questions, which are facilitated by Layla’s performance, lead her audience to explore the in-between especially when the webuser fundamentally believes that the real and the virtual are considered as components of the same process, of the actual. The gaps that emerge as a result of this contemporary shift in perception enable a multiple-perception of sorts. The singular frame of the screen disappears, and the multi-frame—screen, users, content—are all given equal importance. Consider Straight For a Minute’s explicit use of this multi-frame. This is again an explicit staging of a contemporary perception. Employing asence, the webuser reflects on multiple sources of information, and ultimately, chooses what to focus on and perceive. In Pretty Things’ Getting to Know You Series this is again emphasized. Not only does the meta-interview highlight the in-between, but the doubling employed in almost all videos by Pretty Things highlights a spectralized notion of the virtual: simulation allows for a fluid (de)construction of what it means to live in the world.
Media and cultural theorist Paul Virilio noted in 1995 that cyberspace was in fact “a new form of perspective” (106), noting that this new, disorienting perspective serves as a marker of the postmodern, and quite prophetically, the post-911 world (106):
It is a new perspective without a single precedence or reference: a tactile perspective (original italics). Seeing at a distance, hearing at a distance –such was the basis of visual and acoustic perspective. But touching at a distance, feeling at a distance, this shifts perspective into a field where it had never before applied: contact, electronic contact, tele-contact. (106)
Virilio contends in his two-page manifesto of sorts, Red alert in cyberspace!, that the internet has split perception in half- the realm of the virtual and of the real. This “trauma” disorients one’s “relation to the other and to the world” (107). Like Crary’s cybernetic mode of vision, this tactile perspective shifts the meaning- making process, and, adds an additional layer of critical awareness to the phenomenological questions key to understanding late modernism’s obsession with subjectivity: how do I relate to what I’m seeing? The new question, which must come before the first, and in fact, is beginning to take the place of the first is: is what I am seeing real? Although Virilio’s stance is clearly pessimistic, hence the red alert in his title, his argument of total disorientation, especially in reference to shifting modes of perception, is quite apt, and again, and can perhaps be reconfigured, especially when the real and the virtual are considered as components of the same process, of the actual. The disorientation Virilio speaks of enables a multiple-perception of sorts. The singular frame of the screen disappears, and the multi-frame—screen, users, content—are all given equal importance. Consider Straight For a Minute’s explicit use of this multi-frame. This is again an explicit staging of a contemporary perception. Employing asence, the webuser reflects on multiple sources of information, and ultimately, chooses what to perceive.
As “the virtual cannot be pinned to one side of a tenuous divide between the material and the immaterial” (Virtual/Virtuality 138), what instead emerges is the location of potential. The virtual encompasses any and all possibility:
If the virtual can be an amalgamation of different dimensions, it can also be an integration of different perceptions, materialities, corporealities and, in that sense, be what Gilles Deleuze indicates when he writes the virtual is a productive power of difference. (137)
Deleuze’s notion of the virtual centers around the mirror-image. Although the mirror-image and actual image never meet, they are still components of the same reality:
The real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is ‘coalescence’ between the two. There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned to the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture. (Cinema 1 68)
The real and the actual are part of the same process of reality in Deleuze’s notion of the mirror. Deleuze continues by mentioning the “point of indiscernibility” (Cinema 1 69) of the real/virtual couple. It is this concept that links the two sides. Each portion of reality reciprocates the qualities of the other, making it impossible to tell the difference between each component. This is the cybernetic mode of vision as proposed by Crary. In Pretty Things’ Getting to Know You Series this is again emphasized. Not only does the meta-interview highlight the mirroring aspect of the virtual, but the doubling employed in almost all videos by Pretty Things highlights a spectralized notion of the virtual: simulation allows for a fluid (de)construction of what it means to live in the world. Deleuze even goes as far as naming the shift from the mirror to the screen as one that represents the shift to simulation:
In the place of the mirror—with its illusion of depth, distance, and an other side—the screen serves as a depthless surface which returns no gaze. All modes of representation collapse into a realm neither real nor imaginary, but simulatory. [. . .] The experience within this simulated globe becomes an experience of the cybernetic real: no longer a reality, but a virtuality. (Nunes 318)
The notion of the mirror-image, and Deleuze’s treatment of it as a component of the real, is a central concept of new media scholarship. Lisa Nakamura, a leading cybertheorist contends that the internet is a potentially transformative space. This idea directly references Baudrillard’s idea of the hyperreal: “The screen-scene of simulation is a depthless surface that allows for no play of images between metaphor and the world it represents”(qtd. in Nunes 315). As mentioned previously, the internet, because it is a virtual space, defies all rules pertaining to space, time, and distance. Whereas space and time are segments of information we need to define ourselves in the world, on the internet, these are replaced, or covered up by an experience of immediacy. This fully engages the spectator or web-user with the markers of the post-modern world, which, in addition to immediacy, is defined by transparency. The form (the internet) is implicated in the content.
Nakamura also contends that the creation of, and the proliferation of the term “new media” focuses discussions about the internet in a new way. The “new” refers to the need to move away from current critical models, and move instead, to a shift in focus “that takes the indispensability of the computer-machine into account” (2). Furthermore, new media is layered, referencing both the cultural and the computer. The cultural refers to content, while the computer layer refers to the infrastructure, or the virtuality of the computer and internet. Therefore, “the computer layer can be expected to have a significant influence on the cultural logic (layer) of media” (2).
The vlog is hyperreal as it melds the actual and the virtual. They are not merely representations, but move toward simulation. This is directly predicated by the virtualness of the form, and of the internet. Mark BN Hansen refers to the hyperreal as “the whole image (the panorama)” (49). Like much of the other new media scholarship that exists, this panorama highlights the treatment of the virtual as a part of what constitutes reality.
In addition to the vlog’s hyperreality, the vlog maintains an intermediality that also serves to highlight its virtuality. Developed in performance studies as a way to describe and name contemporary theatre practice that employs technology on stage with live bodies, intermediality has expanded in meaning and can now be regarded as a mode of perception in its own right. According to Peter M. Boneish, intermediality is “an effect created in the perception of observers that is triggered by performance—and not simply by the media, machines, projections or computers used in a performance” (113). Focusing on the way a performance is received instead of how it is intended, intermediality focuses attention on the medium through which content travels. The concept of the intermedial emphasizes the medium and implicates it as a past of the content. Boeneish continues by adding that “media are by no means a neutral means to communicate or express something, but, on the contrary, they essentially shape what can be thought, said and stated at all times” (105).
Intermedial vlogs on YouTube stage asence explicitly. In addition to the video being watched, the webuser has immediate access to text describing the video, related videos, other videos posted by the same webusers, and, of most significance, text and video responses to the central video. These elements are not additional material, but available on the same webpage simultaneously. Take for example, Rantings of a Retail Drone video eight, New Relationship. Layla has met a new boy, Ezra, and has started dating him. Over the course of this vlog installment, Layla tells YouTube the story of how she met Ezra. The information posted about the video by Layla is as follows: “walkin’ on sunshine, feelin’ really, really good, in a ‘nutshell.’ new love, nothin’ like it. *sigh*”. There are several text responses, and links to other videos in the series.
This asent performance merges the fictional and the actual worlds via its interactivity. Each webuser can experience the video and its extra-performance elements in any way he/she likes. The virtual again becomes the limitless possibilities for the webuser.
Borrowing from Judith Halberstam, the virtual becomes inextricably linked to notions of queer temporality, and therefore continues to invigorate the notion of the asent-body-subject. If the internet is virtual, and exists in-between, shifting continuously between presence and absence, and online and offline. Connecting Halberstam’s notion of queer to the virtual, the in-between becomes a “space/place where new ways of being can propagate, establishing a ‘geography of resistance’” (99). If the virtual is the location of the in-between, Halberstam’s treatment of queer easily connects. The virtual and queer temporality as in-between become radial spaces, as they engage the webuser with multiple frames and perspectives simultaneously.
The Rantings series is obviously queer. Pretty Things employ gender-switching and dragging, and for the most part, cover queer narratives. However, it is their location online that truly connects Pretty Things to Halberstam’s queer temporality and the notion of the virtual.
Playing with many different levels, Lucid’s characterization of Layla, regardless of who is watching, questions the audience and its ability to relate to a person online. Although the subject position of Lucid is not as clear as in other videos, as is the case in their music video Straight For A Minute, it becomes a primary tool for criticism. Layla can be described as a young, educated, feminist. The term ‘indie’ implies her alternative lifestyle, working at a repertory movie theatre, opposing conventional ways of living in the world- she is in a sense queer herself when queer is defined using Halberstam’s argument. She posits that, “queer subcultures produce alternative temporalities by allowing their participants to believe that their futures can be imagined according to logics that lie outside of those paradigmatic markers of life experience – namely, birth, marriage, reproduction, and death” (2). So, the term queer, although hard to remove from notions of sexual orientation, expands in meaning. It is now located as a way of being, seeing, and making meaning in the world subculturally- or, in opposition, or as an alternative to life practices that embrace, and rely on heteronormativity. Halberstam’s stress of alternative temporalities functions as the virtual and as the asent-body-subject.
As the audience members have traced her evolution from the beginning, Layla’s desire to be normative results in parody- it becomes explicit that the artists are making fun of, and being critical of the subject position and lifestyle Layla struggles to achieve. This helps to place the group subculturally- the content of their videos, which can be described as queer-focused, is not mainstream. Although they employ methods that are widely used in video- irony, satire, and parody; the points of reference demanded of the audience are definitely subcutural- or queer.
Halberstam, adds to her definition of queerness, by noting that it is in fact “detached from sexual identity” (1). Although this is a totalizing statement, it is useful as a way of locating the term subculturally: the queer way of life will encompass subcultural practices, alternative methods of alliance, forms of transgender embodiment, and those forms of representation dedicated to capturing these willfully eccentric modes of being. (1)
Although Halberstam uses both “alternative” and “opposition” as ways of describing queer temporality, I would like to add that the two exist simultaneously. The presentation of an alternative to normative practices, is an opposition to the practices it disregards, however subtle this ends up being: “queer uses of time and space develop, at least in part, in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction” (1).
Halberstam continues by adding trans- to the equation, by positing that the body in trans-ition is the marker of late 20th and 21st century art practice- the truly post-modern subject. Here, the body represents the interrelatedness of fluidity and rigidity, and between subcultural and status-quo defending positions. This disruption is necessary in order to create new notions of temporality: “subcultures provide a vital critique of the seemingly organic nature of ‘community’, and they make visible the forms of unbelonging and disconnection that are necessary to the creation of community” (153).
The internet is a space/place where new ways of being can propagate, establishing a space/place/temporality of resistance (Halberstam 99). Although the space on the internet is virtual – it is real. “It is this blurring of the real and the unreal that marks the (. . .) of the hyperreal. From this perspective, the [. . .] internet pushes us beyond the world, beyond its containment” (Nunes 320). Because the internet has become a simulacrum of community, with a focus on immanence and transparency, it has become THE location or the emergence of a queer, subversive, temporality.
At the same time, the internet is also often a space where culture at large is reiterated. The Pretty Things videos work as the space in the middle of these two notions (between representation and simulation) by giving a voice to their audience and by then, giving them the space to explore possibilities. It is the others- in this case, those opposing normative temporalities that create a resistance that “keep a system open to experiment, drift, and peregrination” (Nunes 321). The Rantings Series, and the entire internet-based Pretty Things project continues to implement the internet as a part of the content of the work, continuing to queer the content, and the form- establishing a subversive, critical, and virtual space.
All of the concepts discussed in this paper have been centered around the asent-body-subject. This in-between, or grey area functions because of its indeterminacy. All of the layers of reality, subject position and perception fit together in an infinite number of ways. Defined as being “between aspects of dimensions,” (Holub 562) the indeterminate, instead of dissolving meaning and the way ideas are perceived, is the central concept that facilitates the activation of the performer/spectator. Enabling co-creation, vlogs, as they locate this in-between, disintegrate the distance and difference between real and virtual, performer and spectator, and space and body.
Online, the webuser not only inhabits the virtual space, but becomes an aspect of it. In fact, the asent-body-subject can be theorized as a part of this virtual space: “the virtual does not have to be confined to a set of relations external to the body; we can consider the meaning of traces of virtuality within our bodies” (Virtual/Virtuality 138). Adding the notion of technology to this equation, in this case the internet, does not impede the discussion. Here, the webuser and the technology the use are one in the same. Technology works not as a tool the webuser uses to communicate, but is instead an extension of the body. The virtual space is then, as it functions as technology, an extension of the webuser’s body/subject. The work of Pretty Things exemplifies this altered, contemporary state of being, and via their meta-performances, stages the asence explicitly by doubling characters, emphasizing gaps, and using their YouTube stage as a central character in their performance, and extra-performance elements.
This thesis examines some of the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary subjectivity and its link to virtuality. Named as the asent-body-subject, this emerging notion of subjectivity dissolves the problematic real/virtual, body/technology, and live/mediatized binaries, and instead chooses to articulate the in-between of the hyperreal. Each chapter explores the role virtuality, and the website YouTube, has played in showing ways in which online performance (the vlog) potentially move “offline”. Although the last two chapters discuss virtual space and the webuser’s body/subject in that virtual space along different lines, each discussion ends by fusing the two. Through this fusion, it answers the original question posed by this thesis :
If a close examination of contemporary subjectivity, which is facilitated by the virtuality of the internet, leads to an increased awareness about the webusers role in the offline world, how do these processes move offline?
This examination has articulated that the original question focusing on moving offline is itself an extension of the problematic binaries discussed throughout this thesis. The fusion of the webuser’s body/subject and the virtual space it inhabits is the shift between the on- and off-line. It is the notion of asence that articulates the moves between what is considered the real and the virtual. Not entirely separate, both exist as facets of our current reality, and so, the shift between the two—from online vlogs to the offline “real word” is a subtle and playful shift in-between. The asent-body-subject exists within each realm and moves fluidly between them. Not just a way to transition from one space/place/subject to another, asence is a state of being.
As a final example, I will reference a particular series of reactions to the 2009 Iranian elections, and the fusion between the online and offline responses. On June 12, 2009, Iran held its tenth ever presidential elections. The pre-election coverage in the West was virtually nil, and it wasn’t until after the elections that the Western media began to take notice. Several days after the election, incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Opposition leader and Reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi separately claimed victory. The Opposition quickly claimed election fraud, and almost immediately, mass street riots broke out in cities all across Iran. In particular, the violence that erupted in the streets of Tehran was streamed live on YouTube and other media networking sites. Thousands of videos made by pro-Reformist Iranian rioters were uploaded to sites within minutes of being recorded. The majority of the videos were documentary-style recordings of the riots. Additionally, all sorts of other recordings began to quickly gain momentum on social-media sites, including the seemingly popular format of faceless testimonials recorded by rioters on their rooftops at night. A week after the street riots began, a video of a young girl’s death was uploaded to YouTube. The young girl, Neda Agha-Soltan, whom most believe was a protest observer, was shot and killed on the streets of Tehran during the rioting. Although the source video has been viewed over 750 000 times (as of December 30th, 2009), the video of her death was instantly picked up by traditional media outlets and copied by countless webusers and re-posted and/or edited into response videos and vlogs. A simple YouTube search for ‘Neda Iran’ finds over 15 000 videos.
From the additional information about the video on YouTube:
Basij shots to death a young woman in Tehran’s Saturday June 20th protests At 19:05 June 20th Place: Karekar Ave., at the corner crossing Khosravi St. and Salehi st. A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes. The protests were going on about 1 kilometers away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gass used beside me. Please let the world know.
The orginal Neda video has nearly 3 000 text responses, and on the day of Neda’s death the video was viewed 238 410 times. (YouTube) Almost instantly, response videos began to appear. Pricl3sspersianpapi’s video, titled “I wish I was In Her Place (Neda Agha-Soltani) died in Iran’s Protest after fraud election” is an example of one of these videos.
Pricel3sspersianpapi’s video has three distinct parts. In the beginning, papi begins by addressing the camera directly, albeit with little to no eye contact, to share his feelings about Neda’s death. Next, video footage of Neda’s death seemingly recorded from a television news program replays the shooting. Papi returns and shares more with the camera, using his YouTube vlog as a way to speak to Neda: “Neda, I know you can hear me.” During the tv news footage vlog segment, there are moments that the webuser can clearly see papi filming the television screen (Fig. 20). The vlog ends with a series of photographs of the Tehran riots, first images of Neda and other dead rioters, and then images of the Iranian flag.
Papi’s vlog is interesting as an example for a number of reasons. First, papi’s video is not the only media on the youtube site that gives the webuser information about his video. His title alone clearly states his sympathetic position. Papi’s juxtaposition of the youtube video of Neda’s death framed by the television screen emphasizes the asent-body-subject. Not only replaying the original footage, papi instead chooses footage that has already been remediated. Hearing the journalist speak of Neda’s death in an official, rehearsed tone is only emphasized after watching papi struggle to speak. Highlighting the dual processes of remediation (immediacy and hypermediacy) of the original footage, the tv broadcast, and papi’s vlog, this video blog continually moves in-between.
In addition to the countless vlog responses the original Neda video received, as many tribute videos were also uploaded to YouTube. Different from the Neda response vlogs, these tribute videos do not include video testimonials. These opinions of the webuser are still shared, often by the addition of text at the bottom of each video, and are perhaps even more representative of the asent-body-subject as the subject matter and material instead supported the webuser’s online subjectivity. This is also likely attributed to the fact that many Iranian protesters feared the possibility of government intervention in the event their names were attributed to protest materials. Below is an example of one of the many tribute vlogs:
YouTube was not the only social site ignited by the emergence of the Neda video. Twitter, the now-popular social media site, became known as a space for the pro-Reformist (Iranians and other global citizens) webuser to add to the “offline” protests. En masse, Twitter users changed their locations to Tehran, hoping that the Iranian government would struggle to find protesters to persecute if millions more purported to be in the rioting city. Live twitter updates were also the source for instant access to information regarding the resistance.
The shift between the online and offline reactions to Neda’s death and to the Iranian riots shifted quickly as mainstream media began to take notice of the heavy online reactions. More importantly, the mass response to the events in Iran on the internet—on sites like YouTube, Twitter, and citizen-journalist sites—created a raised consciousness around the globe about Iran and its current political climate.
As mentioned above, Twitter became a site of resistance as the governing body in Iran used the location of its users to seek out Iranians that had dismissed Ahmadinejad’s victory claim. During the riots, the internet was inaccessible for short times in the whole of Iran, and sites including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were blocked for times by the Iranian government. Webusers re-constructed their subject-hoods particular to the increasing violence in the streets. This ability to construct multiple frames and to reflexively implicate oneself marks an intersubjective, asent, cyborg subject position. This intersubjectivity is inherently built into the YouTube site and part of the everyday subjectivity of webusers. This contemporary subject position – when located as a process of asence – maintains the in-between and thus relies on the constant renewal of gaps and traces. These gaps and traces are exactly what mark the radical potential that is also inherently built into these systems – as they playfully force webusers to have a hand in the construction of their own subjectivity, ideology and reality.
The online reaction to the offline events represent the lack of distinction between what has until quite recently constituted our reality and its virtual counterpart. The performances of these online reactions, and the shift to Internet 2.0 have raised questions regarding the split between the real and the virtual. The asent-body-subject—of which vlogs and webusers are components of— adds on, subtracts, and constructs its own being for any situation or interaction it seeks out.
By facilitating an activation of the webuser – via the virtual in-between –these vlogs and the various responses to them emphasize this asent-body-subject. The asent-body-subject extends context by implicating the webuser as an active participant in the co-production of meaning. From the virtual to the real, and in-between each non-space, the in-between as a mode of being and of perception articulates a shift toward the activation of an entire generation of global citizens.
At the end of 2009, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue was released. In 2006, ‘you’ were the person of the year, and three years later, a banker was named, for his revisioning of the stock market after 2008’s credit crisis. However, in the yearly issue’s People Who Mattered section, we find a short article on Neda:
We’ll never know the man who stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square, but we do know Neda Agha-Soltan: we’ve looked into her eyes. For one gut-wrenching moment, as she lay dying from the bullet in her heart on that Tehran side street last June, Neda stared directly into the cell phone that was about to immortalize her. Within hours, millions of people around the world had been beseeched by those fading eyes, making an intimate connection with the 27-year-old music student and the cause for which she was killed by the thugs of an embattled regime. Before Neda’s murder, the street protests against Iran’s stolen election had been a revolution without a face, doomed to be crushed by brute authority and eventually forgotten. But Neda’s dying gaze drew the eyes of the world. We can neither look away nor forget. (Ghosh)