Hi! I'm an academic in Australia. I teach English Education and my research interests include new literacies, digital fiction, fan fiction, blogging, identity, pop culture, computer games, systemic linguistics, feminism and young people online. Recently I have been teaching and researching in the virtual world of Second Life, where I am known as Anya Ixchel.
Following my previous post about the dark skinned avatar, Celebrity Trollop, Second Style fashion magazine editor, modelled one of her favourite dark skins for me, and pointed me to these divine Raspberry and Cow Skins, which just goes to show that I haven’t been getting out much in SL! A gorgeous array of multiple toned skins representing a range of ethnicities. Isn’t Celebrity just fabulous - I love her “I am woman see me roar” poses!
I bought several packs because the skins are just so beautiful. I wore the “Rachel” skin for hours and felt very Dreamgirls-like, but right now I just can’t take off the “Susan” skin, because she looks like she comes from a Botticelli painting!
I am wondering, when the body is purely art, what we can make of a culture in which body modification allows us to freely become another gender, another race, another species. “Real life” physical body modification practices such as asians having their eyelids modified to resemble non-Asian eyes are considered controversial at best. When I walked around with a dark skin I thought I looked beautiful, but I also considered the fact that there is a sense of “taboo” about appropriating another person’s race for the sake of art, or experimentation, or comedy. Remember when Ted Danson (dating Whoopie Goldberg at the time) wore a “blackened” face to a party and was slammed by the media for it?
Are there no taboos in Second Life?
It seems to me that in a world where we can be anything, if I wear an Asian skin, an Indian skin, or a Mediterranean skin, its just me saying “your look is beautiful to me”. I can’t imagine anybody would seriously equate manipulating skin colour of the avatar with any form of racial discrimination. Or would they?
Thanks to Rebecca again (!) I’ve just seen this great youtube video about web 2.0 and digital text. This is a really nice way of explaining some of the new ways writing and literacy have developed in digital spaces.
For Rebecca, I have hunted out the original version of the Sesame Street song, “Mah Nah Mah Nah”, with the much nicer “par tip a tippy” words instead of the “do do dos” words which have clearly dumbed the song down considerably. As an impressionable young child, I was much influenced by the power of the evil but silent glare and have used it wisely in my later years. I think you will agree that this is a far superior version! Enjoy
Call for Proposals: NMC Online Conference on the Convergence of Web Culture and Video
March 21-22, 2007
Proposals for presentations for the NMC Online Conference on the Convergence of Web Culture and Video, a special 2-day, live, online event to be held March 21-22, 2007 entirely via the Internet, are being solicited through February 23.
Video as we know it, produced by experts and consumed by viewers, is metamorphosing into a different genre altogether, blurring the lines between producers and audiences. New video-based forms of self-expression are emerging, with notable examples like video mashups, jumpcuts, and video blogging. Nonlinear narratives abound in this format, in which stories unfold across a series of 1 to 3-minute clips and web viewers are drawn into mysteries such as the story of Lonelygirl15. Brand-new forms like machinima are emerging that bridge virtual worlds, gaming, and storytelling, all through the medium of the small video.
We are seeing the emergence of a production culture, one where, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 48% of American adults have published content on the Internet. For this generation, video is becoming the medium of choice for content and expression, and as the video shrinks in both program length and physical size, the way we think about video is changing significantly. The 100 million-plus examples on YouTube (and the company’s $1.65 billion price tag) and the nearly 1 million videos on Ourmedia are, for the most part, nowhere near the quality of professional video, but the sheer numbers of viewers who watch them is clear evidence of the compelling nature of the form.
A key factor in the rise of the new video is that production, access and distribution are easier than ever before. A variety of new viewing devices, including Internet-enabled mobile phones, easily record digital video, and posting those videos to the web has become a trivial matter. The explosion of new content is enabled by cheap and easy- to- use equipment as well as new web-based editing and production software.
Join keynoters Henry Jenkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Angela Thomas, University of Sydney, and Cynthia Calongne, Colorado Technical University, for this 2-day examination of the convergence of web culture and video.
The singular focus of this gathering is to consider how these developments are impacting our lives, and how they are affecting the ways we work, learn, collaborate, and even socialize. The conference is designed to spark an examination that explores both the positive and negative aspects of this phenomenon on learning, social interaction, self-expression, and more.
The conference will be conducted entirely online. Sessions, which will be conducted live, can incorporate a variety of visuals and rich media, and are generally about 45 minutes in length, with about half that time devoted to dialog with participants using voice over IP.
Proposals are encouraged on the topic in any of the following areas, but this list is not exhaustive and selections will not be limited to these categories:
* Cultural impacts and trends
* Reflections on identity, self-image and new forms of expression
* Tools and techniques
* Learning applications
* Student-produced content
* Pedagogical potentials and implications
This event is the ninth in the ongoing series of specially focused online gatherings that explore new ideas and issues related to technology and learning. The NMC Series of Online Conferences is itself an exploration of emerging forms of collaboration and tools, and this particular conference will focus on ways in which the conference sessions can each be highly interactive, in real time.
My friend Silelf pointed me to this article in the Uk Register, and article which challenges the lack of avatars of colour in Second Life. The writer comments:
But one feature struck me immediately, and hard, when I first joined the game: the whiteness of it all. I almost never ran into a black person. Even in the “urban contemporary” and Caribbean clubs, one has to search persistently for a glimpse at a suntan.
Second Life residents will turn their avatars into any form imaginable: they’ll gladly make themselves aliens, cartoons, animals, even insects. But not Negroes.
and then she goes on to explore the notion of class:
A myth that I hear repeated by residents is that SL reflects life, because people create it. People like sex, so there’s plenty of sex. People like gambling, so there’s gambling. People like music, so there’s music. People like art, so there’s art.
I’ve found this to be quite naive. SL reflects a slice of life: a very white, Protestant, progressive, bourgeois slice. I can’t recall if it was in Paul Fussell’s Class, or Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook that I encountered the fine observation that it is the upper middle classes who typically play at life.
The idea of playing at life comes to us from the middle and upper-middle classes, where leisure time and income come together in a fairly good ratio. The rest of us are either too enervated by the constant demands of noblesse oblige and tax avoidance, or too busy scrambling to pay the rent on time, to give much thought to play.
She concludes with this:
Second Life is perhaps the whitest environmet I’ve ever experienced, and the most middle-class: I’m hard pressed to recall a single conversation with an undeucated resident. By and large, everyone is playing, and everyone has a fairly healthy bank account, as the basic costs of entry - even for a free account - are dictated by some rather pricey computing paraphernalia. Everyone is concerned with arts and science, and speaks with pride about information technology; everyone likes to learn; everyone believes in progress. It is, literally, an online white suburban paradise.
Because one of my key research areas is identity, and commentary on race and class in virtual worlds fascinates me. There is a long tradition of research which suggests that the internet perpetuates stereotypes of gender, race and class. And I think the author is right about many aspects of Second Life culture here. One of the most interesting articles I have read on the SL news blog New World Notes was the one called “The Skin You’re In“, which recounted the way one woman felt silenced and marginalised once she adopted a dark skin. Other stories of course countered this one, with people saying that race is just not an issue in SL.
I think race is an issue though - how could it not be? But not perhaps (only) in the ways people might think. So let me just add a couple of my own reflections to the race debate.
(Photo credit: Slatenight)
The first point is that I have and do see groups of dark skinned avatars. Not many to be sure, but a few. Contrary to what this author said, some of the people I met wearing dark skins were not African American in their real life. The most visible case of this is the one of artist Filthy Fluno. Filthy has appropriated the African American skin to develop his “ghetto-rap-gangsta” persona - an entirely fictional persona given that in his own words he is “just some white Jewish guy” - to sell his art work. And not surprisingly, he became famous within weeks of launching this identity, selling his virtual art pieces for L$6000 + each, and gaining notoriety and attention in a number of resident in house news sources and magazines. He was interviewed by the Boston Globe, who seemed to delight in his identity play, foregrounding the following:
In real life, Jeff Lipsky is an ordinary-looking white guy — 35 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, thinning hair, T-shirt and jeans — who creates abstract drawings in his Tyngsborough townhouse. Online, in the lush, three-dimensional, user-created universe called Second Life, he’s the cartoon character Filthy Fluno, a bearded, wide-bodied, wild-tressed, fang-toothed, black gallery owner who sells virtual versions of his drawings to other denizens of this virtual world.
Everybody in fact seems to falling over backwards to get a piece of Filthy - and I suspect that it has less to do with his art work and more to do with his colourful identity. His adoption of the persona goes beyond the avatar and into his carefully crafted language, also appropriated from urban ghetto style slang: “Move over Degas, Da Filth is Here. Word” is a slogan on the notecard accompanying each piece of artwork. And don’t get me wrong, I like his artwork, and I even bought some - before I had ever met him or knew about his persona.
I think in the past it has been the Oriental that has been exoticised and “consumed” by the white in shades of post-colonialism. Certainly this has been evident in Second Life with every single report about Anshe Chung going ga-ga over the fact that she is an Asian woman. But Filthy marks a new fetishism for the dark African American skin. And people are loving it, and throwing money at him left right and centre. I think Filthy is a very clever businessman.
The second point I want to make is about the aestheticisation of the avatar. I recall some research being done in the early years of the avatar (late 1990s) which claimed that in a Western colour palette, there was not enough distinction between dark tones and so dark skinned avatars just looked unrealistic, lacked subtlety in shading, and were most unappealing. I’ve been hunting for a while to find any references to this research - it was done by some colour scientists I think and if anybody can find it for me I would be most grateful to get my facts precisely accurate. The skin in the top avatar here by skin designer Chip Midnight looks gorgeous to me though, so maybe graphics have advanced considerabloy since that research. However I’ll never forget the impact that report had - to think that the very system features we used were marked by race was a rude wake up call!
Finally, it seems to me that most of the skin designers are from the US, so its unlikely we’ll get gorgeous Indigenous Australian skins coming out for some time. I can’t even recall seeing any Italian or Mediterranean skins. So whilst the African American skin is being fetishised and discussed at length, there are still numerous races that are invisible in SL.
Larry Johnson from the New Media Consortium has invited me to participate in an online conference in March. I am thrilled that I will be presenting in any context with prolific writer and expert on all new media and culture phenomena, Henry Jenkins!
Here’s my title and abstract - comments welcome while I construct my talk over the next couple of weeks!
Evocative Spaces and Aesthetic Grabs: How youtube and video blogging are redefining self expression
I will begin this talk with a discussion of how youtube and video blogging have become a mediating space for what Sherry Turkle calls “evocative objects”: objects, or in this case spaces, that we use to think about ourselves. I argue that the act of viewing ones-self in public performances, and acknowledging public commentary on those acts, provides dual reflective lenses which serve to reconstruct, reinvent and redefine one’s identity. To demonstrate I discuss a number of examples in which the nature of the autobiographical is countered and transformed through the performance of self for the public.
Next I will draw on Senft’s notion of “the aesthetic of the grab” - a way of re-articulating the dynamics of spectatorship and participation in new video communities. I will discuss the notion of commodity fetishism and the ways in which “grabbing” bits and pieces of other people’s video performances is then being reconstituted into one’s own performances of identity. This includes but goes beyond one’s amusement at memes, desire for a shared cultural context and networked solidarity, in that it presents a “shopping for truth” about one’s place in the world. It also includes the notion that what is public and telepresent can be owned and manipulated for one’s own desires.
Finally I will raise the question about what it might mean for the millions of youth participants in youtube and videoblogging with respect to ethics, consequences and reputation management in an age where the personal is political.