May 22, 2006
After attending a brilliant seminar this evening on language and identity I’ve been stimulated to reflect on two negative experiences I’ve had over the past week in Second Life. These incidents both disturbed me and I feel that they were both violent and othering in their effect on me.
1. My visit to DarkRose Castle
My good friend Trasgo is an online DJ and he invited me to his live broadcast event which was streamed into Second Life. His shift was delayed somewhat while another guy was DJ-ing and so I arrived at the event early. What I didnt understand was that the location of the event varied according to the DJ, so I ended up in the wrong location: a Gothic horror private roleplaying sim. I dragged Kronos along with me, and we arrived in our normal avatar states: blonde, casual clothing, kind of Barbie and Ken avatars. It was obvious that we were guests because we stood out so markedly from the crowd of goths there. Yet all attempts at conversation were ignored - we were given a curt nod, a couple of hellos, and then when I asked a question of one guy, he just looked me up and down and then turned around and walked away. It was so like we were invisible that I really felt hurt. The hostility was so strong - I felt very uncomfortable. I tried to make a comment about it to the rude person who walked away to me but he pretty much told me to ********* chill out. There were other guests there but they were dressed appropriately and seemed to know “the Prince” so were accepted immediately. in fact, they were offered tours of the castle. Kronos thought we were being offered a tour and asked about it, but was ignored. The Othering I felt at this event was painful - the silence of the goths towards me was a violent experience and it literally took me over 10 minutes to start talking to Kronos again normally because I felt so hurt.
The seminar today focussed a lot on Derrida and the notion that identity always involves exclusion. Derrida talks about the boundaries of identity as painful and conflicted, and the violence - either actual or potential - played by the role of language in identity construction. At this goth site I felt these boundaries and I felt excluded. What pained me most was that I actually love the goth aesthetic and even have some goth clothes in my real life for special occasions. But I dont have a goth avatar and here I was marginalised by multiple semiotic means: I had the wrong image, I didn’t have access to the knowledge required to participate in conversation, I didn’t understand how to behave in this context.
Let me talk about my avatar for a moment as a segueway into experience 2. I have deliberately chosen a “Barbie” avatar for a number of reasons:
- because I wanted a human avatar to be more approachable for my students when they come on
- because I did not want to be marginalised by the general population for being different
- because I am fascinated with the aestheticisation of beauty and its effect on identity
- and because its fun to indulge in a certain set of feminine fantasies which will never be my reality
Because of this I have invested a lot of time and real money into my shape, skin, hair, makeup, clothes, gestures, animations and other bits and pieces. So I am heavily invested in the avatar I have right now and to be excluded or mocked or ignored because of my avatar is WORSE than a personal insult - because my avatar reflects so many things that are ME - my choices, my desires, my ideas, my aesthetics. So this leads me to talk about:
2. My changeling friend
I have a friend who will remain nameless who changes her avatar frequently. She likes tinkering with her identity and I get great amusement at the new personas she adopts. She knows I am fascinated with identity and that I write about it, so she often trials new looks and personae with me. One day recently she im-ed me that she had a great new look to show me. When she arrived, I laughed when I saw the look: it was like a fairy version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. But my humour soon turned to shock when my friend started talking with an entirely new linguistic pattern, an entirely new voice, and in an extremely aggressive manner. I couldn’t believe it was my friend because she was just so… awful. She was condescending, mocking, and…. and here comes the painful blow…. she called me (very derisively): DOLLFACE! I was stunned because as I said, I had invested so much of my time and energy and self into making my avatar, and here she was mocking me!! It actually hurt my feelings even though I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it. I started wondering whether my friend secretly thought I was betraying my feminist ideals by choosing a beautiful avatar - she made me feel ashamed of myself for my decisions. It was really quite horrid, even though I laughed it off. I am sure people reading this will think it silly, but I was genuinely hurt by my friend’s comment.
And today when I listened to theorisations of language, identity and othering, and thought about the ways society and language can softly, discreetly but absolutely violently Other and Alienate, I began to wonder what it might it be like if I was forever caught in that Goth castle and silenced, or constantly spoken to with derision and contempt by so called friends. My two little instances of violence through language are fleeting - just minor moments in my usual joyous Second Life. But hearing about Derrida and learning more about his critique of the intellectual structures which are associated with violence, truly helped me to understand these moments.
February 11, 2006
DrJoolz has a great post about her disenchantment with self help and makeover shows. Not to be outdone by television entertainment, the toy companies are trying their hand at it as well. Case in point: Barbie’s ex, Ken, madeover now as he tries to win back Barbie’s heart. It seems the toy companies haven’t got it quite right though, as DrJoolz rightly points out, the new wave of makeovers are designed for personal satisfaction with self, rather than for the sole purpose of winning love and affection from another!
According to a news report I missed last week,
NEW YORK (Reuters) - He’s been to the gym, looks buff and stylish, and now Barbie’s boy toy Ken wants to win back the doll he split from two years ago.
After a two-year separation, Mattel Inc. said on Thursday that Barbie’s long-time suitor wants to rekindle his decades-long romance with his plastic paramour.
Mattel is hoping Ken’s return to retail stores can also revitalise the company’s overall fortunes. In January, the company blamed sagging Barbie sales for sagging profits.
“Ken has revamped his life — mind, body and soul,” Hollywood stylist and Mattel consultant Phillip Bloch said in a statement. “Everyone knows how difficult it is to change, especially when you’ve lived your life a certain way for more than four decades.”
Mattel said in February 2004 that Barbie and Ken had split after 43 years because they wanted to spend some time apart.
Ken, who appears to have spent time in the gym and at the stylist, returns wearing a beach-wear ensemble complete with board shorts and white T-shirt.
For her part, Barbie publicist Lauren Dougherty said Barbie “appreciates the new look Ken is sporting. He really looks great. But we’ll have to stay tuned to see whether these two will get back together.”
At a press conference unveiling Ken, Bloch said the company was going for a “worldly, European thing,” and “definitely wanted to be looking hot.”
Mattel’s fourth-quarter results January showed an 18 percent decline in Barbie’s U.S. sales. The company said that in addition to “tweaking” the Barbie line this year, more dramatic changes would be made in 2007
Of course, Barbie herself has been reinvented multiple times over the years: different hair styles, different clothies, specialist Barbies, barbies with nipples, barbies without nipples, ethnic barbies, bendable barbie, barbies who talked about shopping, barbies who had careers, wealthy barbies…
For a great history of Barbie and her remodelling/makeovers throughout the years, click the image below:
I’ll never forget when my sister bought a pregnant Barbie to explain to her daughter about the new little sister growing inside her mother’s tummy - my grandmother was absolutely horrified.
Anyway back to Ken, why can’t he just be happy being buff and hunky for his own satisfaction. After all, we all know that Barbie has been with that Australian surfie guy Blaine for the past two years. Here they are spotted together enjoying happy times:
However much to my dismay, it seems that Barbie is as shallow as ever, and has dumped poor Blaine according to this recent theStar.com headline: Ken, I still love you!
Pffft, who knew that she was so shallow? Barbie is soooo last century, I have some of these in my office (for research purposes of course) instead:
August 12, 2005
A really interesting article in the latest issue of Gender and Education:
Barbie princesses and dinosaur dragons: narration as a way of doing gender
(Eva Änggård, Linköping University, Sweden)
I think its really interesting that even very young girls (aged 4-6) can play with gender roles by inserting ideas from the “action chicks” they see in the media. I also think the data from the boys is great - something I don’t write so much about because I tend to focus on feminist issues related to young girls. Here’s the abstract:
In this article, young children’s narration in words and pictures is discussed from a gender perspective. The article is based on a project in which eight pre‐school children made their own books. In their stories, the children reused narratives picked up from different media, both traditional fairytales and popular cultural products. The reuse of those narratives gives children opportunities to explore gender positions in a playful way. The narratives produced by the children had, in certain respects, a gender‐stereotyped content. The girls and the boys selected gender‐specific themes for their stories. But in their stories, the children also made reinterpretations of traditional stories and gender patterns. The girls let the female characters play the active roles and the boys let their heroes become friends with the enemies. In this way, the children used the stories creatively, reshaping them to fit their own purposes.
Änggård, E. (2005). Barbie princesses and dinosaur dragons: narration as a way of doing gender,
Gender and Education, Vol. 17, No. 5, December 2005, pp. 539-553
December 2, 2004
Everywhere I look I seem to be reading about Barbies…
the Versace Barbie (recently discussed at Boing Boing and Mobile Technology)
Punk Rock Barbie (if I have to nominate a favourite, well…)
and even a stunning Galadriel Barbie!
There’s discussions about about Indian Barbie that has a mobile phone as an accessory (a REAL mobile phone), the Arwen and Aragorn Barbie and Ken set, a Legolas Ken… its endless…
So what is the appeal of Barbie? And why is she so popular in pop culture discussions? Quoting Rogers,
Whatever else she does, Barbie leads us into the nooks and crannies of modern /postmodern cultures. In the end, our Barbie’s script is ultimately about selfhood. … Perhaps too, fantasy is as worthy a means of exploring selfhood as therapy, religion, career, activism, or any other endeavour capable of enlivening one’s imagination. When the fantasy takes its shape as from profit-oriented corporations, though, we’d best be on our guard. After all, the ultimate corporate fantasy is to have us all believing that to secure a self means to secure a lifestyle anchored in consumer goods and services. Barbie expresses that fantasy and thus speaks to the constant seduction of consumerism in modern / postmodern cultures. Seduced and seducer, Barbie is as much a threat as a promise. Therein lies her powerful allure.
(Rogers, 1999 in: Barbie Culture, p.153)
I liked the part about fantasy as a means of exploring selfhood. Play in many forms is a means of exploring selfhood. So is writing if its at all reflective. To paraphrase Alice from the Looking Glass, sometimes I don’t know what I think until I write it down. Sometimes I think about ideas for weeks, and they’re all a confused mess inside my head until I can pour them out onto paper.
I also liked the part about consumer identities. Bernstein would call this decentred indentities, where identity is projected onto a market signifier. (I think I made this connection last time I wrote about Barbies and avatars!).
But I tend to agree with Rogers - Barbie is more complex than being just dangerous pleasure or just innocent pleasure - it is a mixture of both.
And as such, Barbie “speaks to the surprises, contradictions, and paradoxes we live with each and every day of our postmodern lives… She is shaped more to the wild contours of cyberspace and the flashy contours of today’s commodity cultures” (Rogers, 1999, p.154).
December 1, 2004
Stolen from the Barbie satire pages!
Much more fun than reading, yes, you guessed it, Barbie’s blog!! - shopping, parties, more parties, more shopping, and cutesy animals…
Somebody is paid to write such daily drivel?
November 2, 2004
I’ve had a book on my shelf for a couple of months about Barbie. I never owned a Barbie when I was younger - my mother didn’t believe in them - I had female action figures with bendy body bits and none of the other accessories (oh OK one of them did have long hair and a hair brush which was fun) - but I can’t help but be interested when I see this book that says Barbie is like a cyborg… and as I’ve been reading it today (in between plumbers and flood busters and land lord visits as a result of my catastrophic pipe burst and subsequent flood) I started thinking about replacing the word Barbie with the idea of our avatars…
Here are a few ideas - if you feel like indulging me, please let me know what you think *smile*…
1. Our avatars (and Barbie) have idealised bodies - perfect shapes, unrestricted, clean, and made from technology (or plastic).
2. Our avatars can represent the type of body we desire - some people in other graphic worlds even PAY lots of money for their ideal avatar to be designed for them (one man I know made a living for an entire year making avatars and other props for an online game).
3. Once upon a time, people used to obsess over their beautiful cars (another type of technology) and cars were a symbol of a person’s identity. But now people obsess about having perfect bodies, and the avatars we use can make our dreams come true, and can become part of our identity.
4. Our avatars can look perfectly fit and perfectly healthy and in fact are more ‘real’ than reality.
I wonder though if I can make these comparisons between Barbie and avatars?
I have about 50 avatars - I only use 2 regularly, but one is a beautiful model and the other one is a very cute faerie (thanks to Lily who gave it to me). So I might have missed out playing with Barbie but I can enjoy playing with my avatars. I know some of you *looks at Lily* have hundreds of avatars (how many fashion parades have I sat through? *laugh*). And I like looking gorgeous with a beautiful avatar - I mean why would I choose an ugly one? But sometimes I like to wear a cat avatar, or a chair, or Harry Potter. And I hardly think Harry Potter is somebody I desire to be. But it does let me play out the fantasy storylines of being magical and powerful *evil laugh*…. so in some ways my avatars let me have more fun than I can in my own body (unless I dress up and RP for real)…
So although I don’t dream of being Harry Potter or a cat, I do enjoy being playful, exploring different sides of myself and just having fun… and my avatars or RP characters (yes, I used to RP in the past) have inspired or allowed me to do this.
And yet, Barbie is despised and labelled plastic, fraudulent, shallow, frivolous, self-centred, superficial and false.
My avatars may be frivolous but at some times they have let me be more honest and deep, making the impossible possible. So maybe the explorations I make with my avatars are a way for me to explore ’self-hood’ (who I am) which is worthy of much more contemplation.
In fact, I just came across this advertisement for Barbie from the makers, Mattel:
That’s pretty clever marketing I think! It looks like Mattel are catching up with more neo-feminist ways of thinking - assertive women doing what they want… and the perfect slogan to match what I was trying to say about avatars - we can become our own hero with our avatars…
I should have burst pipes more often *chuckle*….
So, what can you tell me about your avatars and the ways you use them to try out new sides of yourself or your characters?
posted by Anya at 8:58:34 PM
Hey, how’s it going.
Wow, how deep… It’s kinda true that the avatars resemble what my perfect self would look like (Strategist with glowing red evil eyes and the Mid-boss with purple hair and pointy ears not included) but avatars are also kinda famous… If you have a really famous avatar-person, then people will look at you…
I also like using avatars as points for my roleplay-people… Zhou Wei the sassy intelligent strategist… ahh…
Eowyn Skywalker said…
I don’t really use avatars to express different sides of characters, because I am on very few RPG-only sites. And I don’t go on the palace enough to need more than the two I have– one with Eowyn edited to have a lightsaber, and the one I had when we were chatting of “Tiana”. Lately I’ve been wearing avatars with text on them– such as on MSN IM– and the text expresses my character’s present siduations. I usually only go on MSN to RP with Jandalf… so… yeah. Then I often use avatars of characters on typical sites as it is.
I can’t say they completely represent me, and yet they do– most of them are human in appearance, and often sad, or searching in appearance. True, many people wear ‘idealized’ avatars, but I make a point of not doing such. True again, I wish I looked similar to some of the avatars I’ve worn, but they are never perfect. They’re ideal for the characters, often, and naught more than that. There’s tricks, of course, to avatars– the hair, the eyes, and colors make the complete mood of them. I don’t wish I was like one I’m using– hair choppy hair, gray pailor, and very sad– but she’s ideal for the character I’m using her for.
It’s not becoming your own hero that’s the point– it’s allowing what’s inside of you to show through. You can’t be a hero, but you can be yourself, and that’s something, isn’t it?