“We’ll become silhouettes when our bodies finally go” We Will Become Silhouettes The Postal Service
For the full effect, play the video when you read.
My life on the web and in cyberspace has early beginnings, and continues at a dizzying rate. Early on, I played Zork. I also would log on to the UNM internet and get my fortune told to me via a logarithmic text that would spit out a proverb or quote when you entered a command. I sent my first email to Pascal Adam in 1993. My life as a cyborg started early. Blade Runner on VHS was all burbly and wobbly by the time it got tossed out in a move to Santa Fe. Now, having read Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”, I wonder if we aren’t standing somewhere she predicted we would find ourselves: hybrids of machines and humans, in identity and purpose, framed by our gender and undone by that framing at the same time.
This week has been a particularly rich week on the interwebz. Facespace gave me a really good lead for how our interaction with cybermedia is changing our engagement with the world on a global and a personal scale. First up is Sabastian, one of my former students, who has suddenly come to terms with the inexorable and execrable link between video games and drone warfare.
Both Vannevar Bush and JCR Licklider anticipated a not so distant future of drone warfare, where the interface between humans and machines became as close as a sniper to the trigger. Instead, adolescents, trained up on multiplayer online games, would perfect the art of killing from a distance in Air Force training labs on bases around the country. Halo and Call of Duty have created interfaces that do the desensitization for the military. Cyborg selves no longer recognize the humanity of the target. Haraway warned at the birth of Reagan’s Star Wars project, “modern war is a cyborg orgy, coded by C31 (command-control-communication-intelligence), an $84 billion item in 1984’s US defense budget.” The most unfortunate part? The young players don’t see themselves as cyborgs enlisted in a war against humanity. They are part of the machine. The symbiosis is so total that Sabastian is just becoming aware of what Chelsea Manning was trying to warn us about in 2010 in her leak to Wikileaks. We are losing ourselves. And somebody is profiting at that loss. And, as Haraway points out, that someone is the military industrial complex. In a subversion of the employer-employee relationship, consumers pay for the games that turn the consumer into the fodder for the cannon–except that they can stay safely in the confines of Kirtland Airforce Base, never venturing to the battlefield except in the multiplayer world of the game-room.
The second surprise that I had was the sexualization of the term “cyborg.” Go ahead. Google that. What do you see but hypersexualized images of both male and female bodies. While Haraway longs for a Cyborg without gender, that will subvert the male dominated cyberworld, this is not so. It is sadly, just not so. First up in cybermisogyny is the prevalence of intimations of violence by males, who perceive some sort of gender transgression by cyberwomen. Rebecca Watson, of Skepchick.com, blogs about her interactions with some deranged cyberbully named “Rick”. Her cyberidentity is threatened as much as her physical safety is threatened, and I have to wonder if these intimations and menaces of rape and murder have something to do with the popular notions of what cyber”chicks” look like. They are penetrated, skin flayed off, hypersexualized, and mechanical. They are, for the viewer, not real women, not real human beings, and the sensual poses they adopt echo poses not just from comic books, but also from pornography, strip clubs, and peepshows. Shut up, Rebecca, and be the cyberslut I want you to be.
Another surprise came from gamer and cosplayer Caitlin Seida who writes in Salon about how her photo, uploaded to Facebook and shared widely, gained rather creepy attention from those who believed that her Lara Croft costume should be reserved for those cisgender females resembling Angelina Jolie. Seida, in her article, reports how commenters on various failblogs and reddits were suggesting that someone kill her or that she kill herself. The cyborgs are going to eat us alive. None of the sensuality of Lara Croft would be possible without the female voice actors who depict her in the games: Keeley Hawes, Shelley Blond, and Jonell Elliott. Their disembodied voices carry the script with a sexiness that one commentator compared to velvety quality of Kathleen Turner’s Jessica Rabbit. Indeed. The voice, even in cyberspace, should match some gendered ideal of what a cyborg woman should look like.
In the end, I think that the Frankfurt School and Haraway have it right: we are not in control of the symbiosis that is the cyberworld. We are products of it, and we produce what it expects us to produce. In turn, we consume what we are conditioned to demand it produce. Sexy, muscular, cyborgs, instead of real cosplayers, typing bloggers, and thinking posters. We are disembodied, and will become silhouettes when our bodies finally go.