Sex Toy Liberation, The Taboo of Replacement, And the Inner Animal: A Review of Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Chick Palahniuk's Beautiful You
Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You

Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.


Sextual Healing

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 4.42.41 PM

One of these days I’ll find something to cite on the topic of Early Internet Adolescence that isn’t my own experience, but here goes: I like to joke that the Internet and I went through puberty at about the same time. As a result, I spent my teenage years on the cusp of being what we now think of as “connected”—I journaled on paper but wrote poetry on computers (also napkins); I wrote letter-length notes during class but sent email during my free periods; in general, I communicated with friends and family (as well as myself) through an array of both analog and digital media. Though sometimes I hung out talking to strangers in AOL chat rooms (especially before I had friends who, like me, didn’t have a curfew), my digitally mediated interactions were a lot like my telephone-mediated interactions in that they occurred primarily with people I already knew from in-person contexts.

Digitally mediated interaction was new and exciting (especially to a shy kid who already fancied herself a writer), but from the very beginning, it was just another piece of the life I was already living. It didn’t make me a new or different person (in contrast, sometimes I felt more free to be myself via email), and nor did my friends interact with me through chat or email in ways that were incongruous with the ways they interacted with me in person. So what were those interactions like, especially as my friends and I tried to navigate the complicated social- and emotional politics of attraction in the context of a small high school? This was back in the pre-SMS era, mind you, so to hear The Today Show’s Matt Lauer tell it last month, I should have been receiving graceful, articulate, hand-written notes from classmates who fancied me, and perhaps responding with notes of my own if the fledgling twitterpation was mutual.

Oddly enough, this is not what I remember happening.  more...

Film, Food, and Fraternizing: “Over & Out” at #TtW12

This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

At this year’s Theorizing the Web, we are pleased to announce a lunch time short-film screening of the techno-queer-romantic-comedy “Over&Out” (2012). The film runs less than 30 minutes. Register here for free lunch & a movie.

We will also have the film’s writer, Kelsey Brannan, available all day for questions, comments, and/or chit-chat after the screening. Brannan, who wrote the film while getting her bachelor’s from UC Santa Barbara, is currently getting her master’s in Culture, Communications, and Technology from Georgetown University. In her own words more...

“RealTouch” and Augmented Sexual Interaction

Irony? A porn addiction helpsite (via

“The internet is for porn.” Given that, pornography addiction and internet addiction  frequently show up together in the same discussion. The two have some important features in common being medicalized descriptions of certain sets of behaviors: the problematization of pornography addiction rests in part on the idea that unhealthy levels of consumptions of  porn precludes healthy, fulfilling relationships with “real people”. Jenny Davis’s post earlier this week on the “problem with internet addiction” highlights the same issue: the idea that digital interaction is somehow a zero-sum game, wherein more of the “virtual” means less of the “real”, instead of merely a part of the whole of augmented social interaction:

If we understand the internet as a means of sociality, a venue for business communications, an outlet for creativity, a source of news gathering and a space of recreation, then indeed, an addiction to internet technologies would be an addiction everyday life.


Politics of Beauty and Pleasure

As Langdon Winner aptly points out, artifacts have politics. They have politics built into them, are used with political intention, and interpreted through political lenses. Often times, however, the politics of an artifact are hidden from view, disguised, or misleading.  Here at Cyborgology we often deconstruct the political meanings and implications of different kinds of artifacts. Today, I want to deconstruct two artifacts that operate with the potential for, and under the guise of, technologically facilitated feminist liberation. Specifically, I look at the Fuck Skinny Bitches internet memes, and the now vastly present and prevalent female-coded masturbation devices (i.e. vibrators and dildos)[i]. I argue that these artifacts, rather than dissolving hierarchical gendered boundaries of bodily control and sexual pleasure, surreptitiously trace over these boundaries with invisible ink, only to be revealed under the light of critical sociological analysis.

Recently, we have seen in influx of internet memes that attempt to provide a feminist rejection of hegemonic standards of the beautiful body. These memes contrast images of curvaceous women to very slender women and include text that preferences the larger body/bodies. These are portrayed as the feminist answer to the unrealistic body sizes showcased and revered on runways, red carpets, and the annually released  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I call these Fuck Skinny Bitches memes. A couple of examples are pictured below. more...

Gender, Culture, and Cooking on the Internet

Photo Credits: (From left to right) Candice Borden,, and

Since you are probably going to spend today arguing about Occupy Wall Street with your conservative family members and helping your parents with computer questions we figured you would appreciate some slightly ligher fare: internet cooking shows. But because we are social scientists, we can’t be satisfied with uncritical review. Therefore, I want to discuss how these cooking shows interact with, perform, reify, and probelmitize constructions of gender and nationality. The three shows I want to cover (I’m gonna have to pass on this and this. There’s a great article at that lists most internet cooking shows.) are Epic Meal Time, Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time, and My Drunk Kitchen. Full disclosure: I have a profound weakness for all of these shows, with increasing affinity in the order I just presented them. In case you’re unfamiliar with these shows, I’ll briefly introduce them and then get into the theory. [Images after the break might be considered NSFW.] more...

Romanticizing the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl at #OccupyWallSt

There are currently several debates going around the web about Steven Greenstreet’s “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” video and tumblr, his rape jokes posted on Facebook, and the rights of women (and men) to claim offense at such behavior. Now I want to contribute something more to the debate than simply rehashing on our rights to privacy in the public realm (both in the digital public space-in the case of Greenstreet’s Facebook comments and in the material public space-in terms of privacy while marching in the streets of #Occupy). I want to talk about the manic pixie dreamgirl.

What does the “hot chicks of occupy” have to do with the manic pixie dreamgirl? And what is the manic pixie dreamgirl trope? I think this short Feminist Frequency video encapsulates the trope quite well, as well as its connection to Greenstreet’s objectification of women at #Occupy. more...

Prosuming Identity Online

Can an identity have a homepage?

Many have long argued that identity is the result of both  (1) performative work on the part of the individual as well as (2) the influence of society with all of its history, structures, institutions, norms and so on. We do not produce our identities in a vacuum, they are influenced by society. And we do not blindly consume our identities from the options given to us; humans are complex beings who creatively tweak, mix and remix to achieve something always unique. Not just producers or consumers,  it is best to think of ourselves as identity prosumers. Here, we will show how this process is made most explicit when identities are prosumed through social media technologies. more...

Robot Fetishism, Synthetic Partners, and Phallogocentrism

YouTube Preview Image

Recently I saw an episode of TLC’s “My Strange Addiction,” (lets not go into how exploitative this show is) and was first introduced to a man named Davecat. Davecat is a man with a synthetic partner, a growing trend where people marry anatomically correct, fully functional, mostly silicon, lifesize (sex) dolls. I call them sex dolls because they are clearly created in the image of a sexualized female ideal (small hips, large breasts, busty lips, flawless skin, long legs).


Digital-Physical Embodiment & the Kiss Transmission Device

The Kiss Transmission Device was recently created in a lab in Japan. This is essentially an internet connected French kissing machine. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a machine that allows you to share actual French kisses via the internet. Okay, they are not actual French kisses…but kind of.

A user of the device caresses an internet connected straw-like mechanism with their tongue, causing the device to transfer the motion to a second straw-like mechanism, ostensibly located in the mouth of a romantic partner. Developers hope eventually to make the device more “tongue like” by adding personalized flavor, moisture and breathing patterns.

The developers view this as a device that will aid in the maintenance of long-distance romantic relationships, allowing geographically separate partners to connect on a physical level. They also talk about marketing celebrity kisses—allowing users to swap spit (er, swap straw movements) with the likes of Justin Bieber or any other celebrity willing to sell a physical piece of hir sexuality. more...