Panel Preview

Presider: Rotem Rozental (@rotroz)

Hashmod: Ian M. Dawson (@ianmdawson)

This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Pics: Sex and the Selfie

Anne Burns (@AnneLBurns) Disciplining the Duckface: Online Photographic Regulation as a form of Social Control

The way we talk about photography on social media is damaging.

Ubiquitous and notorious, the selfie has had a prominent place in public discourse over the last year. Articles on ‘tips for selfie-taking’, anxious deliberations over its psychological implications, and galleries of ‘bad’ or ‘sexy selfies’ demonstrate the extent to which rules and proscription have been naturalized in regards to selfie practice. Regulating the selfie is a means for regulating the selfie-subject, where both are conceived of as being innately problematic and requiring control. As addressed in this study, notions of ‘too many selfies’ and the labeling of young women’s self-presentations as narcissistic, seek to limit both what, and how, women are encouraged to photograph. Such discussions impact upon notions of privacy and identity negotiation, but serve primarily to mark and marginalize certain groups. Therefore, through the limitations imposed on a certain type of creative practice, subjects’ behavior and participation within the public sphere is curtailed.

In this paper, I will argue that public discourse regarding women’s photographic self-representation on the web acts as a form of social control, where perpetuating repressive ideas has been naturalized as a contemporary form of leisure. Ideas of what should and shouldn’t be shared, whose images are more legitimate than others’, and what genres of images are more ‘worthwhile’ than others, serve to perpetuate gender inequality and legitimize the criticizing of subjects, through their photographic practice. By naturalizing unequal power relations, the discussion around photography is therefore used as a technique of subjugation, through enacting shame and humiliation.

Limitations on photographic practice extend to the micro level, where facial expression, pose and context are expected to convey both attractiveness and authenticity. Interpreted as an absence of both, the pouting ‘duckface’ exemplifies the coercive force of discourse regarding acceptable gender presentation. The online discussion of the duckface – visible in a myriad of memes, protest pages and discussion forums – displays a range of techniques of regulation, from mockery and humiliation, to condemnation and threat. The separation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ photographs / photographic subjects is ultimately a process of legitimizing one group, whose adept adherence to the norms of gender performance is in opposition to the rejected and ridiculed identities of those who are ‘doing it wrong’.

Using numerous examples, both illustrations and text, this paper analyses how the distinctions and hierarchies within photography support a wider context of discipline and prejudice. Analyses of the “anti-social” web need to consider how such instances of micro-discipline, in relation to cultural practice, reinforce social inequalities. Furthermore, critical approaches are required that address how the web sustains repressive processes of social organization, by repeatedly presenting the regulation of subjects as a form of entertainment.

Ofer Nur The Quest for the “Real”: Erotic Selfies, In-depth Interviews and the Transformation of the Gay Pornographic Landscape after Web 2.0

Both in content and form, the adult industry not only reflects sociological transformations and technological innovation, it also takes active part in accelerating some of those transformations. This paper is part of a larger project that closely examines and analyzes the changes in gay online pornography in recent years, especially two developments: 1. The rise of DIY porn to sustained commercial success online, and 2. the commercial and other manipulation of gay erotic UGC. The first dimension of this project is the application of what we know empirically and theoretically about Web 2.0 and the proliferation of erotic and explicit UGC in the gay adult online orbit which is different in several significant ways from straight online pornography.
The second dimension of this project looks with ethnographic lenses at the interaction between the producers of this adult content and the actors. This problematic, at times exploitative relationship is manipulated not only across race and class boundaries, but also across intra-gay gender performance lines (straight acting, gay for pay, MSM etc.). The manipulation of intra-gay gender performance for the pleasure of cyber voyeurs, I would claim, reaches a volume that is unprecedented in gay adult material that the pre-online industry created.

For the current presentation I will only briefly treat the findings based on the effect of the use of “lifted” erotic UGC on the gay adult landscape (especially on “tube” adult websites and commercial aggregators of such content). I will concentrate on the initial findings, gleaned from a number of DIY gay adult websites who, for purposes of satisfying the quest for “reality” content, conduct substantive interviews with their actors. These interviews allow a glimpse into the world of both interviewer and interviewee, many of whom do not belong to the gay “lifestyle” and were recruited for their erotic act specifically because of that fact. Closely observing these interviews, it is possible to analyze the mix of ethnic, class and local-global tensions present in them, and their manipulation for viewer pleasure. Thanks to the opportunities that Web 2.0 opened up for independent pornographers, we have access not only to the sometimes exploitative relationships between pornographers and their actors, but also to a previously concealed male-male erotic and sexual bonding that was buried under layers of privacy and shame that even the openly gay world left untouched. Now, with the advent of such DIY websites, male-male sex can be analyzed with promising and profound results, relevant to those interested in questions of ethnic, class, age and global inequalities as well as the codes of the world of MSM (men who have sex with men), the secret world of ultra-virile homosexuality.

Apryl Williams (@AprylW) Selfie Love: Exploring Notions of Self and Ethnicity on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

Selfies and selfie-taking have become part of the social media experience. Sociologists and Communication scholars know that people take selfies but little has been done to understand why people take them. I Interviewed 32 millennials and digital natives about their social media use in order to understand how they use social media in their everyday lives. I found several emerging trends and patterns among the responses from my participants. These are patterns of prosumption – the production and consumption of experiences (Ritzer et al. 2012). I use the term conspicuous prosumption in order to describe the deliberate and explicit display of lived experiences on social media that is intended to show peer groups that one shares the same types of experiences. As Riesman theorized decades ago, other-directed groups are concerned with the opinion of their peers. Thus the conspicuous prosumption of experiences serves millennials particularly well. Selfie-taking, among other social media actions, is an act of conspicuous prosumption and allows users to engage with each other and to produce and consume (prosume) meaning through image sharing. In addition to the general patterns of conspicuous prosumption, I found and explored variation in the prosumption of meaning among different racial groups.

Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) Tweeting from Amongst the Corpses

In Syria, the battle for territory waged on the ground is matched by a battle for meaning waged on the Internet. Whether they’re Kurds carving out an independent state, revolutionaries or TEDx organizers sympathetic to Assad, Syrians use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to tell their stories. It’s contested ground, filled with both propaganda and truth. Posting can be deadly. Both the Assad regime and ISIS target citizen journalists for arrest. In the embattled Lebanese city of Tripoli, I interviewed an aid worker who, at the start of the revolution, smuggled memory cards over the border that contained footage of demonstrations. Once he was in Lebanon, he’d upload the footage to Facebook. Assad had blocked access to the Internet once. Activists were terrified he’d do it again.

(From, In Syria, Western Fundamentalists Are Tweeting From Amongst the Corpses)