On this blog we talk a lot about “augmented reality,” or how the digital and the material are increasingly mutually constitutive. As an example of this concept, I bring you the following development: Britain’s ‘Safe Text’ Street.

Brick Lane is the first ever "Safe Text" street, complete with padded lampposts to prevent injuries.

Apparently “unprotected text” has become a serious problem in the UK, where there were a reported 68,000 injuries in 2007 (although other sources claim 6 million of such injuries have occurred, this seems highly unlikely).

According to the Daily Mail:

The blame was placed on the large amount of street furniture such as lamp posts and bins and a growing number of pedestrians attracted by the area’s curry houses and bars.

Officials are also playing with the idea of incorporating texting safe “mobile motorways” into pedestrian spaces. These “walk ‘n text” lanes will be color-coordinated and act like cycling lanes, providing a safe, clear path for pedestrians whose peripheral vision is compromised by their cell phones.

Nonetheless, this provides a compelling example of how “digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other” (Jurgenson 2009). In this case, the widespread proliferation of texting and its seeming ubiquitousness in daily life now influences the way we construct our urban spaces. But of course, this is nothing new.

For example, David Banks has written on his work in Kumasi, Ghana, where they are developing a mobile phone based condom location service in an effort to combat HIV/AIDS. With the widespread adoption of cell phones (last reported at 67% of the population, but no doubt over 80% by now), this technology has been incorporated into their efforts, utilizing text messaging as a vehicle for assisting individuals who may not have ready access to condoms.

Both cases reveal how urban spaces are incorporating new technologies as  a means to improve the lives and welfare of those who live and work there. And we can expect to see this trend continue as the digital and material become increasingly intertwined in our daily lives, prompting urban planners to follow suit.

I came across this post a couple weeks back about the “11 Sounds That Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard” and it got me thinking about hipsters, nostalgic revivalism, and technological regression as a source of authenticity.

DC hipster shows off his ride at the 2011 Brightest Young Things Tweed Ride in Washington, DC.

First, some comments need to be made about hipsters. By now you have heard about the “Hipsterification Of America,” as fashion and lifestyle trends of New York bohemians have diffused across the nation into the recesses of most urban cities. In the words of Linton Weeks:

On the streets of Franklin and Nashville and almost every town throughout America now, hipsters scuttle by on scooters, zip around in Zipcars or Smart cars, roll by on fixed-gear bikes or walk about in snazzy high-top sneakers and longboard shorts. They snap Instagram photos of each other — in black skinny jeans and T-shirts with funky epigrams like “If You Deny It, You Are A Hipster” — and turn the pix into iPhone cases. They buy cool-cat snuggle clothes at American Eagle and down-market monkey boots at Urban Outfitters. They drink cheap beer, listen to music on vinyl records and decorate their lairs with upcycled furniture.

They follow indie bands and camp out at Occupy movements. They work as programmers and shop clerks, baristas and bartenders. They are gamers and volunteers, savvy entrepreneurs and out-of-work basement dwellers.

I will save discussions of hipsters themselves for another day, but for this discussion, you need to know about how hipsters look to the past as a source of authenticity. As Nathan Jurgenson has written about in his work on faux-vintage photography, the obsession with antiquated technologies can best be described as “grasping for authenticity.” Hipsters look to the past as a source of authenticity, attempting to ground themselves in the stability of past epochs, a time before digital communications and mass mediated technologies, a time when identity seemed more stable and “real.”  So hipsters turn to analog technologies as a source of authenticity, shunning the ease of many new digital technologies that turn technical skill into a manner of button-mashing.

Hipster Barista is an internet meme, a popular forum for social criticism.

Why so much concern with authenticity? Because authenticity is the hallmark of the hipster. The entire hipster identity revolves around questions of authenticity and difference. Difference from the mainstream, difference from their parents’ generation, difference from the labels of popular culture. These differences provide the hipster with a source of distinction (Bourdieu 1984), distinguishing themselves from the passive masses of mainstream society and giving them a sense of superiority (hence the perceived elitism of the hipster). And this is also why hipsters are so keen on shunning the label of “hipster” altogether. To admit being a hipster is to accept the label, negating the free-spirited foundation of the hipster code. You cannot label the unlabel-able. Or so the hipster code goes.

Secondly, hipsters are at the forefront of movements of nostalgic revivalism. By nostalgic revivalism, I mean the rebirth of antiquated technologies, art, and fashion trends, a sort of simulated vernacular that draws on many myths of previous epochs, becoming a white-washed image of the past reinterpreted to serve the present. The hipster market has led to the successful proliferation of Urban Outfitters and American Apparel’s across the United States, fostering fashion and music trends that now permeate into even the most corporate of America’s cathedrals of consumption (for example, as I sit typing this post in Jason’s Deli, I hear the sounds of Icelandic-indie chart toppers Sigur Ros playing on streaming radio above me). Perhaps more importantly, “the hipster market” has led to the re-popularization of many analog technologies of days gone past. For example, the rising popularity of the vintage photography equipment, the proliferation of “retro-tech” at #Occupy, a variety of online blogs (such as this one), the re-birth of vinyl, etc.

However, the disheveled bohemian look sported by the contemporary hipster neo-tribe is nothing but a simulation of the past, reconstructed in the present (Baudrillard 1994). It draws on tired semiotic images of the past in order to construct a simulated present. Much like the punk movement, which was known for pilfering extinct subcultures and recombining them into a pastiche of post-subcultural style (Muggleton 2000), today’s hipsters continually reinvent the past with their appropriation of past cultural forms.

For the hipster, the past becomes a source of authenticity because of the profound nostalgia hipsters feel for days before the “lamestreamers” stole their subcultural forms. This nostalgia is largely constructed, and born out of a idealization of the days of their parents (hence hipster’s profound love of popular fashions from the 60s, 70s, and 80s). And because authenticity is intimately linked with the minutia of subcultural knowledges, a profound awareness of one’s “first encounter” with a particular band, brand, or fashion becomes a powerful “founding narrative” for the hipster identity (for an example of hipsters, narratives, and brand identities, see [Arsel 2010; Kantor 2011]) . It is a way of claiming allegiance to a particular lifestyle or taste culture (Gans 1974), a way of placing oneself at the forefront of cutting edge fashions and trends. The oft-mentioned cliche, “I liked them before they were cool” becomes a mantra of identity, proclaiming one’s status at the core of the subculture and casting all others as mere followers. This saying, itself a form of symbolic violence, aims to preserve the subcultural capital (Thornton 1996) of hipsters as underground taste arbiters, trendsetters of the digital age.

Hipster's fetishize antiquated consumer goods as "retro chic."

In conclusion, I would have to argue that most of the 11 technologies presented in the above blog post will continue to be kept alive by hipsters in America’s urban cities. With a profound desire for authenticity, the hipsters of today continue to revive antiquated, analog technologies like rotary telephones, record players, typewriters, and vintage television sets, largely to capture the subcultural capital such technologies provide to the bearer. To the hipster, these technologies confer a physicality that many digital technologies lack. This physicality provides an aura of materiality, which provides a source of authenticity to those of us who grew up in the digital age. It would appear that technological regression, a backwards looking view of technology, serves the interests of nostalgic youth seeking authenticity in a postmodern age, where the boundaries of subcultural style no longer segregate taste cultures as strongly as they used to.

“Jailbreak the patriarchy!” is a new Chrome extension from Danielle Sucher. The neat little project allows you to reframe the information you encounter on the internet by switching the gender of the content presented. The extension basically replaces instances of man with woman, he with she, and various other nouns and pronouns with their gendered equivalent (although it doesn’t always retain proper grammar). As Sucher herself states:

Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: “he loved his mother very much” would read as “she loved her father very much”, “the patriarchy also hurts men” would read as “the matriarchy also hurts women”, that sort of thing.

This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!

Anna North over at Jezebel recently wrote about this project and recorded a few interesting results of her own. For example, this gem from a recent Cosmo article:

Last fall, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University released the results from their National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. One glaring finding: Women thought men were having more orgasms than they actually were. Eighty-four percent of girls in the survey said their partner had experienced orgasm during the last time they had sex. But only 64 percent of men confess to actually having experienced an O. That’s a pretty major gap between perception and reality! We decided to investigate further and conducted a poll on Cosmopolitan.com. Eighty six percent of readers said they don’t think their girl knows when they fake it, and 90 percent of fakers say they don’t plan on telling their girl the truth. But delivering academy award-worthy performance in the boudoir merely encourages your girl to continue doing things in bed that don’t get you off. And that’s a damn shame.

First, this Chrome extension reveals how users are increasingly prosuming the internet itself in an era of Web 2.0. By producing novel content such as this and inviting others to help her tweak its development, Sucher is taking an “open source” model of development.

Secondly, this project reveals a new way to consume information on the internet. By “jailbreaking” the patriarchal lens of much internet information and reframing it in opposite gender terms, this project can be said play into our “atmosphere of augmented dissent.” Just as the #OWS movement has used new technologies to foster grassroots mobilization, this extension gives individual internet users the tools to radically reshape the information they receive online. Don’t like patriarchy? Simply overwrite its language with this new app!

This second point needs some elaboration, however. Certainly, the jailbreak extension offers a space for investigating prevailing gender discourse in an era of mediated and collaborative knowledge construction. It also, however, remains within, and so part of, the binary gender categorical system.

Judith Butler

As scholars like Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling point out, the organization of humans into binary sex and gender categories is not only biologically false, but politically problematic. Butler in particular argues against early feminists who wish to replace male domination with female domination. Instead, Butler argues, we should queer the categorical differences until the categories dissipate altogether.

While “jailbreaking the patriarchy” effectively deconstructs gendered language, it remains within and reinforces the binary sex/gender system. This is not a critique of the project, which accomplishes the important task of illuminating taken for granted assumptions and power differentials. Rather, it is an imagined extension.

What if, in addition to “jailbreaking the patriarchy,” we could “jailbreak” the sex/gender binary?  Rather than replacing “he” with “she” we could replace all gender pronouns with “zi” and “hir” (a la Leslie Feinberg) and replace all gendered nouns with gender neutral nouns. For example, the Cosmo article mentioned above would refer to “sexual partners” rather than “guys” and “girls,” and the sentence: “she loved her father very much” would read “The child loved hir parent very much.”

Not only would this illuminate the prevalence of heteronormativity (such as that seen in the Cosmo example), but would make us utterly confused and uncomfortable. We would feel as though we did not have all the information to understand the situations about which we read. It is this discomfort, this feeling of “missing” something that would highlight the embeddedness of binary gendered language and its concomitant categorical structure with which we make sense of the social world and those who inhabit it.

Feminist Hulk (@FeministHulk)

Digital technologies, and the internet in particular, has been imbued with utopian hopes of breaking down structural hierarchies and queering categorical distinctions. The technological potential is there, but we must always remember that technology does not operate by itself. The architectures, structures, and uses of technology are necessarily entangled with the social, cultural, and psychic structures of the fleshy beings who create and utilize them.


Over the summer of 2011, several interns at BBH Labs (a marketing research firm in New York) came up with The Social Tattoo Project as a way to direct empathy towards natural disasters and social crises that continue to plague populations around the world. They used Twitter to track “trending topics” and then asked the Twitterverse to vote on which issues they wanted to see memorialized in a tattoo, essentially “crowdsourcing” the content of each piece. Volunteers were then selected to receive these tattoo designs without ever having seen them ahead of time. The final five topics included “a cresting wave for Japan, handcuffed hands for human trafficking, a broken heart for Haiti, a pie chart for poverty and a flower flag for Norway” (Corr 2011). The video above is a short clip highlighting the “broken heart for Haiti” design and the woman who had it tattooed onto her body.

However, this project is not the first of it’s kind. For example, Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal took it upon himself (quite literally) to commemorate the deaths of Iraqi’s and American’s since the invasion started in 2003. On March 9th, 2010, he had over 100,000 recorded fatalities of the “War on Terror” tattooed on his back during a live, streaming performance at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts gallery in New York City titled “…And Counting”: 5,000 dots were tattooed in red ink to represent fallen American soldiers and 100,000 dots were tattooed in invisible ink to represent (largely overlooked) fallen Iraqis. His art project was featured on NPR and DemocracyNow, and became the focal point for discussions about the costs of the “War on Terror.”

Wafaa Bilal receives 105,000 dots to commemorate casualties in Iraq

Both are examples of using the body to “memorialize” the deaths of unknown others. And for this reason, I feel, both The Social Tattoo Project and art of Wafaa Bilal demonstrate the watershed change we now see surrounding tattooing and other forms of body modification. As more and more people join the ranks of the tattooed, these “marks of mischief” (Sanders 1988) are losing their potency as sources of “conspicuous outrage” (Bell 1976). Rather the body becomes a vehicle for expressing larger social concerns, as people use their bodies to display their commitments to social justice projects. In short, people treat their bodies as billboards for displaying their larger social justice commitments.

I have written previously about the need to re-frame our assumptions about contemporary tattooing and body art practices. Most notably, I have called for a pro-social conception of contemporary tattooing, a conception of tattooing that sees these indelible inscriptions not as indicators of future deviance or mental pathology (Koch et al 2005), but as marks of heightened sociality, strong ties, and identity work. That is, having a tattoo no longer serves as a “mark of disaffiliation” from others (Sanders 1988). This is because of the increasing ubiquity of tattooing in the United States: its popularity cuts across nearly all class, race, and gender divides (Laumann 2006). Rather than seeing the voluntary marking of the body as an indicator of self-hatred or social maladjustment (E.g.: a way to push people away), tattoos are now increasingly used to display one’s commitment to others; in effect, drawing people together around shared issues, identities, and concerns.

Although one could argue that tattoos have always served this purpose (in that they have always served as signs to others, marks of commitment to various social classes and groups, and as memorial pieces to deceased loved ones), I do believe that we are observing a paradigmatic change regarding the use of the body for self-expression. The youth of today are far more likely to sit for the needle, and many are choosing to ink their bodies with meaningful images that symbolize their concerns for the world around them (Armstrong et al 2002).

However, these trends also raise some very pertinent questions regarding the limitations of such body marks. For example, are social justice tattoos like these simply another form of slacktivism? Or does the indelible marking of the body and the corporeal commitment such acts require create an exception to the rule? For most certainly the pain one endures while getting tattooed comes at a cost to the bearer. That counts for something right? It certainly counts for more than putting on a T-shirt or purchasing a pair of Toms shoes. But does putting an image onto one’s body count as a stand in for more active forms of social justice work, such as volunteering at soup kitchens, plantings trees, or even occupying Wall Street?

The two cases presented above provide great examples of people using tattoos to express “pro-social” ties, however, they also raise questions as to the limitations of such markings. A sign is just a sign, after all, and should not be used as a substitute for direct action. However, “by making empathy permanent” and by drawing attention to pending social crises like the War in Iraq, tattoos such as these reveal how the body is used as a communicative device in the postmodern era.

Manic Pixie Dreamgirls in Hollywood Films

A couple weeks back I posted about Steven Greenstreet’s video titled “The Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall St,” linking it to an emerging media trope called the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.” The phrase, coined by Nathan Rabin in his review of the 2005 film Elizabethtown, has quickly become a powerful reminder of the androcentric manner in which female characters are so often constructed in media texts.

I also connected the media trope to an emerging cultural stereotype about progressive young women. I argued that the manic pixie dreamgirl trope is largely a stereotype about young, progressive, non-conformist women who speak out of turn, defy normative conventions in self-presentation and behavior, and largely serve as “inspiration” for (white) male leads to step forward and grab life by the horns, assuming their rightful place as heirs to power.

Zooey Deschanel has become the face of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope

This morning, fellow cyborg Nathan Jurgenson sent me another example of this media trope in action, this time through the vein of music. This song by Tom Morello, originally a Woody Guthrie song, is titled “Ease My Revolutionary Mind” and places the image of the progressive dreamgirl center stage as an inspiration, a muse, a sidekick, and an accessory. Not only does it connect progressive women to the #Occupy movement, it likewise fetishizes women as accessories or worse, bedside assistants needed to nurse us men back to health. Not to mention the heteronormative assumptions contained therein. Is there something wrong with this picture? You decide for yourself:

YouTube Preview Image

I think this video is a powerful example of how stereotypes, as a form of cultural knowledge, are transmitted through media texts. But what we are seeing is a bypassing of the traditional avenues for cultural production. That is, viral videos (like Greenstreet’s video and Morello’s song) and the collective products that emerge out of Web 2.0 technologies provide fertile ground for new forms of cultural production, including the production of stereotypes and tropes. The romanticization of the manic pixie dreamgirl reveals the downside of such “grassroots” forms of knowledge production.

Whereas a mere couple decades ago, one could simply point a finger at the mass media and their powerful cultural producers as the source of most offensive stereotypes about minority groups, Web 2.0 technology and the #Occupy movement shows us how stereotypes can be perpetuated, embellished, nay, even constructed at the grassroots level, by men (and women) operating out of assumptions, filtering information, and presenting them in such a way as to bolster these claims.

(Many thanks to Jason Sternberg of Kansas University for the bringing this video to our attention!)

As part of my research into the popularization of tattooing, I have accumulated quite a few interesting links on tattoo toys for children. I don’t mean those temporary tattoos we all used to get from the vending machines at popular chain restaurants. This toys I am talking about have drawn flack from parents as being “inappropriate” for kids, creating an example of a burgeoning “moral panic”. Some examples include: tattoo inspired toddler wear, tattoo machines for kids, and of course, tattooed Barbie dolls.

The new Tokidoki Barbie is causing quite a stir

The most recent children’s tattoo toy to come under attack is the collector’s edition “Tokidoki Barbie,” which features prominent arm, chest, and neck tattoos. This is the first Barbie to come out of its packaging with tattoos already applied. The first tattooed Barbie called “Totally Stylin’ Tattoo Barbie” was interactive and designed for children, allowing them to paste the temporary tattoos (actually stickers) on themselves or the doll. This new “Tokidoki Barbie” is not a toy so much as a collector’s item, meant to capture a particular historical moment in time and to be exchanged between collectors (the doll is now auctioning for roughly $500 each). With a hefty $50 price tag, I do not see many children playing with this doll. It is also not sold in stores, and is only available online.

Toys like these have been released every few years since the 1990s, when tattooing was ranked as the 6th fastest growing industry in the country (Vail 1999). But we are now seeing more children’s tattoo toys spring up, dovetailing with the increasing popular interest in the craft. We may very well be observing a second Tattoo Renaissance (Rubin 1988), especially given the expansion of the industry and the artistic flowering that has occurred since the tattoo reality TV shows first emerged in summer 2005.

I believe we are we observing a cultural paradigm shift (Kuhn 1962) regarding tattooing. Cultural trends are slowly reshaping popular conceptions of tattooing, turning them from “marks of mischief” (Sanders 1988) into an “ironic fad” (Kosut 2006) of consumer capitalism. Whereas tattooing was once largely reserved for working-class men, sailors, carnival performers, and exotic dancers, we have since seen the practice become widely popular amongst all races, genders, and classes.

G8 Tat2 Maker by Spin Master Toys

Beginning with the Tattoo Renaissance of the 1960s (Rubin 1988) and more recently with the expansion into reality television (Lodder 2010), we have seen the cultural cache of tattooing shift in favor of middle-class notions of identity work (Atkinson 2003); that is, towards seeing the body as a vehicle for expressing oneself, towards actively controlling and crafting the body as a form of empowerment, and towards the development of “distinctive individualism” through appearance (Muggleton 2002). The highly narrative focus of tattooing contained in popular reality TV shows like “LA Ink” or “NY Ink” only bolster these trends, as new tattoo enthusiasts invest deeply-held meanings into each tattoo.

But these trends do not mean that tattoo toys aimed at children are any less offensive to some. Largely, it appears to be a generational divide: youth are much more supportive (in fact, largely celebratory) towards body art like tattoos and piercings, but the baby boomers continue to view tattoos through the lens of deviance.

For people of my parents generation, tattoos continue to be a symbol of deviant proclivities. Some have even called it a “disease” plaguing the youth of today. I have taken issue with such an interpretation of tattooing, especially by social scientists who continue to conceptualize the practice as an indicator of mental pathology or emotional instability, and have proposed a “pro-social” conception of contemporary body modifications like tattooing and piercing [you can read my work here]. In my opinion it is just a matter of time before prominent and visible tattoos become commonplace in professional and public settings, tattooed Barbie notwithstanding.

If you’ve check the Huffington Post today, you will notice something very different: A “Zombie” page has replaced the usual “Culture” section of the website. Just in time for Halloween, the internet newspaper has used the growing cultural obsession with zombies to create a parody of the zombie apocalypse occurring right now in their headquarters. Why? Because why not?

Huffington Post is going all out with LIVE updates of the takeover, posting tweets that sound reminiscent of Max Brooks’ “World War Z”. I suggest reading from the beginning of the day until the end, as it definitely deteriorates quite a bit as the zombies begin tweeting themselves. For example:

11:32 AM – Today


zombie blog when zombie want blog. zombie want eat blog like zombie eat brain, for blog is so full of sweet juice smosh snarsrh.

But the writers at the Huffington Post don’t stop there.  They have created a series of elaborate pieces written by zombies and about zombie issues (if there is such a thing), which ultimately serve to parody of some of our contemporary cultural debates. For instance, zombie guest blogger Mraramrmarm defends non-brain eating zombies in a post titled “Accepting Alternative Lifestyles.”

Similarly, an unnamed zombie guest blogger defends LGBT rights in the post titled “Why to Care About Jenna Lyons’ Divorce.” This zombie blogger presciently writes:

Jenna Lyons is beautiful human lady who have style and now she no have husband. She love other human lady and leave human man. This very important to humans because pretty women can love pretty women is big thing for human. Zombie know that long time ago after zombie lesbian liberation movement of 1910 happen in Scottish cave and spread to world. Wonderful! Stand up zombie for memory and have moment silence now human are learning thing we learned long ago maybe soon they give brain to us freely.

Such an elaborate parody brings to mind the Center for Disease Control’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” guide released this past May, in which the CDC used the popularity of zombies to educate citizens about the importance of being prepared for natural disasters.

Crossposted at Sociological Images

I am a huge fan of the television series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but I want to problematize some of the humor we often take for granted in the show. In a recent interview with Conan O’Brien, Charlie Day discusses some of the changes introduced into the current season of the show. Specifically, about 1:30 in, they discuss the weight gain that Rob McElhenney (“Fat Mac”) accomplished in pursuit of a “funnier” character. Notice how Charlie Day and Conan laugh—freely and unapologetically—at the prospect of Mac contracting diabetes (especially Conan’s mocking “Go America!” response to the image of “Fat Mac”):

Continue watching the interview to the 4:45 mark; Conan broaches the topic of mental retardation contained in an earlier episode (Season 3 Episode 9: “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person”). You will notice that Charlie Day seems more hesitant and calculated in discussing the topic of mental disability. For one, he uses the word “mental disability” rather than the more pejorative “retarded.” You will also notice less of an audience response, a less raucous reaction to the prospect of someone being mentally disabled than to them being fat.

Mental disability, as a largely ascribed status, serves as a less-viable source of humor. That is, laughing at someone who is born a particular way, or gains that status for reasons beyond their control, violates our precepts of political correctness. However, being overweight is often interpreted as caused by a personal character flaw (laziness, gluttony, etc.) and therefore an achieved status. Laughing at fat people, then, is not only socially acceptable, but often encouraged in American comedy.

This highlights the centrality of individualism and personal responsibility in American society. We hold the obese and the overweight accountable for their corporeal deviations. We tend to believe that those who are overweight (and those who contract Type 2 Diabetes) are responsible for their conditions. It then becomes socially acceptable to mock them. On the flipside, mental disability, as an ascribed status, is more likely to be defined as “off limits” as a source of humor. When it becomes a source of humor, as in this case, comedians must save face by saying things like “Nothing against the mentally disabled, but…” as Charlie does at the 5:25 mark—a form of hedging he didn’t feel obliged to include when laughing at someone’s weight.

Who we can laugh at, and whether we have to apologize for doing so, reveals larger cultural discourses, and analyzing humor allows us to understand some of the prevailing moral assumptions we take for granted.

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.

YouTube Preview Image

In short, Greenstreet’s video and his preoccupation with the “sexy side” of protesting plays into an emerging cultural trope, that of the manic pixie dreamgirl. Simply observe how the quirky, young, idealistic, non-conformist woman  is fetishized in contemporary film and media. Without getting into the political leanings of the most stereotypical manic pixie dreamgirls, I think it’s pretty safe that Hollywood fetishizes the progressive, non-conformist type; the type of woman that has visible tattoos and body piercings, yet exudes a childlike glee and excitement about life. Why? Because such women serve as muses for young men, men in power, or soon-to-be heirs of privilege. They are accessible as cultural objects, things to be gazed at and amazed by. They may even be listened to, but only when seeking emotional support, inspiration, or hope. In short, these women remain in subordinate and auxiliary roles. I believe Greenstreet’s video plays into these cultural trends in a potentially egregious way.

But do such stereotypes preclude the fair and equal use of the public space for civic expression? Maybe not, but there have been reports of women being gropped at #Occupy, and this should be cause enough for concern. In a culture that fetishizes young women as accessories, muses, or worse, as sexually available at all times and spaces (especially in public spaces), these sorts of behaviors are not acceptable. They play into an overarching rape culture that encourages predatory behavior amongst young men. I am not saying that Greenstreet’s video causes men to grope women, nor am I claiming that such women cannot defend themselves. All I am saying is that such behavior contributes to a climate that is largely inhospitable to women. Who says women at #Occupy want to be hit on? Who says these women want your voyeurism? I know that a lot of women are appreciative of the video. But lets be honest here. Is Greenstreet simply glorifying an emerging stereotype about a certain type of young women? Does the r0mantiziation of the manic pixie dreamgirl deflate the radical politics that these occupiers propose?

Big questions. I know. But what do you think?

This recent ad for Norton Antivirus software reinforces the concept of lifestyle consumption as articulated by Mike Featherstone (1991) two decades ago. When I saw this commercial, it made me wonder how the trends of lifestyle consumption are fast changing as a result of the increasing digitization of consumer goods. At a time when our very identities seem to be wrapped up in the information we circulate (via Facebook, email, and the various other affordances our digital technology allows), this ad seems to push the concept of lifestyle consumption to a new extreme. And it epitomizes postmodern advertising in that it “educates and flatters at the same time” (Featherstone 1987).

So what is lifestyle consumption? It is part and parcel to the changing nature of late capitalism, in which consumer goods come to be valued not for their utility, but for their symbolism, for what they “say” out the consumer. In this way, consumer goods become signs through which we display our individuality (as exhibited through our “tastes” [see Bourdieu 1984]) in late capitalism. Featherstone states (p 86)

The modern individual within consumer culture is made conscious that he speaks not only with his clothes, but with his home, furnishings, decoration, car and other activities which are to be read and classified in terms of the presence and absence of taste. The preoccupation with customizing a lifestyle and a stylistic self-consciousness are not just to be found among the young and affluent; consumer culture publicity suggests that we all have room for self-improvement and self-expression whatever our age or class origins. This is the world of men and women who quest for the new and the latest in relationships and experiences, who have a sense of adventure and take risks to explore life’s options to the full, who are conscious they have only one life to live and must work hard to enjoy, experience, and express it (Winship 1983; Featherstone and Hepworth 1983).

Now I have no desire to rehash arguments about consumer culture and the logic of self-cultivation (see Featherstone 1982), but I do want to connect these trends to contemporary consumption practices and the need for “digital security” as a way to preserve the self. That is, in an era when the loss of information is equated with the loss of self (think of all the threats of “identity theft” we hear every day), what purpose do such arguments serve other than getting us to purchase more in order to protect our things, our identities, our information? That is, are the claims for digital security little more than facile arguments for the preservation of cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984)? If information is power and capitalism presupposes the smooth flow of information to operate, perhaps claims to “protect your information” are simply claims for the preservation of the economic system as is? Is digital security something that the “petit bourgeoisie” of the culture industry simply want for you because it boosts their sales (Featherstone 1991)?

The Norton Antivirus commercial above states, “Your stuff is more than just data, it is your life. The stuff that connects you with other people. That puts you on the grid as a contributing member of society. It’s who you are stuff. Where you’ve been, and where you’re going stuff.” It appears that Featherstone’s conceptualization of lifestyle consumption is somewhat lacking, as it does not give emphasis to the digital–those flows of information that are increasingly permitting contemporary mobility systems to operate (Urry 2007) and that are increasingly defining our very social selves (Mead 1913). At a time when, “to not have Facebook is to not exist”, how do calls for digital security serve the interests of contemporary capitalism, particularly the petit bourgeoisie of the culture industry?