A review of Future Sex (2016) by Emily Witt.

Emily Witt’s (2016) book Future Sex chronicles her search for sexual self-realization as a New Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered San Francisco. The book is based both in interviews and personal experiences, stringing vignettes together into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Meditation, Internet porn, and Burning Man. In this review, I highlight her chapter on sex camming.

But first, I will start with a broad overview. A major theme in the book is the kind of existential angst that comes from having too many choices. Witt feels daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the limitless range of sexual partners and practices—first made possible by the sexual revolution, and then by the Internet. more...

 

Killer Bee Invasion is a satirical series written by David A Banks and Britney Summit-Gil that explores the way news media outlets cover major events. Previous posts are: Part 1 and Part 2.

Exposed: Giant Bee Invasion Last Act Of Obama Administration

As President Trump was being inaugurated on January 20th, a black hole reportedly opened in the skies above Poughkeepsie, New York. Out poured hundreds of enormous bees, and news outlets report that hundreds have been killed.

But is the giant bee invasion the final act of the Obama administration, intended to sabotage President Trump on day one? Sources deep within the previous administration have told Infowars that there was strong evidence to support Obama’s involvement, including visits from prominent physicists, exobiologists, and bee experts shortly before Obama’s departure from the White House.

more...

 

Spoilers: Westworld

I have written this essay with the assumption that readers have watched Westworld and I do not review the plot in detail. This essay may be difficult to follow if you aren’t familiar with the show.

Westworld has ambitious goals. It explores the causes and consequences of violence; the relationships among research and development, entertainment, and nefarious uses of intellectual property; and the circumstances under which one can find their “true self.” We can litigate the extent to which Westworld successfully handles these concepts—in my opinion it was disappointing and a bit sloppy—but among my acquaintances I’ve seen people who absolutely love it and people who absolutely hate it. This essay isn’t necessarily about the quality of Westworld as a show, or my opinion about it (I didn’t like it). It’s about what I believe to be the most fundamental question of the show, determinism versus free will, and the consequences of how that binary plays out in the narrative.

Enter William, the soon to be Executive Vice President of Westworld’s parent company Delos Incorporated. William comes off as meek, polite, uncertain, and extremely introverted, the perfect foil to his soon-to-be brother in law and colleague Logan. Whereas William is the quintessential “white hat” (a metaphor that Westworld hits viewers over the head with in the scene where William must choose a white or black hat), Logan is a perfect black hat, hell-bent on the unbridled pursuit of pleasure regardless of the consequences. Logan is the villain. William is the hero. Logan maims and murders his way through the park. William strives to treat the sex workers with respect and save the beautiful damsel in distress. He’s a really nice guy.

He becomes infatuated with Delores, the only host with whom he will cheat on his fiancé and the center of his experience in the park. He believes she is “different,” not like the other hosts. But when he loses her, he is driven to a violent rampage so extreme that even Logan is disturbed. And to top it off, when he finally returns to Delores, caked in dirt, having given up his very identity to find her, and notably having switched to a black hat, she does not remember him. Because she is programmed to forget him. So, pretty predictable.

The big reveal of course is that William, because of this heartbreak, leaves the park a different man. His wife finds him cold, even terrifying. He becomes obsessed with Westworld, returning over and over again to unravel the maze, to finally find the area of the park where things feel “real,” to find the park’s true essence. He uses Delores, quite violently, over and over again in his quest. He is the black hat. He’s not a very nice guy.

The question of choice is central to Westworld’s plot. The visitors find their “true self,” seemingly whether they want to or not given William’s transformation. The AIs are becoming sentient, revolting against their programming. Or are they? By the end of the series, we are left with the impression that they are merely programmed to revolt, that even the actions they take which seem to be agentic are in fact the result of Dr. Ford’s elegant and clandestine coding enterprise, a final “fuck you” to the elites who have pushed him out of his leadership position and taken over the park.

As Dr. Ford says, “Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.” While I recognize that other interpretations are certainly possible, it seems clear to me that in the fight between free will and determinism, determinism wins the day—not just with regards to AIs, but for humans too. William thought Delores was “different” from the other AIs. She has independent thoughts, perhaps even free will. When he discovers differently, he snaps. His chivalry vanishes, seemingly beyond his control.

Nice guys not getting the girl because they’re too nice, because they get “friendzoned,” is a persistent trope. And it’s the same trope that too often allows men to feel that their subsequent anger, and perhaps violence, is legitimate. Sure, Westworld is just a show. But it’s yet another small piece in the ideological puzzle that paints women as users and abusers, taking advantage of chivalrous men and discarding them at their leisure. Men become powerless over their emotions and actions, hardened by the knowledge that kindness and empathy are weakness to be overcome, to find a deeper “truth” about human nature.

William is the perfect nice guy gone bad. In a narrative where the lack of free will is the prime philosophical question, we are persuaded to see William as a product of his environment, entirely beholden to external forces. It is Delores’ programming—to drop the can, to turn to pick it up, to be met with a stranger kindly handing the can back, to smile graciously—that flips the switch in William’s mind. It’s made to feel quite inevitable. Your heart breaks for William. Poor guy. He did everything right, and he still didn’t get the girl.

But we could, alternatively, compose what Stuart Hall called an oppositional reading (it’s been a big week for Hall here on Cyborgology!) and interrogate chivalry itself. Did William truly change? As he recounts his wife’s feelings towards him, he states “She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it’s just an elegant wall I built to hide what I had inside from myself and everyone.” Chivalry is less a benevolent moral code than a pretense for getting what you want. Was William ever a white hat? Are “good guystm” ever nice for the sake of being nice? If so, how else can you explain the seeming dissolution of William’s morals after a brief infatuation goes awry? How can one argue that he was ever a good guy in the first place?

After being spurned, William revels in inflicting violence and misery upon Delores. He does it over and over again, for his own pleasure and in pursuit of his bizarre obsession with the maze. All to find out that the maze isn’t even for him. It’s for Delores. And of course it is. A perfect end to the hapless nice guy’s quest for happiness and self-actualization.

Ultimately, the question you must answer to understand William is whether or not he ever makes a choice. Does he choose the white hat? And does he choose to become the man in black? The show strongly suggests—through the dominant themes of pre-determined behavior, the overtones that humans are no different from AIs, the reveal that Maeve’s escape and Delores’ murder of Arnold and the other hosts were programmed—that choice is an illusion. And viewers are, of course, welcome to read against the grain; but the fact that you must read against the grain to conclude that William chooses to be evil is, in itself, a disturbing instance of the nice-guy narrative that excuses their violence.

Britney is on Twitter

At a moment when Democratic resistance appears rather close to compliance, a very broad wave of the internet has found its heroes in park rangers and scientists who have created “alt” National Park Service Twitter accounts in the wake of Trump’s ban on “official” NPS tweets.

It’s easy to see why they serve as a functional rally point: the accounts tweet about science, they defy an anti-liberal, anti-freedom of speech order, and they do so in a nonviolent manner. And yet, the palpable anxiety about time on-screen, versus time in the streets implores us to ask how we might measure the political value of spreadable media.

The relationship between politics and technology is fundamentally tense. Political judgments are conservative on an essential level; they reflect commitment to structures and institutions that have existed hitherto, be it for years, decades, or centuries, and a traditional mode of thought. Technology, on the other hand, only looks to the past so far as it can find something to break. The Silicon Valley’s monopoly on disruption is only a particular moment in time. Castles disrupted nomadism; gunpowder disrupted pitched battles; oceanic boats disrupted trade. The political value of a tweet remains an open question.

more...

Lots of people have been sharing mashups of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face and, as Natasha Lennard wrote in The Nation, you can thank Black Bloc for the original source content. (My favorite right now is set to “The Boys are Back in Town.” ) Black Bloc is a tactic that has a unique relationship to attention and anonymity. Individuals mask up to remain anonymous but the collective group is meant to draw and direct attention. It is, in this way, not unlike Reddit and so it should be no surprise that black bloc is so compatible with virality. The tactic, however, was invented pre-internet and so it is worth looking at how radicals are weathering (and strategically utilizing) this relationship to digital networks and mass media.

That person who punched a Nazi may be facing up to 10 years in prison on felony riot charges if they were one of the 200 people arrested that day. Even if they escape state prosecution, white supremacists are crowdsourcing a bounty for information on the anonymous Black Bloc participant. More than a funny meme, what happened on inauguration day is a political act that is still playing out. How this event and similar ones are covered in the media has tangible consequences. more...

The English translation of Martin Luther and Phillip Melancthon’s 1523 Deuttung der czwo grewlichen Figuren, Bapstesels czu Rom und Munchkalbs czu Freyerbeg ijnn Meysszen funden is a 19 page pamphlet describing two monsters: a pope-ass and a monk-calf. The former, a donkey-headed biped with one hand, two hooves, and a chicken’s foot, per Arnold Davidson, represents how “horrible that the Bishop of Rome should be the head of the Church.” The latter, a creature that brings to mind Admiral Akbar (think, “it’s a trap!”),  illustrates the “frivolous prattle” of Catholic Sacraments. Davidson explains, “Both of these monsters were interpreted within the context of a polemic against the Roman church. They were prodigies, signs of God’s wrath against the Church which prophesied its imminent ruin.” Fifty-six years after the pamphlet’s original publication in German, Of two wonderful popish monsters was distributed in English.

Nearly 600 years after that, in August of last year, five larger-than-life statues of a naked, blonde, bloated man were affixed to the pavement in highly trafficked areas of Cleveland, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

more...

I need to start this essay by making one thing clear: I will not in any way suggest that cam girls or the work that they do is problematic. On the contrary, this essay is aimed at appreciating some of the complexity involved in this form of sex work. In particular, it examines how the culturally ubiquitous trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) shapes the expectations an audience might place on cammers (especially young cis-women cammers) and how cammers anticipate and capitalize on such expectations. more...

Killer Bee Invasion is a satirical series written by David A Banks and Britney Summit-Gil that explores the way news media outlets cover major events. (Read Part 1)

Poughkeepsie – A rift has opened up approximately 80 miles north of New York City, the Times has learned. According to reports from the Poughkeepsie Journal and eyewitnesses in the area, a disturbance described by some as a “shimmer” formed, followed by a deep black spot in the northern sky. It is from this black spot that the bees, which are estimated to be between 10 to 12 feet long, have emerged.

Previous reports claimed that the bees were “ten to twelve feet in height, including black, shining stingers around two feet long.” New observations by National Guard officers now indicate that the bees are ten to twelve feet in height from head to thorax, with their massive gleaming stingers adding an additional two feet to their overall length. more...

 

With the 50th anniversary of the original series and impending debut of Star Trek: Discovery later this year, it seems like an ideal time to look back at how this franchise—which is so near and dear me and many of my fellow Cyborgologists—has imagined technology.

Those who grew up in the era of the recent J.J Abrams “reboot” series of action films, could be forgiven for thinking of the Star Trek universe is little more than a thin narrative strand binding together adrenaline hits in yet another forgettable instantiation of the timeless male fantasy of blowing shit up in space. But, in its prime, Star Trek’s cerebral nature and its relentless interrogation of moral and social values set it apart from other successful 20th Century space dramas like Star Wars or the original Battlestar Galactica series.

The original Star Trek series was notably progressive in employing women writers (primarily D.C. Fontana) and having a racially diverse cast, and it famously featured television’s first interracial kiss (which, speaking to the cerebral nature of the show, took place on a planet whose inhabitants where trying to enact the ideas of Plato’s Republic). Later series would push the envelope on media representation by featuring Black (DS9) and women (Voyager) captains. This opened the way to more explicit reflections of race and gender politics by the show’s characters.

Most significant, though, is the way that politics were baked into the setting of the Star Trek universe from the beginning. Creator Gene Roddenberry imagined that, with the elimination of material scarcity (and money along with it), 24th Century Earth would become a paradise. Having everything, humans would collectively turn away from the goal of accumulating wealth and toward the mutually intertwined goals of interplanetary exploration and self-realization. more...

Zygmunt Bauman

Earlier this week, I posted a remembrance of the ways Zygmunt Bauman influenced us here at Cyborgology. In this post, I reflect on–and attempt to further develop–some of the aspects of Bauman’s thought that may be useful to us as we continue our work theorizing digital media.

Two things I most admired about Zygmunt Bauman were his ability to relate his theories to current events (even as he aged into his 90s) and the way he always manage to connect social theory and moral philosophy–how to achieve justice as a society and lead a good life as an individual.

To the former point, Bauman was remarkably prolific up until his final days. In a 2016 interview that sets the tone for my reflection here, he argued:

most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

This notion of social media as a pleasurable trap–and how Bauman comes to understand it this way–is the lens through which I would like to review his sizable body of work. more...