Monday, June 29, 2009

Feminism at a Crossroads:: Interactive Visual Misogyny or Harmless Representation?

I was clearing out my bookmarks in Safari, as I'm trying to shift to using Del.ici.ous more, and I came across this from 2006::

Play Mona The Ragdoll Game

It's a demo of a game development engine by fisix and Mona is their "mascot." There are other, less salacious demos and I'm not that surprised it didn't get on the radar of, given how this was far from the beaten path of the Internet, but it would have been interesting to see readers' reactions given their penchant for finding and deliberating on stuff of this ilk. Here's a link to an explanation of the technology behind it and here's a video showing the "possibilities"::

I realize the audience was not intended to be end-users, but developers, but the semiotics of this are interesting and perhaps a bit indicative of the culture of production, as this developers' discussion thread makes clear.

In the era of Bruno, can anything be offensive anymore? Some might argue that Mona the mascot is more sad than offensive misogyny. Is it, though? Last year, Grand Theft Auto leveraged its notoriousness for free publicity for its games where players can kill prostitutes.

In this era where Grand Theft Auto is chastized for misogyny on Feministing, I wonder how long this type of stuff will prevail. Feminism doesn't seem to be in agreement, as here's a Salon Broadsheet article offering an alternative view to the Feministing one. Here's a quote from the author, Tracy Clark-Flory::
"She [Susannah Breslin of Reverse Cowgirl] isn't saying that all men have these fantasies, but rather that some men -- perhaps, many men -- do. As Breslin wrote during an e-mail back-and-forth with me, whether you "agree" or "disagree" with virtual prostitute killing is irrelevant; the fact is that these intensely politically incorrect fantasies do exist and by ignoring that fact -- or blaming it on the patriarchy -- we work against understanding them. "

Of course, in GTA, you can't always count on the avatars not pushing back::

So, what is the effect of representations of misogynist actions/art/performances? Taking a symbolic interactionist {SI} perspective might be an interesting way to stimulate thinking on this, rather than a back-and-forth on the cause and effect of the interactive imagery.

Taking a simple, old-school SI framework by Herbert Blumer ::
  1. We act upon things on the basis of the meanings we ascribe to them
  2. Meanings of those things arise from social interactions we have with others and society
  3. Meanings are engaged upon and moderated through our interpretations of these things
So, if we look at such imagery, can we answer the following questions::
  1. What are the meanings of these images as symbols? How are they contextualized? What about differences in perceptions?
  2. What about the interplay of these images in everyday interactions? What is and is not acceptable? What should and should not be acceptable? What are the consequences for using or negating these images?
  3. How do various people interpret these images? Where's the line between being a matter of taste and being a harmful presence?
In the current era of feminism, I think these are confusing times and precisely why there is so much varying opinion among feminists on issues like the killing of prostitutes in GTA. One does not want to appear shrill, but on the other hand, where are the cultural guideposts?

So, at the end of the day, is this offensive? Harmful? No big whoop?

Twitterversion:: #newblog on #oldstuff. #videogames & #misogyny, the #feminist implications? can symbolic interactionism help? #sociology @Prof_K

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