Archive for gender studies

Islam, Masculinity, and Homoerotica

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Muslim holy month of Ramadhan is finally over. If there is a bizarre lesson to be learned, I think it is to problematize how the month always becomes the gayest of the year. Now in case you are one of those who would get offended and start imagining hate mail and violent attacks, cool down for a moment and take a look at the category this is posted under. Yes, I am here not talking about Islam in general, but instead of films produced specifically under the Islamic context in Indonesia. Whether this applies to other Islamic films as well will need more analysis on my part (or if you have any info, feel free to comment away!).

In Indonesia, there is every year films produced specifically for the month of Ramadhan. What is of particular interest to me is how in many of those films the entire coordinates of masculinity change. One needs not be an expert to notice how, suddenly, we have all sorts of stupid themes of a friendship of two men who go on an adventure helping people out and finding the meaning of life, etc. We no longer have the standard stereotype of men with all the toughness and individuality that poke fun at friends, women, and life in general. Instead, we have a couple of men that are casual but never poke too much fun at anything if that may cause them to miss out on God’s more important issues — and all the while the two of them go out and do everything (“discover life’s meaning”) together.

Yes, I understand that of course the men are not homosexual, they sometimes depicted having interest in women, even in some cases their friendship is nothing but a cause of them being brothers, etc. But nonetheless the spectacle remains: two men always loyally traveling together in romantic primeval settings (nature, villages, tranquil city spaces, small mosques, etc.) telling their what life and truth means to one another — unless depicting characters who are gay, would one such a setting be possible in a homophobic society such as the United States?

Islam becomes interesting when looked at this way. All the terrorism associated today with Islam in fact could not apply to these “soft male” film personas — for terrorism, one needs a militaristic, dominant masculinity. In many Muslim films, on the other hand, one gets figures of an effeminate, careful male and his couple companion as the main characters.

Who are the audience of the films? Presumably, as with all TV drama series, 80% of them are women. So I am not saying that these are films made specifically for sexually repressed men to secretly fantasize homosexual activities. The phenomena is much more complex — something more resembling homoerotic fanfiction of Japanese manga, more commonly known as yaoi, in the sense that it is women who enjoy them more. Does the Freudian notion of women constantly fantasizing themselves to be men not resonate perfectly in such phenomena?

It turns out that Islamic films give a perfect chance to do this, by giving fiction contexts that enact a romantic, emotional bonding of two men under a search of a transcendent, spiritual mysticism — a perfect female fantasy. And what do we have here? Suddenly, all the gender questions arising within the complicity of Islam, erotica, and film culture becomes much more interesting and problematic. So much for religious homophobia!

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The Uncanny Valley of Non-Feminine

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Slavoj Žižek once mentioned that the true horror of confronting one’s doppelgänger (Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, etc.) is the horror of knowing that one may actually exist out there [citation needed]. This can be understood in the Humean sense, he said, that what the subject knows of himself is that he does not exist but as suppositions of the Other, an empty hole in the topology of social reality, Žižek’s “empty cogito“. Does the same not hold true for society at large when confronted with a prospect of its clones in the form of humanoid artificial intelligence subjects? The true horror of humanoid robots, Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley, resides in the realm of realizing that we may actually exist fully objectively. It is the horror of the disappearance of lack, the horror of realizing that we may not have a lack after all.

As Katherine Hayles (1999:30) noted, although for Lacan language is not a code, for computers language is perfectly a code. Computer language recognizes symbols purely through computational models with one-to-one correspondence between the signifier and the signified. Here, lack does not have a place. Thus, the cogito of the cyborg is purely a cogito of existence, not an empty one. The uncanny valley is thus the condition in which we have to confront this horror of excessive non-humanity — a robot purely in the form of a human being, machines but existing only qua social human being.

If there exists subjects to which language is a code, we are in very deep trouble. One very certain trouble we directly run into is the Lacanian sexuation: a female AI — the gynoid — is not a barred Other, for we understand her mechanisms perfectly. If “the” woman does not exist, “the” gynoid exists qua computerized cognition. (Even, one may go as far to say that cloning and/or neurobiology will eventually make it possible to produce “the” woman.) In computer codes, we no longer have cognitive functions of x which “does not cease not to write itself”, nor the x which “ceases not to write itself” — all conditions must be preprogrammed in functions of if x then y. Coding is an act of masculine writing. The cyborg is both free of castration but not a feminine as such, for it is a phallic subject and and subject to mutation — a non-feminine. The paradox of mutation is of course the fact that although it has a function of castration, it in fact has a probability for the subject to spawn a greater phallus than the one he has just lost. The uncanny valley is the horrific gap of the experience of the non-feminine.

All this is not science fiction. There has recently been a research on the engendering of the Semantic Web — which is just one among the many gender research in new media. It is notions like these that further signify how new code languages (artificial intelligence, semantic web, etc), fundamentally different from human language and cognition, will undoubtedly trouble the sexuation of contemporary society. As Foucault was already well aware, sex is subject to historical change — only this time, the change may be so much more fundamentally so.