Archive for new media studies

Emoticons Stole Your Passivity

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Yep, these guys did.

Yep, these guys did.

We have today progressed far from what Žižek dubbed as one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, that is Charles R. Douglass’s “canned laughter” of 1950s shows. Robert Pfaller, then adapted by Žižek, was the first to recognize the inherent danger of new media — not interactivity that makes us lazy, but interpassivity that prepares us to do “mindless frenetic work” [citation needed]. When we look at comedy shows on television, the laughter does not function as a mere cue to where we should laugh, but it literally laughs for us — we do not have to laugh to feel good about the show. Likewise, the role of the pornstar today is not merely to enact orgasms that titillate us — they literally reach orgasms for us. The point in watching comedies is not to laugh out loud in front of television sets, but to be able to feel the relief of having laughed without doing the embarrassing, tiring act of real laughter. The point in watching porn movies is not even to masturbate, but to be able to feel good even without having to do all the long, tiring sex/masturbation ourselves.

Emoticons are among the ultimate crystallization of this mode. When we type in the :-)) or :-D symbols, is it not true that we never actually laugh out loud ourselves? But it is not that we are lying to our chat/text message partner/s, since there is already an implicit understanding of this going on (though always an understanding of which is already necessarily denied in the presupposition of the act). And, more importantly, after we type in those icons, is it not true that we, although not having laughed out loud ourselves, nevertheless feel relieved and enjoyed the chat session as though both/all sides laughed and had a good time? Of course, it does not have to be emoticons; it can be all the LOL variations or a simple “hahahaha”. But the point here is clear — we never laugh like that in reality. We do not need to.

So here is a simple question: why all the fuss? Why do we need our emoticons to laugh for us — can’t we just be happy without all the exaggerated digital laughters (even rolling on the floor!)? Of course, when you chat without enough emoticons, you will simply be perceived as cold, distant, etc. So, there is a necessity demanded by a digital big Other to use emoticons, to indicate that we are somehow always laughing out loud when interacting with another.

The worst thing about emoticons is that they do not only indicate laughter, but almost every expression imaginable; from waving hands to that miserable dancing banana. Of course, we have all the explicit promise of being able to express ourselves more, to compensate (warmth, understanding, etc.) for the loss of voice intonations, etc. But is it not rather the implicit promise that seduce us; the promise to be able to stay distant without any presupposed other knowing it? Rather than “You can show the other how you are now laughing out loud!” is it not more precise to say “You can now let go of all the tiring idle banter and moral injunction to be continuously friendly without the other knowing about it!” Let’s face it: laughing and smiling all the time when we meet people — the standard American big Other — is tiring.

Emoticons, I believe, with all its so-called interactive dimensions, is a much greater invention than canned laughter due to its direct role in multiple-way communication. We can now maintain the posture of being friendly and still obey the standard superego of self-expression and individuality without having to really do it. We do not have to laugh, or cry, or blush, or wave hands, or dance in jubilation. We do not even have to listen (feel free to work and read and not really listen as long as you do not close the chat window!). We only need to be active in texting back, with no more necessity for real passive response. The computer is already passive in our place.

Arse Elektronika 2008 Report!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Eating My Cake and Having It Too

Eating My Cake and Having It Too

So I was not able to get permission to enter the US for Arse Elektronika, but as host Johannes Grenzfurthner put it, we managed to trick the State department by filming my lecture beforehand and doing a telepresence via Skype connection. Don’t know Arse Elektronika? Check these links out:

Click here if you want yet more links.

And it was wonderful! I kept following Bonnie Ruberg’s twitter-updates on the event and watched as dozens of photos are being uploaded, and of course the MP3 recordings of the talk. You can find all of the MP3s here, but of course, I’ll be generous and provide a direct link to my talk and the massive all-star closure panel, in which I had the chance to clarify certain things I left out in the original talk. Here they are:

Bonni Rambatan — From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality:
MP3 | Video | Lecture Notes

Arse Elektronika 2008 Closure Panel, featuring all participants:

There is also a launching of Pr0nnovation? monochrom’s Arse Elektronika Anthology, and of course I’m getting my copy. Get yours here for $25.

And, last but not least, Flickr photos!

But ah, if you also have photos or want to browse more, just join the Arse Elektronika 2008 Flickr group!

So yeah, it was a lot of fun — very sexy, truly geeky, and all the time critical and intriguing. Though I cannot say I fully agree and endorse all the views of the speakers, nonetheless they are smart people worth listening to, far from your usual daily hedonist club. I am very glad that the Skype telepresence and filmed lecture screening went well (not to mention properly fitting the futuristic sci-fi setting!).

The only downside, though (beside missing all the live physical fun), is that it turns out to be pretty hard to predict how long you should talk and how detailed you have to explain things, since I cannot see the audience’s expression. In hindsight, I don’t think I did too well on the Q&A. My paranoid fantasy of me never getting my real point across still haunts. But I guess satisfactory audience understanding is my objet a, much as the electric sheep is the object-cause of desire for your stereotypical android.

UPDATE (10/06): Oh, and hey, there is now a picture of my televised self taken by Mela Mikes. Also, my talk is now available on TPM’s YouTube channel. Go and watch it if you haven’t, TPM readers! ;)

Okami: Divine Subjects and Image-Instruments

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan


OK, most of you probably know that I’m a hardcore Wii fan by now, so I’m guessing it’s about time to put the gaming geek of myself to elucidate my Lacanian new media theories. One of the core concepts of my thesis is a new subjective experience I call the divine subject. This notion of transcendent subjective experience made possible by technology has its roots in cybernetics and the Macy conferences of the 20th century, as Katherine Hayles has explained in her 1999 book How We Became Posthuman. The postmodern notion of contingent bodies and posthuman transformations is not, as many may argue, a rejection of the liberal humanist subject of Enlightenment (“ethics is deconstructed with biotechnology,” “it’s all about the dehumanizing market,” etc.), but instead, as John Searle is well aware, a faithful move to take the Cartesian subject one step further: a desperate move to preserve the cogito under postmodernity — precisely because thought is the only viable experience, we need no more bodies!

What better piece of literature to illustrate the divinity of the subject than Okami, a game in which you actually take control of God herself? This game in which your avatar is the Japanese sun God, Okami Amaterasu (taking the form of the white wolf avatar, Shiranui), has as its core element the ability for players to create objects in the scenes by painting on them directly — you create suns by painting circles in skies, stars by painting dots, cut enemies by painting slashes, etc. This is a perfect example of what Lev Manovich calls the transformation from image to image-instruments. With the advent of the computer age, signifiers now has a double role: not only a part of the sign, but also something to be acted upon, a portal to another dimension.

What to say of today’s world of signs? It is no longer the Baudrillardian object-dominated world of simulacra in which subjects are fashionably dead, but a world in which the simulacra is an extension of subjective experience. The correct way to read the popular postmodern dystopia in which even our bodies is nothing but a simulacra is not that we are dead, reduced to mere Foucauldian sand imprints, but the opposite one: every simulacra may be our body. (Is this not the ultimate dream of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, etc?) With Žižek, the (Cartesian) subject is not dead, but preserved through its reflexivity.

Okami perfectly illustrates my thesis: with signifiers evolving from its original purpose to include a role as portals of actions, with subjects depending more and more on avatars (the contingent simulacra body, explained further on my theories of the psychoanalytic monitor phase) both for social interaction and individual enjoyment, it is only prudent to note the possibility that there is an evolution going on in the dialectics of the Symbolic and Imaginary orders. Does the divine paintbrush of Okami not show that the Imaginary self may very well lie outside the visible biological self?

Arse Elektronika 2008 Coming Up!

Posted in Announcements! with tags , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Arse Elektronika 2008

Arse Elektronika 2008

Hi, TPM readers! I’m excited to announce that Arse Elektronika 2008 is coming up in less than three weeks! If you happen to be either 1) a culture/sex/tech theorist, 2) a sexy geek, or 3) a geeky pervert and are in or near San Francisco in September 25th to 28th, go and grab your tickets now because it will be an event you wouldn’t want to miss out!

Since I am all three above, I am privileged enough to be a speaker, and I’ll be presenting my latest research paper titled “From Computer-Mediated Sex to Computer-Generated Sexuality: An Outlook on the Posthuman Sexual Trope” (abstract available here — scroll down to my name) on the final day (September 28th) at 1 PM. I had a little trouble coming to the States last time (the country won’t let me in), but this time things should (hopefully) work out.

For those of you who cannot come, I will post a download link to my lecture notes in PDF on this website after the event is over. An audio recording of my lecture will also be available at a later time.

Stay tuned to The Posthuman Marxist, and see you in San Francisco!



And this also means I will be canceling ALL my future appearances in the United States indefinitely. I cannot tell you how this news frustrates me. But I will continue to provide links to resources on this website.

The Dora Democracy

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Dora the Explorer

Dora the Explorer

Our democracy today feels more and more like a derivation of the popular children’s show Dora the Explorer. The reason for this is clear: note how Dora interacts with the children as though they really have a role to play. Recall her catchphrase, in her awfully cute voice: “We could not have done it without your help!” — does this not echo our ironic presupposed faith today that our false democracy could not be possible without our help? In fact, as the show, it very well is possible.

The irony, of course, does not stop there. Are we not actually aware that there is something very wrong with democracy, as the viewers of Dora are aware that they are only playing games with the show (ask any children, they are not idiots)? The problem is thus not that our democracy is a false one, but how we react to the fact as such. Like watching Dora, the falseness of democracy itself seems to me to become more and more of a mere spectacle to today’s society — part of the entertainment comes from assuming that other subjects really believe in the spectacle. The problem is not that the show is purely a fake — if anything, we prefer fakes, in more senses than one — but that we view ourselves as subjects supposed to enjoy instead of active political agents, the latter replaced by a fantasy of subjects supposed to believe, i.e. the presupposed other children with whom Dora and Boots would not have made it past the three obstacles.

Let us go a little bit deeper and notice how cursors play a significant role in the show: Dora the Explorer introduces children to cyberculture. But at the same time, recall it’s message: your interaction is merely a fake (even in the games, I would argue, that take the form of non-avatarial play, but I will not develop that here) but nevertheless you must enjoy this fakeness! Topped with other warning messages in original DVDs and the now popular anti-piracy curriculum for kids, it seems that we are never supposed to actually play an active role in what seems to be an interactive realm.

I’m not putting up a case against Dora specifically here — in fact I actually like the show — but what I intend to bring into light here is that we should never dismiss the inherent ideologies that cultural artifacts for children play, despite its apparent cuteness and political correctness (the Hispanic Dora, etc.). If anything, we should not reject the conservative Right’s incessant ramblings of “What are they teaching children these days?” but instead turn the question around against them.

Psychoanalysis, All too Human

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Family failing of philosophers: All philosophers have the common failing of starting out from man as he is now and thinking they can reach their goal through an analysis of him. They involuntarily think of ‘man’ as an aeterna veritas, as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things. Everything the philosopher has declared about man is, however, at bottom no more than a testimony as to the man of a very limited period of time. Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All too Human

We all know that historical consciousness starts in the beginning of the 19th century with Hegel, before strongly re-emphasized by Marx and Nietzsche in the late 19th century. But Hegel never got around to reading On the Origin of Species, which was published 28 years after his death. The stupid straightforward question I would like to pose is thus embarrassingly simple: what would Hegel have thought if he had had a chance to read it? What if he had books of Dawkins beside his collection of Thucydides lying on his bookshelf? Would he perhaps extrapolate his Phenomenology of Spirit to a Phenomenology of Species?

When did the self begin? When did the unconscious begin? When did Freudian triad and Lacanian Borommean rings begin? Psychoanalysis is bound to be hit by these questions, as new researches show mirror recognition in animals and robots, various perverse acts of animals (homosexuality, oral sex, prostitution, even necrophilia), beside older findings of animal dreams and stress disorders. While I am old enough to not entertain the possibility of psychoanalytic therapy for a poop-eating dog or your future Roomba, psychoanalysis for me has so much more to do than individual therapy and, as such, is the basis of my philosophical ontology.

A xenolinguistic psychoanalysis is thus only prudent considering the fact that we are currently in the midst of news about all the achievements of bioengineering and cybernetics (the Haylesian posthuman, the Mitchellian age of biocybernetic reproduction). Lacan was certainly aware of a historical sense of man, as were his intellectual contemporaries — but he was not, I would claim, at the very least, entertaining the possibility of a serious interrogation on Love and Sex with Robots. A recurring subject in my researches is thus an evolutionary Lacanian psychoanalysis by way of a deeper linguistic and communicational research in new realms — new media, psychedelics, animal communication, artificial intelligence, virtual sex….

As with Hegel and Nietzsche, we cannot forget that man has become. If we are to make a comprehensive cognitive mapping, we should avoid falling into the trap of non-historicity, or, in this posthuman age, the trap of non-evolutionarity. Modifying Nietzsche, I would claim that lack of evolutionary sense is the family failing of all psychoanalysts.

Hello, World!

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

“Hello, World!” is the standard opening template of the WordPress blog. It is also the standard template for test runs of computer language. It is fascinating – to me, this statement is precisely the mark of the beginning of the posthuman. Humans greeting the entirety of the world using a computer – precisely such is the beginning of how we became posthuman. “Hello World!” shifts the subject of action of saying “Hello” not only to the other side of the screen, but also a paradigm that this other side of the screen is so much more superior than our biological side, perhaps even divinely so, seeing the grandeur of the object. If “Enjoy!” is the superego of the postmodern society, as Slavoj Žižek put it, I would argue that “Hello, World!” is the superego of a society of the Postmodern 2.0, with all its trends of user-generated content and increasing connectivity and user-friendliness. It is not even an understatement, I am tempted to claim, that “Hello World!” is, simply, pure ideology. In a Marxist definition that ideology is what society does without realizing that they are doing it, does this simple sentence not precisely reflect today’s injunction to be connected, to say “Hello” to the world? It is no longer a voyeuristic society, as Baudrillard put it, but an exhibitionist one – not a consumerist society, but – to use Don Tapscott’s term – a prosumerist one. Where do we lie in this society? What does “Hello, World!” promise us? If the postmodern presents false freedom and false cynicism, does Postmodern 2.0 give us a false sense of social connectivity and open public sphere? More fundamentally, in Lacanian speak, to what imaginary world are we saying “Hello,” using what kind of imaginary self? Are we still living in the same postmodern world of simulacra, or has the proliferation of interactive New Media shifted us into yet another different world, a new stage of culture, one of New Simulacra? And, more importantly, what subject position does the famed simple sentence “Hello, World!” assume? What are its implications for our cultural, political, and biological life? What are we?

Hello, World, and welcome to the age of the posthuman :)