Jordan Crandall jcrandall at ucsd.edu
Fri Jun 29 19:50:21 EDT 2007

In our cultural landscape of blogs, webcams, profiles, live journals, and
videosharing sites, the intimate lives of everyday people are on parade
for all to see.  One could say that a new culture of erotic exposure and
display is on the ascendance, fueled by the impulse to reveal the self,
and streamlined by DIY media technologies.  In many ways this culture
would seem to be less a representational than a presentational one, where
we are compelled to solicit the attention of others, act for unseen eyes,
and develop new forms of connective intensity -- as if this were somehow
the very condition of our continued existence, the marker of our worth. 
Within this new culture of self-exposure, one could say that the dream of
panoptic power has vanished, or reversed course.  Does the drive to
willingly display the self constitute a surrender to the controlling gaze,
or simply a shift in the dynamic of the game?  For within these
presentational environments, performance and role-playing reign supreme,
and new forms of subjectivity and identity emerge.

These new cultures of self-display challenge us to rethink foundational
concepts in film and media theory and, consequently, to rethink the very
conditions of our approach.  For clearly these cultures are not
necessarily those of mastery and visual pleasure.  They do not resolve
easily to questions of perception, power, and language.  They are cultures
of showing as much as those of watching.  Instead of a reliance on
questions of spectatorship, representation, and scopic power, we are
challenged to foreground issues of performance, affect, and display. 
Instead of a privileging of reception, we are challenged to incorporate
authorial intent or originary motivation.  For these new media phenomena
are not only texts to be read:  they are solicitations, conductive
excitations, embedded within networks of erotic exchange.  There are
pleasures and affective stimulations that motivate these new acts of
connection, sharing, and erotic display, for all players on the circuits
of production and reception, including both displayer and watcher.  Their
texts must not only be decoded but their circuits traversed, in implicated
ways that destabilize any one-way analysis and its deflections of
libidinous investment.

There is much to be gained in rethinking the dynamic between voyeurism and
exhibitionism, compensating for the under-theorization of the latter.  In
film theory, concepts of "attraction" have provided useful tools in
thinking forms of exhibitionistic address that counter the voyeuristic
orientation of film analysis.  In contrast to the mechanisms of
maintaining a coherent narrative world, transporting the viewer into
another time and space, attractions are those phenomena that directly
solicit the viewer's attention in the here-and-now.  They can take the
form of narrative asides, spoken in confidence to the viewer outside of
the diegetic space; as spectacles for their own sake; or as shots which
exist purely to titillate the viewer, having no function in the furthering
of the narrative.  They prompt modes of apprehension that rely less on
discursive flow than on direct transmissions that arouse or tease the
viewer, engaging the immediacy of the bodily sensorium.  In this way they
are similar to the way that affects can counter meanings.

In the case of new media of self-exposure, sharing, and erotic display,
one could suggest that the emblematic "pose" functions as such an
attractor.  The pose is a form of exhibitionistic spectacle -- direct
address, performative display, or bodily stimulus -- that stands in
contrast to the narrative or conversational flow of a social world,
whether real or imaginary.  It bypasses demands for narrative coherency
and instead conducts transversal operations at the level of both the
semiotic and the sensational, the reflective and the transmissive.  It
solicits attention while at the same time functions as portal or conduit
for a reciprocal flow:  a conductive excitation geared to develop a degree
of connective intensity.

Since the pose feeds on reciprocality, it can prompt the changing of roles
and positions.  In this way it can be seen as a catalyst for
identity-formations.  Especially as witnessed in the database-driven
format of the online profile within which the pose is often embedded,
identity is performed through the adoption of specific codes (whether
gender or otherwise).  One is called upon to play roles in order to assume
symbolic mandates, to the extent that "impersonation" becomes a core act
of self-identification.  Yet the pose does not only operate extensively
but intensively, and such "impersonations" arise equally through the
internalized transmission of affects.  Emergent forms of identity arise
through flows of affective resonance that are themselves a powerful social
and subjectifying force.

Such impersonations and internalizations can be understood to be driven by
lack or by abundance.  As a performative player, we are driven by a
primary lack at the core of the psychic apparatus.  It compels us to seek
fulfillment through the gaze of the other:  the elementary fantasmatic
scene of being looked at (validated) by an unseen presence.  The imagined
gaze observing us becomes a kind of ontological guarantee of our being. 
It serves to put us in our place -- to subject us.  In this way, erotic
cultures of exposure and display can be seen as driven by the need to
perform for the gaze -- the Big Other, the symbolic order -- and therefore
to write themselves into existence.  Yet at the same time, these
insertions of the self into the symbolic order can be regarded as a way of
channeling or dissipating surplus energy.  From such a viewpoint, the
connective intensities that drive these new forms of self-exposure and
display are those of expending excess, and the allure of showing could
parallel that of sacrificing.  The pose, as event-portal, becomes a
double-edged solicitor.

Jordan Crandall

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