Sunday, February 24, 2008

Identity Tourism and Americana

When I was in High School, a friend of mine made a very astute observation about white male middle class ego. He said, “ in our lifetime, guys like us went from bragging about how much horsepower their cars have to how much RAM and Memory their computers contain.” I didn’t realize it when he said it; but it eventually sunk in what he meant by cultural shift and control on both a domestic and international scale. White Americana has trickled its racist notions into the pervasive stream of ideology that dominates new media communication. Those white kids that used to fix up their cars now sit in a cubicle and create or play video games. And these white consumers then become the starting point for Nakamura’s Cybertyping when cyber identity tourism becomes a mainstay of game play.

I will give a personal example: I just bought the game Rockband for my Playstation. The first thing I do when I start my world tour is to create a character. What is interesting about the profile creation interfaces is that there is an assumption that race is not significant—it is merely coincidental. The assumption is that one creates a type of ‘Rocker.’ However, these rockers fall into the category of typically ‘white rockers’: Punk, Metal, Goth, Rock. Hence, the stereotypical outfits of white rockers are available to create your character. There is the ability to change the color of skin on the character, but the facial types are restricted to assumed rock facial types, like ‘pixie’ for women (a very thin face) and ‘meat head’ for men (a very thick face).

In its apparent avoidance of race, Rockband solidifies that white people own the profiles of rock n’ roll. It is this type of cybertyping that makes new media susceptible to subtle forms of overt racism. Of course, this happens all the time in profile creation interfaces. They are a space for identity tourism that both solidify dominant ideology and allow for blackface and cross-dressing among white male gamers.

1 comment:

kristin said...

I like your thoughts on cybertyping here, but more than anything this quote got me thinking:

"in our lifetime, guys like us went from bragging about how much horsepower their cars have to how much RAM and Memory their computers contain."

I immediately thought of my two male cousins and how this hasn't changed for them. That is, technology left them behind and they're still bragging about how much horsepower their cars have. I wonder, in this quote, who the "guys like us" are..that is, who's the "us" that computer technology swept up and who's the "them" that got left behind? Lucas and Brad (said cousins) went to the HS I went to which was crazy poor and rural and we all learned to type on typewriters and only got computers when I was in my senior year and they had already graduated. My family pushed me to go to college, so I left and was forced to learn technology but for them, but their family didn't expect this and instead expected them to stay near the family and get good blue collar jobs. They did, and they're doing really well for themselves (Lucas actually runs turbines at a local hydroelectric facility and probably makes more than I do) but.... they do not use computers. They have sweet old cars and amazing 4-wheelers and work on the outboards on their boats and....their technology literacy is in different places but I think in part when the shift happened, it brought some with and left some behind. Then again, if you were to show up at Partenen's bar in Dollar Bay, Michigan and not know anything about horsepower, you would be the one left behind.

I'm not sure what this means exactly, but it got my brain thinking about the haves and havenots, but also how those terms are really dependent on the climate within which one exists.

Thanks for the brain fuel.