“Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” by Beth E. Kolko and “’Writing the Body’: The Hypertext of Photography” by Kalli Paakspuu both make very interesting points about the portrayal of the body in these various disciplines.
According to Paakspuu,“A photograph as a text may have very different social uses for the photographer and human subject. Meanings are both temporal and embodied within practices that organize consciousness culturally and socially; photographer and subject are positioned differently in these relations and produce alternative sites of power” (187). It is interesting to think about the photographer/subject relationship in terms of power, this is not something that I had really considered prior to reading this. It goes on to say that “The contemporary Native American Art movement uses the term ‘message carriers’ for practitioners using film as a medium to carry messages to their own cultures and to non-Indian and pan-Indian communities” (193). I think that this is a cool thing to call photographers, as they are using photos to carry on a message and a story for future generations.
Kolko’s article on avatars delves into the freedom that people can experience on the internet when they can abandon their real bodies and create a new one to express anything that they want – whether it be a simple change of hair color or a complete change of race or gender. By recreating oneself on the internet a whole new realm of possibility is opened up. The creators of these avatars have a degree of power over the players who select them, because they get to decide what is up for selection.
I found the Mr. and Ms. Tourist section interesting as well. In this Active World there are default male and female avatars that are nondescript and gray. I thought that this lack of individualization was a very interesting choice for avatars. In many cases an avatar can give someone the power to be exactly what or who they wish they were, but in this case, it just serves to get rid of who they really are.
November 24, 2014
Critical Response: “Writing the body” and Representing Bodies in Virtual Space
The articles discussed photographs and expression of the body within a space. Space allows the body to be expressed within the world and how we are able to move about and be. The article ‘Writing the body’: The hypertext of photography by Kalli Paakspuu was interesting to read because it discussed photographs. Photographs are something we can all relate to but often do not think about the significance they have within the future. A photo that has not been viewed in years or even never been viewed before, sparks a memory or idea within the viewer’s mind. In relation to this article photographs are about the “shifting postures images referencing traditional Indigenous knowledge, skills, crafts and arts” (184). The images shown within this reading captured those elements of skill, craft and art within the photographs. You can see the skill and craft that went into making the headwear and clothing. “Photographs invest specific histories and signifying practices in the images they create that serve to recall the past” (193). I think the most interesting thing about this article was the discussion that the storyteller is the one behind the camera. The person taking the photo chooses what gets captured so when it is printed people who are viewing it wonders what the photographer was thinking and why they wanted to show this specific event or occurrences being shown in the photo. While the person is being photographed, they have to let the photographer focus on capturing their image. It seems that photographs were the early forms of storytelling techniques. Many people could look at the same photo yet each person could have something different they perceive from the same image. The photographs served as a carrier of a message and “for the reader, the photograph of a person becomes an encounter with an ‘other’ with sites f recognition or forgetting involving both active and passive components of agency and identity” (190).
The reading “Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” by Beth E. Kolko discusses the use of graphics and visual avatars. With technology becoming a major source of communication for many, the use of computers, emojis and avatars are not a way to avoid face to face communication and interaction. Avatars are designed to act and respond to certain phrases and may not always respond as accurately as a face to face conversation because they do not respond to the tone and way something is said because over text, you cannot get the emotion of what is being said, you just see the words. The human face is able to express many facial expressions that are often not able to be attained with current technology. An interesting idea stated within the article is “when a programmer decides which gestures to render, then, she is deciding not what to communicate, but what possible messages to allow; such decisions dictate the communicative potential of the space” (180). This is interesting because the complexity of the human face cannot be recreated with the current technology so the avatars are unable to make some of the expressions the human face is able to express. The avatar is a small version of what the body takes up in comparison to space.
23 November 2014
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
“Rhetoric of Avatar Design” and “The Hypertext of Photography”
Kalli Paakspuu’s “‘Writing the Body’: The hypertext of photography” and Beth E. Kolko’s “Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” differ in their main subject matter, yet together they represent how visuals can be manipulated by others as well as contain multiple meanings. Specifically, Paakspuu chronicles the art of photography in a historical context, and how these photos can represent a time period through the visual of a person’s body. Furthermore, these visual bodies have been manipulated and posed through photographers, who can and have documented individuals in a biased way, as seen in the photos of Native cultures. Similarly, Kolko’s article demonstrates how virtual avatars are an extension of the culture they were created in and the artists who manufactured them. Therefore, both photographs and avatars may represent a person’s identity or body, but they are also influenced by other forces that choose that representation.
I found Paakspuu’s article to be slightly confusing but compelling once I deciphered the main arguments. Most notably, the discussion of how the bodies of Native Americans have been documented in untruthful or stereotypical ways via photography was enlightening. Paakspuu writes, “A new dimension to Indigenous stereotyping emerged when Indians became collaborators in strange and staged poses in combinations of vanishing noble savages, ‘before’ and ‘after’ portraits and as official delegations with top hatted colonial officials.” This seemed to indicate how photographers were unconcerned about authenticity but rather their imagined visual or perception of what an Indigenous body is meant to look like. On a greater scope, this suggests that all photographs must be considered through their historical contexts as well as the photographer’s mindset, and not just the subject itself. I couldn’t help but think of the emergence of “selfie-culture” which has its own interesting implications, as both the subject and the photographer are the same person and these images are instantaneous; I wonder what this might mean to our history as a whole.
Likewise, Kolko’s article shows the manufacturing of images in the present-day through the concept of virtual avatars. Interestingly, she focuses upon the notion of choice and how the manufactured nature of avatars ultimately denies this choice. She discusses the writings of Lisa Nakamura in regards to the online community of LambdaMOO and how the choice of avatars there seem falsified. Nakumara writes, “While the textual conditions of self-definition and self performance would seem to permit players total freedom, within the boundaries of the written word, to describe themselves in any way they choose, this choice is actually an illusion.” Despite the fact that this discussion is specifically about race, it has applications to every avatar-based community or game. For essentially any situation in which one could “choose” an avatar, that choice is actually an “illusion” because someone had to create these visuals and thus these avatars are a representation of the culture it was created in. We have a choice when selecting an avatar, but only of the choices available – these choices are inherently exclusionary in representing our bodies and identities. Even some of the most technologically advanced “avatars” are flawed in their choices. For example, the video game Skyrim features character creation with multiple fantasy “races” and choices that go as detailed as the placement of a nose or the thickness of eyebrows, but still they have gendered representations fitting societal norms and body types that seem to represent the idealized human figure. On the other hand, these types of avatar creation seem to become more diverse and progressive as time passes, even if they still do not represent everyone; the new Sims game boasts a wide range of body types and personality traits. However, I think Kolko’s arguments are still true as avatar creation on any website or game console seems to be manufactured and exclusionary for the most part, even if we have made some triumphs.
November 24, 2014
Response to “Writing the Body” and “Avatar Design”
Both “Writing the Body: The hypertext of photography” by Kalli Paakspuu and “Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” by Beth E. Kolko focus on bodies outside of the physical realm of the present, but in two very different catagories. Photographs are taken of people, things, and elements in the present physical reality at a particular point for people to see and remember later. They capture a moment. Avatars are fictitious bodies living in a fantasy world. It is an escape from reality. In both cases, bodies are and can be manipulated to what the user wants them to be. Both can give false impressions of reality.
In “Writing the Body,” Paakspuu states, “As a form of non-sequential writing, photography gives the reader semiotic links and emotional pathways to knowledge, identity and memory.” The photograph was an amazing invention. They can replace or enhance text with a distinct image to aid in a desciption of a person, landscape, or anything else. They also bring back memories of the past, and helps new generations understand what life was like years ago; however, like anything else, photographs can be manipulated and changed to fit the photographer's intentions. Bodies can be put into different spaces, and facial features and body shapes can be enhanced and changed. While Photoshop is a relatively new invention, it can change older photographs and has altered people's perceptions of reality, today. The beauty standard has been created based on photographer's ability to manipulate models into a state of “perfection” in pictures. People know that the images are altered and enhanced, yet it is hard to look past the images when they look so real.
“The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” focuses on the creation of animated bodies in a fantasy world. Avatars are similar to altered photographs in the fact that they can dictate how reality is perceived, but they are different due to their fictitious nature. Creators of avatars are not trying to deceive people into thinking that they are real; however, they often use real stereotypes in the depictions of characters. Kolko states, “Conventional markers of femininity such as long hair and breasts are common, as are makers of masculinity like broad shoulders and sports identifiers. Even in worlds where human figures are avoided, sex is visually marked.” Gender stereotypes are extremely common in video games and animated worlds, and people, especially women, are typically hyper-sexualized, as well. This can have a negative effect of the perception of reality.
While there are negative aspects to photographs and avatars, the articles mainly focus on the postive effects and how they have evolved the way in which people communicate ideas and express themselves through other means outside of the present physical reality. Without pictures, nobody would know what life was like during major points in history. These creations have allowed us to be able to communicate regardless of time and space. So while there are negative aspects to all things, the overall effect of photographs and avatars on the world has been positive.
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson
24 November 2014
Within the article, “Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: Rhetoric of Avatar Design” written by Beth E. Kolko, Kolko describes how bodies are viewed in terms of their virtual selves. When a person goes online, people can escape their everyday lives so they now have the ability to be anyone they want. Suddenly, all these stereotypes, racism, and other hurtful words no longer play a role. So, it can be addicting to a person who faces these hurdles in their day-to-day life. While these virtual realities can be helpful to take a step back, it can also be harmful to the body. People can get so caught up in these fake worlds that they start to lose track of their own life. They lose all these necessary skills that make communication important, they lose track of time, can’t keep a job, and do not have facial expressions. People will even sit at their computers for hours just playing these online games. It’s sad when people think that their online lives are better than their reality. It’s understandable that an escape is needed every once in a while, but when that escape becomes ones life than the person will have problems. No matter how long one plays these games online, their problems in life will not disappear. If anything, they could just get worse as the person just sits at the computer ignoring their life. These games make it so easy for a person to lose track of their identity by allowing the person to be anyone they want. The person can choose their gender, race, culture, and features. Anything that a person can’t decide in real life, they have the option of choosing in their virtual lives.
Within the article, “’Writing the body’: The Hypertext of Photography” written by Kalli Paakspuu, Kalli discusses how bodies are represented within photography. Each photograph that is taken, whether professionally or not, tells a story. If one looks closely at an image, one can understand a lot through the eyes, body language, posture, background, location, facial expressions, etc. Photographs can be so important because they can allow people to be transported back into the past. They can relive their old memories, and connect to a person who has passed away many years earlier. Pictures allow for a person to live on forever, even after they have passed away. They make sure that their memory is passed on forever
In “Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design” and “Writing the Body” they both talk about the body in a physical way that is outside of the body itself. It talks about the body though images that are meant to represent the body. One, the avatar, is an image that quite often has been made to represent the body without actually using the physical body to do so. A photograph is made to represent the body by capturing just a moment of the physical body. Both are quite often used to represent a person online. The way that people can represent themselves online can be in any way they want. It doesn’t have to be the way that they are in their everyday lives. They can use these images to become someone else if they really want to. The internet is basically a way for people to escape.
The Avatars article talks about how people feel free to speak more when they are online. Without the physical presence of other people they are more willing to speak up because they don’t have to worry about the judgmental stares that they would get. They also don’t have to worry about people judging them for the way that they look, only by what they say. In physical places people tend to fuss over how they look and how others look. Online no one has to worry how they or someone else looks necessarily. Things like gender and race no longer become a concern. It also talks a lot about the idea of virtual worlds. They talk about how they call it a virtual world and not a virtual reality because these are spaces that only exist on the internet and in our minds but people go on the internet to interact with real people. There is nothing virtual about the actual reality of the interactions that people are having. They are really talking to real people which means that there is some aspect of the interactions being real.
In the photography articles, it talks about how photography has expanded many fields of study. A photograph is one moment in time when a person or thing was captured as it is. That moment is forever like that and it can’t be changed. People can use photographs as a way to connect to the past. They can serve as a public memory and can also reference something more personal. Photographs can be used to connect with people that you could never meet such as ancestors of old political figures. Photography also has a way of addressing the senses.
I'm glad folks are reading my article and thinking about the imagery they themselves create. Thanks so much for your comments.
Responses to and thoughts about course readings