Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Nakamura, "Race In/For Cyberspace"

Nakamura, Lisa. "Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet." Vitanza 141-154.

Nakamura's critical account focuses centrally on identity tourism and racial passing.  She reads these issues through a series of events or happenings: 1. the "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon; 2. the matter of character (distinct from person--this is not clarified by Nakamura, but it comes up in Frith and Barthes on "voice"); 3. the exoticization of space and theatricality of trying on characters; 4. nationalistic framings of cyberspace as subject to a "space race" (149); and 5. a failed petition in LambdaMOO on hate-crime (150).  The petition failed because detractors contended that race was a willed disclosure; nobody was forced to disclose race. The absence of race then, as is central to Nakamura's set of concerns, becomes a default position.  LambaMOO, in fact, doesn't even have an option for designating one's race, and when racially suggestive names appeared in the MOO, they were perceived, according to her research, as divisive or contrarian. 

^Consider the timing of this article relative to graphical web browsers.  How does the visual web complicate this?  And how, too, read alongside matters of person and character in voice (increasingly a disembodied voice) add a layer to the problem of "writing" oneself into the MOO?  Is the person/character problem for voice the same as the identity tourism problem for text-based online forums?

"Role-playing sites on the Internet such as LambdaMOO offer their participants programming features such as the ability to physically 'set' one's gender, race, and physical appearance, through which they can, indeed are required to, project a version of the self which is inherently theatrical" (143).

"The borders and frontiers of cyberspace which had previously seemed so amorphous take on a keen sharpness when the enunciation of racial otherness is put into play as performance" (144).

"Identity tourism in cyberspaces like LambdaMOO functions as a fascinating example of the promise of high technology to enhance travel opportunities by redefining what constitutes travel--logging on to a phantasmatic space where one can appropriate exotic identities means that one need never cross a physical border or even leave one's armchair to go on vacation" (148).

"Performing alternative versions of self and race jams the ideology-machine, and facilitates a desirable opening up of what Judith Butler calls 'the difficult future terrain of community'" (153).

Relates sources:
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993.
Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community. New York: Harper-Perennial, 1993.
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