An excerpt from our new book with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light, NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media, is up at Literary Hub, just here. With the title, “What does ‘NSFW’ Mean in the Age of Social Media?”, it’s actually the first part of our chapter on dick pics and looks at the different roles that humor and gendered naked bodies play in the viral logics of social media.
Edited by Anne Fleig and Christian von Scheve, Public Spheres of Resonance: Constellations of Affect and Language, is out with Routledge. It has a fabulous lineup, from Anna Gibbs to Britta Timm Knudsen and Ann Cvetkovich. And me! My contribution is titled “Resonant Networks: On Affect and Social Media” and, well, asks how the concept of resonance may work in studies of social media. This is the intro/abstract:
In an era of clickbait journalism, Twitter storms, and viral social media campaigns varying from social protest to commodity promotion, it has become strikingly clear that networked communications are not merely about critical rational exchange or functional information retrieval, but equally – and perhaps even more explicitly – an issue of affective exchanges and connections of both the fleeting and more lasting kind. As argued in this chapter, the notion of affective resonance provides a means of accounting for encounters with the world in which bodies move from one state to another, and possibly become transformed in the process. This conceptualization is hardly specific to online phenomena as such, and it is used here to explore affective encounters between people, networks, interfaces, apps, devices, digital images, sounds, and texts in the context of social media. Moving from my own considerations of resonance in connection with online pornography to examinations of the role, both pronounced and not, that affect has played in Internet research, this chapter asks how affect matters and makes things matter in a contemporary media landscape driven by the quests for attention, viral circulation, and affective stickiness.
Edited by the one and only Ricky Varghese, and in the making for quite a while, RAW: PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking is freshly out from University of Regina Press. It includes “Strange optimism: Queer rage as visceral ethics”, my exchange with Paul Morris of Treasure Island Media looking at how the notion of ethics might map onto their production practices and Paul’s career in pornography more generally. I continue to believe that we need more dialogue with people producing the objects we study, are we to better understand how they perceive the significance, context and purpose of it all. Working with Paul is always surprising and pleasurable – and of course this book has the best cover.
In a surprising turn of events, I will get to interact with game studies galore during the coming academic year. In October, I’ll be keynote for the 13th Philosophy of Computer Games conference, “Aesthetics of Computer Games” in St. Petersburg and, next June, at DiGRA 2020, “Play is Everywhere”, in Tampere. Very exciting, and just a tad intimidating, given that I am no game studies scholar. But I’ll play!
Edited by Anne Graefer for Palgrave, Media and the Politics of Offence is very freshly out, and timely: “The contributors share a concern about the complex and ambiguous nature of offence as well as about the different ways in which this so-called ‘negative affect’ comes to matter in our everyday and socio-political lives. Through a series of instructive case studies of recent media provocations, the authors illustrate how being offended is more than an individual feeling and is, instead, closely tied to political structures and power relations.”
My own contribution is, predictably, on porn: “Pornographers are traditionally assumed to cause, rather than take to offence, yet porn video aggregator sites, production studios and individual professionals alike have recently engaged in protests against proposed work safety regulation, internet policy and legislative measures connected to sexual equality, especially so in the United States. In many instances, this has involved porn companies protecting their own financial interests whereas the economical rationale has remained less lucid in others. Focusing on moments of pornographers acting out in protest, this chapter examines the political economy of offence connected to contemporary pornography. More specifically, it explores how porn companies, and video aggregator sites in particular, make use of social media visibility to articulate their case, how their forms of protest function as PR, as well as how the shift of porn distribution to online platforms has changed the political stakes that all this involves.”
Happy news from the Academy of Finland, which has granted Strategic research funding for our consortium, Intimacy in Data-Driven Culture (IDA, first research period 2019-2022). This is a collaboration between University of Turku (media studies, law, ICT), Tampere University (gender studies, media and communication), Åbo Akademi (law) and Aalto University (design), with a fabulous group of researchers, academic and societal board members, and collaborative stakeholders. As PI, I’m very excited. Here’s the summary:
IDA examines the tension between digitalization, data-driven media, and the possibilities for, and the rights to intimacy in contemporary Finland. As a range of activities from work practices to personal connections are increasingly organized through digital devices, applications, and services that both generate and leak data, considerations of intimacy need to extend to the infrastructural roles that digital technologies play in the functionality of private, social, occupational, and collective lives. It is further crucial to analyse how vulnerabilities connected to digitalization – from the difficulties of privacy management to sexual grooming, harassment, and abuse – impact people differently according to their age, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, ethnicity, and occupational status, and what tactics of resilience and protection they necessitate. And as public concerns on data breaches and third-party uses of personal data have grown increasingly manifest, it is necessary to also ask what ethical methodological possibilities are best suited, or can be developed, for understanding data traffic, user agency, consent, and rights.
Bringing together scholars from media and communication studies, computer science, law, design research, game studies, and gender studies, and combining qualitative inquiry with computational analysis, IDA produces new knowledge and public understanding on the impact of data-driven culture and develops ethical and socially sustainable data practices together with stakeholders ranging from public institutions to NGOs, civic and professional organizations. IDA brings scholars together with stakeholders and opinion leaders and therefore has a unique opportunity to generate high impact societal debate. It critically examines datafication within the current digital economy, asking how it is experienced, made sense of, and resisted, and what solutions remain available for developing socially sustainable data-driven culture.
The consortium first analyses the impact of data-driven culture on people’s different social roles and relations as citizens, immigrants, family members, parents, adolescents, caretakers, employees, entrepreneurs, friends, and sexual partners, the intimacies that these involve, and the vulnerabilities that this gives rise to. Second, the consortium inquires how intimacy functions as a contested resource in data-driven creative labour, public careers, and social connections. Third, IDA explores and develops democratic ways of managing, protecting, sharing, and using personal data, bringing considerations of intimacy together with those concerning privacy.
In my much younger years, I was trained as a film scholar. Even before that, I had a fascination for Yul Brynner’s star image. While I more rarely work on film these days, the Yul fascination has never gone away. Two years ago, I wrote some of this up in an article that’s just out with Screen, titled “Striking poses: the fantastic figure of Yul Brynner” – and, behold, the issue cover comes with a Yul in drag. Since this is a penultimate pet project, the fact makes me very happy. And here’s the abstract:
Since his successful 1956 appearances in the Hollywood films The King and I (Walter Lang), Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille) and Anastasia (Anatole Litvak), Yul Brynner’s star image emerged as elaborately masculine, foreign and exotic, as well as markedly flexible in the range of ethnicities that it was set to convey. Combined with his varying mythical tales of international origins and sexual prowess, Brynner’s intense gestural register and striking body aesthetic, as encapsulated in the trademark baldness, rendered the actor a spectacular sight in 1950s Hollywood. In fact Brynner’s mere physical presence dominates many of his films in ways suggestive of elasticity between acting and presence, role and actor – as well as of the centrality of screen presence more generally. This article explores Brynner’s fantastic cinematic figure image in terms of its fabrication, flexibility and reappearance by examining both his film work and biographical accounts. It tracks transformations and continuities in Brynner’s performance style with specific attention on its idiosyncratic and repetitive elements in terms of pose, gesture and motion, with the aim of foregrounding the role of physicality – both material and represented – in the creation of star image.
Writing up my fifth journal article review this month, and having received many a review during my years in the academia, some observations. Nobody asked for these, but it’s been that kind of a week.
First of all, scholars whine about doing reviews: about the effort that it requires, about the quality of the work on offer, and about many things beyond. Scholars are similarly – and often much more – unhappy about the reviews we get: about the work that the revisions require, about the quality of the reviews on offer, and about many things beyond. This feels like something of a paradox, or at lest a disconnection.
Reviewing is free labor that benefits the publishers in question, whether they are commercial or not, but is also of value to the author. Yet the same people who complain about how hard it is to write reviews complain about the reviewers doing this work with their own articles. All this gets amplified on social media into something of a collective chorus of lament where the reviewers in question may well be reading updates bitching about their apparent lack of understanding, with colleagues chiming in. This is professional sociability but not that of the very attractive kind.
Yes, some reviews seem and are unfair, but this is not my point here. It is only once that I have felt my own article/chapter grow weaker with revisions, making it less than one percent of the reviewed stuff I’ve published to date. A review may seem off but that can also be indicative of how the manuscript reads to someone else, basically making evident the author’s shortcomings in communicating the point they want to make.
Second, just please with the reviewer 2 stuff. I am a paradigmatic reviewer 2 in that I do not hesitate to reject manuscripts or suggest extensive revisions. This is what reviewers are for: we create distinctions between articles since all should, will and cannot be published as they are (or at all). Sometimes the manuscript isn’t there yet, sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense and sometimes it’s just not a very good fit for the journal. Especially in journals enjoying an avalanche of incoming manuscripts, it is no great favor to the author, the editors or other reviewers to suggest “revise and resubmit” just to have the manuscript be caught in that loop and, possibly after a few rounds, be rejected.
And no whining about desk rejects either. We all get them and they are mostly a fast way to communicate that the work is a better fit somewhere else. It does not necessarily speak of the quality of the work: an article desk rejected in one journal can be accepted “as is” in another journal of the same tier. This has happened and, unlike desk rejects, the “publish as is” reviews are as rare as unicorns.
Third, a review may want to avoid 1) telling the author to make use of the reviewer’s own work, unless there’s no way around this; 2) saying that something “has to” or “needs to” be done, for nobody likes to be dictated to when it comes to our own research; 3) rejecting the work without spelling out what the issues are; or 4) venting their own antipathies or resentments concerning the person, the field of study or the methodological/theoretical approach applied.
A reviewer is not a supervisor but this does not mean that reviews cannot be pedagogical, or at least collegial. In a perfect world, the style of the review would invite an encounter where the author realizes that they’ve been read, the reviewer has taken the time to think with them, and the author is hence willing to take seriously at least some of the proposals on offer.
No, this is not all that I have to say on the matter but my review is due. It will not read “publish as is.”
Voilà, at https://blogit.utu.fi/sexualcultures/programme/, you can witness the excitement that the 3rd Sexual Cultures Conference: Play, May 28-29, is going to be. Should you miss out, urgent FOMO can be fought by hanging onto Twitter backchannels with #sexcult19, but that won’t be the same, really. So, see you in Turku!
Forthcoming from MIT Press in October, NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media, co-authored with the fabulous Kylie Jarrett & Ben Light, now has a cover. And great it is; apparently it will be fluorescent! Here’s the book description:
An exploration of how and why social media content is tagged as “not safe for work” and an argument against conflating sexual content with risk.
The hashtag #NSFW (not safe for work) acts as both a warning and an invitation. NSFW tells users, “We dare you to click on this link! And by the way, don’t do it until after work!” Unlike the specificity of movie and television advisories (“suggestive dialogue,” “sexual content”), NSFW signals, nonspecifically, sexually explicit content that ranges from nude selfies to pornography. NSFW looks at how and why social media content is tagged “not safe” and shows how this serves to conflate sexual content and risk. The authors argue that the notion of “unsafety” extends beyond the risk of losing one’s job or being embarrassed at work to an unspecified sense of risk attached to sexually explicit media content and sexual communication in general. The authors examine NSFW practices of tagging and flagging on a range of social media platforms; online pornography and its dependence on technology; user-generated NSFW content—in particular, the dick pic and associated issues of consent, desire, agency, and social power; the deployment of risqué humor in the workplace; and sexist and misogynist online harassment that functions as an enforcer of inequalities. They argue against the categorical effacement of sexual content by means of an all-purpose hashtag and urge us to shift considerations of safety from pictorial properties to issues of context and consent.