Friday, May 29 • 2:45pm - 4:00pm
Source Code(s): Race & Otherness

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A panel of three papers:

Rise of an Active Voice: Arab Women Utilize Digital Representation
Noha Beydoun

Contemporary Western media has been traditionally limited in the scope of representation of the Middle Eastern world, making the religion of “Islam” interchangeably synonymous with extremist fundamentalism. This distortion has increased with closer involvement of Western nations with the Middle East in war and political strife; however acknowledgement of this narrowing and other strategies Western media use to represent Islam is not new, and in the mid 1970’s, the renowned cultural studies scholar Edward Said gained wide attention in academic theory and cultural critique when he established the concept of orientalism in his famous books Orientalism and subsequently Covering Islam. In his first work Said explored the literary history of what has come to be a divide between the West and the East. In his latter work, Said attributed the tendencies of Western media in representing Islam as strategically central to creating an oriental “other.” Such narrow stereotypical views of the Middle Eastern world continue throughout literature and media today. Among the major targets of the numerous stereotypes are Arab women, who are often painted as oppressed, hidden behind an overbearing veil, and possessing limited agency. With the rise of the digital era, however, Arab women are increasingly utilizing the digital affordances of new technologies.

Adopting Said’s stance, my paper will examine the ways Arab women utilize digital tools to express themselves and take control of their own representation. Accordingly, a specific emphasis on the utilization of Information Communication Technologies and blogging is key to understanding such affordances, especially because of the rise in their usage by Arab women particularly. Moreover, also essential is a survey of the Arab world in broad terms, as well as the differences in usage in particular regions of the Gulf Coast, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon, paying attention to the specific digital venues utilized in each country based on recent social and political activities. For example, Egypt’s involvement in the Arab Spring gave rise in its activity on the blogosphere, and such country specific usage will be examined here. Such an examination can elucidate a better, more collective understanding of each country’s own realities while illustrating diverse uses of new tools.

This year’s HASTAC conference welcomes presentations echoing themes on “indigenous culture, decolonial and post-colonial theory and technology” and “technology and social identity and roles: gender, race, and other identities.” Befittingly, my presentation consists of a combination of these themes, using the post-colonial theory of Edward Said to dilate our understanding of Arab women—through the use of technological venues--across the Middle East against images perpetuated by mainstream media. I am honored to be a HASTAC scholar for 2015, and thank you for considering this project.

Indigenous Representation in Video Games and New Digital Ethnographies
Rebecca Hursthouse

In response to the call for paper’s themes of ‘indigenous cultures and technology’ and ‘games and gaming for learning’ this paper aims to highlight the problematic representation of indigenous peoples in video games and explore the potential of video games as a means of disseminating positive ethnographies. Within the video game mainstream indigenous people are typically represented though a carefully selected array of easily identifiable traits for the target audience, either physical or ideological, often blurring the boundaries between distinct ethnographic groups and perpetuating harmful stereotyping, foregoing any attempt for accurate or genuine representation. The cultural heritage and ideologies of indigenous people are appropriated to both lend credence to elaborate fictions whilst simultaneously being delegitimized through narratives which adopt the tenants of Western Science to ‘explain away’ the elements of that indigenous culture which have been used to provide a sense of mysticism or otherworldliness.

A typical example within mainstream video game development where stereotyped traits of indigenous cultures are used to inform gameplay features or narratives is the introduction of elements of spiritualism or shamanism through the use of ‘spirit journeys’, ‘spirit planes’ or ‘spirit animals’; this follows the trope of a romanticised western view of the ideologies of indigenous peoples. This trope often goes hand in hand with another trope of indigenous peoples being close to or ‘one with’ nature - a similar concept to the now considered outdated notion of the ‘Ecological Savage’ in physical anthropology (Hames 2007, 177-190). These tropes and stereotypes can be seen in various mainstream titles including ‘Prey’, ‘Assassin’s Creed 3’ ‘Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’ and ‘Far Cry 4’.

Another common example is the portrayal of an indigenous culture through a single character or a limited set of game tiles, models or icons (as seen in both the ‘Street fighter’ and ‘Mortal Kombat’ series and the ‘Civilization’ and ‘Tomb Raider’ Series respectively) which become caricatures upon which to hang various visual or behavioural stereotypes. These visual cues include body modifications and personal adornments that include ‘war paints’ or feature faunal remains (the feathered headdress) and the use of weapons such as the long bow or tomahawk; symbols to the player that the character is exotic, dangerous and archaic.

However outside of the mainstream, within the independent game development community there has been shown the potential to produce video games which tackle the representation of indigenous cultures in a sympathetic and positive light. ‘Totem sound’ examines the exploitative nature of colonial period interactions with indigenous North American peoples, whilst ‘Never Alone’, a game which tells Iñupiat folklore via the medium of a classic puzzle/platformer, has demonstrated the potential of video games to produce a new form of contemporary ethnography, through direct collaboration with indigenous people. Such ethnographies would be free from some of the internal interpretive biases of traditional academic anthropology and available for direct dissemination to a wider audience.

Hames. R. (2007) ‘The Ecologically Noble Savage Debate’ Annual Review of Anthropology 36, 177-190

“Become any person you want to be”: Coding Race on the Asian American Inter/Face
Danielle Wong

Shortly after the Miss Korea competition in 2013, Reddit users created a widely circulated gif that demonstrated how all the beauty pageant contestants had the “same face” because of cosmetic surgery. In June 2014, an ABC News segment on the “mecca” of plastic surgery followed a South Korean teenager and a Korean American woman who had travelled to the same clinic in the Gangnam district of Seoul to have their faces restructured. In the feature, ABC correspondent JuJu Chang asks 19-year-old patient Christina Lim, “Do you feel like you’re doing this to fit in? To look like everybody else?”

The Western gawking over the simultaneous shiftiness and anonymity of the Asian face is, and has historically been, hinged on the relationship between the Asian figure and technology. The fascination with Asian North American and Asian plastic surgery is entrenched in a Western history of figuring Asians as “inscrutable,” as existing in machine-like masses (David Palumbo-Liu), and as signifying a falsehood – what Eric Hayot describes as an “anthropomorphized cascade of masks and misrepresentations that concealed some withheld inner kernel.” I suggest that the traditional Yellow Peril notion of the mask and the affiliation of the Asian body with the machine expose the continuing Western anxiety around the apparent futuristic transhumanness of Asians and Asian North Americans that often figures Asians as deceptive, interchangeable “versions” of one another. 

This paper reads YouTube celebrity Michelle Phan’s online make-up tutorials, which have garnered more than seven million subscribers for the Vietnamese American cosmetician, within and against the discourses that surround plastic surgery and the technology of the Asian face. I argue that Phan’s YouTube videos are an enactment of “race as technology” (Wendy Chun) that render her digital tutorials experiments in “coding race” onto her inter/face with beauty products (technologies). I contend that the performed fluidity or hypersubjectivity of Phan’s face, which has been under the scrutiny of surgery rumours, alienates the concept of identity from essence (Homi Bhabha) through the subversive production of “versions” of non/Asianness. 

Michelle Kendrick draws digital media and race studies together by suggesting that the invisibility of the computer interface is akin to the invisibility of white privilege, as both digital and social interfaces depend on the “ease” of a design that tells users how to navigate a system that will always operate in the same way. I examine Phan’s “Robot Chic” tutorial, her “Natural Beauty” video, and her K-pop tutorial in order to discuss how the Vietnamese American inter/face, with its different skins “activated” by French, Korean and Japanese cosmetic technologies, exposes the colonial histories of white privilege – particularly Vietnam’s French colonial past – that underlie the imagined techno-Orientalized, pan-Asian future. Phan’s make-up processes, which are professionally produced and difficult for viewers to follow or replicate on their own skin, destabilize Asian American subjectivity by emphasizing Phan’s multiplicity and the impossibility of “using” her interface with ease, of finding her “withheld inner kernel...

avatar for Ranti Junus

Ranti Junus

Systems Librarian, Michigan State University

avatar for Danielle Wong

Danielle Wong

PhD Candidate, McMaster University
Research interests in social-media performance, race and technology, and Asian North American digital productions. @danielledywong 

Friday May 29, 2015 2:45pm - 4:00pm EDT
Room 106 Kellogg Center

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