Social Identity & Whedon Month

The Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) played by Scarlett Johansson in the Joss Whedon film: the Avengers (2012)

Interesting expression of fan culture: Joss Whedon Month on Facebook where for the month of April all his fans change their profile pic to one of his characters from his works:

Television

Comics

Film

He also has a free webcomic, titled Sugarshock!, a blog and other collaborates in online media.

As a screenwriter, film/television producer, director, comic book author, composer, and actor, influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers such as Ray Bradbury and Tim Burton his works is pretty extensive and many of his work have attained cult status. He is also the founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-founder of Bellwether Pictures.

What I find particularly interesting is the frenzy and loyalty of fans who identify with his characters especially at the multi-genre comic con conventions to the point of living their lives (often in meticulous detail) for a short or long period as their interpretation of one of these characters. Having the icon of your Facebook page is not as involved as “identify performance” – but it could still be seen as a way of extending one’s identity through fan culture.

There are also similar events such as Renaissance festivals and Cosplay conventions where adults dress in fantasy costumes in a way that would be expected of an adolescent  exploring the “possible extensions of self” (Elliot 1986, quoted in Kaiser 1996:162). So what is so intriguing about this type of performative identity for adults? Is this is a way to avoid a horrible reality of a suffering psyche in a way that is less self-harming that crack?, a fetish thing? or just a way to alleviate a dull 9-5 life? or?

Susan B. Kaiser asked the question of whether role-play dress is important “in terms of providing some means for ‘escaping’ from mundane daily routines,that could also be an expression of creativity,” but discovers that there is very little academic literature about this and that too “little is known about fantasy dressing; this is an area with a great deal of potential for contributing to an understanding of creativity and self-expression” (1996:163).

Jen Gunnels has also explored this area and found that the “behavior isn’t necessarily mere escapism”. She argues that “adults engage in costumed role-play to explore an identity that may not be practicable in everyday life”. She also notes the social, and communal nature of such events. For example, she observed members of Generation X  revelling in and comforted by the popculture of their childhood at a Star Wars convention she attended in NYC . Gunnels reasons that “Star Wars helped socialize this generation and may be providing a template for their own parenting, especially because current socioeconomic issues are not dissimilar to those of 1977. In this way, cosplay, as a performed identity, can provide a means of permitting individual agency and social commentary on current and past social stresses.” (2009).

Scholars, such as Joseph Campbell (1968) and Bruno Bettelheim (1991), claim that fairy tales and myth are vehicles for the interpolation of social norms for a society. In our post-modern world, these fairy tales and myths are expressions of popular culture such as films, television programmes and video games. Since these events are particular to industrialized  nations, perhaps this is our contemporary way of re-connecting to old world socialization and interpolation through performance art in the way of Shakespearean theatre or masks and dance used to?

So my questions remain but now I have new ones: Is dressing up as Buffy or Black Widow  perhaps just one of our tribal masks that help us illustrate our society’s meta-narrative?, or could it be a way to resist those narratives and find empowerment in an over-mediated society?…or perhaps it is just about escapism, alleviating boredom and sex?

References

Bettlelheim, Bruno. (1991). The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Penguin.

Campbell, J. (1968). The masks of God: creative mythology. New York: Viking Press

Gunnels, Jen. (2009). “A Jedi like my father before me”: social identity and the New York Comic Con.Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3

Kaiser, Susan B. (1996). The social psychology of clothing: Symbolic appearances in context. 2nd ed. New York: Fairchild Books and Visuals.

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‘Race Shifter’ In A Post Racial World?

'Race Shifter' In A Post Racial World?

“…is this racial shifting a good thing? Is it a genuine sign of progress, or is it just an easy way to avoid dealing with the serious issues of racism and intolerance that still linger?”

“It could be easy for people too easy: “Look at Dwayne Johnson. He doesn’t make race an issue, so why do you people still have to?””

excellent questions – what do you think? Click on the photo to read the whole article from *Shadow and Act* – cinema of the African Diaspora

Oldest Cover Girl Ever and Still Hot

tt vogue

At 74 Tina Turner (aka Anna Mae Bullock) on the cover of Germany’s Vogue magazine has reset some expectations – or has it?

She looks impossibly young for 74, as if gravity or elastogen deterioration were some urban myth – and light, free flowing, straight tresses and a very overall pale golden colour, she looks very different from her photos of the 60s and 70s

Is this cover breaking barriers? Or maintaining the status quo? What is the message to young women? older women? and men? What are the effects on identity?

tt 1975-2010 tina-tur-10tt 1962

Problematic Ethnocentrism & Identity

The Boy with Sapphire Eyes

Boy-with-the-saphire-eyes-2 by Vanessa Bristow

When a photo of a young lad in Africa with pale blue sapphire eyes was posted on the internet the immediate reaction from non-Africans was that it must be photoshopped.  It is the typical reaction because how could an African have the blue eyes typical of another race?

No one considered for a moment that (a) all of humankind are descendants of Africa (b) blue eyes, like blonde hair and pale skin are genetic mutations that westerners consider ‘normal’ (c) race is a social construction not a biological one – this is the power of cultural hegemony.

Domesticated dogs were the genetic mutants descended from wolves that were rejected by the pack for their differences and found companionship with humans who bred them for greater genetic abnormalities that have resulted in the dramatic diversity of breeds today – why do humans think they are so different?

We are all a part of the African diaspora, and many clans travelled far and stayed, adapting to new climes and situations that favoured such mutations. That is biology. Our categorization of people into essentialist ‘races‘ is not. There is less genetic diversity between a European and an African than between two Europeans or two Africans and all the genetic diversity of humankind are within Africa.

Video Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinity

Much of the research I have read on this topic (and I have exhausted myself doing so as I have two children who play video games and one of them is male) suggests no “direct” cause only correlations – in other words it is complicated, and the propensity for violence cannot be blamed on any one factor just like listening to heavy metal music, or reading comic books does not “make” you a sadist however if you already are, you are likely to enjoy the masculine and violent themes of much of that media and the same goes for games like Grand Theft Auto or Doom.

So producers wash their hands of the issue saying they are just catering to the consumers. The problem is that culture and media are so imbricated that there is no pinpointing of ONE source of messaging – it all works together to send hegemonic messaging to citizens that women want manly men, and you are supposed to want a woman, therefore you must be a manly man, and to do that you must be tough, and then there are various interpretations of what that means.

Social and evolutionary psychology studies suggest that the drive to procreate, and to survive underlies all this, then of course there are the factors that affect your psyche before you are seven. By then the messaging from your family, your community, your society and your culture are well embedded in your brain, before you have the capacity to think critically about it. As youth or adults we can laugh at some of these themes and assess them for the ridiculous fantasies that they are, but as children we cannot and if this is the main messaging that we are sending to our children, then we cannot be surprised that these concepts are so deeply engrained in our culture.

Anthropologists and psychologists will also argue that what was appropriate for the survival of aggressive nomadic sheep herder tribes (like the Britons and Celts – who many White Canadians are descended from as opposed to more peacefully-oriented agricultural societies) are not always the same skills we need to navigate contemporary society…so there is our ancient, inherited knowledge and belief systems, along with our individual drives, our cultural values, media messaging, family, community and school dysfunctions (that likely have included violence on some level), mentors or role models, hormone levels of testosterone and personal goals, abilities and resources that all factor into whether or not a man, or a woman for that matter, is likely to be more or less violent and aggressive.

My point is – that humans have the unique capacity to over-ride their lizard brain urges with frontal-lobe critical thinking, which is what makes more so-called civilized, chivalry and gentlemanly conduct possible, but it is slower and takes more effort, and is sometimes impeded by chemicals (drugs, alcohol, etc) or different physiological/psychological abilities. So there is no one answer to this issue.

Personally, I limited outside messaging (TV, Internet, Magazines and newspapers) with the youngest members in our household and when it was allowed, it was never restricted, but always mediated and deconstructed by older family members that usually resulted in interesting discussions. I think this is the key because I don’t believe in censorship or “molly-coddling” children – they need to learn about the world and know the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, so they can deal with it. Therefore, I think that training children to think critically is more important for personal empowerment and the future of humankind than blaming media.

nb: My son and daughter are now in university, seemingly well-adjusted and generally doing well in life. Although they spent a few early years annoyed with me for the differences in our household when compared to that of their friends – by middle school they were more appreciative and could quickly recognise biast messaging. 

Only 20-mins and well done!

Africa is a Country (Old Site)


In Between Storiesis a short 2012 documentary directed by Roda Siad. Originally Siad’s Master’s thesis in Media Production at Ryerson University, the film offers a portrait of four young artists of African descent living and working in Toronto. The film draws a connection between one-dimensional media portrayals that focus on war and crisis in Africa, and negative perceptions of predominantly black communities in Toronto. The false depiction of Africa—and by extension Africans—as chaotic, violent, and dangerous, Siad’s film implies, leads to similar stereotypes being applied to Africans in the diaspora. The film’s subjects, however, offer a way out of this miasma. Watch it first: 

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Custer’s Revenge – Atari 2600 Game (1982)

Custer's Revenge - Atari 2600 Game (1982)

These are the kind of games that today’s game makers grew up with… sold in a leather case with a lock on it (someone should have thrown away the key). In the game the player must guide General Custer across a mesa littered with falling arrows and prickly cactus to enjoy raping a bound and submissive native woman named Revenge – reinforces “noble savage” stereotypes as a path to sexual ecstasy, romanticizes violence and trivializes rape. Luckily this game maker went out of business.