Tagged: Identity

Visual Culture, Identity & Expressions of Ancestral Lineage

I have been reading and researching about tattoos as expression of identities and have found  the history and psychology around this fascinating. Here are some interesting examples I found of people wanting to express their identity through their ancestral religions and lineage:


adinkra tattoo











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:




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?


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.

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.

Online education potentional

civilization 3 - screenshot

  Kevin Schut suggests that games like Civilization might be useful in teaching history with the understanding of its hegemonic framing that involves misogynistic, chivalrous and violent masculinity, solipsism with capitalistic solipsism and technocratic tendencies – but I would argue that Civilization is far too ethnocentric and essentialist to be useful as an educational aid. I would also argue that it is difficult to avoid the hegemonic framing – as seen in World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life (SL) where it has been seen that users have more agency, but end up reinforcing and even contributing to their own marginalization.

Experts in virtual spaces such as Sherry Turkle believe that the role/s that identity play/s in worlds like multi-user dimensions or domains  (MUDs), MUD object oriented (MOOs), and other virtual spaces such as Second Life (SL) are complicated. Turkle asserts that the “anonymity of MUDs . . . provides ample room for individuals to express unexplored parts of themselves” (xii). These spaces have great potential for dynamic identity exploration, and self-expression without the risks of condemnation, rejection or isolation that could result in real life.

Michael Rymaszewski et al. plainly state that SL is a place for living out fantasies, to be someone else or to work out who you are (301).

In this way many people can play the game with an avatar of a different skin colour, or represent a different gender or class to experiment in a virtual life in a way that is not possible in reality. I think putting these three key ideas together – software could be developed that has the freedom of Second Life with an open-source history-content focus, like Civilization but with input from different regions of the world, from different genders, classes and races. Within this framework students could create time traveller avatars to visit different time periods, learn about the history of different regions. There could be a contemporary period included where student could ‘virtual travel’ to different parts the world and have their text automatically translated to have a peek into a day in the life of someone of a different race, class or gender in a different geographical location.     Continue reading

Polyamory vs Monogamy



There are a lot of errors and misleading information on TV shows and movies about Polyamory (unsurprisingly) They generally  do not do a very good job of representing the whole community because (a) it is very hetero-sexist and (b) poly people have lives to attend to around sex just like everyone else (also Julia correctly assumed) – the white/hetero/sex focus of the show is what appeals to the mainstream because it validates primary couples and tells them it is OK to have multiple partners for sex (like: swinging and adultery) . Also many polyamorous relationships are ‘closed’ relationships not ‘open’ in that there are ground rules as to when/how/why/who/where/what can happen before another partner is taken on by an individual or a group – this is in the interest of respect for feelings, safe sex and protection of the core group.

These errors are typical because they reflect mainstream misconceptions about alternative forms of intimacy: • “the new swingers”: was on the byline and as one of the interviewees pointed out – polyamory is different from swinging – but only slightly. Both forms of relationship involve all partners as consensual, whether or not they are involved in sexual intimacies or not – they are recognized, respected and there are many discussions as to what is okay and not okay – which is different for every group.

• “open marriage”: polyamory is not a form of marriage – that is polygamy – polyamory is much more – it is an identity, a philosophy, a lifestyle, and a form of intimacy. One does not have to be be ‘married’ (in any sense of the word) to be be polyamorous.

• polygamy: is NOT about ONE man get a lot of hot young wives – that is *polygyny* (and the wives are not always young or what mainstream America would consider ‘hot”). Polygamy simply refers to plural marriages, and includes women taking many husbands as in Nepal, as well as a man taking many wives – however in polyamory communities there are many genders involved. If one wishes to refer specifically to women taking many husbands it is referred to as *polyandry* and is generally not included in the countries that hold that Polygamy as legal. Polygamy has ancient roots in many cultures and is even recognized a s a legitimate form of marriage by Australia and the UK, in addition to being legal in many other countries.

• So-called news and reality shows both usually present a model of polyamory as involving a primary couple (ie: married couple) hetero sexual couple who “have sex with others”. This is also incorrect. Polyamory is inclusive and diverse and practised by couples as well as singles (ie: no one is ‘married’ de facto or otherwise) and is probably an even more popular in other cultural and LGBT communities than among white, married, hetero couples. * the jealousy and fears that are often discussed are typical of hetero-normative discourse because it is based on competition and other tenets of capitalism – like scarcity and ownership – it is part of social construction and how we are conditioned to think.

These shows also generally fail (purposely I am sure) to acknowledge that: a) 45-55% of people in so-called monogamous are/or have indulge(d) in adultery b) monogamous relationships can end for the same reasons that polyamorous relationships do c) 40-60% of mononormative marriages end in divorce in under ten years d) there is little research on alternative forms for comparisons.

Lastly – the main couple on the tv show “Polyamory” are new age-Californians also involved in sex-positive practises and trends like so-called tantric sex. Kamala Devi is an intimacy coach and her ‘name’ is actually more like a title as it is part of her profession, as ‘devi’ is the female aspect of the divine and ‘kamala’ is the hindu world for the lotus flower (and popular Hindu girls name). The tantric sex movement in North America is a complete construction loosely based on Hindu and Buddhist religious rites and philosophies. (but that is another topic). I am sure that being openly ‘poly’ and on TV has helped her business (she calls herself a coach, author and ‘goddess’ on her website). Many poly-people are not, because there is no legislation to protect their rights and many fear losing custody of their children or discrimination in a mono-normative society. And of course the show focuses almost completely on their sex lives – so the show is more akin to a ‘peep show’ as is much of TV.

An interesting ‘webisode’ that is actually produced and acted in by poly people can be found on YouTube under 3 Dog Pictures – there are two episodes every month that are under 10-mins long (that get better and more interesting after the first few!)

Love vs. Porn

Jane Caputi in, The Pornography of Everyday Life (video link above), declares pornography as “a habitual mode of thinking”, that underpins our everyday discourse, supporting oppressions like sexism, racism and homophobia. It makes us see a man possessing, overpowering, threatening, using, humiliating and abusing women as ‘manly’ and ‘sexy’. She argues that pornography is not about arousal – it is about objectification, desensitization and dehumanization. These negative mass representations of sexuality is a public form of psychological abuse that limits or ability to imagine alternatives.

rape culture

Cindy Gallop, founder of makelovenotporn.com and makelovenotporn.tv has first-hand (no pun intended) experience with the effects of mainstream pornography, the sources it seems for many people – her young male lovers in particular – for learning their bedroom techniques, which she says,  makes them inconsiderate lovers. In an era where all types of pornography (Rule 34) are more freely and widely available than ever before. She believes, parents and sex education teachers still give too little guidance about how to develop healthy, sex-positive relationships – so toward that end Gallop created makelovenotporn.com and makelovenotporn.tv

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 1.53.43 AM

so that young men don’t think that’s always the normal way of behaving in the bedroom and their girlfriends don’t have to pretend to like it

Gallop aims to re-educate people via the internet with #reallifesex filled with type of passion and intimacy distinctly missing in the typical commercial mainstream porn flick. Gallop’s model is new – anyone can ‘share’ a video (ie: their own production) that meets the positive sex guidelines (plus “no poo, children or animals”) and collect 50% of the rental fee that others pay to watch it.

This is a good example of what Feona Atwood, in No Money Shot? – Commerce, Pornography and New Sex Taste Cultures (2007) would refer to as ‘a community of exchange’ where members of the website (free to join) participants as both vendor and consumer typical of our  technology enabled participatory culture. One could also argue however, that it is an ingenious way to make money off of amateur pornography, as such videos are usually posted online in various forums.

In my opinion, ‘ordinary’ folk accessing ‘realcore’ like Gallop’s site or altporn available on Nerve.com or SuicideGirls.com can be a positive experience and influence on mainstream culture as it can open the door to more (& positive) sexual exploration outside of vanilla, monogamous, hetero-normative intimacies and into realms like polyamory, bisexuality, and BDSM. That said however, I think that it can also have a negative impact such as sex-positive empowerment narratives being perversely translated into mainstream commercialism with works like “Fifty Shades of Grey” by authors who have only experienced (and understand) the tiny tip of the iceberg of these alternative communities, and cherry pick concepts that fit into their hegemonic frameworks of male dominance and female submission.

East meets West


In the West we drive to Tantric Bars in out Toyota hybrids, show off our foreign script and dragon henna tattoos to our friends while eating sushi with chopsticks and drinking shōchū, after an hour of practising yoga in clothing with various spiritual symbols emblazoned on them. At home our children enjoy anime and manga, in rooms decorated with prayer flags, scrolls, kimonos and devis. We listen the sounds of sitar, tabla , shakuhachi and taiko and drift off to sleep in our silk pyjamas (if they are well off). We think about visiting an ashram in India to really learn about spirituality.



Meanwhile, in the East, after working 12-hrs, they drive home in BMWs and watch foreign TV dramas, drink Bourbon and eat beef with potatoes while their children play World of Warcraft in a house with televisions, refrigerators and sofas that are too big for the rooms while listening to foreign pop music in their flannel pyjamas (if they are well off). They think about visiting New York City to really go shopping.


Why do you think Eastern philosophies and symbolisms are so popular in the West? Why do (esp. young) people in the East think everything is better in the West? How does this affect our construction of identity?

I am not the White guy you had in mind …

Interesting story about a pale-skinned, blue-eyed surfing son of a dentist who grows up in California thinking his ancestors were Italian and discovers he is actually a multiracial descendent of a Bantu-African slave from Virginia working as a grad student with a prof who had the same last name. See his short film here. I would be very curious to know what effect, if any that this discovery has made for him and for his family, particularly if it has impacted his ideas of identity.

Context & Identity


“The context that we live in always shapes the way you identify yourself and the way others identify you”


Being Black is not a matter of pigmentation – being Black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” – Steve Bantu Biko


In talking to people about race – here is a helpful tip <http://youtu.be/b0Ti-gkJiXc>

(1)ne drop also has a FB page with lots of excellent related stories around colourism/ shadism/ racism


How does the context you live in effect how others see you? how you see yourself?

Welcome to my blog on Visual Communications.