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The revolution will be pixelated, apparently. April 19, 2010

Posted by Erin Ptah in Meta, News Roundup.

From Lisa Nakamura’s Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet:

The avatars that these women produce pose a problem for many upper- and intellectual-class viewers in that they are decidedly déclassé in terms of visual style, as is much of popular digital visual culture; they are cartoonish, “cutsey”, festooned with animated sparkles, flashing animated GIFs, pastel colors, and sentimental stylings taken from older media franchises like Care Bears, Disney, Hello Kitty, and Friends. …Yet while these women’s autobiographical digital signatures are far from “cutting edge” in terms of difficulty of production or conventional aesthetic qualities, they are revolutionary in terms of the power that they take back from institutions that govern and produce powerful types of visual signification, institutions like the very “biotech and fertility industries” that give rise to so many images of women’s bodies, digital images that are accorded power and authority.

Hear that, ladies? Your sparkly animated Care Bear forum signatures are revolutionary! Tacky, yes. But revolutionary!

Seriously, does this rub anybody else the wrong way? “Gosh, these women sure do have horrible taste, but it’s okay, because they’re fighting the power!” As if you can really respect someone’s defiance of The Establishment when in the same breath you’re reasserting the rights of The Establishment to judge them – and find them aesthetically bereft and technically inept, no less.

Why do forum signatures have to be judged in relation to anybody else’s idea of Proper Aesthetic Taste in the first place? Maybe it’s not about The Establishment at all. Sometimes a Care Bear is just a Care Bear.

(For that matter, who says “intellectuals” must be disdainful of pink sparkly things? [She says, a month away from finishing her third degree, while wearing a Hello Kitty band-aid.])

To be fair, there was a lot of interesting stuff in this book. (As the title implies, it’s mostly about ways in which the Internet and racial politics intersect. But it veers off-topic pretty frequently, especially in this one chapter, which dealt with the cartoon-doll avatars created by women on pregnancy forums.) Some of it was illuminating. Some of it felt oddly shallow.

And then there were these sort of weird bits. Like the point where, in her analysis of AIM buddy icons, she discussed a site with a category for “nationality”. Users-submitted icons to this category featured labels like “Armenian” and “Irish”, but also “Capricorn” and “Muslim”:

Rather than interpreting this use of the “nationality” category as a sign of an inaccurate understanding of what nation, race, religion, and astrology mean, the particular mode in which these categories overlap indicates a multidimensional conception of what “nationality” means.

…uh-huh. Whatever you say, ma’am.

I’m just going to end this post by inundating ya’ll with examples of Amazing Pixel Art. Because I can.

stone restriction by Orkmides (look at that motion!)

Visitors by Viterai (creepy, then lolarious)
commission: xyliaeria by Apomix (lush!)
Transparant by griffsnufff (gorgeous and ethereal)
Kitty Running Round Star by Kiss-the-Iconist (deceptively simple)
White Peacock by Foxbane (look at those feathers!)
+Pixel ID+ GET PINK by Mirai-LD (see, now, this is the cutting edge of avatars.)



1. Hugo - May 23, 2010

Third degree, huh? Color me impressed. Which begs the question: why does anyone care about this stuff? The passage you cite sounds like it was written by someone who is desperately in need of personal worth.

I dunno what “the Establishment” means, but, as regards revolutionaries, there are Iranian dissidents, slave abolitionists working in the Sudan, and one Uni friend who’s going to help run the “underground railroad” to get people out of North Korea. How AM signatures are anything but transient emphemera is beyond me.

Basically, I’d say: don’t let silliness annoy you. You’re obviously competent and in charge of your life. This stuff is just silly.

Erin Ptah - May 23, 2010

Lol, this wasn’t a personal thing; it was part of a text written by a sociologist. This is the sort of study that sociologists make a career out of caring about =)

2. Hugo - May 23, 2010

Oh, I was aware of that. That’s what I meant: a sociology textbook containing silly piffle? What else is new? They need to sing for their supper, even if that means being complete twits. The real world doesn’t care now, and it certainly won’t in a few years. Meanwhile, you’ve got the brains to really enjoy life – laugh at nonsense like this.

Forgive the presumption – I admire your work, & as my fourth decade inches closer, I find myself more in the position of the aged dispenser of wisdom. :)

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