the amorality of the internet

SCENE 1: A beautiful hotel room on Lake Cuomo, Italy. The drapes hanging around the four poster bed gently sway in the light breeze that waltzes through the open balcony doors leading to the wrought-iron railing overlooking the setting sun that dances on the water. Rose petals napping on the lush oriental rug leading up to the door are suddenly awoken when MARCO and FRANCESCA, both in their early 30’s, burst into the room, kissing and pawing at each other with such ferocity that it is difficult to tell where the man ends and the woman begins. Marco runs his fingers through Francesca’s curly black hair, then with the attention span of a gazelle, he pushes his palms down around the base of her spine, clawing the loose sundress higher up the back of her thigh. Francesca frantically separates the buttons of Marco’s shirt, thrusting her hands past the thinly haired chest, in between the blue polyester and his muscular ribs, and pulls him tight enough to push her breasts up north of her sternum.

Oh yeah, and they close the door behind them.

Marco nibbles on Francesca’s ear, giving her just enough time to glance down at the rose petals below her feet.

(note: all dialogue has been translated from the original Italian romance novel.)

FRANCESCA: Oh my God. Did you do this?

MARCO: (in between nibbles) Of course. Who else would it be?

She runs a hand at the nape of his neck, tries to take all of him in with her smile.

MARCO: It’s our anniversary. I had to do something special.

FRANCESCA: You already are special. Now take me to the bed.

Marco picks her up, floats her the eight feet before landing her on the white down comforter. He pulls off his shirt, lies next to her, his chest glistening from the sweat of carrying her. She pulls her dress high, reveals the slightly less olive complexion of her upper thigh.

MARCO: My God, Francesca. I don’t know how you do it, but this is the most beautiful you have ever looked.

FRANCESCA: You’re just in love. Wait until you see me when I’m 60.

He laughs, then nuzzles her, until they kiss again, tongues flicking against lips, Marco’s hand slipping up under her dress towards her breasts. She gasps, stretches her neck for him to suck on.

FRANCESCA: I want this to last forever.

Marco pauses mid-hickey. And with a devilish smirk, he spins off the bed, dives into his suitcase, and finally emerges with a small digital camera.

MARCO: It can.

FRANCESCA: (through a giggle) For your private collection, Mr. Hefner?

MARCO: For our private collection. Who do you think I am?

He takes a picture. She laughs at first, but then…

FRANCESCA: Close the doors.

Marco savors the flicker in her eyes before gently pushing the balcony doors closed, shutting out nature’s soundtrack. The room suddenly becomes eerily quiet, but the silence quickly transforms from ominous to secretive, almost playfully dangerous, as Francesca relaxes into coyly seductive poses with each subsequent snap. Then her panties slide down her shins, leaving in their wake a soft strip of hair above a thin pair of lips. The dress is the next casualty. Finally, her bra finds a more comfortable home on the floor, leaving her just as the all-knowing, all-loving God intended her to be. And Marco keeps snapping with the camera, inching closer and closer with every new pose from his beloved, until he is on top of her…

And the draperies resume their rustling, this time without the help of the lake breeze.

SCENE 2: Marco’s apartment. It’s small, might be considered a studio except the kitchen is separated and the bathroom is made of real granite. There are hardwood floors underneath the Murphy bed– until Marco violently throws the bed up into the wall.

The room isn’t the only thing that shudders from the impact; Francesca allows a small cry, then rushes for her purse from the computer desk in the corner. Marco is immediately remorseful.

MARCO: I’m sorry. Please don’t leave.

FRANCESCA: You’re acting like a child.

MARCO: I’m sorry I got angry. What do you expect from me!

FRANCESCA: To handle this like an adult! Things happen. No one intends them to.

MARCO: Don’t act like you’re some anonymous victim of fate. You chased him! You seduced him!

FRANCESCA: I was following my feelings!

MARCO: You were following his dick! Go on, go back to your new man! Get out! I never want to see you again!

FRANCESCA: And you won’t!

And like all good endings to infidelities, she slams the door behind her. Marco collapses into the chair at the computer desk, buries his head in his hands, and accidentally knocks the wireless mouse onto the floor. The monitor blinks awake at the commotion, wide-eyed with a desktop picture of Marco and Francesca standing arm in arm on the hotel balcony, the litheness of her dress frozen in the lake breeze. Marco can’t bare to look at it.

SCENE 3: Ryan’s office. A little bungalow in Hollywood that’s been converted to an even littler work space. The day is winding down, and the sun has dipped low enough to disappear from the nearby window, leaving the room in a kind of artificial limbo between daylight and twilight – save for the glow of the macbook in front of RYAN, an ethically upstanding 29-year-old who has never intentionally insulted anyone to their face, always argued for the equality of all citizens, and recently authored this blog.

(NOTE: Ryan does not speak Italian. Well, he kinda does, because he did a semester there as an undergrad, but that was years ago, so now he only speaks it in his dreams and is constantly surprised by how fluent he is. If only he could make dreams realities! Anyway, he’s speaking English here, so no translations.)

RYAN: Fuck, I hate macs.

Just as he mutters this minor opinion, an email pops into his personal inbox from good friend DAVE, also an ethically upstanding citizen of 29 years: “Dude, check out these two websites. Fucking hilarious…”

Ryan clicks on the first one – “Look at this fucking hipster“. Picture after picture of disgusting hipsters with wry, satirical captions that address the emptiness of the hipster aesthetic. Having just recently written a blog article denouncing the hipster’s fashion stache as a poor cover-up of socio-economic guilt, Ryan laughs triumphantly at this wealth of portraits that so accurately and acutely display said phenomenon.

RYAN: Dude, this shit is priceless. (re: a picture of a shithead wearing glasses with pull down “shades” – get it?) Yeah, that guy is such a fuck. Alright, so what’s this other one Dave sent?

Ryan then clicks on the second one – “Guess her muff”. (note: notice the lack of link.) On this particular website, he finds also a litany of pictures, not of disgusting hipster scum, but rather of women of various shapes, sizes, ages, races and assumed socio-economic backgrounds. More often than not, these women are under 40 years of age, and typically alone in the picture, though there is the occasional snap of a woman flanked by a few friends, perhaps some family members, or even the blacked-out face of a man who is only assumed to be her one-time boyfriend. The chances of this anonymous man being her one-time and not current boyfriend are exceptionally high considering, as the site suggests, the visitor is then asked, “Do you think you can guess how a babe keeps her muff based on her how (sic) she dresses? Does your co-worker’s carpet match the drapes? Is that geeky girl in your class secretly a sex kitten who shaves her twat bald? The answers might surprise you…”

RYAN: What the shit is this?

He finds the first picture, subtitled “Girl #249”: a candid portrait of a woman of perhaps Pacific Islander descent, dressed in what appears to be a prom dress. She stands in a living room with wood paneling and a brick fireplace surrounded by framed Sears family portraits. Her mouth hesitates between neutral and what must be the requested smile for the camera.

Under the picture lies the link, “See the answer [here]”.

RYAN: Alright.

Ryan clicks on the link, and is immediately redirected to a new browser tab with a full sized picture of the woman in question, this time standing in front of a closed closet door by an apartment kitchen, wearing only an unbuttoned, long sleeved canvas shirt that barely covers her breasts but certainly does not cover anything else, including and most specifically her cleanly shaven vagina (with a tattoo that reads “lick me” imprinted just above it).

RYAN: Whoa!

Blushing, Ryan rushes the mouse cursor up to the little round “x” of this new browser tab and immediately finds himself back staring face to face with that halfway smile and the dress that he immediately reconsiders to be a bridesmaid’s gown.

RYAN: Well, that was unexpected.

But he realizes that he is not just referring to the shocking nature of the site, but also in regards to the central query the site posits. Seriously, would he ever have guessed that this seemingly innocent, sweet-natured girl – no, no, WOMAN – might sheer her down-there to her barest self, much less have a Lewis Carrol-like demand inked into that flesh? What kind of muff was he considering this woman to have?

RYAN: Huh.

He clicks on the next one – “Girl #247”. (He soon finds, through the FAQ section, that the lack of “Girl #248” is attributed to the fact that “this site isn’t here to make anybody look bad. If you are the owner of an image show (sic) here and would like it to be removed, please leave a message in the comment section of the post in question and it will be removed.”) Girl #247 is a blonde, sitting with a sly, below-the-eyebrows look in what appears to be a tropical hotel.

RYAN: Hmm… Looks kinda saucy. Maybe dirty. I’m gonna say tuft of peach fuzz.

A click on the “see the answer [here]” link reveals the woman lying back in a bed, her dress bunched from both directions around her mid-section, her legs casually spread eagle, one dangling off the edge of the mattress, revealing, once again, a cleanly shaven vaj.

RYAN: Oh!!! Man, no way!

With not much else to do at work, Ryan suddenly finds the game interesting, clicking on woman after woman, trying to guess through the look in the eyes, the nationality, the assumed class, the weight, the appearance of tattoos (or lack thereof), the hair color, etc., what shape that pubic bush is gonna be.

RYAN: Okay, so I guess the less attractive a woman is, the more of a chance she’s gonna be completely shaven.

This proves true more often than not – perhaps because a woman who appears below the standard of beauty feels she must control any part of her body she can to ascribe to that aforementioned standard – but it should come as no surprise that this line of thinking does not lead to the contrapositive; of course, the women who more holistically strive toward the porn star look complete the role with their visually nubile pussies. Ryan quickly discovers that the most difficult women to predict are those that fall in the 5-8 range of the 1-10 scale. And that is where the game becomes interesting. Some he thinks would be fairly bushy have slimmed down to the landing strip. Some he supposes to have cultivated a small tuft end up surprising with a broad but tightly trimmed box. And some he assumes would be a triangle deliver exactly that. Oh, what a way to burn the final hour of work, by looking at candid pictures of real naked women!

RYAN: Hmmm…

But then the pangs of guilt start settling in. And for the record, none of this guilt has to do with the appropriateness of observing nudity in the workplace – theoretically, he could kill a pregnant hooker on his desk and none of his coworkers would bat much of an eye, being too consumed with raping corpses as they are. No, the gnawing pit creeping up from his stomach and bouncing against his diaphragm is born of the fact that no one, not a single soul outside of the subject and her photographer, should be looking at these pictures. Clearly, none – or at least the overwhelming bulk – of these women ever expected to be the subject of ridicule and/or lechery, never devised to be amateur internet porn stars subject to user comments like, “Blech. Saggy tits and chunky thighs. And would it kill her ass to smile? Boring and plain,” or, “Yeah. I’d fuck her six ways to Sunday. She’d be walking bowlegged for 2 weeks afterwards.” And clearly never once did they imagine that this snapshot, which was surely assumed only to make a one-stop trip from their lover’s 8 gig sandisk to the secret folder buried deep in his laptop entitled “letters from grandma 2004”, to be the fodder of a game, much less a fucking blog. These are moments of intimacy, taken with the bravado that only occurs when one feels safest at their most vulnerable. These are records of one human being sharing more than just her body with another person. Within these freeze frames lies a trust that should never be broken no matter what the impetus, a vulnerability that should never be ridiculed or ignored, and a sense of imbalanced power through voyeurism that should never be indulged. Not to mention the obviously objectifying dehumanization inherent in this type of voyeurism, inviting its audience to extricate personality from the photographic subjects and instead whittle her social, cultural, even interpersonal value down to the cut of her pubic jib. How can someone feel so heartless, so immoral as to solicit and post these pictures in such a cavalier way? And how can someone patronize such a website, validating its existence simply by clicking on the links?

RYAN: Eeehhhhhh…

Ryan moves the cursor back to the circled “x” of the website’s tab, hovering his thumb just above that goddamn Macbook’s giant singular mouse button…

But he doesn’t click off. After all, he doesn’t know anything about the guy who runs this website (assuming it’s a guy). In fact, he knows so little about the mind(s) behind the wizard’s curtain, the site might as well have been manifested by the internet itself. Besides, there are pictures of naked women here. And Ryan’s reptilian cortex does enjoy processing pictures of naked women. Or at least, it enjoys processing them anonymously. For who’s to ever know that Ryan Meyer, male caucasian age 29 brown hair green eyes glasses 182 pounds 5’9″, was a passing visitor? Certainly there are computer whizzes who could find the IP address or something more computer complicated that would correctly identify the wake of his websurfing path and compromise his moral ambiguity on the matter. But the chances of Steve Wozniak ever walking into this office and doing a quick “command-find” search are none-to-noner. As long as he keeps this secret to himself, leaves no trace of a user name on the site, conveniently omits this episode from his daily “how was work?” soap opera, not to mention the browser history, without a witness to testify as to the occurrence, then it may as well have never happened. Furthermore, if no one is there to shame him, to prod awake this inherent sense of guilt in him, then who’s to say that there even should be a sense of shame? Who’s to say what’s right and wrong, what’s moral and immoral? Who shall say any of this?

RYAN: (sigh) 10 minutes til 6. Just a couple more.

Ryan finds “Girl #242”. The “Safe For Work” picture is of a dark-haired beauty standing on a beautiful hotel balcony, her dress frozen from the lake breezing in from the background, her arm wrapped around the waist of her black-dot anonymous ex-boyfriend, who truthfully looks like a piece of Eurotrash anyway, judging from the plunging neckline of his blue polyester shirt. As Ryan hovers the cursor over the “see answer [here]”…

RYAN: Landing strip.

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Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 1:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Ryan Meyer has a general distaste for microblogging.

As I can only assume those daring to read this blog must know, Facebook semi-recently restructured its interface to more closely resemble the ultimate in instant communication and microblogging, Twitter. Oh, I’m sorry, this story is so 2 months ago? Well, would it still have been relevant if it were so 2 days ago? I pray, hear me out here before you flip channels to the promise of a hopefully flashier webpage, because time and the flow of information is the very subject of my inquiry here.

Being a somewhat avid Facebook user (mostly because I find myself with significant downtime at work), I was somewhat disappointed by this move away from the personalized, customizable social newspaper the Facebook homepage once was to the blur of instant status updates, wall p0stings and hyperlinks that characterize the microblogosphere (was that a word before now? Of course it was. Nothing is original anymore). I couldn’t quite put my finger on my ire until I read this article detailing the very nature of time on Facebook, namely that it was built upon pre-established relationships and past occurrences, while Twitter more heavily relies on this precise moment as spoken from whomever you find most interesting, regardless of a shared personal history.

Now, I should mention that I’ve never had a profile on Twitter – I’ve never been excited about the th0ught of it – and my only experience with it was to bounce around a few friends’ profiles just to get that twittery taste, to find out why these super intelligent/interesting/provocative people I know and enjoy feel the need to either endlessly broadcast their thoughts to no one or passively communicate with their fellow twitterers, to use my new found articulation of my frustrations with the microblogging application in order to greater understand its insurgent place in our culture. But then I read this article that purports to explain how one should be using Twitter to its greatest efffect. If you no longer have the attention span to click on the link and read the article, let me sum it up for you: Twitter is there to keep you up to date. Period. Big surprise, right? Yes, there are legitimate CNN/NPR newsfeeds that can give you up-to-the-fucking-micro-second updates on your favorite news stories (“9:18am: Craigslist murderer seemed like a nice guy; 9:22am: Craigslist murderer had pictures of puppies in his apartment.”), but, really, how important is it to stay that up-to-date? Will the world crumble if we the public hear about North Korea’s reinstatement of its nuclear program tomorrow morning as opposed to in 5 minutes? Oh my God, what on earth will we do without that information? Or, perhaps the better question to ask is, what on earth will we do with that information?

I already have a hard time figuring out what to do with news stories about people starving/dying/getting kidnapped in countries to which I have no clear or effective access. But when I’m given a headline as breaking news 5 minutes after it happens, the subtext is that I must know this information immediately in order to function in my daily life (car crash, brush fire), or at least because there may be something I can do to bring about its resolution (Amber alerts, elections). So when Wolf Blitzer twitters about the 25th case of swine flu found in some remote Chinese province before the story even ends up on the Situation Room, I just end up feeling neutered, useless, like there’s some kind of action I should be taking when there isn’t any. Like it’s not enough just to feel empathy for the person who contracted the illness.

Of course, it’s different when it comes to friends and personalities publishing humorous thoughts, interesting details, etc. But even with friends, it happens with such overwhelming frequency in such an impersonal manner that I guess I just don’t see much of a benefit for it. I do find entertaining the tidbit trivia it provides, or even the very tiny prison windows it allows into the tastes or even personality of the author, but in the end it just feels cheap and easy. Like information without a context. Ideas without explanations. In the end, this extended network of “friends” and their status updates – even the hard news stories from CNN – are made into entertainment for the short attention spanned. It’s the need to constantly feel connected to a fog of internet profiles without actively doing anything to make that connection meaningful or substantive.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what they personally see to be the honest, real world benefits of such an application as Twitter beyond just the need to be up-to-date, because to this guy it just seems like the one night stand of communication forms: fun and loose, spontaneous, maybe even a little dangerous, but ultimately hollow and purposeless once you wake up in the morning. It’s almost as if people are willfully trying to obliterate their corporeal sense of self in favor of inviting a series of  “friends” classified as thus mostly for the sake of convenience but also out of necessity for the application to work (would you want to broadcast what you’re eating for lunch to 256 “acquaintances”?) to have constant and unmitigated access not so much to their thoughts as to the minutiae of their actions.

So if all we do is share the facts of where we are, what we just ate, who we are about to see, what url is the most lol, isn’t that like giving away your body without your mind? Isn’t that a little like prostitution?

I know to whom I’m speaking when I blog here: myself. I don’t pretend to know everyone or even anyone who is reading this, and as I said in my first entry, I mostly write to figure out and articulate why I care about the things I think about. It’s why I like writing longer entries, allowing myself the time and space to explore the nooks and crannies of my opinions. And I publish to give myself a sense of completion, an excuse to move on to other thoughts, and also to (hopefully though not too frequently) receive alternate perspectives on the subject from other readers. However, when we microblog, we’re not really figuring anything out, exploring a thought or even a specific personal connection, so who are we talking to? And even if we can identify the recipient(s), should we be talking as much as we are? Sure, someone in Buffalo is more than able to tweet a stranger – or even an old high school acquaintance – in Houston, but as Mr. Thoreau asked, what happens if all they have to share is that one of them has a whooping cough?

This may sound like I’m calling for the abolition of microblogging, when in fact that is far from the truth. I would never ask to eliminate any channel of communication from a free society. Furthermore, I firmly believe in the powers of the immediate internet, though I more firmly feel that the internet should act as an addendum to and not a replacement of true human interaction. What I fear here is a pollution of information streams with stories and headlines, either personal or political, that I am told are relevant simply because they are new, because they are now, even if said headline provides zero intellectual nourishment. Because in doing so, it becomes so much harder to decipher between that which is important and that which is, quite frankly, not.

Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (3)  
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topicality-go-lucky

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, and although I did make it part of my mission to only write when I feel I have something to say, the odd part here is that I’ve actually had things to say. I have something like three entries started, one about the hipster fetish over mustaches, one about the impact of the word “nigger” (yeah, even writing it is tough), and one about the Sean Avery controversy a while back and the place of women – and particularly the body, both male and female – in men’s sports. But for some reason I’ve been unable to bring myself to actually complete these thoughts to the point where they remain important to my current state of mind. Even this Amtrak train of thought, this one right now, is beginning to lose steam for me, coming to a slow, creaking halt somewhere in the flatlands of Kansas… or maybe Missouri.

I guess with our constant stream of information, ranging from CNN.com to the status update on Facebook, the need to stay current has microscoped from the weekly to the daily to the minute. I’ve been constantly feeling behind the 8-ball, as if the thoughts I’m thinking at 5:16pm not only aren’t relevant by 5:17pm, but were already thought, articulated, and expressed by someone with much faster processing at 5:15pm. How do you stay current in an era when now is so last minute?

I guess certain philosophies are perennial, so no matter when you think them, they are fundamentally so universal that they speak to virtually any moment in the history of time. But those ideas are so few and far between that I constantly feel like I’m chasing after myself if I’m neither a) thinking of a larger point about the human condition (or, failing that, the role Google plays in our daily lives), nor b) capturing the zeitgeist before the zeit even has the time to come up with a geist.

Yeah, I’m being too hard on myself. But I find it interesting that I even have the resources to be this type of hard on myself. Information is not a limitless commodity, and in this day and age, when the supply can’t quite keep up with the (manufactured) demand, when an exponentially multiplying litter of information salesmen are trying to peddle the same amount of stock, it’s hard not to get down on yourself for not yet building a better internet mousetrap.

So, to save myself from these doldrums, I will now spout what is ultimately a completely useless opinion that I have yet to really see anywhere else. You ready for it? Your brain salivating yet? Okay, here it comes:

Angelina Fucking Jolie is up for best actress for Changeling?! Are you serious? Her performance is everything I hate about the Oscars: it’s a Performance with a capital P. It goes from smiling to crying to shouting to yearning; but, to use the semiotic terms, it’s a bunch of signifiers without the signified. It’s all the tropes of a great performance without the actual heart or core of an actual great performance. What further chaps my hide is that there are more than a few other great performances out there that were totally overlooked by the Hollywood elite in lieu of this critical darling – how about Sally Hawkins from Happy-Go-Lucky for starters? Is it because it’s a comic performance in what is ostensibly a plotless movie that she was so sorely overlooked? Her rendition of Poppy is a total delight that has all the depth and complexity of a normal human being, and further than that, a normal human woman. But because Poppy’s outlook is a decidedly brighter one than most of her fictional sisters this year, because she chooses to meet her challenges with rose-colored glasses, it might seem to the passive viewer that she is simpler, less challenged. On the contrary, it takes great depth and perception to play a character so happy with life despite all the dangers and horrors which we are constantly surrounded by, reported to, updated with. It’s because of that challenge that I am deeply disappointed that someone as hackneyed as Angelina could possibly receive a higher recognition than Ms. Hawkins. The Academy voters (of whom my boss is one – but I have no influence here) need to look past the screaming tears for once and allow best female actresses to be something more than the hooker/neglected housewife/Nazi deathcamp guard (okay, that’s a new one) and actually allow them to be, well, happy-go-lucky.

And that’s my topical rant. There. I feel much better now. And now, in my current afterglow, I’m slowly considering that the reason I like Poppy so much is because she supercedes (but doesn’t ignore) the world around her – all the noise, pressures, streams of information – and chooses to be cheerful. Maybe I could take a cue from her. I think I will.

sallyhawkins

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 1:57 am  Comments (1)  

Behold the Power, or UweTube

It can unite. It can divide. It can make you laugh or cry. It can allow even the smallest of voices to be heard by the smallest of audiences. But most importantly, it gives all of us the outlet to be political activists in ways we may never have thought imaginable.

Witness the internet and its quintessential website YouTube in all its populist glory when Uwe Boll breaks his silence concerning the online petition against his films. Should you not be familiar with Mr. Boll and his body of work, consider exercising the democratization of information and look him up on Wikipedia.

Happy Monday.

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment