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Virtuality, Representation, and Passing
Transcript of Virtuality, Representation, and Passing
Individual Body versus Group, Social Identities The Theory: Exploring Althusser By: Joomi Kim Althusser's Hail: The Conflict Between Social Identities in Dollhouse Introduction By: Jennifer Rhee Virtual Reality and Passing in Caprica Empowerment through Virtual Representation: Possibilities and Limitations In passing narratives, a human alters the information they project from themselves (that is, from their physical body) in order to become recognized as having a different identity than the one they were born with. In slave narratives, passing primarily focuses on race and gender identity. But in today’s rapidly advancing technological age, we must consider the fact that a great number of different kinds of passing is becoming available to more and more people. In particular, much has been made of the potentiality of virtual reality in science fiction books, movies, and television shows such as Caprica. The ultimate dream of virtual reality is, of course, the complete freedom to shape one's identity in that virtual space. With the infinite possibilities afforded by virtual passing and the shift of importance placed on the human body to the virtual representation of human identity, the irrelevance of the physical body becomes a question to explore. I hope to do just that, by close-reading a specific character and her passing in Caprica. In this show, a computer programming genius named Zoe creates a clone of herself in the virtual world. This clone, which, for the purposes of this paper shall be referred to as Zoe-A (Zoe-Avatar), passes as two different beings: Original Zoe, and a military robot called a cylon. Observing the effects on Zoe-A of her passing as both Original Zoe and the cylon may help us better project the possible implications of the increasing sophistication of virtual reality in our real world today. Virtuality, Representation, and Passing A Mini-Collection of Essays, by Stella Honey Yoon, Jennifer Rhee, and Joomi Kim The scope of this focus is narrow enough that it is not concerned with questions of the real; that is, we are not going to call into question Zoe-A's status as a legitimate, sentient being, who is on a level of intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual equivalence with those of the human race. She asserts herself as fully real, as fully alive, to Lacy in her anger and fear at the impending irradiation of the chip she resides in:
But what is more important for us to understand is Zoe-A's status as one of autonomy and distinction from her creator, Original Zoe. Zoe-A herself asserts this truth multiple times throughout the show. She understands the difference between herself and Original Zoe, because she is aware that she is a creation, that she has never truly experienced the memories she holds, and that her true life began when she was first replicated. Yet at the same time, Zoe-A's existence is based one hundred percent off of Original Zoe's existence, and throughout the show, she uses this connection to her advantage, in effect passing as Original Zoe. Even in the scene previously described, Zoe-A tries to convince Lacy of her authenticity as Zoe Graystone by offering her memories as "proof": "I remember it. Just like I remember growing up with you. It's true. I've never been to your house. Never played in your room, never put on your makeup or tried on your clothes. I'm not a person. I know that. But I feel like one" (Episode 1, timestamp 24:49-25:18). She also, by the end of the show, accepts Original Zoe's parents' love and agrees to work together with them to create a body for her that will allow them to live as if Original Zoe had never died (Episode 18 "Here Be Dragons"). In both of these scenes of successful passing, Zoe-A does not rely necessarily on her (virtual) body's signifiers to pass as Original Zoe. Because of the ability in virtual reality for one to manipulate one's virtual image, those who knew Zoe-A's original cannot afford to rely on physical signifiers to determine anyone's identity – and indeed, they do not. Instead, Zoe-A passes by emphasizing the authenticity of intangible traits, such as how she remembers past events in Original Zoe's life, and how she thinks and feels about things, passing them off simultaneously as Original Zoe's but also as her own. But, despite the acceptance of Zoe-A as the equivalent of a human being, Lacy and Original Zoe's parents still require Zoe-A to exist in a body that resembles that of Original Zoe. They cannot live with her as an authentic replacement for Original Zoe until they have created a physical body that replicates Original Zoe's body. In doing so they essentially declare that one cannot truly pass without the body emitting the same physical signifiers of the original as well, once again placing importance and significance on the physical body. Zoe-A as Real and Independent Enter: The Body This emphasis on the body as connected to identity might be better understood when we look at Zoe-A's reaction to her forced transfer into her father's prototype cylon. Though no one knows better than Zoe-A that she is not a "real" human being, she still feels a strong tie to the virtual body she inhabits as the identical physical representation of Original Zoe, and when she gains consciousness in the cylon body, she has trouble adjusting to her unfeminine and dangerous features. When Lacy comes to the Graystone house to see her for the first time in her cylon body, Zoe-A cries out in frustration when Lacy admits to her that she looks male, and when Lacy tries to comfort her by saying it is amazing she is in the real world, she retorts, "Yeah but I'm trapped" (Episode 3 "Rebirth," timestamp 36:52-37:10). Zoe-A as Cylon Zoe-A's male-looking military robot body, deemed a monster by her own mother, frustrates her to the point of feeling imprisoned in this body. At the same time, Lacy believes that Zoe-A inhabits the cylon body only because of the physical, or rather audible, signifier of Zoe-A's voice – which, of course, is identical to Original Zoe's voice and thus a signifier of one who is human. One could imagine that she would not have so readily come to the Graystones's house had she not recognized Zoe's voice when she first called her at the end of Episode 2. Zoe-A's transference to a cylon body reveals to us the importance of the body in understanding the internal self. Even in the realm of psychoanalysis, the understanding of the mind comes through the understanding of the relationship of the mind to the body. Jacques Lacan's Mirror Stage Theory is an excellent tool to depict this relationship and its importance. In this theory, a baby first comes to develop consciousness as a subject through the external image of another human being (whether himself in a mirror or his mother); this external image unites a previously fragmented and distorted understanding of the self, which, for an infant still in literal physical development, is natural. Zoe-A's development as, essentially, a human being, undergoes a similar process, in which Original Zoe functions as her figurative mirror. Her understanding of herself is not severed from her connection to a body; in fact, it is heavily dependent on it, and her move to a cylon body that is the complete opposite of her physical body in almost every point brings that connection out into the open, because it creates a disconnect between Zoe-A's conception of her Ideal-I (Original Zoe) and the body she is forced into. Once again, she becomes fragmented and experiences the trauma of development and reconfiguring her identity. Lacan and the Mirror Stage Theory We see clearly that Caprica stresses that this fragmentation and trauma occurs only because Zoe-A's conviction of her identity is so firmly founded in her original virtual avatar body and her connection with Original Zoe. The show makes sure to intersperse portrayals of Zoe-A in the cylon body with cuts of her original avatar body to remind the audience that she is in fact Zoe-A and not a mere robot. We see the difference between how Zoe-A feels and conceives of herself and how others treat her while in the cylon body. Though Zoe-A by necessity must pretend that she is nothing more than the regular consciousness of the U-87 cylon prototype and therefore does not even allow the scientists around her to see why they should not treat her as an object, the very fact that she is trapped inside an essentially electronically functioning object which results in the same kind of treatment towards her completely jars against her identity. This culminates in Zoe-A's confrontation (as the cylon) with the young scientist Philomon, when he rejects her plea for help and reneges on his claim that he would care for her no matter what she looked like (Episode 10 "End of Line," timestamp 29:14-22:44). In Zoe-A's rage and feelings of betrayal, she miscalculates her own strength and accidentally kills him – a very concrete example of the difference in her understanding of self and her actual physical body, as well as more proof that the body and appearance is still significant despite the abilities of the virtual to fluidly move between bodies and virtual spaces. This analysis of the Zoe-A character in Caprica has, perhaps counter-intuitively, resulted in a strengthening of the position of the body, not a weakening or disregarding of it. Though Zoe-A began her life as a program in virtual space, the term "virtual space" gives away the main truth: despite her existence in a virtual world, that virtual world still functions according to the rules of the real physical world, with space and matter still represented, and so Zoe-A began life tied to a virtual image of a physical body. This tie of the internal self to an image of a physical body is not really any different from the tie every human being already has to the image of their body in real life; Lacan already stated it when he first explained his Mirror Theory and claimed that the infant focuses on the external image of another human in order to begin understanding himself as one as well. Even Zoe-A's adjustment to herself as a cylon was wholly based on her former understanding of her internal self – which was, in turn, based on a representation of a physical body. Outside of the fictional world of Caprica, in our real world, then, we must look at the potential of passing in virtual reality today. Though many do things such as use avatars that do not accurately represent themselves in online games (changing the gender of the avatar, etc.) or upload false pictures of themselves on social media sites, no one has truly passed in virtual space in the manner that Zoe-A passes in Caprica. The end-result is always that, at the end of the online game, or when a Facebook user meets a friend in real life, the façade disappears and the real identity, always connected to a body, emerges as truth. Passing in the virtual is as of yet still limited, because of the importance of the body. The body has yet to be conquered – and perhaps, should not be conquered. Instead we need to learn how to use and understand our bodies as inherent parts of our identities. Conclusion: Part 2 Conclusion: Part 1 "And maybe that isn't even real to you because I don't even seem real to you, but I am. Inside of here, I am real! " (Episode 10 "End of Line," timestamp 22:28). Zoe-A as a cylon, looking at herself in a reflection for the first time Zoe-A strapped down, shown in her physical form and how she sees herself Stella Honey Yoon Introduction Part 1: Frameworks Part 2: Empowerment in Play Through Virtual Representation in Caprica Part 3: The Contemporary Virtual Space and the Limitations of the Virtual Conclusion Works Cited Foucault. "Panopticism." In discussing the subject of empowerment within a virtual world through virtual representation, I would first like to bring forth a collection of concepts and ideas discussed in Althusser, Lacan and Foucault that I would use to analyze my examples. Rather than viewing the paradigms presented in each work as opposing or conflicting ideas, I hope to first create a way to seamlessly incorporate the different concepts into a fluid, integrated discourse.
We are brought into the world through the Hail; from the moment we are born we are constantly interpellated. It is through our “social mirrors” that we quickly learn that in order to become “alive” in the social realm, and to maintain such social existence we must respond to the hail and become willing subjects of the system. It is also through our mirror images--from our environment to the people we surround us--that we learn to recognize the “lack” in each of our subject-states. The baby lacks the ability to communicate with coherent language, the octogenarian, his youth, and the angsty teen, the freedom to deviate from society’s protective and disciplinary measures; by observing the disparities between our own mirror-image to another subject’s, or through observing the other body’s desires reflected on his or her mirror surface. We start to distinguish the rupture between our “ideal-I” state and our “social-I” state, what is imagined versus what is projected, the virtual complex and the reality.
The feeling of desire stems from the realization of the lack. This desire is seldom realized, however, because the subject, by realizing his desires, will be risking his state of subjectivity and thus his social existence. His being itself acts upon him as a constraint; “he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his subjection.” (Foucault 66) The virtual space serves as a site of escape from the Panopticon of our subjectivity, a place in which we can overcome both the normativity and the facticity of the human body. Here we are able to re-envision our identities to strive closer to the “ideal-I” state that we have always desired and dreamed of in our imagined virtual complex yet never accomplished as subjects in society, without forfeiting our social existence and our “social-I” state. This is a place in which one can bridge the gap between the “social-I” and the “ideal-I.” Before I discuss the more “realistic” examples of virtuality and virtual realms in the contemporary context, I would like to bring forth examples from Caprica in order to exemplify how individuals may seek empowerment through the virtual space. Caprica is at once an exaggerated example that presents an extremely fluid virtual world--such fluidity is far from realistic in the day and age of early 21st century. Yet we are able to glean visages of truths from hyperboles, and Caprica serves as a great experimental ground to imagine hypothetical situations in which we may project our desires in the most “realistic”, most physical and vividly envisioned space. i) The Gamers in New Cap City
Those who use their holobands to engage in the game-world that is New Cap City have the freedom to manipulate their appearances freely within the game space. The result of such freedom in manipulating appearances allow them to embody their external “ideal-I” state.
The gamers in new Cap city are able to manipulate their appearances freely within the game space; the result of such freedom in manipulating appearances is their efforts to embody their ideal-I state and become empowered from the transformation. For example, “Heracles” in New Cap City is a sleek, nimble, well-dressed and well-built character who knows his way around New Cap City well. When guiding Joseph Adama in his attempt to find Tamara, he is confident, fully in control, and bosses Adama around while lecturing him on the ropes of the game. In reality, however, we see that “Heracles” is a skinny, greasy-haired teenager who, in real life, would more likely be getting pushed around by those who he is defeating with such ease in New Cap City. Similarly, “Emmanuelle”, Adama’s assistant and later love interest, is a young, sharp, thin and white character in New Cap City. We quickly find out that in real life, she is much older, somber, stern-faced and Tauron.
The players, through their virtual gaming selves, embody their own “ideal-I” that they were never able to achieve in real life. In this space, not only are their power relations defined by how well one navigates around the city without being killed, but are also embodied through the malleable physicality. In viewing the scenes in New Cap City we do not sense a disjuncture between the newly constructed virtual bodies and the “self” that occupies the new site, though the “self” is the same one that occupies a place in the real world as well. I see this not as two distinct, discrete selves exchanging places, but a transformation and a regression of the same self as it re-enacts its desires in the virtual world, and then returns to the real world where such desires are never conceived.
What is particularly striking about this particular virtual complex of New Cap City is the malleability of representation and the symbiosis of the mind and the body as it strives for the “ideal-I” state in the virtual world. The sharpness, strength and acumen of Heracles’ and Emmanuelle’s mental capabilities also reflect back out through their bodies as they artfully dodge bombs and take out their contenders with gunshots. In the real world, however, both of the characters would be impeded by the limitations placed by both the normativity of the body and the facticity of the body. Heracles is a scrawny, pale kid who works a night shift at a restaurant going through the garbage pile. The social norms will probably deem him as a “geek”, instantly placing him in an inferior category in the hierarchy of all subjects; his physical traits, the limits placed by the biological, has not equipped him for the fierce fighting and surviving that he dreams of doing in his virtual complex. ii) v-Zoe, v-Tamara
The second example is of virtual-Zoe and virtual-Tamara. The girls have an almighty presence in New Cap City because of their immutability in a one-chance game. Here they defy the possibility of death, a notion that ironically spawned the particularities of their virtual existence, for the very cause of their immortality in the v-world is their deaths in the real world. The fruition of the ultimate desire, immortality, frees the girls from subjection. Their existence no longer the impetus of self-surveillance, nothing stops the two virtual identities from releasing their desires and fulfilling their wants. They are no longer able to be interpellated by anyone else--hence they elevate to a godlike status that they utilize to take control of New Cap City and create a serene and protected haven for themselves. Their complete freedom from subjection that is allowed in the virtual realm also reflects itself in their physical and psychical capabilities within the virtual space. For example, they are able to stop others’ movements during altercations, manipulate code with the swoop of a hand, or build expansive sceneries by staring out into the distance. Here we observe a display of total power: they are no longer just empowered to control their own identities but are able to extend their power to control others. Yet, becoming god has its limitations in the virtual world, as even when one exerts complete empowerment and beyond, one cannot sever the ties nor completely be free from the implications of the real world; this will be expanded upon in more detail in the next part of this essay. “[…]individuals are always-already subjects. […] That an individual is always-already a subject, even before he is born, is the plain reality, accessible to everyone and not a paradox at all”
(Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, 119). Althusser’s concept of the hail relies on the interactions between various social identities, individual bodies, and a common sense of authority. In Joss Whedon’s television series Dollhouse, the characters embody extreme relationships with the authorial hail and its connection to the body. Whedon creates scenarios where the hail’s effects and authority are amplified beyond normal reality, revealing possible conflicts between the individual as representative of the group authority. Introduction As Althusser states, the individual is subject to social influence. While embodying a distinct, singular physical body, the individual acts on behalf of various group identities (racial, economic, etc). The clash between the individual’s unique, physically separate space in the body and the overlapping spaces of social identity signified by the body strongly emerges in the voice and the hail. The Interpellative Hail “I shall then suggest that ideology 'acts' or 'functions* in such a way that it 'recruits' subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all}, or 'transforms' the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: 'Hey, you there!'”
(Althusser, 118) According to Althusser, the hail is the moment of interpellation, the moment where a person’s social ideology takes over their identity and the individual responds to the hail as a subject of their social and political environment. In other words, the hail—especially the anonymous hail as in the case of the police officer—requires the listener to immediately acknowledge or disregard the speaker based on the relationship between their social identities and the calling authority. The hail “recruits subjects”, triggering only specific social identities and reducing the individual from their many group identities to the ones required. For example, the police officer’s hail triggers individuals from certain races and economic classes, as well as those guilty of theft/illegal activity to respond. The police officer and the listener react as governmental authority figure and social subject, abandoning the social identities irrelevant to their interaction. Dollhouse Example 1: Code Questions and Code Phrases The Dolls always react in the exact same way after the Dollhouse members use their code phrases; they are an extreme example of the transformation into subjects within Althusser’s hail. When the Dolls are in a “blank state” between Engagements, they have no form of identity or socialized reactions outside their code names and imprinted code phrases. In regard to Althusser, the Dollhouse’s scripted code phrases and code names create the moment where the Dolls become complete subjects to their social and neurological conditioning within the Dollhouse. For example, in the scene where the Doll programmer Topher Brink and Echo’s handler Boyd Langton return Echo to the Dollhouse after a dangerous Engagement, their responses to her after she returns to the “blank state” are uniform in both word and tone. As Topher explains in the next scene, the codes and conversation after wiping the memory of the Dolls are essential towards making the Dolls feel safe within the confines of a set role; this is especially important since the Dolls only have their code names and code phrases to formulate their social identity within the Dollhouse. In addition, the Dolls never vary their reply to the Dollhouse members’ hails. Each Doll says the exact same phrase, “Did I fall asleep?” and “Shall I go now?” after waking up from an Engagement memory wipe. These specific hails shift the Dolls from their previous Engagement personalities back to their blank Doll state. In the Dollhouse, Althusser’s moment of interpellation forces the Actives to respond as Doll subjects, and it create a bare foundation of appropriate social order and response essential for the Dollhouse to maintain a functional, social hierarchy. In Joss Whedon’s science fiction television series Dollhouse, the Dollhouses are underground organizations that program individuals (or Dolls/Actives) with temporary personalities and skills. Extremely wealthy clients hire Dolls for personalized romantic excursions, professional jobs, and other Engagements. Dollhouse follows the characters of a specific Dollhouse in Los Angeles--the Dolls Echo, Victor, and Sierra and their authority figures. Unlike Althusser’s example of the police hail, the main Dollhouse in the series uses questions to stimulate choice and free will. The code phrases tend to be conversations based on questions, such as “Did I fall asleep?”, “For a little while,” “Shall I go now?”, “If you like,” “Do you trust me?” and “Would you like a treatment?” Although the conversations are highly conditioned down to the word and tone, the Dollhouse’s hails are indicative of the hail of an underground authority. In the third scene, Active Victor’s handler asks him “Would you like a treatment?”, and Victor immediately follows him. The non-Doll woman, Priya, does not recognize Victor’s complete subjectivity and enslavement to the hail, and the illusion that the individual is acting, not the subject, remains. The interpellation of the hail is misinterpreted and hidden under common discourse. In other words, the Dollhouse relies on the deception of free will in order to operate in public, and the rhetorical questions and seemingly spontaneous conversations distract from the complete authority behind the hail and its command. The Dolls are neurologically programmed to embody specific social identities at different times, but the Dollhouse’s authority within their handlers’ code phrases—such as “Would you like a treatment?” and “Do you trust me?”—is constant throughout their Active and Doll identities. The Dolls each have a personal handler, and they are imprinted to naturally trust their handler’s voice and face regardless of their implanted memories and personalities. In other words, the Doll’s relationship with their handler and the handler’s code phrases create continuity, prioritizing the Doll’s role as a subject of the Dollhouse over any of its other imprinted personalities. The handler and the Doll have a unique relationship that allows the hail to become targeted specifically between the authorial representation of the Dollhouse—the individual handler—and the Doll without any need for an exposed hail. Althusser’s police officer exposes his position of authority when he hails a person, but the Dollhouse bypasses the need to publicly acknowledge their authority, even through verbal cues sometimes, by creating a direct hail between the handler’s body and the Doll’s. Although the code phrase, "Do you trust me?" triggers a greater effect, the handler's body is already imprinted onto the Doll. The handler’s unique physical body and voice becomes the ideal covert hail between the Dollhouse and its Dolls. Although the handlers represent the authority of the Dollhouse Corporation, the handlers are able to abuse their power as representatives by acting on social identities that conflict with their Dollhouse position. Similar to Althusser’s police officer, a corrupt authority figure violates the concept of the hail by disregarding his social identity as a police officer. For the Dolls, they suffer a much higher risk than normal, social people because of their inability to escape their subject position during the hail. The Dolls have no perspective outside their social identity as Dolls. For example, in the scene with Sierra’s handler, Sierra is completely at the mercy of her sexually abusive handler. Although suffering severe sexual trauma four times at the hands of her handler, she is unable to escape or understand his corruption. Boyd, another handler on the same level of authority, releases Sierra from her handler’s control, and even then, Sierra is unaware of her handler’s misconduct as an individual. She still views the handlers as complete authority figures, unable to overcome her and her handler’s roles as subjects relative to the authority of the Dollhouse. The Dolls are unable to leave or question their handlers since the Dollhouse’s hail is almost absolute interpellation. While the handlers occupy different social identities outside the Dollhouse, the handlers, code names, and code phrases all remind the Dolls of their only social identity; their obedience to the Dollhouse members and clients. Dollhouse Example 3: Adelle’s Hail to November Adelle’s verbal sleeper hail to November relies on her unique, physical voice as well as a code phrase to hail and trigger November. Another example of an extremely specific hail between two people, Adelle’s use of her body as a hail mimics the handlers’ bodily hails to their Dolls. Her voice in combination with the code phrase creates layers of clandestine authority and control inaccessible outside the union of her individual body and her social identity as an authority figure within Dollhouse. Also, Adelle’s voice, unlike the handlers’ voice and image, can operate from a distance. In the scene where November kills a hit man, Adelle manipulates the situation from a remote location, acquiring an even greater amount of control in relative safety. Adelle’s bodily values is proportional to her high level of authority in the Dollhouse, and although the singularity of the body is useful when manipulating the hail, Adelle risks exposing herself for her hail when she links her body with her social identity as a high-ranking Dollhouse figure. Because of the hail’s imperfect relationship between the individual body and the group authority, Adelle loses sole authority over her body and her role in the Dollhouse. In the scene where Boyd threatens Adelle, Boyd occupies Adelle’s position of power by replicating her physical voice. Boyd, revealed to be the founder of the Dollhouse/Rossum Corporation, is the ultimate authority figure within the Dollhouse, yet he is forced to imitate Adelle’s body in order to retain control over a Doll. Although Adelle was able to establish her hail with November through her authority in the Dollhouse, without her voice the Dollhouse is unable to reclaim control over the hail. Adelle rebels against the Dollhouse’s use of the hail, and as the individual’s identities outside the group authority clash with its identity within the group authority, the hail itself occupies a problematic space under the power of an individual and outside the hierarchy of the group authority.
In Dollhouse, the hail is pushed to the extreme, becoming the moment of almost complete interpellation between clearly defined social identities and positions of authority. The Dolls and the members of the Dollhouse are in complete authority/submission to one another, and the Dolls rely on their relationship with the Dollhouse to structure all of their interactions and behaviors. The Dolls occupy only one social identity while in the Doll state, simplifying Althusser’s concept of the hail and social identities attached to the hail. At the same time, the non-Dolls—or the Dollhouse members—exist within different social identities that cause them to manipulate and abuse their power over the Dolls. As the hail becomes more precise and covert, the reliance on the individual as the representative of authority also grows. Dollhouse reveals the conflicts between the individual’s various social identities outside the group authority and its identity within the group authority, questioning the body’s unique and overreaching control beyond the hierarchy of social power within the hail. Conclusion As shown in the scene, the Dolls are imprinted with certain code words and phrases for the Dollhouse members to use. These code questions and code phrases control the Dolls and trigger specific reactions; in other words they are hails. The Covert Hail The Clash Between Social Identities The Hail: Between the Individual's Body and the Group's Authority In this work I wish to offer a broad sketch of the issues surrounding representation in the virtual world, and how the virtual provides a space in which the individual is no longer bound by the factors that govern his subjectivity. By bypassing elements of the normativity and the facticity of the human body to varying degrees, the individual is able to witness his desires come to fruition without the consequences of risking his social existence in the real world. In order to do so, I wish to divide this work into three parts: first, I would like to touch upon the foundational works of Althusser, Lacan and Foucault that I have used to interpret and analyze my examples. Rather than viewing their works as separate discourses, I view these as complementary layers that provide differently nuanced insights and perspectives. Then, I wish to pull specific points of discussion from the TV Series Caprica in order explore the extent of empowerment granted to individuals in a world where the virtual is easily accessible, widely utilized and the most intricate. In the last part of my work, I want to then look at empowerment within contemporary modes of virtuality, as well as discussing the inevitable limitations of empowerment through the virtual. I see this work as an overarching survey of the virtual, and treat my work as a primer to the more particular and in-depth readings into virtuality, passing and embodiment that will be expanded upon by my peers in this project. In our “real” world we explore virtuality through more limited means than what is possible in Caprica. Our virtual worlds are composed of blogs, online personalities, games and avatars, online chatting portals and more. While we are not able to physically embody the desired “ideal-I” state through these modes, we can still be successful in manipulating the imaginative space so that we could to a degree convey a different imagined representation of our physical body. In our available virtual worlds, we are able to manipulate our identities and filter what kind of information we wish to display to others. Our virtual identities are a carefully constructed and devised combination of our unrealized desires and dreams. Through anonymity, a feature in many of these virtual outlets, and the virtual communities’ recognition of our projected selves over our “real” selves that lie underneath the projection, we are able to assume fragmented (in the sense that our available virtual outlets only enable a partial representation of oneself) versions of our “ideal-I” states that we have accumulated over the years of absorbing and reflecting back mirror-images. As much as these outlets could be employed to display the self in the most “truthful” manner, we also see ample possibilities of deviance as individuals seek to attain features of their desired “ideal-I” states. We see the shy, introverted teenaged boy become a fearless and feared warrior on ‘World of Warcraft’ where the other players recognize him as “galactica308” rather than “Tom.” We see numerous blogs and micro-blogs dedicated to the desire to become thin, where the hopeful skinny minnies post countless pictures of emaciated models and log their snacks daily. We often hear stories of online chatting sites in which older men pretend to be twentysomethings in order to chat with girls half their age. These vignettes are rather stereotypical, but telling sketches—and not without ethical or legal implications that are beyond the scope of this work—of how the virtual world serves as a site of desire re-envisioned. Through these virtual representations, the individuals are able to see themselves as stronger, younger, more powerful, and more beautiful versions of themselves—these identities do not feel like separate entities from the real self, or the “social-I”, but rather an extension or a projection of the dreams and desires finally realized in a more tangible form. Despite all of the liberties offered in the virtual world, at the end of the day we return to the real world, once again becoming willing subjects of a system, relieved of our continued social existence. If the virtual offered us a way to explore our desires without social consequences, however, why do we inevitably return to the real world? What stops us from “living in the virtual” perpetually? i) The Temporality of the Virtual
The fundamental caveat of the virtual world is that without the real world, there is no virtuality. One’s empowerment within the virtual complex is possible precisely because of the relatively low-stakes existence granted in the virtual world; the weight of such stakes are carried by the real world and allows the virtual world to float without restrictions. The virtual retains its name precisely because there is a real counterpart that we return to at the end of the day. We are endowed with the power to exercise agency and be empowered within the virtual world because the consequences of defying norms while living in the virtual world do not fully translate into the real. With the virtual, we have a choice of closing its doors and returning to our everyday “real” lives. This choice is only made possible because of the impossibility of doing so with the real world. At the same time, one must close those doors at some point in time—to refrain from doing so would result in a loss of the real world, and consequently a loss of the virtual. Thus, the relationship of the virtual and the real is strikingly similar to the subject-desire duality, in which the existence of the virtual, a force that oftentimes opposes the norms of the real, is predicated on the perpetuity of the real. ii) The Driving Force; The Realization of the Lack
The self as a social image is a fragmented whole of desires, wants, ideals and dreams, all of which are constructed and carefully controlled by the social power realized by the system of subjection. The pang of desire, or the “realization of the lack” is the ultimate way in which a subject confirms and perpetuates her existence. By living an existence full of desire and lack we continue to ruminate, dream and become fully alive.
In Caprica, when v-Zoe finally finds v-Tamara in order to seek her co-operation in New Cap City down, Tamara is angry, remorseful and belligerent. Even when she knows that v-Zoe, like her, is immutable, she continues to viciously attack her and challenges v-Zoe to fight back. When asked by Zoe as to why she was doing so, Tamara replies that she is trying to take revenge for Zoe’s blowing up of the train to Gemenon and taking her life away in the real world. The other players who cheer alongside Tamara are those who lost loved ones in the real world because of the bombing.
Here Tamara is mourning for the ultimate lack she is suffering from--her non-existence in the “real world.” Her death in her real “world” and her inability to assume a “real” existence is what drives her to destroy v-Zoe, though both she and Zoe know that it is impossible to do so here in the virtual world. Here we see a remarkable transformation: as Tamara loses her place in the “real” world, the former virtual world, New Cap City, becomes her new reality. Her perpetual longing for her past existence in what she remembers as the “real” world now becomes the ultimate desire she cannot attain, which in turn strengthens her new “real” existence in New Cap City.