Identity Play, Cybersex, and a pep talk

Posted: October 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Today, I’m going to write about “When Identity Play Became Hooking Up: Cybersex, Online Dating and the Political Logic of Infection” by Jeremy Kaye. I don’t have a second article to go with it, so instead I’m going to talk about these exams that I’ll be starting in 13 days. But, seeing as that is a digression, I will first write about the article, so if you want to skip my pep talk to myself, you can.

Kaye starts his article off putting something out there for us to look at. He says “More and more Internet users are using the web’s unmatched communicativity in order to meet online with the intention of, what I will call, physically ‘hooking up'” (157). He’s certainly right here. I remember a time when the very idea of meeting someone from the Internet inspired either derision or warning; there were more urban legends about meeting people online than there were about just about anything for a while. But as time has gone by, the stigma really has gone away; people in their mid to late twenties don’t have the TIME to go on dates with random people, so they turn to the internet. I know a few successful marriages that started online, and a number of couples who met that way.

But this trend does a bit of harm to the idea of virtual identity. When people are intending on a real-life meeting, it’s much harder to play or experiment with other identities. The new identity taken on suddenly becomes an active lie when talking about meeting in real life. On the other hand, Kaye writes that “Insisting on the virtual as a disembodied space of anonymous identity-play with no real potential for material interaction both reflects and masks certain ideological assumptions” (159). If we want the internet to give us a disembodied space, then we are assuming that there is no intention of bringing the online relationships into the real world. We are also assuming that everyone is (or could be) experimenting with a different identity, rather than using their ‘real’ identity or just experimenting with a part of their identity.

Basically, it seems like Kaye is saying that we can either have the virtual world be a place to start real relationships or have it as a space to play with embodiment and identity, but not both. Can’t have our cake and eat it too. (Which would be a real problem if the cake was a lie.)

A part of this article talks about cybersex, the practice of pretending to have sex online. That’s not a fair description of it. It’s a purely cerebral sexual experience, one where identity can really be explored. As Kaye writes, “cyber-subjects are free to become different versions of themselves because online, one is no longer empirically bound to one’s corporeal body, and identity-play is the norm” (162), something that is only true if we keep it disembodied. This is because “if anybody can be anyone s/he wants to be in cyberspace, it is precisely because no one can see or hear who anybody physically is. In other words, it doesn’t matter in cyberspace who you really are, or whether you are just playing an identity” (165, italics in original).

Of course, you have to play the identity well (the Authenticity question). And now that question goes beyond the text based world. After all, “one can upload any picture onto the web in the place of one’s own” (168), which allows someone to play as a specific other identity. This helps with authenticity, in that “a person’s photograph, much more than actually able to represent reality, makes the viewer believe in its reality” (168, italics in original). A picture helps convince people of this alternate identity.

Whether the addition of a picture will counterbalance stumbles in the presentation of identity remains to be seen; personally, I think that it will, because the people want to believe that the picture is real, that the person they’re talking to is who they claim to be. Like Kaye says, “The issue here basically becomes trust” (168); people want to trust.


So I have 13 days until my exams start. I have read thousands of pages, made dozens of posts on this blog, and have spent hours working on questions to prepare. And I am prepared. It’s something I learned over the course of this process: what matters is the confidence, and more time is not your friend.

The truth of exams is that by the time I walk in the door (so to speak; the exams will be sent to me via e-mail), I will know whether or not I’m going to pass the exam. I’d have to do something REALLY bad (like confuse Aristotle and Plato) to actually fail the exam. The question when I walk in is whether I will pass with flying colors or if they’ll make me jump through some hoops first.

There is some question of whether exams are preliminary (preparation for a dissertation) or comprehensive (making sure there is a solid base of knowledge), and I think this actually changes based on who is being examined and who is giving the exam. But either way, I think it serves as training wheels.

Most of school is a series of these training wheels. I think it goes all the way back to kindergarten, but I’ll start with when wheels come off. The first set comes off when you start moving from room to room at school; when you don’t have the same teacher for every subject. Then another set comes off when you make your own schedule.

When you get to college, they remove the disciplinary wheels; it’s now on you to make sure you go to class or get work done.

Grad school starts, and more wheels come off: you’re now expected to direct your own research to an extent, and to sustain arguments. Often times, you’re also expected to teach.

With a PhD program like the one I’m in, the wheels are almost all gone. I started here having to teach, expected to know how to write a sustained argument, and able to do my own research BEYOND the classroom. Last year, as I finished course work, I took off another set of training wheels and became an ‘expert reader’; I don’t need a professor to explain things to me anymore. I can understand on my own, at a deep enough level (that personally I couldn’t have done as recently as 2 years ago). I also no longer have coursework, so I have to set my own schedule now in a much more comprehensive way.

The exams are another set of wheels. By preparing for them, I’ve learned how to research a field as a whole, and how to gather up a lot of knowledge very quickly. I’m also learning how to really organize my writing (I have to; two exams in one day will do that).

Once they’re over, I’ll be a PhD Candidate. Another set of wheels will come off. There will be nothing scheduled for me, no one to push me along certain lines, and no pregenerated lists to work off of. I’ll have to find my own argument and my own support for it, making myself an expert in that field.

The next set comes off when the Perspectus is done; never again will people look at my ideas before I really start writing and tell me how to improve them. Then we take off the last set with the Dissertation. Once that’s done, I’ll be a professor somewhere (hopefully), and riding all on my own.

It’s oddly less scary when I think of things that way.


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