Posts Tagged ‘internet’

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

As someone – now a 40 something woman – once a baby who was born into feminism, and who later rejected it, there’s plenty about the dogma I find troubling. But I think it’s feminism’s scare-mongering and moralising about sex (usually heterosex) via narratives of men’s sexual violence against women – and girls – that gets me the most. And, though the two may not seem intrinsically  linked at first, discussions of ‘internet trolls’ seem to be yet another way that feminist women are able to demonise and criminalise men, those dirty dogs. Bear with me.

Today, Chris Grayling the UK Justice Secretary, has vowed to quadruple the maximum prison sentence for convicted ‘trolls’. This statement, which actually relates to an amendment to the Communications Act via the Criminal_Justice_and_Courts_Bill proposed back in March this year, and confirmed in July, seems to be timed carefully. It also neatly illustrates  the  link between feminist preoccupations with rape/male violence and wider discourses around ‘trolls’.

Grayling promised ‘tougher sentences’ (under the communications act) against ‘internet trolls’ after Chloe Madeley received rape threats on twitter. The 27 year old daughter of iconic TV couple Richard and Judy, seemed to be suffering a backlash after her Mum had waded into the Ched Evans  rape case clusterfuck. Evans, a professional footballer, has just been released from prison following a conviction for rape in 2012. Judy Finnegan added her tuppence worth by saying she thought the alleged assault by Evans wasn’t as bad as some rapes because among other reasons no ‘bodily harm’ was suffered by the alleged victim.  I use the term ‘alleged’ as the case is ongoing. Dad Richard is baying for blood and threatening the ‘trolls’ who threatened his daughter with prosecution.

Meanwhile, at least 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for Sheffield Utd to refuse-to-reinstate-ched-evans-as-a-player.  Feminists and their detractors online and in the media have been at logger heads over the career prospects of this one man. It all seems a bit over the top. But ‘celebrity’ cases often serve as prisms through which we look at wider issues in society. The Ched Evans case is refracting a lot of heat and light. I think even whilst the storm (in a football boot) rages on there are some reflections and questions worth considering.

The first issue that concerns me is what was the motivation for increasing the maximum sentence for ‘malicious communications’ from 6 months (it was a summary offence) to two years? Angie Bray, the Conservative MP who proposed the amendment made her inspiration for doing so clear. She said:

‘My interest was first aroused by a visit to my surgery in Ealing by constituents who were desperately trying to understand why justice had failed to be done for their young daughter, who had been receiving wholly unwanted explicit sexual text messages from the husband of the mothers’ best friend. Such was the kick that he apparently got from sending those messages to her that he sometimes sent 30 a day.

That went on for a year or so. The young girl did not tell anyone, because she knew he was married to her mum’s friend, and did not want to upset anyone. She carried that torment on her young shoulders alone. Finally, the school got in touch with the parents to find out why their daughter’s work was going rapidly downhill. Was there a problem they could discuss? What was wrong with her? My constituents asked their daughter, but she said nothing was wrong.’

Bray goes on to explain how attempts to prosecute the man defendant (who she says was 42 when the girl receiving the texts was 13-14) failed. In part she blames this on the communications act making the crime of ‘malicious communications’ a summary offence, meaning a) the maximum sentence is 6 months in prison and b) the maximum amount of time between crime and criminal charges is also six months. Extend the sentence and you also extend how much time can pass between the two.

The case that got Angie Bray’s attention fits with what we could call a contemporary moral panic over child abuse in particular and sexual violence by men against women and girls in general. Its not that I don’t feel empathy for the girl she mentions. But it worries me that clumsy criminal law is partly made on the back of panic, and of individuals’ ‘concern’ for individual victims. It reminds me of the Extreme Porn Law (2008) which critics say came to be following the murder of a woman where her attacker was found to have looked at ‘kinky’ pornographic websites. In the case Bray cites, a prosecution partly failed because the girl involved did not tell anyone she was receiving the horrible text messages. I would suggest that the silence of abuse victims and their fears about speaking out about their ordeals will not be solved by increasing the maximum sentence for malicious communications. In fact,  I wonder how many ‘grooming’ communications will even be prosecuted under this law. As with the Extreme Porn Law, it is quite possible the souped up malicous communications legislation will do nothing to protect anyone, but will  limit people’ s freedom of expression. Have we already forgotten the Twitter_Joke_Trial? In fact part of the ‘moral panic’ could be around the use of new technologies themselves

So who will be prosecuted/punished by the new improved ‘anti troll’ legislation? I can’t help but believe that when it comes to ‘trolling’, there are ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ victims. Just as in Victorian times (not to mention now) there were the deserving and underserving poor. Feminists are drawn to ‘trolls’ like bees to honey. Feminist professional troll hunters such as Helen Lewis are forever painting a picture of poor innocent feminist women damsels attacked by marauding armies of men online. High profile cases using the communications act to prosecute online expression have involved ‘deserving victims’ such as feminist campaigner and g****ite Caroline Criado-Perez and feminist MP and g****ite Stella Creasy.  It’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. ‘Trolling’ is presented as an example of ‘misogyny’ and feminist women who trade on these concepts will be most likely to mobilise the law, thus justifying its existence with prosecutions of ‘misogynist’ trolls to refer to.

All’s fair in love and retribution. But the feminists are not always standing shoulder to shoulder with their ‘sisters’ and fellow victims of ‘online abuse’. On the day when Chloe Madeley was reported to have received rape threats online, after defending her Mum for uttering a non-feminist-accepted viewpoint about a high-profile rape case, chief rape threat avenger Caroline Criado-Perez was conveniently unavailable to comment:

It is common knowledge that UK prisons are practically full. And, that they are full of men, not to mention including disproportionate numbers of working class men (many of whom are black men). I find it hard, sitting under my troll bridge, to see these current cacophonies about tougher sentences for ‘trolls’ and associated hysteria about rape, rape threats, rape apologism etc etc as attempts by precious middle class white women to put even more of that same demographic behind bars.

This video was made in response to a great article at Cyborgology blog, about the collision between our online and offline selves.

The author, DA Banks, was himself responding to a rather snooty piece in the New York Times by Sherry Turkle (great name), harking back to a time before our lives were taken over by technology and ‘virtual reality’.

As you can see in the comments I agree with DA Banks. I actually found his piece very moving, as it really resonated with my recent experience of having been ‘outed’. My online identity was ‘unmasked’ by some people who don’t like me, to reveal my ‘true’ real-life name and identity. But which one is more real? And are they even two separate entities?

These are questions I have been asking myself in the last two months since my outing. I don’t have all the answers. Or even any. But I like the questions.

@DA_Banks and friends can be found on twitter.

@jsantley made the downfall spoof video

And Cyborgology is run by @nathanjurgenson and @pjrey.

I am a theory nerd, and probably not very cool at all, so this may not mean much, but I think these folk are some of the coolest people on the internet at the moment!

I’m sure they are great in RL too, whatever that is.

Theorising The Web 2012 is a conference run by young academics PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson in America, about internet technologies. They say:

‘The second annual Theorizing the Web conference aims to expand the range and depth of theory used to help us make sense of how the Internet, digitality, and technology have changed the ways humans live. We will bring together researchers from a range of disciplines, including sociology, communications, anthropology, philosophy, economics, English, history, political science, information science, the arts and many more.’

On April 14th 2012 I was able to participate in the conference from thousands of miles away via its website, which included live streams of seminars and lectures. On twitter, the #ttw12 hashtag meant people could tweet contributions in the discussions that were seen by people at the conference. At one point PJ Rey (@Pjrey ) tweeted that even in the conference rooms themselves, delegates were tweeting questions to the speakers rather than raising their hands!

Rey and Jurgenson (@Nathanjurgenson) also write for cyborgology, a brilliant website that theorises the web all year round. In this wired up 21st century world, it really is worth wondering what has become of ‘humans’ as we understand them to be. Identity, communication, ideas, have all transformed in recent years, and Cyborgology and #ttw are keeping track of how things are changing.

The keynote speaker was Andy Carvin (@acarvin ) who I’d not heard of before. He is a strategist and a journalist, who does a lot of work in bringing voices and people together, across the globe, particularly in social change movements. After the conference was over I looked at his twitter stream and it was immediately full of tweets and retweets marked #Egypt , #Suez, #Israel.

Here are some tweets from the conference to give a flavour of proceedings

Whether we love or hate the contemporary age, it is vital we ‘theorise’ it in my view. And here, some imaginative people are doing just that. I wish all conferences could be so accessible and so interactive.

View of the conference from the UK #ttw12 courtesy of @theJaymo

The Marvellous Slope Show is back! Season Two of the story of superficial, homophobic lesbians Desiree and Ingrid kicks off with a poignant (but hilarious) episode called ‘Taking Space’

This reminds me of the song: Space, by Pulp. The lyrics of the album version begin:

You said you wanted some space …
Well is this enough for you? …
This is what you’ve waited for …
No dust collecting in the corners …
No cups of tea that got cold before you drank them …
Tonight … travelling at the speed of thought …
We’re going to escape into the stars …


That Fucking Romance

Posted: February 16, 2011 in Desire, Writing
Tags: , ,

‘How do two people establish intimacy on the Internet? Can you truly fall in love with someone you’ve never met? And is that love real? What do digital intimacy and love in the 21st century look like? Is this film about sexting?!

xoxosms is a documentary about the TRUE love story of Gus and Jiyun — a home schooled 20-year-old from a religious family in small-town Illinois and a 19-year-old Korea-born New York City art student — who met nearly a year ago in possibly the only place two people so different might ever find each other: The Internet. Over the past 18 months, they have built an intensely intimate world via Skype, AIM and iChat. They are each other’s very first loves, and through the internet, they have established a connection that feels as real as if they were right there beside each other.’

This project caught my eye. I saw it on Melissa’s tumblr. I have the biggest crush on Melissa Gira.  She is my Mae West my Freda Kahlo my something something something. If it wasn’t for her inspiration, I wouldn’t have done some of the creative things I have done.

It is a film about a couple who met via the Internet. Lots of people do these days. The project looks interesting as it will mix documentary footage with text from the young lovers’ email/skype/msn conversations, and various  technologies to create a record of their story.

Ever since I discovered the internet I saw its potential for that fucking romance. Desire is all about distance, and the internet creates a distance and a sense of intimacy simultaneously. It is a powerful drug for a romantic like me.

But like all true romantics I am also a cynic. I hate that fucking romance. I think it lies to us about how relationships are. I think it gives us false promises. I think , when I am being particularly pretentious, that it reifies heteronormative structures. I think that fucking romance is full of shit.

So in a way this film is not quite such an exciting prospect as it might have been for me. Two people meet online, fall in love, share their innermost secrets, and then meet in real life, and then… live happily ever after? Blah blah blah. Happy couples are not romantic they are pragmatic. The true romantic has no respect for happiness, or pragmatism.

That fucking romance is fucking miserable.

Once I went all the way to Belgium to meet a man from the Internet. He had heard me orgasm over the telephone. We had spoken French together. But as soon as I got off the train, even before I saw him at the barrier, I knew it was a disaster. I spent the next few hours trying to explain in that foggy, grey city, why I had to get away from him. Now. That night I slept alone in a tacky 70s style hotel that had mirrored ceilings. I looked up at my reflection and told her what a stupid bitch she was. For what? For believing the lie? For daring to hope that this time it might be different? For investing something of myself in that cad, that fucking romance.

The trailer for this film has a moment where the couple are finally united in ‘RL’. They are sat on a sofa and the woman is snuggled up to the man, looking adoringly into his eyes, maybe she has just picked some food out of his beard. I don’t know it is pretty intense. I saw that shot and I felt a slight nausea in my stomach. You know that point where desire tips over the edge into loss and despair. That. I yearned for a sofa, anywhere, a man to snuggle up to, anyone, a physical touch to make up for all this distant disembodied typing. The internet, for all its hyper-technological advances, for all its sophisticated imagery, for all its pictures of men pulling themselves off.  My internet is fuelled by words.

But words don’t hold me at night.

That fucking romance tells me that they do.

That. Fucking. Romance.

There is a film called ‘Confidences Trop Intimes’ or ‘Intimate Strangers’ it is all about this. But it doesn’t mention the internet once. Because desire and distance is older than that, more universal. The film is also full of that fucking romance. But it appeals to my more cynical side as well.  I bought it for someone. But I don’t want to ask him how to send it to him because that would involve tipping myself over the edge, moving from the romantic, comforting potential of the virtual into the grey, foggy city of the real. Walking the streets of loss and despair. I know myself by now. And I know that fucking romance never works for me.

Oh, and I also know I can’t blame it all on Joni. But I don’t think I ever recovered from hearing this, aged sixteen, before I had ever even really been in love, before I knew what the words of her cynical, romantic, heartbroken song meant. I was drawn to the romance of giving up on romance, before I had even bought into its  ‘pretty lies’.

‘The last time I saw Richard was in Detroit in ’68/ and he told me ‘all romantics meet the same fate someday: cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe’./’ You laugh’,  he said, ‘you think you’re immune-go look at your eyes they’re full of moon./ You like roses, and kisses and pretty men to tell you all those pretty lies’.


My first crush left me reeling like a punch in the stomach. I was fifteen, an awkward mix of mature for my age and completely innocent. Warren Chapman was a few years older. He played bass in my mate’s band: ‘Blind Alliance’. Tall, dark, troubled by acne, he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. The crush began in autumn, on a coach journey to a demo in London. My friend Lizzy and I were sat at the back, playing tapes and giggling. When Mirror in the Bathroom came on, Warren turned round from further down the vehicle and asked me to turn it up. So I did and I was smitten. Later on he took off his top to reveal a red t-shirt, thinly covering his perfect torso. I thought I was going to be sick. Amazingly, over the months that followed, I got to snog Warren a couple of times. Drunk and dizzy, I was too overwhelmed to really enjoy it fully, and the next morning it always felt like it was a dream. Once he walked me home and I invited him back for coffee. He said ‘no’. This wasn’t like the movies. In the end, I put myself out of my misery and found myself a boyfriend my own age. He wasn’t nearly as attractive as Warren, but at least I could speak to him without wanting to faint.

‘Crush’ is the perfect word for what it describes. It’s not quite onomatopeia-but its sound is evocative of the feeling: the way your insides turn to mush and start swishing around, making it difficult to stand straight. Also in the word ‘crush’ lies the clue to the inevitable outcome: your hopes will be crushed; the story won’t have a happy ending. But it can suggest something more optimistic: a sunny afternoon, daydreaming, youth: raspberry crush.

Crushes on people you know and have to face in your daily life are horrendous; the potential for embarrassment and pain is too great. After pursuing a number of these, long after I lost the excuse of adolescent naiivety, I can honestly say I hope I never have another one again. My preferred forms of crush are on popstars, actors, even fictional characters. They possess an unreal quality, distant, unobtainable, working their magic up on the screen or stage. Jarvis Cocker, John Cusack, Martin Donovan, ‘Mike’ from My Own Private Idaho. I’m not so deluded to think these beauties will return my feelings. I love them all the more for that.

Being the type of person that has to excavate everything she experiences, I have uncovered some interesting analyses of ‘the crush’. Lacan seems to get to the nub of it when he says that ‘the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. (Lacan, 1977 [1959], p. 58)’ According to psychoanalysis, desire is subconscious, and is actually quite simply our need to be known (and loved). So it is kind of irrelevant whether I am lusting after Warren Chapman, Vincent Cassell or Chloe Sevigny. What I am really doing is looking for recognition of my own self, my worth, my place in this world. ‘I am human and I need to be loved’. Morrissey got it.

Lacan tells us that desire is always to do with what we lack, or feel we lack. You can’t desire what you already have. This I find a little bit cruel, because it goes some way to explaining why actual relationships are so difficult. I’m an expert at mooning over a half-formed figure in my mind. Faced with the flesh and blood reality of someone who loves me and knows me, and wants me to love them and know them too I buckle under the pressure. I also, sometimes, lose my mojo in truly intimate relationships. I find it a regretful irony that my ex and I probably spent more time discussing Lacanian ‘desir’, than we did actually fucking. I often need distance, mystery, lack, to get my juices flowing. ‘I want the one I can’t have, and it’s driving me mad’ . Morrissey got that too.

Enter The Internet, stage left. Online communities are the perfect breeding-ground for the postmodern crush. Everything I learned so carefully, from Warren, from Lacan, from my own self-analysis, I managed to forget when I first ventured into the labrynth. Virtual reality gives us that perfect heady mix of the unknown and the tantalisingly available, the distant and the intimate, the real and the imaginary. I think I have a crush on The Internet itself. One of the reasons my desires are so fuelled by online communication is that I am a lover of words. And when it’s just you and someone else, typing away in your private worlds, the words take over. There’s no distraction from a noisy bar, an unexpected facial expression, or someone’s bad choice of jumper that day. And if the words are good then that’s it, I’m a goner.

I’ve met a few of my internet crushes, and inevitably have felt disappointed. Not necessarily by the individuals themselves, but by the depressing mismatch between my colourful imagination and the greyer reality. These days though, my appreciation of electronic desire is a little more sophisticated. Most of us realise we are playing, exploring the creative potential of virtual reality. And I still find it quite a beautiful thing when I stumble across a fellow ‘explorer’ on the internet. Someone who will share their words with me, offer a sexily fragmented, hazy, unreachable image of themselves. Let me get to work with my romantic, inaccurate, inventive imagination. I’ve got a bit of a crush on one of them at the moment as it happens. I wonder whether I should ask him back for coffee. I’m the one holding the keyboard so I call the shots. In this mini-super 8, he definitely says ‘yes’.