FOOLING THE PANOPTICON WITH SOUTH PARK
In an effort at honesty, I have to say that I approached this assignment with some trepadition. On the one hand, I love discussing topics that deal with digital media, the web, and the ever-evolving nature of humanities fascinating relationship with digital media theory. On the other hand, when I started to consider how to formulate a cohesive discussion about someone else’s online avatar I came up against a few minor difficulties.
If I’m going to attempt to look at an avatar online and compare/contrast it to my own, using some critical framework, I would be assuming that the avatar is to be treated as a text, like any book or painting etc. However, the nature of avatar’s is that anyone can have one. I could be critiquing a 13 year old’s prank, or a homicidal maniacs attempt at social assimilation. The possibilities are endless. In thinking about this as a text that needs to be analyzed, I came to the conclusion that this exercise will be, not to say useless (because thinking is never a waste of time), but in this case maybe not true to the intent of the assignment. I will try to illustrate my point with an example: very few people can write a novel on par with say Jane Austen, but anyone with a web connection and a basic bare bones computer can have an avatar. So my difficulty with choosing this kind of text to analyze is simply this; I don’t know how serious to take someone’s avatar. I would take a Jane Austen novel seriously on principle. I cannot do the same with an online avatar. Having said that, I am going to try anyway.
During our class discussion this afternoon the topic of the Panopticon arose. As literary and social theory goes, this is my favorite subject to explore, as I find the idea of a society watching and regulating themselves by the mere suggestion of a hidden, all powerful watcher somewhere in the world intriguing (I also might have read 1984 too many times). However, as I was trolling the internet for an interesting avatar to critique, I came upon a man using a South Park style characatured avatar of himself. This struck me as very much like my own simple pixelated avatar, in that it could be construed as too things. First, they are both very simplistic avatars, begging the question; is it just a joke to be dismissed? Second, they both serve to handily deflect any prying into who we are as people. As I mentioned in class, there is a shadow virtual world out there, and in it is a shadow virtual representation of myself and everyone who uses credit cards, rents movies and so forth. What I found interesting about this guys avatar that I found was that, like me, he seemed to be aware of his online presence, and at the same time understood that while he might not be able to avoid being a part of the virtual panopticon, he could certainly make it so that it took less notice of him. In a sense, I see both his and my avatar’s as deflection shields, aware of the Panopticon’s power and yet still doing our best to have a modicum of control within it.