The Body and the Screen
Theories of Internet Spectatorship
Rethinking the interface: how the Internet/computer spectator is engaged, rendered, and regulated; theoretical models and case studies that range from text-based and graphical communication settings and women's webcams to male programmer's physical and psychic pain.
Internet and computer users are often represented onscreen as active and empowered—as in AOL's striding yellow figure and the interface hand that appears to manipulate software and hypertext links. In The Body and the Screen Michele White suggests that users can more properly be understood as spectators rendered and regulated by technologies and representations, for whom looking and the mediation of the screen are significant aspects of engagement. Drawing on apparatus and feminist psychoanalytic film theories, art history, gender studies, queer theory, critical race and postcolonial studies, and other theories of cultural production, White conceptualizes Internet and computer spectatorship and provides theoretical models that can be employed in other analyses. She offers case studies and close visual and textual analysis of the construction of spectatorship in different settings. White shows that despite the onscreen promise of empowerment and coherence (through depictions of materiality that structure the experience), fragmentation and confusion are constant aspects of Internet spectatorship. She analyzes spectatorship in multi-user object-oriented settings (MOOs) by examining the textual process of looking and gazing, contrasts the experiences of the women's webcam spectator and operator, describes intentional technological failures in net art, and considers ways in which traditional conceptions of artistry, authorship, and production techniques persist in Internet and computer settings (as seen in the creation of virtual environment avatars and in digital imaging art). Finally, she analyzes the physical and psychic pain described by male programmers in Internet forums as another counternarrative to the common tale of the empowered user. Spectatorship, White argues, not only affects the way specific interfaces are understood but also helps shape larger conceptions of self and society.
Hardcover$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262232494 280 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 33 illus.
The literature on new media is abundant, but few humanities scholars have directly interrogated the specific kinds of practices and aesthetics that the internet makes possible. The Body and the Screen does precisely this. White's sustained focus on technological mediation, informed by feminist and queer-theory approaches, makes a significant and needed contribution to the literature.
Associate Professor of Media Studies, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Body and the Screen is a highly nuanced critical examination of the junction of the virtual and the real. By engaging cyberspace and the body together (and by not participating in the game of their free disassociation, as many media theorists do), White offers important arguments for the materiality of the experience of new media. This much-needed book marks an important step forward in critical studies of new media and the Internet.
Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago