Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Archive for April, 2011

Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

Dwarfs, bastards, eunuchs, and cripples—A Game of Thrones is filled with those who must suffer the indignity of living in a world that delegitimizes their existence. For many of these individuals, the only response to their presence is disgust.

And disgust, one of Paul Ekman’s basic emotional states, becomes significant as it serves to position entities along a superior/inferior continuum. Here, even without formal titles, trappings, or structures, we witness the formulation of class distinction—a process of differentiation that almost necessarily has political implications. Put another way, the simple act of feeling an emotion like disgust is enough to transform individuals into political agents!

But the objects of disgust are also inherently political creatures, according to philosophers like Mikhail Bakhtin who argue that the ambiguous nature of the grotesque body serves to articulate and contest latent boundaries in society. Tyrion, perhaps the best example of this concept, not only destabilizes the highly ordered familial social structure of Westeros through self-acceptance of his dwarfism but also demonstrates a penchant for cleverness, a trait that, by its nature, plays with established limits in thought or speech.

Building on the medieval fascination with monstrous bodies (i.e, transgressions of the ideals of the classical body), this paper will draw upon work by Richard Schusterman, John Dewey, and Gilles Deleuze with respect to somaesthetics, phenomenology, and the body as political/cultural metaphor in order to explore how grotesque bodies challenge the fictional socio-political world set forth in George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. Although primary emphasis will be placed on Martin’s first book, A Game of Thrones, material from other sources (e.g., the television adaption) will be used to support the argument that grotesque bodies work to subvert the existing social structure of Westeros[1] through their very existence as well as through their actions. Modern implications for the body as political agent will also be discussed with the hope that the reader will contemplate how changing perspectives in the late 18thcentury served to simplify the conceptualization of the body’s narrative (i.e., the ability of the body to simultaneously manifest multiple layers of meaning), a process that contributed to the disenfranchisement of the body in modern culture. Ultimately, through this process, it is hoped that readers will be given tools to reinscribe meaning onto their physical bodies as they simultaneously gain a renewed sense for the latent socio-cultural voice that lies just beneath the surface.

[1] It is important to note that this argument applies primarily to the continent of Westeros and the society developed therein. A less “civilized” space by the standards of Westeros, Essos manifests different social structures that consequentially are not largely challenged by the issues embodied in grotesque/monstrous figures. There is admittedly some reference to the grotesque among the Dothraki and blood magic that will be reconciled in the course of the paper.

EVE Online

A profile piece in PC Gamer sparked a class discussion on the ethics of ramifications of virtual murder in EVE Online, causing me to wonder further about issues of ownership in MMORPGs. Given the situation described in the assigned reading, one might very well make the argument that much fuss was raised over Negroponte’s bits, essentially a meaningless commodity in and of itself. By all accounts, however, the sense of loss felt by victims of online theft seems very real. In order to better explain this phenomenon, I would suggest that what is lost is not just the item, but the representation of that item; badges, achievements, and trophies have become a method for us to gauge ourselves against one another and provide a palatable way for us to measure up. Status and identity have coalesced into (worthless if meaningful?) bytes, and the stealing of these items represents a loss in our sense of self. Can we ever go back to valuing what the badges are supposed to represent? Can we ever go back to an appreciation for having had an experience?

In a broader sense, the question of possession becomes increasingly relevant as we also seem to be moving toward a culture in which the lines of ownership have suddenly become much blurrier. We freely (if perhaps unknowingly) release personal data online, engage in a continual process of remix through sites like YouTube, and have begun to realize the power of crowdsourcing. Facebook owns the data that we upload and yet we bristle when the company chooses to use that information in a way that violates our assumptions regarding fair use. Where and why do we draw the line regarding ownership?

Going back to EVE Online as an example of an MMORPG, why is that we feel that anything in the game is ours in the first place? Put another way, all of the loot/drops/rares are the property of the game company—although we may have them temporarily in our inventories, we do not necessarily “own” them. Do we unavoidably apply the principles gleaned from real life (e.g., physically possessing an object means that we, in some way, own it) to the online realm? As we increasingly integrate virtual worlds into our lives, will we develop new rules and/or standards regarding the ownership of information as opposed to property? Is information in fact property and, if so, to what extent?