Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How are a Bunny and a Duck like a Fat Old Human and a Hot Young Avatar

 I started working a few months ago on what I thought was a brilliant idea for a video that would be unveiled at the upcoming Ambiguity of Identity show at New Caerleon. It was going to be a morph between humans and avatars, showing extreme changes in age, gender, etc. I prowled the Creative Commons category in Flickr for images to use in a prototype and ended up selecting a heavy middle-aged man in a swimming suit, and a hard-bodied hot female avatar. I thought that showing the transition between such different forms would powerfully demonstrate the ambiguous nature of identity.

I spent a few hours creating the morph, rendered a video and WAS COMPLETELY GROSSED OUT BY THE RESULT.

At first, I was really, really bothered that I was bothered. I finally realized that the image depicted in the morph was the virtual equivalent of racist art. It presented a distorted and intentionally distasteful image that was associated with a particular group of individuals (age and gender shifted avatars).

It was all my fault. I picked the most unattractive person I could find in order to magnify the difference between human and avatar. And on the level of creating a work to induce a visceral response, it was a resounding success. But after a lot of consideration, I ultimately decided to not show the work and come up with something else for the show.

Which brings me to to the image at the top of this post. It's Wittgenstein's duckrabbit. The relevance is that although you can see either a duck or a rabbit, you can't see them simultaneously. And I think that metaphor is closer to the reality of human/avatar identity. At least in cases where there is a great divergence between the two.

There is no physical fusion between forms
There is one
There is the other
All is right with the worlds

There is, in ventriloquism, illusion without deception. David Goldblatt in Art and Ventriloquism

The thread of Ventriloquism and Virtual Identity will continue. Stay tuned!


Tateru Nino said...

Actually, there's the thing. I keep seeing these things where I'm told "You can see A or B but not both at the same time"... and I *do* see both at the same time.

Yes, there's an interesting sort of fluid moment as the two images settle, but that lasts about a second, and I'm definitely seeing both (and neither) at the same time.

Something odd about the way my brain is wired.

Tateru Nino said...

(Not that I think that this dilutes your actual point in any way)

Max said...

Interesting view. I'm fascinated by the ambiguities and disconnects of avatars and reality. It'll be interesting to see what our perceptions are when the bulk of our interactions are made in virtual spaces.

secondliferoleplay said...

This is actually a great example to use. It is very true, you cannot see both at the same time and that is what makes it an important part of being an avatar. We are all behind our keyboards, tapping away as we move and make our avatar interact. Yet within the virtual space, it's hard to determine who is behind the keyboard because the controller takes on a whole new persona. In role play this is easy or maybe not. Many of the players are playing roles like actors in a movie and some are not the gender of the controller, yet they are accepted as they present themselves.

But this is accepted in role play. Outside of role play, it's seen as deception though the virtual world is supposed to be a space where we can be whatever we want to be with almost limitless boundaries. At the same time you have a certain crowd of people that want a gender verification system to be available to anyone that wants to look and check. The real world is already full of that. Many of us with Second Life have stopped trying to play the guessing game. We take gender at face value, until proven otherwise. Even if we do find out that someone has portrayed themselves differently we don’t put too much thought into it.

The old analogy that behind the virtual vixen is an old fat guy is part of the fear of those that worry about the anonymity of the internet. Some people want everything to be black and white with no shades of grey. Consenting adults within a virtual space should be free to present themselves in the manner they see fit. The only boundary should be that of the controller behind the avatar, deciding how far to go and when to stop.

Shaping Youth said...

Excellent post on ambiguity of identity! And oddly enough, with a nod to Wittgenstein, my brain parallels your inner-workings, Tateru; I see concurrently...which actually explains a lot about my media analysis role seeing 'both sides' at Shaping Youth! ;-)

SLRP I concur that 'face value' seems to be the order of the day in SL, and unless there's a romantic interest (& sometimes in spite of it) I find it refreshingly surreal that acceptance of all RP forms is not only encouraged but a 'given' in 'who cares' mode of RP. (case in point, I know of some wicked warriors in Gore/Fina etc. that are gentle as a lamb, & some who are even priests fergoshsakes; Reminds me of the old adage about making assumptions and ending up the *ss. ;-)

(btw, that title ought to get you some serious RTs! heh) Great one...

Lalo Telling said...

I'm reminded of what different cultures say about what is seen in the patterns of light and dark on the full Moon: face, or rabbit?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WRT slrp's comments on roleplay vs. deception:

Yes, some of us do want certain things, in certain situations, to be black or white -- more to the point, male or female. The phrase "consenting adults" assumes informed consent among all parties. You and those others who've "stopped playing the guessing game" may be comfortable in your unconcern that you may have been virtually intimate in a way you would not in reality -- but do not assume that the rest of us would be.

Botgirl Questi said...

Tateru: The third view is seeing neither bunny nor duck. :)

Max: I imagine the introduction of telephones was a radical change when introduced. For the first time you could do business with someone you heard, but never see.

SLRPL: I agree with you that people should not be attacked for decisions they make about pseudonymity. That said,I don't think anyone has an ethical obligation to do business or enter into a relationship with someone who won't provide whatever verifiable personal information they feel they need. The freedom of consenting adults goes both ways (no pun intended.)

Shaping Youth: Yeah. I don't see the big deal about gender if you're not interested in someone romantically or sexually. And I've got to admit the title of this post is my new all-time favorite for this blog.

Lalo: That's a great point about "informed consent." But I think it is each person's own responsibility to insist upon whatever verifiable information they need to feel comfortable. Buyer beware!

Tateru Nino said...

I think the important point here is that all of the views are equally valid.

Lalo Telling said...

Tateru: Indeed. It's a matter of context. As Shaping said, and I reinforced: most of the time "gender obfuscation" isn't relevant to the discourse. After all, my fellow furries and I practice "species obfuscation" full-time!

Professor Loire said...

Very interesting, and I have been thinking about ventriloquism--the idea of illusion without deception is an intriguing one. I used the bunny/duck optical illusion in my Toggle video about meeting a SL friend in person to illustrate the oscillation I experience, sometimes so fast to trigger the persistence of vision of both/and, that is the uncanny (and perhaps unfortunate) bunnyduck. But mostly, I toggle between the two images of the avatar and the actual person, between the two realities, and often the two senses of myself represented by "me" and my avatar, by being at my keyboard and by "being" in the virtual world: