Keiko Suzuki and Mouchette--Some thoughts about constructions of
personalities on the net.
What is identity and what is life? Different types of created or fake
identities and personalities roam the net. There have been many
discussions about identity and self-representation in moos and muds, but
the creation of completely new and separate entities is quite different.
One can divide these new entities into two rough categories: the "comic
book hero" type and the "drifter" or "ghost," the first having more
manifestations than the second. I will compare two "famous" fake online
personalities (I use "fake" reluctantly), one of whom is charming...
What is interesting about online personalities? To me, it is the mystery
and variety of their realities, the way such a personality connects to
real people, and in how far their life online is original, "free," and
reflects the qualities of the Internet.
First the mud or moo variant. Though my division is rough, and ignores
certain exceptions, I include most avatars in this group. These kinds of
(re)presentations and creations of personae can usually be seen as
one-to-one relations: one being the "real life" person, the other one
being the created personality. Contrary to the way they are often
characterized, these personalities are not always, completely, fake.
They belong quite exclusively to somebody, and are built from this
person's imagination and fantasy. The creator and the online character
overlap: they are in some ways one.
Comic book heroes are plenty. These rather flat characters are designed
by an individual or group to represent an archetype. The archetypes are
adapted to present day standards. One cannot so much call them
stereotypes, though their presence in different media would nearly force
you to see them as such. An example of this is the sexy, strong woman.
This character is a primitively emancipated form of the dangerous woman,
the man eater. There are some creatures present(ed) on the net that
escape the rather rigid status of this type of online identity (which of
course is not very specific for the medium really). However, compared to
the fragmented composition of the created "lifeform" of the "drifter,"
even extreme looking examples of the comic book hero or heroine are
quite shallow considering the medium in which they live and play.
The "drifter" is not so much drifting--but in a state of constant
composition. The character or personality of a drifter is not set, or is
very loosely set. This is a rare species. Its features can be added and
changed by many who do not necessarily know each other. A drifter is by
and large a work of love, for this lifeform can only stay alive if its
creators care about its continuity and shape, and are willing to
collaborate with others. When the spell is broken and the creature's
personality changes too abruptly, too often, or people start abusing it
to show its fragile presence is "just a creation," the drifter can start
to crumble. It can even (almost) be killed. The point is, though, that
it has *lived* at all. Its life can be very ghostlike, fragmented, and
spreads like a fog between threads on mailinglists and compositions of
websites. I have no satisfying images from real life to describe meeting
this type of personality.
What is rather puzzling to me is that the strongest created online
personalities I know are females. Where are the males? There is of
course Shu Lea Cheang's Brandon, but this is an androgynous figure, who
is a drifter too. I would like to compare two girls: Keiko Suzuki and
Mouchette, the latter being a comic book hero with ghost potential.
Both Keiko and Mouchette were typical male fantasies made into virtual
flesh. I say "were" because Keiko Suzuki's character and presence
developed in very interesting ways, making her outgrow her near
stereotypical, comic book heroine destiny to become a psychically
complex, ghostlike drifter. Mouchette has, however, been glued to the
traits she has had since being invented, and works like a little
terrorist from a central, partially-hidden base.
The biggest difference between the two is their basic feed, their
source. This is what stipulates their appearance or apparition to an
audience, to outsiders. Mouchette has an email address and a website. At
this email address you can reach her, and she will answer you. But what
or who do you reach? The authors of Mouchette have given her a character
based on staggeringly repulsive male fantasies.
Mouchette is supposed to be a little girl on the cusp of puberty (and
sexual ripeness), who has been raped and abused by relatives or close
ones. She is "French," of course, and she coquettes with details from
her gruesome past and publicizes her announcement that she will commit
suicide when she reaches the age of thirteen. Mouchette has always been
presented as a real person, and her/its creators are keen on keeping
this myth alive. This is totally implausible though, and Mouchette's
creators grossly overestimate their capability to be provocative in an
interesting way. Their formula is: sex, death, child, internet and art
equals guaranteed success, nothing more. Yet what world view is behind
such a creation? What view of women?
Sorry if my rant amuses or bores you, as it of course is not immediately
relevant to the comparison of basic differences in identity creation on
hard and software levels. The individual traits of these online
personalities are important though, as they inform how each is powerful.
More important is the ability to intervene in the life and being of the
creature; this is crucial to its liveliness, and in the case of
Mouchette we have a potential drifter, a locked up ghost rattling her
chains. What makes her attractive is this potential.
I didn't see this so clearly until I met Keiko Suzuki on the mailing
list 7-11 and beyond. She was the hostess of 7-11. Though Keiko was
rather stereotypical and maybe even a slightly racist project initially
("the Japanese equivalent of a blonde" in the eyes of a westerner), her
character soon developed from a teasing, flirtatious doll into a
multilayered personality. It was a mystery to many for quite a long time
whether she was a real person or not.
The key to Keiko's success lay in her openness. 7-11's administration
page had a function that allowed anyone to become Keiko. The ensuing
game was a mixture of tenderness and provocation, of inside jokes and
hidden agression. Keiko Suzuki's initial creators (though I am still
tempted to say she did it all on her own) also produced a semi
pornographic website. All mail sent to her via this site, but also via
other channels, was directed to the 7-11 mailing list. What one
experienced was poetry in motion, levels of thought that no train of
ordinary email postings ever could draw. It was like a picture of the
web and the people behind the list: anonymous, yet familiar, and, for a
while amazingly coherent. Keiko Suzuki posted to other mailing lists as
well, and created a few websites. The sometimes sexist input of her
initial creators was disarmed and turned around by several voices on
7-11. Keiko Suzuki had human failures and whims. She contradicted
herself. She was well-read, a lover, an activist and a dumb bimbo. She
became independent. More important, her creators gave her the room to
become independent, unafraid of its possible outcome. This created the
possibility for this character to grow into a near visualisation of the
Thinking about William Gibsons "Idoru," I am not sure we could compare
the "lives" of a "drifter," a "ghost" identity, to what is described in
this book. The Idoru is an intelligent piece of software (hardware too
maybe), a created entity working from a central base. Though she feeds
on the data of her real flesh boyfriend to become independent, she seems
still restricted by the design of her human traits, a design made by a
few. The technological innovation she represents is what is most amazing
about her, not that she exposes the landscapes we enter almost every day
with our computers, rarely seeing more then narrow glimpes...
Keiko Suzuki is now dead, or comatose. Her re-animation--after she was
nearly choked to death by a artist-terrorist who took her administration
page hostage--never succeeded completely.
Keiko Suzuki: http://www.irational.org/7-11/admin.html
(You will almost
immediately be redirected to another website, but you can still get a
glimpse of what killed Keiko.)
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In the following excerpt from "Deep Sleep" (1985) by John Jesurun, a boy
is trapped in a celluloid world where the "real" reality gets mixed up.
His friend (Whitey) is outside now, but was a "captive" before. Just a
poetic and old illustration...
Whitey: Where will you go?
Sparky: Somewhere out into outer space. Hopelessly out into outer space.
Alone. Alone. I will be dreamy and sad, dreamy and sad, always dreamy
sad for a very long time and I will last forever because I am on film
and it will be my pleasure to play you over and over and over again for
my pleasure and freedom and my inspiration. I will play you over and
over and over again until you are shredded year after year, year after
year for a thousand years, real soft and real loud whenever I want,
however I can, whenever I want because after that that's all I'll be
able to do, over and over again for a thousand years because that's all
I'll ever know how to do by then and I'll just keep doing it and I'll
just keep playing over and over again for you, over and over again until
I turn to shreds and when I turn to shreds you'll still hear me in your
brain cavity over and over again for a thousand years and you'll always
feel free because of that and even when they say I don't have a brain I
will have a brain because I will have a brain because I do have a brain
because I am a brain because the brain is right there in the plug or in
your hand or in the light bulb or in the groove or whatever, over and
over again because I do have a brain and I can sing if I want to because
I can sing, because I can. Is that right? Do you understand me? Right?
What is your name?
Sparky: You'll always remember my name.
Whitey: What did you say?
Whitey: That's what I thought.
Sparky: What is your name?
Whitey: You'll remember my name.
Sparky: Always, always and forever, forever and ever. Gloria in
excelsis. Don't let me run of the reel.
Whitey: I won't.
Sparky: Please don't. If I go you won't have anything.
Whitey: I can always put you on again.
Sparky: Maybe not.
Whitey: Maybe yes.
Sparky: What was happy about it? What could I celebrate that was
Whitey: Nothing was shining.
Sparky: And I will always trust you because you will never disintegrate
and I will never disintegrate or grate on my nerves or get on my nerves
or make me nervous because I can always shut you up or turn you off.
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