Voyeurism and the Pussy-Matrix in Shu Lea Cheang's Japanese Pornography.
essay considers a Japanese digital sci-fi porn film, I.K.U.: A Japanese
Cyber-porn Adventure, by Taiwanese-American filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang
and the ways in which it rehearses a future condition for electronically
networked sexual communities. I.K.U. departs from the much hyped
'newness' of new media and liberatory queer discourses that attend the
WWW. The film is partly inspired by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and offers a keen meditation on the globalization of sexual agency,
often defined in commercial advertizing by a capacity to traverse gender
and national boundaries independent of material conditions. Marketing
strategies construct a global queer subject who purchases services instead
of taking an activist position within sexual minority groups. Rather than
gesturing toward sexual transgression defined by the enterpreneurs of
online chatrooms or cybernetic designer wear, Cheang's curiosity lies
in improvising within the realm of subversive eroticism disguised as 'Japanese
'Japanese pornography' offers a statement on globally distributed eroticism
and cybersexual commodification. Not unlike Arjun Appudurai's notion of
social practices articulated within a globalized imaginary, I.K.U. symbolically locates sex practices and pornographic consumption in the
realm of transnational cultural production.1 The frame of analysis of porn production and consumption moves from nation-states
to "in-between cultures where the edges of cultural belonging tangle
and blur, the zones in which processes of translation hybridity and (mis)understanding
occur, where meaning is formed and deformed, where national histories
are made and unmade, buried and disinterred."2 Bearing cultural hybridity in mind, this essay does not aim to research
the influence of Japan's pornographic cultures on Cheang's work, nor measure
responses to Cheang's work in Japan.3 Instead, the article will contemplate Cheang's refiguring of Japanese
pornography with reference to globalized notions of space, queer pornography
and feminist discourses.
I.K.U. constructs an empire of the senses where computer chips programmed with
sexual desires drawn from data-bank memories are easily inserted into
the body of flesh. Citizens purchase an erotic moment that requires the
participation of an android, or 'coder,' who activates the full potential
of the carnal-erotic event. These coders are not so much objects of desire
based on some lack, as a psychoanalytic explanation of sexual desire would
have it, or technologically advanced 'pleasure workers' as depicted by
the character's Pris and Zhora in Blade Runner, but, more simply,
a kind of necessary plug-in that catalyzes the erotic event.
I.K.U. shows fragments of a futuristic queer unconscious, loosely inspired by
and disrespective of Japanese porn conventions. Furthermore, I.K.U. can be seen as an allegory of the political and moral economy of current
transnational corporations and censorship agencies as they increasingly
restrict, and in some cases disable, online queer communities. This essay
seeks to identify how Cheang's work offers a model for highlighting and
questioning political mechanisms of surveillance.
essay further investigates Cheang's queering of new media cultures. First
of all, due to its unusual, almost satirical content and flamboyant techno-style,
this Japanese movie is destined to become part of a global underground
through appearances in film festivals, video dubbing, DVD burning, as
well as Internet distribution. The essay shows that I.K.U.'s iconoclastic
vision responds to new developments in censorship legislation. Second, I.K.U.'s vision of queer sexuality is centered around the loss
of communities as bounded and consistently reinforced entities. It alludes
to the disruption of queer enclaves and the reappearance of a patriarchal
order in the form of a corporate phantasm whose unity is embodied satirically
in the film by the trope of a 'digital penis.' This phallocentric scenario
is at once hard-core pornography as well as a critical intervention into
the patriarchal premises of the genre of hard-core pornography. Analyzing
Cheang's digital hard-core porn as a visionary statement about sexuality
and post-Internet culture, the essay will speculate about her fabling
of 'queer,' 'queer Asian,' or 'Asian diasporic' communities as they exchange
pornography and adapt to the current climate of censorship wars centered
around Internet pornography.
Working Activist within a Corporate Logic
1. Buy One Get One, 1997 Installation and Internet project, Collection
is a trickster agent of digital capitalism. A self-professed 'digital
drifter,' she makes web art on the institutional servers of establishment
museums, such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York City or the NTT-InterCommunication
Center (ICC) in Tokyo, as a way of cyber-squatting. A Taiwenese-born media
artist who assembles work and audiences in high-tech capitals and developing
cyber worlds, Cheang has been noted to identify with the 'cowboys' and
'indians' of new technological frontiers. Gina Marchetti explains: "As
an Asian woman, she represents the 'aboriginal' on the borders of a culture
traditionally defined by white, First World men. As a 'homesteader,' she
has positioned herself in a world where she may not always find a receptive
welcome as a civilizing force amidst digital slavery."4 Lawrence Chua, a writer who joined Cheang on a long-distance travel journey
for Buy One Get One (1997), a video/web installation Cheang made
for the NTT-ICC in Tokyo, describes the itinerary-movement of drifting
through nations: "The qualities of homelessness in a corporate moment
were starting to register as we bounced between cities: there was a difference
between being homeless on the streets of New York and homeless on a Thai
Airways airflight, rebounding back to Bangkok after being refused entry
into Shanghai É. We followed the routes of power off the acknowledged
paths of commerce into the techno-bush. Home became a circular motion,
a sometimes violent revolution on an uncertain globe. It was an odd circuit
we followed. It could not have been otherwise."5 As with any entrepreneurial agent of global capital flows, it is now standard
practice for artists to be equipped with the staple technologies of transition
Ð the mobile phone, the high-end laptop, the air ticket, the hotel stub
Ð and to undertake their work in deterritorialized modes. In Bye One
Get One, Cheang and Chua registered the influence of cultures, responded
to erratic global flows of capital, and rehearsed concepts of space, speed
and desire that were soon to be appropriated by dotcom companies in their
search for a global navigator/consumer.
on the nipple in the center of the Bye One Get One homepage, viewers
can start viewing Cheang's webdesign and follow her travel paths through
the cities of Seoul, Shanghai, Bangkok, Harare, Beirut, and Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg, Chua observes: "You maneuver the streets, trying
to lose your skin. With a suitcase of privilege in your once colored hands,
you try to become another transborder data flow, skimming the surfaces
of oceans, looted banks, whole cities still glittering under siege."6 Buy One Get One commented on the precarious guilt that digital
drifters experience, like so many diasporic peoples, when confronted with
cultures defined (and ruined) by coherently materialized divisions, such
as 'black' or 'white' neighborhoods, within the local geography.
work has often relied on a cultural rhetoric of deconstruction of race
and gender. As in the pre-digital video and audio installation, Those
Fluttering Objects of Desire (1993), viewers investigated the act
of exchanging ethnic identities and prejudices through mass media communication.
The installation was based on a Times Square peepshow and phone-sex lines,
inviting audiences to respond to mutated 'exotica' shows. Viewers acquainted
themselves with different art mediums and artist confessions of interracial
desire while adopting voyeuristic viewing mechanisms.
more recent web installation Brandon (1998-1999), built as hyperactive
after-life to Brandon from Nebraska Ð a gender-crossing individual who
was raped and murdered in 1993 after his passing as a male was revealed
as female Ð presents viewers with the opportunity to enter fantasy spaces
based on gender exchange. Drawing from the writings of Michel Foucault,
a site called 'Panopticum Interface' displays online prison cells based
on Jeremy Bentham's principle of the panopticon Ð a space of surveillance
that is at once material and imaginary wherein subjects are trained to
self-regulate their behavior. In an interview with Cheang, Kimberly SaRee
Tomes notes that Cheang consistently uses the web to build underground
zones: "Cheang decodes the language of technology in order to mutate
existing languages into forms that open up alternative spaces in which
to create new communities and relationships." Cheang's work shows
experimental models of artistic collaboration and queer socializing within
today's privatized new media spaces that are increasingly governed by
customer profiling, state and corporate censorship.
movie I.K.U. for instance, does not explicitly address lesbian/gay
viewers, but rewrites heterosexual viewing pleasures for a mixture of
straight and queer audiences. As a low-budget sci-fi porn movie, I.K.U. has only been released in independent film festivals, but it invites further
dissemination and alteration of its queer content through forms of Internet
communication and sampling. As stated in the I.K.U. promotional
website, the movie is"É ready to be downloaded and recreated in hundreds
of variations with little effect on the ultimate quality of the film."7 However, as Marchetti notes, Cheang's work is profoundly ambivalent about
new media and the Internet as distributor of queer art and activism. A
struggle between artists and corporate activists was a major theme in
Cheang's first feature-length movie Fresh Kill (1994, which offered
a dystopian vision of computer networks as "sites for struggle, disruption,
and intervention."8 Cheang's
work depicts virtual spaces as sites for agitation and activism as well
as conduits for transnational commerce and the dissemination of commercial
propaganda. Her work shows an acute awareness of the contradictory nature
of new media technologies in their capacity to enable a new climate for
sexual openness and tolerance within straight and queer communities.9
I.K.U. situates viewers as queer subjects who are excessively sexualized by Internet
culture. I.K.U.'s cinematography is equally influenced by Japanese
commercial animation porn (hentai), whose explicitly pornographic
scenes offer a mixture of consumer fetishism and violent-erotic imagination,
as it is by marginal feminist waves of pornography. Both products speak
to different youth and adult audiences but have a prolific and hybridized
existence on the Internet. For instance, a free preview tour for a hentai porn site introduces the sci-fi story The Naked Earth, which shows
a cult of android Amazons engaged in fierce combat with violent monsters.
After some women have been strangled, raped and murdered by the tentacled
monsters, and we see their corpses bleeding from between the thighs, one
amazon urges the headmistress to make an exit. The headmistress replies:
"Escape is not an option, my child!" as the page scrolls over
to membership sign-up information for the porn website. On the upper left
corner of the page, a pop-up sales window, displaying the popular phenomenon
'dickgirl' (girl with penis) rhythmically sucking a soft and elongated
penis. Dickgirl is the soft and humorous, infantile-feminine counterpart
to the violent monster. She happily sucks her fantastically engineered
and soft genital for voyeuristic audiences.10 Dickgirl is a common figure in Japanese hentai who speaks to male
and female audiences, yet she can also be seen as a popular character
to be appropriated or 'queered' by women's communities in their quest
for transgender constructions of the female body.
[Figure 2 Still Images of the Naked Earth OnlinePreview Tour.]
artists have shown different ways of queering pop stars and introducing
cross-cultural concepts of gender. For instance, the Japanese animation Ghost in the Shell (1996) by Mamoru Oshii, introduces the female
protagonist Kusanagi as an android whose 'ghost' contains a small component
of humanness that enables her to retrieve 'authentic' memories. Her enemy
is the Puppet Master who is described as "a sad puppet without a
ghost," an inferior replicant born in the sea of information on the
Internet. The Puppet Master, however, is disguised as a nude torso with
a blonde Barbie-like doll and seeks to merge with the Major in order to
create versatile and divers offspring. The Puppet Master attempts to kill
the Major's ghost in an eroticized woman-to-woman merger-combat, but the
ghost is rescued by Kusanagi's companion Bateau, who transforms it into
the body of a young girl. Kusanagi tries to accept her mysterious 'female'
young ghost, and is also thoroughly affected and changed by her encounter
with the queer Puppet Master.
has a very prolific animation industry and hosts new generations of commercial
artists to reinvent porn codes for male and female, straight and queer
audiences. I.K.U. samples and subverts such codes within Japanese
and transnational contexts. The movie is introduced with a scenic presentation
of 'queered' porn stars. In the seclusion of an elevator protagonist Reiko
No. 1, played by Tokitoh Ayumu, an erotic actress from Japanese sattelite
television, meets Dizzy, the IKU runner, played by the black transgender
cult figure Zachery Nataf.11 Shots
of Dizzy's hands on Reiko's breasts and pubic area are followed by a dialogue
where Reiko begs to touch Dizzy's penis. Dizzy diverts Reiko's gaze from
his genitalia and sends her off onto a more expansive sexual universe,
initiating her into a world of strip dancers and bondage masters, auto-erotic
drag queens and sassy school girls, pink girls eating jelly dildo's, and
mistress mentors who teach masturbation techniques and reload her burnt-out
system after she crashes on the Tokyo Rose virus.
the closing scene of the movie, Reiko No. 1 rejoins Dizzy inside the secluded
elevator and wants to have sex with him again. Determined once again to
touch Dizzy's penis, Reiko discovers that Dizzy is a post-operation transgender
male. Reiko's acceptance of Dizzy's unusual penis is carefully registered
as we observe her salaciously licking Dizzy's pubic hair and genitals.
This shot is significant as it would normally be censored in Japanese
pornography, it also produces an important moment of confusion as viewers
confront the lack of boundaries of sexual orientation and constitution
in the protagonists.
concepts of queerness are proposed in I.K.U. by immersing viewers
in subversive film aesthetics. I.K.U. shows bodies aroused by an
aesthetics of mobility, fragmentation and rotation Ð emphasized in the
film by chopped up editing on noisy techno-beats, constantly shifting
camera angles, layered visuals as subversive attachments Ð all destined
to create a new type of somatic viewing experience. Viewers of hover in
hyper-erotic nausea as they adapt to the film's shifting platforms as
well as shifting sexual scenes. I.K.U. translates movement-dynamism
from one form of reality to another: from kaleidoscopic 'live' sexual
numbers to fantasy-animations, from sci-fi plot to routine porn conventions
with close-ups of the digital genitals. Movement itself becomes characteristic
of the queer image, as Gilles Deleuze understands such images: "An
image is a center of dynamic exchange whereby movement steps up (is contracted)
or steps down (is redilated) from one dimension of reality to another,
and therefore is always in the middle (it is a site of passage and exchange
in field of exteriority, it is a milieu)."12 I.K.U. shows pornographic bodies as 'in-between' technologies,
focusing on speed, movement and cyberspace as catalysts of desire. Multi-shaped
bodies and bodily cavities are filmed and painted with software programs,
connected through dizzying editing techniques and camera angles. We can
see subjects in moving elevators, fast cars and zipping through tunnels,
vaginal cavities, mobile cages for bondage rituals, blow-up dolls flying
onto the stage, attaching themselves to subjects. Movement creates sequences
of queer images for viewers who desire to experience diverse forms of
sexual orientation and pornographic genres.
I.K.U. also playfully cites the genre of Western hard-core pornography. However,
the movement-aesthetics destabalize hard core pornography's feature of
maximum visibility, as defined by Linda Williams "É to privilege
close-ups of body parts over other shots; to overlight obscured genitals;
to select sexual positions that show the most of bodies and orgasms; and,
later, to create generic conventions, such as a variety of sexual "numbers"
of the externally ejaculating penis."13 Williams' Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible" argues that hard-core pornography juxtaposes transparent shots of the
ejaculating penis as 'evidence' of pleasure with a quest for the mysterious
realms of female pleasure. Female pleasure is suggested rather than externalized,
and is depicted as a seductive out-of-control attitude of the interior
female body. Whereas male pleasure can be portrayed around moments of
external evidence, female pleasure is constructed around a 'frenzy of
the visible,' as Williams writes: "While it possible, in a certain
limited and reductive way, to 'represent' the physical pleasure of the
male by showing erection and ejaculation, this maximum visibility proves
elusive in the parallel confession of female sexual pleasure."14 As will be induicated in this essay, I.K.U.'s showcasing of hard-core
porn is a new instance of cross-cultural porn exchange and hybridized
Borderline Aesthetics and Digital Distribution
I.K.U.'s queer content and aesthetics will likely generate different responses
in various Asian and Western cultures and diasporic communities. One Asian-American
respondent to the I.K.U. questionnaire, which I distributed online
after I.K.U.'s screening at the Asian-American International Festival
in July 2000, saw the movie as making a statement about transnational
sexualities in relation to 'Japan':
me the film is about border crossing and the blurring of gender, racial,
and national boundaries. I suppose the film is also about technology
and how it has come to shape, define and most importantly liberate our
identities. To contexualize it in the Japanese society, one of the most
homogeneous and orderly in the world where difference (on the surface)
is to be frowned on and where people know their place, the film is part
of the pop-culture releases of the suppressed energies and chaos! The
film in that sense is subversive. I would also add that it is much more
so than its anime counterparts!15
I.K.U. is an instance of fabled geography, produced in Japan and influenced
by Japanese pornography, but placed within a transnational cultural framework.
Cheang's work spaces and fictional spaces are typically located outside
cultural establishments or demarcated cultural regions.
3 TokyoRose from She Lea Cheang's movie I.K.U, 2000]
Her work is in line with recent trends in cultural studies and visual
anthropology, which would question the notion of 'Japanese' porn as a
geographically marked repository of culture, and rework it as a network
of 'zones' or 'sites' where different aspects of cultures collide and
mutate.16 Arjun Appudurai's Modernity
at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, proposes that we view
cultures in terms of irregularly shaped metaphors of space or '-scapes'.
Such amorphous metaphors rely on the role of hybrid fantasies as much
as regional/national geographies. Sexual fantasies are modulated by historically
situated subjects and technologies, practised and shared in everyday communication.
Appudurai believes that the social imagination becomes "a central
force to all forms of agency É the key component of the new global order."17 Marchetti argues that Cheang's work has for many years hinged on 'queerscapes'
as transnational zones that enable new perspectives on gender and sexual
orientation. Queerscapes are enabling networks which question and transcend
"É localized gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender human and civil rights
initiatives and move into the wider arena of critique of the myth of identity,
the patriarchy, heterosexism, and the tyranny of traditional gender norms."18 Queerscapes develop new concepts of space, gender and sexuality as they
permeate the plural encounters between local and global citizens. Cheang's
work and porn movie exemplifies Appudurai's concept of geography, indicating
that queerscapes consist of zones of encounter figured upon ephemeral
theoretical framework for queerscapes can also be developed out of the
Deleuzian notion of 'minorities,' subjects-in-making who communicate,
drifting in and out of specific sites, communities and nations. John Rajchman
explains that Deleuzian minorities are undefined subjectivities who introduce
'other' or 'unknown' parameters of space and time: "A minority is
always somewhere a 'people to come' Ð our minorities are those 'future
people' we might yet become. But we are thus 'peoples' in a very different
sense from what modern political thought calls the people. A minority
is rather a people, a people not completely defined or determined."19 In I.K.U., coders are people who do not have a clear future, do
not have histories of minority status but formulate revolution as moments
of 'becoming.' Becoming, as defined by Gilles Deleuze and Fˇlix Guattari,
evokes new conceptions of time and space: "Unlike history, becoming
cannot be conceptualized in terms of past and future. Becoming-revolutionary
remains indifferent to questions of a future and a past of the revolution:
it passes between the two."20 Rajchman explains
that such revolutionary forces are 'diagnozed' rather than 'enlived' historical
moments. They have a 'pragmatic' rather than a 'mystical' lineage as "É
a question of novelty and singularity, of what we can't yet see or think
in what is happening to us, new forces which we must nevertheless diagram
or diagnose."21 I.K.U. seeks out porn viewers
as self-conscious dispersed catalysts of desire rather than communities
made up of homogeneous subjects. Cheang explains in an interview that
she sees dispersion as a direct result of Internet culture:
internet is the most interesting area for the porn industry, as people
download images. If you stretch the imagination a little bit, what gives
somebody an orgasm? Traditionally it would be the centerfold of Penthouse magazine. The centerfold has a pubic area and people touch that and
masturbate and come all over the picture. That is the traditional way.
Now there are so many porns available and the entire computer drive
is swamped and you can look at it anytime.22
killed the centerfold, and gave viewers the sensation of being 'queered'
through ongoing encounters with multiple and transformative partners of
have documented how the Internet has facilitated transnational queer exchanges,
and how the support of global networks has transformed the gay, lesbian
and transgender communities in many parts of the world. For instance,
Mark McLelland's chapter "Out and About on Japan's gay Net"
in this book, shows that Internet communication is creating specific types
of Japanese homosexuality different from the development of Westernized
gay identitities. Japanese men apparently use Internet communication to
develop sexual "playtime" modes which do not correspond with
public gay cultures in the Western world.23 Even though the Internet provides new forms of sexual communication in
many different cultures, Japanese men employ the Internet to respond to
specific historical circumstances. McLelland notices a high level of tolerance
by Japanese mainstream society for homosexual men and their Internet playzones
in Japan, so long as they do not interfere with the reproductive role
of men within the marriage relationship. Japanese gay men's fusion of
sexual, social and political interests may have been facilitated by contact
with Western gay/lesbian organizations, but this type of contact does
not automatically benefit other gender and ethnic communities in Japan.
Women and lesbian communities do not have equal access to sites of public
sexuality, even though growing Internet sites such as Ruby in the Skye
With Sitrine are creating venues for women to chat, exchange information,
and set up meeting points for actual and virtual seduction.24 The participation of Japanese women in global sexual communities will
depend on their ability to adopt the role of a networked queer consumers
as well as participate in Internet sites with local or communitarian concerns.
is important to mention that since the 70's Japan has cultivated a distinct
tradition of women's erotica magazines (manga) where female producers
have constructed sexual personas peculiar to markets for female readerships.
This has enabled Japanese women to be trained in a cultural form that
has since been transfigured to the Internet. Contiguous with a literacy
in computer mediated communication and the WWW, the interaction with erotica
products online enhances the possibility for women to develop literacies
not limited to the cultural form of erotic manga.25 That is to say, a radical contingency emerges wherein erotic manga intersects with electronic forums which might include chatrooms, mailing
lists, health information, educational resources, not to mention the glory
of becoming a player within the online stock market. One recent manifestation
of manga culture which seeks to extend processes of youth identity
formation within an exchange economy can be seen in the case of the World
KiSS Project. This project attracted erotica doll creaters in both Japan
and internationally to explore the viral life of commodity forms by exchanging
transformed versions of sexy dolls. As Anne-Marie Schleiner observes:
"The process of creativity employed by KiSS artists is a form of
cultural sampling, hacking, and appropriation, a form of play from which
new configurations emerge."26 She adds that the international audience of World Kiss is creating an
interactive counter-culture open to fantasies that deviate from the sexual
norms: "As an open source strip doll player, the World KiSS Project
allows its users to insert their own erotic fantasies into the mix rather
than relying on a particular industry to feed its users prepackaged sexiness.
The World KiSS Project is a global collaborative experiment for how to
play with sexy interactive dolls and avatars, allowing queer, hetero,
female-friendly, fetish, Goth, Japanese bondage, anime tingles,
[É] and other fantasies to be distributed and exchanged."27 The World KiSS project assumes that forms of porn activism can be stimulated
and enriched by the global Internet economy.
The Phantasm of Phallic Feminism and Censorhip
argued before. Cheang's struggle to make 'anxious' commodity pornography
is visible in I.K.U.'s queer aesthetics. Shot in Tokyo, one of
the global cities of porn production, Cheang casts Japanese porn actresses
who lure viewers with their naked display and gyrations of sexual pleasure
as they approach climax. Yet this routine code of porn cinema is disrupted
throughout the film's fragmented narrative by the appearance of various
digitally animated sequences. The most important of these involves the
work of a 'digital penis' in the penetration scenes. Traditionally, the
penetration scene in much mainstream Japanese porn is censored, yet this
imposed limit has often encouraged filmmakers to establish a new code
for porn by substituting the moment of censorship with a fetishized mosaic
edited onto the genitalia. One might think of a correlation to this practice
as seen in Bombay cinema where erotic love scenes are implicit, rather
than explicitly shown, with the seemingly spontaneous outbreak of song
and dance routines interjected within the film's central narrative. In I.K.U. Cheang plays with the Japanese code in conjunction with painterly
3D digital effects to reconstruct the representation of female and male
genitals and the act of penetration.
4 TokyoRose from She Lea Cheang's movie I.K.U, 2000]
remarkable scenes with a 'digital penis' comment on the paranoid scene
of Internet censorship in the USA, Japan and elsewhere. Triggered partially
by the controversies over Internet child pornography, new conservative
censorship legislation places responsibility of administering online regulation
in the hands of online service providers (ISPs). One effect of this has
been an increase in the disabling of online sexual communities in which
participants often distribute depictions of minors engaged in sexual activities.
This is particularly the case in the USA where commercial host portals
such as Egroups, Visto, Yahoo, and Excite have disabled legal adult websites
for gay communities where 'obscenities' such as pictures of urinating
boys are exchanged. Since the sites are hosted by corporate host portals
as free services, the portals are "free" to set any terms of
service (TOS) they choose. For instance, the Visto.com TOS reads as follows:
"We reserve the right to terminate any subscriber, without disclosure
of specific reason for said termination, at our own discretion, if we
deem that such termination is in the best interest of Visto Corp."28 It is important to note that the corporate control on adult sites is indeed
damaging the educational and social functions they perform. Some of the
moderators of censored sites have maintained extensive discussions about
nudity between children and non-parental adults in order to resist a generalized
representation of this taboo area of sexuality.29
depictions of nude minors within gay and lesbian networks are a cause
of moral outrage in the USA, these depictions are tolerated in other cultures
such as Japanese live and animated pornography. Mark McLelland notes in
his essay on Japanese erotic online manga that "scatological
references may appear obscene to a western audience, but they are in fact
commonplace in Japanese media."30 Discussing the website Saki's Room and illustrations with urination
and masturbation themes, McLelland suggests that "the most troubling
illustration for a western viewer involves scenes depicting interplay
between male minors.31
fear that the Internet kindles an upsurge of 'deviant' sexualities produces
chaotic policy-making by networked legislators and corporations in their
attempt to control electronic information. In his astute overview of Internet
censorship in the article "Censorship 2000," John Perry Barlow
of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has stated that: "Now,
all over the planet, the mighty have awakened to the threat the Internet
poses to their traditional capacities for information control." A
historically unprecented conglomerate of scattered collectives and individuals
posing as nation-states, local governments, corporations, religions, cultural
groups, information distributors and information "owners," participate
in the construction of ethical values surrounding Internet communication
and sexuality. Barlow believes that there is a sudden global epidemic
of virtual censorship.32 He explains
that nation-states such as Switzerland, England and France, as well as
international organs such as the G8 (Group of eight industrial nations)
are desperately seeking to turn telecommunication carriers and Internet
service providers into the "content cops of the Internet," whereby
companies would be required to block their customers from accessing certain
sites proscribed by various authorities. Barlow also believes that a transnational
culture of censorship will easily results in the political suppression
of marginal groups as it creates a tide of chaotic intolerance: "Within
narrower contexts, suppressing the expression of gays, women, heretics,
traitors, and troublemakers is politically popular. "33 It would not be hard to imagine that such "glocal epidemic of virtual
censorship" will easily target the work of pornographers who touch
on areas of censorship and whose visions are not supported by corporate
like the World KiSS artists, Cheang encourages viewers to reproduce alternative
erotica, meanwhile spreading a cyberfeminist message that "the pussy
is the matrix" or that viewers with marginalized backgrounds can
participate in a critique of globalized porn. This point is emphasized
by the filmmaker in reference to the representation of women in Japanese
porn: "In Japanese film and porn, there is also a lot of abuse of
women. There is that kind of force, i.e you have to force women to have
sex. I couldn't quite understand and I was trying to go against that.
In I.K.U. women become active and this happens with a certain purpose."34 The movie develops the role of female agents as coders and emphasizes
their access to gender-fluid digital genitals.
Japanese popular culture as cognitive context, Anne Allison has argued
in Permitted and Prohibited Desires that female bodies in manga for men are typically 'smooth and 'natural', naked, and unadorned "Éyet
almost always interrupted by the sharp edges found on the cyborg like
bodies of men."35 Based on the
observation that most Japanese manga show men and animals as "sharp"
brutal figures who assault females, Allison proposes that Japanese popular
culture constructs essential gender differences: "Gender is constructed
as a difference between two kinds of identities and ontologies -one impulsive,
narcissistic, and machinelike: the other stable, continuous and naturalistic-
and 'sex' is the act and relationship of the one trying to break down,
break into, and break away from the other."36 Allison distinguishes western 'phallocentric' gender differences where
individuals internalize the phallic threat issued by the father, from
Japanese 'infantile' gender differences where femininity is a maternal,
soft arena which nurtures and wraps the male.
`I.K.U., criticizes Japanese portrayals of femininity and highlights females as
single agents who arrange and enjoy sexual encounters. One Asian-American
woman who responded to the I.K.U. questionnaire stated that the
movie reinforces female pleasure, for instance by repeatedly showing oral
sex: "There is far more oral sex received by women in this film than
in any other films I have seen."37 The explicit 'pussy-shots' in the movie make a clear break with Japanese
obscenity laws that have an absolute prohibition on the showing of pubic
hair and genitalia. Penetration is traditionally censored in Japanese
pornography, but is reintroduced in I.K.U. by means of a digitally
designed, colorful, erect penis-shape penetrating humans and androids
when they are about to orgasm. The 'digital penis' is a device which is
inserted to give pleasure and measure satisfaction. The digital penis
does not ejaculate, enters the male/female, straight/queer android through
the vagina and/or anus as a genital or a fist, giving pleasure to the
subject and extracting precious data about the machine-manipulated state
of orgasm. The digital penis goes beyond 'phallocentric' and 'infantile'
forms of masculine craving as it is portrayed as a gender-fluid fantasy
object used by both genders. The digital penis is shot from the point
of view of 'digital pussy,' ie. we can observe the huge fantasy-object
as it enters the traditionally censored female cavity and pleasure zone.
The digital penis is a prosthetic device which is used to access interior
data stores inside bodily cavities. The film suggests that such data need
to be retrieved from vaginas rather than protected and concealed in front
of gazing eyes.
explains that it was very difficult to confront sexual taboos around nudity,
pubic hair and genitals in collaboration with Japanese actresses and porn
with porn actresses was the only way we could get people to take off
their clothes. There is no other way. In Japan only porn actress will
take off their clothes. I have a great relationship with the actresses
and specifically Tokitoh Ayumu (who plays Reiko no. 1) I am so grateful
that she dared to show her pussy in the opening elevator scene. Or the
elevator scene in the end when she starts sucking the transsexual character
Dizzy. We prepared her for that. When Zach Natafy took of his pants
she went down on him like that. I was almost crying because most people
have such trouble with that shot.38
stated before, the "sucking scene" reveals that Dizzy is a F2M
transgender individual, and that his female genital was turned into a
penis by means of operation. The scene also makes a powerful statement
against censorship regulation by explicitly showing pubic hair and genitals.
notes that censorship mozaics and tags on female genital areas in Japanese
porn convey to the viewer that the pussy is a forbidden orifice that contains
a smutty and dirty substance. At the same time, the tag posits the vagina
as a sacred zone that needs to be protected from assault by outsider forces.
The protection of the pussy as a sacred/taboo zone has been accompanied
by a larger obsession with the non-phallic penetration of other orifices,
notably female anuses which get penetrated by animals, ghosts and cyborgs.
Allison summarizes: "The preponderance in Japanese media of peepshots
up the skirts and women at the ever-present white underpants; the fetishization
of body parts other than genitals, such as buttocks and breasts, the infantilization
of females, who are (or made to appear) prepubescent and lacking pubic
hair; and acts of sado-masochism in which there is no genital copulation,
stimulation, or exposure. The images all avoid the realism of genitalia,
which center the state's definition of both sexuality and obscenity."39 Sexuality is constructed beyond a fascination with the ejaculating penis,
and women are shown to possess a sacred, untouchable kernel of 'femininity'
which has historical and cultural antecedents in Japan.
emphatically declaring that "The pussy is the Matrix," Cheang's
de-sacralizes Japanese construction of femininity as well as stereotypes
of maternal procreation. I.K.U. indicates that gendered metaphors
of sexuality are being thoroughly revised by communication technologies.
As a playful critique of the new commodified cultures of cybersex and
queer navigators, the movie portrays computer networks as mediating agencies
which make sexual revolutions available to minorities as well as corporations.
Lea Cheang shows that digital drifters need to be thoroughly collusive
with the mechanations of commodification in order to be able to reach
global online communities. The question that arises, and continues to
plague cultural studies debates, is the extent to which one can obtain,
acquire or interject resistant pornography without simply glorifying the
supposed capacity of consumers to function as political actors. As I.K.U. is only recently being released in independent film festivals in Europe
and the USA, it is too early to research its impact on specific queer
communities and sexuality debates in Asian cultures. The movie, however,
makes an important contribution to research on global and diasporic queer
communities as it shows that queer Asian communities are changed through
the transnational culture of Internet pornography. I.K.U. can be
seen as an 'anxious' commodity product meant to mimick and destabilize
global pornography, overall radicalizing the viewer and thwarting his/her
construction of exotic subjects and taboo areas of the human body. As
Cheang states in a recent
interview with Geert Lovink:
every sense, it meant to subvert 'the worldwide male dominance and patriarchy',
the hard on dick that upholds. Here I want to distinguish my practice
from that of art porn which I consider to be a soft industry domain.
I.K.U. confirms cyberporn as Corporate operation of level 7 hard and
soft fusion. Ultimately, I.K.U. severs the cumbersome tentacles of the
wired 90s' cyborg entity and initiates the body as a gigabyte hard drive,
self-driven by a programmed corporate scheme. It updates VNS Matrix's
' The clitoris is a direct line to the matrix.' by claiming 'The Pussy
is the matrix'."40
I.K.U. critiques the emergence of upwardly mobile transnational queer viewers
who escape in electronically mediated transgressions of race, gender,
and nationality without becoming part of activist communities.
essay has shown that I.K.U. blurs porn genres and complicates the
study of cultures, situating queer viewers as transmutative and spatialized
subjects who constantly move between sexual cultures and spaces where
sexual encounters take place. However, the movie differs from commercial
pornography in its attempt to attack censorship mechanisms and gender
constructs in Japan and the USA. Cheang's Japanese pornography offers
a model for global consumers to be artistic and queer respondents to pornography,
as it struggles to produce/consume porn images through restricted theatrical
release and online distribution mechanisms which circumvent censorship
legislation, corporate aesthetics and an outburst of global paranoia.
am indebted to Ned Rossiter who followed the various stages of the essay
and made a grand contributed to the final version. I would like to thank
Shu Lea Cheag for kindlly answering my questions, for stimulating dialogue
around cybersex and giving me feedback to my work in progress. Thanks
also to Gina Marchetti, Peter Oelhlkers and Shujen Wang for providing
key ideas and ongoing support.
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at large: Cutural Dimensions of Gobalization
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 31.
See Scott McQuire's description of cultural hybridity in his essay, "Electrical
Storms: High Speed Historiography in the Video Art of Peter Callas,"
in Peter Callas: Initialising History, ed. Alessio Cavallaro (Sydney:
Dlux, 1999), 31.
This type of influence-study is partially impossible because I.K.U. has
not yet been released in Japan. The film premiered at the Sundance festival
2000 and has since been featured in film festivals in Copenhagen, Montreal
, New York and London.
Gina Marchetti, "Counter-Media and Global Screens: Recent Work by
Shu Lea Cheang," unpublished manuscript with portions presented at
the Society for Cinema Studies Conference, March 2000, Chicago, IL.
Lawrence Chua, "An Odd Circuit: Shu Lea Cheang's Online Road Trip,"
in Art Asia Pacific 27 (March 2000), 51.
From the I.K.U. promotional website http://www.uplink.co.jp/IKU
Gina Marchetti, "Counter-Media and Global Screens: Recent Work by
Shu Lea Cheang," unpublished manuscript with portions presented at
the Society for Cinema Studies Conference, March 2000, Chicago, IL.
Earth" website http://www.nakedearthcomix.com
Other casts include actresses chosen specially from the Japanese erotic
world, such as AV actresses, magazine models and club strip dancers. Also,
Japanese rope artist, Akechi Denki, makes a special appearance to tie
Reiko up. From the I.K.U. promotional website http://www.uplink.co.jp/IKU
Brian Massumi explains the Deleuzian definition of the image as derived
from Henri Bergson. According to Bergson, the human body does not produce
or consume images, the human body is an image. From A User's Guide to
Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1996), 185.
Linda Wiliams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the
Visible" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 46.
Response to IKU questionnaire, answer received by email August 20, 2000.
Susan Pointon also works with the notion of Japan as a 'porn zone' in
her essay, "Transcultural Orgasm as Apcocalypse: Urosukidoji: The
Legend of the Overfiend," in Wide Angle, 19: 3 (July 1997): 41-63.
The concept of 'zone' is taken from Dwight Conqergood's essay "Rethinking
Ethnography: Towards a Critical Cultural Politics," in Communication
Monographs 58: 2 (June 1991) : 186. Pointon applies this notion to her
study of Japanese anime that have adopted western features and are very
popular within American student communities.
Marchetti, "Counter-Media and Global Screens: Recent Work by Shu
Lea Cheang," hereby referring to Appadurai's Modernity at Large:
Cutural Dimensions of Gobalization and to the essay by Fran Martin and
Chris Berry, "Queer 'N' Asian on the Net: Syncretic Sexualities in
Taiwan and Korean Cyberspaces," Critical InQueeries, 2: 1 (June 1998).
Marchetti invites us to imagine a notion of 'queerscape' beyond Appadurai's
five dimensions of global cultural flow (i.e. ethnoscapes, mediascapes,
technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes.)
John Rajchman, "Diagram and Diagnosis," in Elizabeth Grosz ed.
Becomings: Explorations in Time, memory and Futures (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1999), 51.
Gilles Deleuze and Fˇlix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1987), 292.
Personal Interview with Shu Lea Cheang, NYC, July 30, 2000.
McLelland, "Out and About on Japan's gay Net" in this volume.
McLelland shows that Japanese men actively use the net to advertise for
partners and make 'electronic cruising' efforts enabling them to secretly
and efficiently arrange private meetings in designated spaces.
in the Sky with Sitrine" website http://www2.big.or/jp/~cham/
See Mark McLelland, "No Climax, No Point, No Meaning? Japanese Women's
Boy-Love Sites on the Internet," Journal of Commercial Inquiry 24.3
(2000). His essay is based on an analysis of women's erotic websites such
as the website "Aestheticism" http://www.aestheticism.net
Anne-Marie Schleiner, "Open Source Art Experiments: Lucky Kiss,"
mailinglist, November 26, 2000, 2. For more information
about the "Lucky Kiss Project," see the website http://www.opensorcery.net/luckykiss_xxx/
For more detailed information on the terms of agreements (TOS) see http://www.visto.com.
Information gathered from diverse anonymous sources, correspondences between
moderators and members of adult sites hosted by Egroups and Visto.
Mark McLelland, "No Climax, No Point, No Meaning? Japanese Women's
Boy-Love Sites onn the Internet." in Journal of Commercial Inquiry
24:3 (2000), 283-84.
John Perry Barlow, "Censorship 2000," Posted on
July 12, 2000, website http://www.nettime.org.
Personal Interview with Shu Lea Cheang, NYC, July 30, 2000.
Anne Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics and Censorship
in Japan, (Westview Press, 1996), 73.
Answer to IKU questionnaire, received August 31, 2000.
Personal Interview with Shu Lea Cheang, NYC, July 30, 2000.
Anne Allison, (Westview Press, 1996), 150.
Geert Lovink interview with Shu Lea Cheang, posted on
December 30, 2000. See http://ww.nettime.org
Anne, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics and Censorship
in Japan (Westview Press, 1996)
Arjun, Modernity at large: Cutural Dimensions of Gobalization (Minneapolis:
University Of Minnesota Press, 1996)
John Perry "Censorship 2000," Posted on the Nettime Mailinglist,
July 12, 2000, website http://www.nettime.org.
Lawrence, "An Odd Circuit: Shu Lea Cheang's Online Road Trip,"
in Art Asia Pacific 27 (March 2000)
Gilles and Fˇlix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
Lovink Geert, Interview with Shu Lea Cheang, posted on Nettime mailinglist, December 30, 2000, website http://www.nettime.org
Gina. "Counter-Media and Global Screens: Recent Work by Shu Lea Cheang,"
unpublished manuscript with portions presented at the Society for Cinema
Studies Conference, March 2000, Chicago, IL.
Brian, A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from
Deleuze and Guattari, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996)
Mark "No Climax, No Point, No Meaning? Japanese Women's Boy-Love
Sites on the Internet," Journal of Commercial Inquiry 24.3 (2000)
Scott, "Electrical Storms: High Speed Historiography in the Video
Art of Peter Callas," in Peter Callas: Initialising History, ed.
Alessio Cavallaro (Sydney: Dlux, 1999)
Susan, "Transcultural Orgasm as Apcocalypse: Urosukidoji: The Legend
of the Overfiend," in Wide Angle, 19: 3 (July 1997): 41-63
John "Diagram and Diagnosis," in Elizabeth Grosz ed. Becomings:
Explorations in Time, memory and Futures (Ithaca:Cornell University Press,
Schleiner, Anne-Marie, "Open Source Art Experiments: Lucky Kiss,"
Posted on Nettime mailinglist, November 26, 2000, 2. For more information
about the "Lucky Kiss Project," see the website http://www.opensorcery.net/luckykiss_xxx/
Kimberly SaRee, "Shu Lea Cheang: Hi-tech Aborigine," in Wide
Angle 18:1. Online version of this issue is available at http://jhupress.jhu.edu/demo/wide_angle/18.1tomes.html
Linda, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible"
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)