by Katrien Jacobs
(First Published in Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia, Duke University Press, 2003)
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This 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 pornography.'
Cheang's '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.
The 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.
[Figure 1. Buy One Get One, 1997 Installation and Internet project, Collection NTT/ICC, Tokyo]
Cheang 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.
Clicking 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.
Cheang's 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.
Cheang's 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.
The 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.
Digital 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.
Japan 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.
In 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.
New 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 imagination.
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':
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]
A 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 FŽlix 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:
Cybersex killed the centerfold, and gave viewers the sensation of being 'queered' through ongoing encounters with multiple and transformative partners of desire.
Theorists 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.
It 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.
As 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.
[Figure 4 TokyoRose from She Lea Cheang's movie I.K.U, 2000]
The 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
While 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
The 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 interests.
Just 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.
Using 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.
Cheang explains that it was very difficult to confront sexual taboos around nudity, pubic hair and genitals in collaboration with Japanese actresses and porn stars:
As 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.
Allison 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.
By 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.
Shu 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
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.
This 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.
I 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
7 From the I.K.U. promotional website http://www.uplink.co.jp/IKU
8 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.
10 "Naked Earth" website http://www.nakedearthcomix.com
11 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
12 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.
16 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.
18 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.)
23 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.
24 "Ruby in the Sky with Sitrine" website http://www2.big.or/jp/~cham/
25 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,"
28 For more detailed information on the terms of agreements (TOS) see http://www.visto.com.
John Perry Barlow, "Censorship 2000," Posted on
Geert Lovink interview with Shu Lea Cheang, posted on
Allison, Anne, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics and Censorship in Japan (Westview Press, 1996)
Appadurai, Arjun, Modernity at large: Cutural Dimensions of Gobalization (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1996)
Barlow, John Perry "Censorship 2000," Posted on the Nettime Mailinglist, July 12, 2000, website http://www.nettime.org.
Chua, Lawrence, "An Odd Circuit: Shu Lea Cheang's Online Road Trip," in Art Asia Pacific 27 (March 2000)
Deleuze, Gilles and FŽlix 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
Marchetti, 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.
Massumi, Brian, A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996)
McLelland, Mark "No Climax, No Point, No Meaning? Japanese Women's Boy-Love Sites on the Internet," Journal of Commercial Inquiry 24.3 (2000)
McQuire, Scott, "Electrical Storms: High Speed Historiography in the Video Art of Peter Callas," in Peter Callas: Initialising History, ed. Alessio Cavallaro (Sydney: Dlux, 1999)
Pointon, Susan, "Transcultural Orgasm as Apcocalypse: Urosukidoji: The Legend of the Overfiend," in Wide Angle, 19: 3 (July 1997): 41-63
Rajchman, John "Diagram and Diagnosis," in Elizabeth Grosz ed. Becomings: Explorations in Time, memory and Futures (Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1999)
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/
Tomes, 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
Wiliams, Linda, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)