Wednesday, December 16, 2009


image credits: Dream of Mirror Online

The Internet spans over most of the entire world and can be accessed in many nations, although there are many who still do not have access to it. It has the power to connect people who otherwise would not be connected. An identity can be created and maintained by anyone. What is masculine and feminine becomes blurred. Due to the anonymity of the users, it is also easier to open up to strangers, thus creating an opportunity for interpersonal relationships to develop, which may even evolve into romantic relationships. However, is it possible to transcend cultural and geographic differences? In a romantic relationship, the physical aspect becomes very important. For people who live across the world from each other, this is not something that can be easily overcome. In a multi-member online roleplaying game (MMORPG) however, it is possible to visually view two characters together, even if there is a vast geographic difference. It is possible for computer mediated relationships to work out in ways that can be comparable to working out a face-to-face relationship, especially in MMORPGs, thus revolutionizing the way romance can be seen on the Internet and in the general population and validating itself as real love, not simply something that can be shut out easily by leaving the computer.

In America, it is estimated that “61% of all American homes that contain a personal computer are currently connected to the Internet” (Merkle 188). It is an important part of our society and the culture is changing everyday. The era however, began only recently, as “commercial applications to the Internet came about in the 1980s as the first national Internet service providers (ISP) – Prodigy Genie, and CompuServe – began providing the home computer user connectivity to this worldwide matrix of computers” (Merkle 187). As the media technology improved and costs were reduced, this introduced the average user to an entirely new system that could be used to have computer mediated social interactions (Merkle 187-188). The possibilities are endless. Virtual online communities can be created, information can be reached with the touch of a key, and social networks can be expanded. With the “number of connected Internet users surpassing the entire population of Japan, some authors reason that this dramatic propagation of the Internet is prompting the creation of a new civilization” (Merkle 188), one that may be more connected than any other previous civilization and will exist virtually. More and more people may meet and interact with each other as a result of using the computer. The image of computer users is fast fading from the “schizoid, 'nerdy' neighbor, to the average person who wants to shop in virtual stores, exchange e-mail with acquaintances, read hypertext documents (web pages), download software, and even meet new people through Internet chat rooms and bulletin boards” (Merkle 188). Rather than the image of the solitary, secluded person using the Internet, it has become one of a person actively socializing. The social element of the Internet allows one to develop meaningful relationships with other users who are also connected. He is not shut off from the world, but rather open to it.

Because it is the Internet however, and there is a definite sense of anonymity, whether or not a person is really who they say they are is questionable. Gender is not physically apparent on the Internet. It is easy to find a picture of someone of the opposite gender and pose it as oneself. If a person chooses to portray himself as a female, then he will be in a way imitating what he believes a female should act like. If a person wishes to prove he is male, then he must act at least part of the time how culture dictates he should act. However, "sexuality is never fully 'expressed' in a performance or practice; there will be passive and butchy femmes, femmy and aggressive butches, and both of those, and more, will turn out to describe more or less anatomically stable 'males' and 'females'" (Butler 725). Thus, because one cannot see the physical body, it allows for a person to act however he or she chooses. A male can choose to say that he is the gender he says he is, but also has the freedom to act in feminine ways because he has the anonymity of the Internet behind him. For him, "part of what constitutes sexuality is precisely that which does not appear and that which, to some degree, can never appear" (Butler 725). In this way, “virtual space allows a range of identity performances that are not tied to material bodies” (Barker 360).

When people are face to face with each other, there is the opportunity for physical attraction, which may then progress to become something more. While it is not the deciding factor, it does spark the initial interest and thus the desire to proceed further (Merkle 189). People may also meet in a variety of places, such as bars, work, and school. As a result, the likelihood that the two may have similar interests is lower. There are many variables that “determine the likelihood that two people will discover an affinity sufficient enough to form a relationship” (Merkle 189). A relationship is formed when “through these continued interactions, partners engage in a process of social penetration in which they begin to establish a sense of rapport and look for similarities between themselves” (Merkle 189). The life story of each individual however is not given from the start. If the two continue to mesh well, “a process of revealing intimate details, or self-disclosure, must come about as it not only leads to a sense of closeness and connection to another person, but frequently sparks interest emotionally, romantically, and sexually” (Merkle 189). As a result, “the development of a face-to-face romantic relationship moves from initial encounter, based on spatial proximity and physical attractiveness, to discovery of similarities and to self-disclosure” (Merkle 189).

On the opposite end however, the only means to get to know a person online in a computer mediated social encounter is “candid self-disclosure” (Merkle 188), as spatial proximity may not be possible due to the geographic differences. The process to developing a relationship becomes inverted. The two may already share common interests because they are able to run into each other in the same virtual online community. The initial meeting and curiosity occurs at the beginning, and if the two find each other interesting, “the topics of discussion can turn toward personal and intimate matters, and a powerful rapport may be established between the users” (Merkle 189). There is less self-consciousness going on in computer mediated relationships because the Internet is anonymous, which provides psychological comfort in revealing intimate and personal matters (Merkle 189). Unlike in a face-to-face relationship, just how important physical attraction is instead is “minimized by the ability to know someone through intense mutual self-disclosure and the intimate sharing of private worldviews” (Merkle 189). One does not need to worry about “losing someone else's affection or approval as a result of knowing one more intimately” (Merkle 189) because the likelihood of even meeting at the beginning is very low. A person is able to present himself however he wishes. He then may or may not be attracted romantically to the self that another person has shown. However, there are still roots in the real world. “Actors remain tied to the everyday material world whose impact on the virtual universe persists” (Barker 360), thus lending a validity to their actions and just how truthful they are. The relationship is able to thrive purely on communication through the Internet. The exchange of numbers and the usage of webcams are possible, but they cannot make up for the lack of spatial proximity. The last step then, if the relationship continues to thrive, is the actual meeting. There are many online relationships that do not even get to the point, but for those that do, when it comes to getting past the geographic differences, “these individuals may arrange to meet one another occasionally with highly sexualized outcomes” (Merkle 189).

However, just as in a face-to-face relationship, issues can arise. Emotional distance can be a big problem, along with the inability to physically touch the person. This may cause a person to act differently than he normally would, because his desire to be with the person overpowers his ability to wait. If any negative judgments do occur and outweigh the positives of the person, it is possible to shut oneself out from the person and move on. The anonymity of the Internet allows users to act any way they want, “without risk, exposure, or being known” (Merkle 190). A person can act much more aggressively or outgoing than he normally would be because he has a mask in front of him. This comes in as an issue not just in behavior, but emotional attachments. An infinite amount of time is also given to those who wish to resolve conflicts peacefully. If the relationship does not work out, the couple does not need to worry about running into each other in real life, only online, which can be easily resolved by creating a completely persona (Merkle 190). In situations where there is discomfort or annoyance, a user can easily flee rather than solving the problems (Merkle 190). This may be troublesome in the future for that person however, as he may not develop the necessary skills needed to mediate conflicts (Merkle 190). Whether or not this will influence real life skills however is unknown. However, while contact can be prevented, the memories obtained during the relationship cannot be as easily blocked because the two have gotten to know each other so intimately. In addition, in a face-to-face relationship, sexual infidelity can sometimes cause a break-up. It is the “ultimate form of betrayal to the boundaries of that relationship” (Merkle 190). However, due to the geographic differences in a computer mediated relationship, “the bond of trust cannot as easily be violated by physical sexual acts” (Merkle 190) because both parties may realize that the physical need to be with someone may sometimes overpower the emotional. Because “self-disclosure is a central feature of computer mediated relationships that sparks powerful emotional bonds between two individuals, it seems plausible to suggest that infidelity within cyberspace is better accounted by emotional betrayal than sexual involvement” (Merkle 190).

The developmental environments of a face-to-face relationship and a computer-mediated relationship are quite different from each other, yet both can be equally rewarding or they would not be happening. If there is no face-to-face interaction and it is all computer mediated, then this supports the viewpoint that “interpersonal relationships [address] a simple social psychological principle: those relationships which reward us, or which we associate with rewards, we like” (Merkle 187). While the social exchanges to maintain and develop the relationships are similar for both types, this is also “where the commonalities among face-to-face and computer mediated relationships may end” (Merkle 188). In a face-to-face relationship, the importance of spatial proximity can be a deciding factor for two people considering getting together. However, it is very true that “because the Internet has a global presence, those who engage in CMR are likely to find themselves with considerable geographic separation between them” (Merkle 189). Because of the geographic differences, what would attract two people instead is an inversion of what would normally happen. Touch remains an essential part of developing a relationship, but when it is not possible, the emotional aspects become established first. It is the emotional need for the other person that becomes more important, and although one may long for the partner's touch, he may be willing to wait because he knows it is worth it, rather than perhaps finding another partner within a closer proximity that may not match as well, but at least is more physically accessible. Rather than the physical attraction that normally occurs first in a face-to-face relationship, it is the personality that attracts a person to someone else, perhaps an argument that this sort of relationship could even be stronger.

An example of how important relationships can be in the Internet world is the multi-member online role-playing game (MMORPG), Dream of Mirror Online (DOMO)*. The game advertises itself as a social rpg and is based on Chinese mythology, a society that was once more focused on the community than the individual. As a result, it is structured slightly differently than many other MMORPGs. The game requires a lot of teamwork, and the developers even use the red string of fate as a method for getting people to meet each other. Users are given the option of choosing the birthday and zodiac of the character, thus already forming a separate identity. The date chosen then will affect your in-game relationships. If someone passes by you who, based on the birthday, has the potential to be your character's true love, a red line will connect the two characters and the thump of a heart can be heard. Whether or not a user wishes to pursue this however is up to him. It is however the social aspect of the game that is what draws most players to it. In addition, one of the most important features of the game is the ability to establish relationships using a special item called a dreamstone, a drop commonly found after killing a monster. Relationship levels can be raised to the max of level five by using more dreamstones. There are three types of relationships that can be formed: lover, teacher/student, and friend. Special skills are also available to those who wish to form those relationships, along with a separate category in the buddy list for those who choose not to designate their own groups. Interestingly enough, a player can have as many from each category as he wishes. It is also possible to become lovers with someone of the same gender. The game does not resort to cultural norms, as it allows one to be polygamous and have as many lovers as a person wishes to have. There are even titles that can be received by players based on the number of lovers they have (Dream of Mirror Online). The easiness with which relationships can be formally developed can be comparable to that of friending someone on Facebook. Thus, one would think that the game does not take developing romantic relationships very seriously.

However, despite the various ways one can form relationships in the game, there is also a marriage system, which encourages following the social norm of monogamy. The rings must be purchased either from the item mall or bought from other players at a medium-high price. Thus, unlike dreamstones, which can be infinitely collected, the rings are much more difficult to obtain and any relationship forged using them is seen as more valuable and not taken as lightly. An understanding and investment in each other or at least a mutual friendship is almost always necessary for those who decide to take that step. The game is not about constant leveling, so it is very easy to make friends and perhaps watch relationships develop into something more. Shotgun weddings are rare simply because of the cost of the rings; it is not often that a player can get married to someone he is only on the surface attracted to. Just as in the real world, a marriage ceremony occurs, orchestrated by a non-player character (NPC) named St. Valentine. Although it is a based on a Chinese MMORPG, the ceremony is Western in itself, along with the accompanying “I do.” If the couple wishes, a wedding banquet and reception can also be held, where a private area will be open to the couple and their friends and guests. While there are many who choose to marry friends, not necessarily significant others, for some couples, in the world of DOMO at least, they are married and will not be separated until they divorce using the Divorce Register set up in one of the towns. The rings themselves provide some benefits, just as a married couple in real life would have by law. One ring, the Partner Pager, allows the holder to summon the other half where he is. The other ring, Ring of Devotion, allows that person to sacrifice health points (HP) and magic points (MP) in order to give it to the lover. This skill however only works if the two are on the same map. The game will also provide wedding costumes, although quests must be completed in order to obtain them (Dream of Mirror Online). The quests in turn each have some lesson about love, be it being faithful, devoted, or never giving up. Thus, there is some initiative for getting married in-game, along with the personal desire for some couples to use it as a promise to each other for the future. As in a face-to-face relationship, other players will see the two around and associate them as a couple. In addition, to help with the geographic distance, couples can sit next to each other, at least a temporary measure for the missing spatial proximity. This is actually an advantage that people who meet over chatrooms and forums may not have.

As DOMO is a game however, and a role-playing one ultimately, users are able to decide how they want their characters to look, along with picking the genders. One must note however that the basic attraction between two users is once again based on personality, not physical attraction, as users only view pixels. There is a good amount of customization that can be done, such as race (four total), gender, skin color, hair color, hair style, bra size (for females), height, width, and eye color. Designing the character is in a way creating an ideal image of oneself or how he wishes to portray himself to the world. It is a way of creatively expressing oneself. There are also options to change hair colors if a person is in the mood for something different. Those who do not create characters based on their own image may be taking part in and enjoying the “piquancy, the novelty, the erotics of putting on a different self” (Bordo 1102). Because it is an anime-style MMORPG, the hair colors range from red to blue to purple to brown. Skin colors are not as varied, but they do go from the standard pale to the ebony black. Whether or not it is intended, the skin color denotes the race of the character. Each race also has its own unique styling of the armor used for the levels (Dream of Mirror Online). There are also stereotypes that come with the races, especially with one specifically. Those who choose the female shura, a feline-like humanoid race, are often perceived to be perverted males because of how revealing the armor and costumes are for that race. Females will also sometimes play as males to avoid being hit on. The lines between femininity and masculinity are blurred by this because female characters may act masculine while male characters may act feminine. Thus, "in effect, one way that genders get naturalized is through being constructed as an inner psychic or physical necessity” (Butler 728).

A MMORPG is just one way to look at how a relationship can develop and how people may interact with each other. While some people may become addicted to the roleplaying and posing as a completely different person, for others, it is the social aspect that draws them and causes them to remain. To level all the time without socializing is something very few people do, due to how the game is set up and how difficult it may be for people to level up on their own. For those who level together often, it is very possible that the opportunity to discuss more personal intimate matters will pop up. Unlike what Berger states, the virtual network can be real and authentic, just like a real community (Barker 360). People interact together, must learn to work together, and the same kind of drama that may occur in face-to-face friendships happens in a MMORPG, too. Misunderstandings also often happen, due to the lack of tone in text and the sarcastic, light way many view the Internet. A difference in opinions can also lead to clashes. Because the community is so large, not everyone is able to get to know each other intimately. Just like in a real life situation, the degrees to which people know each other vary greatly. The only difference is that it is all online. Comparable to real life, users can also be judged by how they create their characters. In addition, if computer mediated relationships did not have some merit to them, companies would not be basing features off of romantic ideas, such as the red string, because they would not be able to draw as much as a crowd, thus making less of a profit. There has to be something appealing about an online relationship or people would not attempt it, as it is virtually the same as a long distance relationship. It takes a lot of emotional strength to be able to pull through.

Because more and more people are becoming connected to the Internet, it is important to understand the relationships that may develop as a result of social interaction online. They may in turn give more insight to understanding face-to-face relationships and what makes those click. Understanding a computer mediated relationship may lead to discoveries that show that instead of shutting oneself off from the rest of the world and becoming a hermit, a person is instead actively socializing with other users across the Internet. Since “self-disclosure on the Internet tends to become more private and less inhibited faster than in face-to-face relating, it is important to recognize that individuals often describe their [computer mediated relationship] as extremely intimate and as 'authentic' as any face-to-face relationship” (Merkle 191). One can imagine then that if the relationship is broken, it is not as easy to remove the person from one's memories as it is to remove them from a contact list. An impression has been formed due to the close, intimate relationship developed. This sort of relationship is radical because it is an inversion of the original, face-to-face relationship, yet it can be just as meaningful and true, or people would not be going for it and taking the time to wait to get to physically be with their partners.

Works Cited

1. Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies, 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications: Los Angeles, 2008. Print.

2. Bordo, Susan. "Material Girl: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Cultural Studies. Print.

3. Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Subordination." Gender Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies, Queer Theory. Online.

4. Dream of Mirror Online. Aeria Games. Online.

5. Merkle, Erich R. Richardson, Rhonda A. "Digital Dating and Virtual Relating: Conceptualizing Computer Mediated Romantic Relationships." Family Relations, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 187-192. Online.


* Any observations about how the game, DOMO, is played, are ones that I have observed myself through actually playing the game. A brief description of some of the features mentioned can also be found on the website,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Globalization in Language and Music

An interesting argument I heard against the globalization of languages was that because people will begin speaking English (or another super language), they will slowly lose their native tongues, thus losing a way humans can think (structure, grammar, also indirect vs direct ways of approaching subjects). There are so many different ways for languages to be put together that it is a shame to lose them because it is more convenient to speak another. There is also a theory that English evolved from a Creole of German and French among some linguists, so it will be interesting to see 1000 years how much the languages of today have changed as a a result of contact with others. Just a few examples of other languages mixed into American English are Japanese and Spanish. American English has also influenced Japanese and Spanish. Chicano Spanish has words that speakers from Spain would not be able to understand, and some speakers do not even realize that the words they know are actually not "Spanish" but come from American English.

Also, quick touch on the Asian market in America (only going to refer to Asian since that's the music I'm familiar with). Many people seem to prefer to be able to understand the music they listen to. In order for Asian singers then to do well in America, they must be able to sing in English. However, the intonations of Asian languages can be very different from American English, so when they switch to English, it does not fit in as well with the melody/background music. How the words and the pronunciations sound, along with the syllable differences (ex: Chinese for the most part=one character/syllable, one meaning), can really affect how a song will turn out. I think this is why when singers do perform English versions of their songs, they don't go with direct translations because something about it sounds off, or vice versa, as some American groups have done covers to Asian songs (ex: Michael Learns to Rock - Take Me To Your Heart). This means they may end up losing some of the meaning in their songs. The lyrics may carry similar themes, but translation-wise.. eh. Songs from animes are also good examples, as some have been translated and performed in English, with very different lyrics (Change the World from Inu-Yasha). Adjustments usually have to be made in order for it to sound like the original.

My friend and I were also talking about Miyazaki films today, and it turns out that one of them, Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind, was heavily edited and cut when it was first distributed in America (1984), completely changing the meaning and environmental issues the original film was trying to get across. How America censors (or wants certain issues to be promoted more than others) is different than other countries, so that may also affect how artists may get promoted here. How what they may feel should and can be shown in a music video may be very different from what we think should be shown or is appropriate.

So yeah.. could be completely off as I'm not a performer in Asia faced with those decisions, but that's what it seems like from my experiences with Asian music.

A New Dialect?

Being the one who brought up the online dialect thing, guess the main reason why I mentioned it was because I was thinking of the non-standard spoken dialects of English (ex: African American Vernacular English and Chicano English) and how they used to be seen as substandard. We can't.. really rank language. If we did, what would be higher or lower than say, Standard American English? British English? English spoke in Australia? All languages are systematic. It's all just a different way of speaking (or typing in this case), one that takes a bit of time to adjust to and understand, just like any other dialect of English. Some dialects have different pronunciations, such as the r-less ("cah" instead of "car"), or have different words ("gumband" for "rubberband" in Pittsburgh). However, because of the way some people speak, they are judged as uneducated, which really doesn't say much about their overall mental intelligence (stereotype of the Southern accent, anyone?). Those of us who have immigrant families? How many of our families may speak in broken English, but speak quite fluently in the native language? Would we call them stupid or unintelligent? Probably not. The reason why there are so many dialects in America is because it's impossible to squash down those individuals. Language itself is very expressive, fluctuates depending on the time and people, and can be a huge marker of how a person defines himself.

Um.. also, language was never really officially formal. All the rules that make language "formal" were decided by dictionary writers and educators, who barely make up the population. Writing itself actually didn't exist until a few thousand years ago. People were using spoken language a lot sooner (which is also why I don't think people will ever just stop talking and resort to only one or two forms of communication). I also rarely see people talk the way they write (or have to write in formal papers, at least, which would be the actual, "formal" form of English), so I don't think we need to worry too much about people saying "lol" or "ttyl." Most likely they will say the entire phrase out, and those who speak abbreviated will only be a small number. Standard American English (which is what is deemed as "formal English in America) anyway would be not using contractions; using "If I/he/she/it/you were,"; not ending sentences or phrases with prepositions; no splitting infinitives; and all those other rules we learned in English, but may or may not remember anymore. Really? The spoken, vernacular language is quite casual, so why can't the written be, too? Even spelling itself wasn't quite formalized until dictionaries came out. One man, Noah Webster, really influenced how American spelling would differ from British simply by publishing a dictionary and finding different ways to spell. His reasoning (backed by other prominent revolutionists of the time) was that there needed to be an American way of doing things versus a British way. "Color," "theater," "wagon," and "defense" are just some examples of words that have been changed because of him. People saw it as a way of distinguishing their new government and political system from the old monarchy. They could have easily ignored his dictionary and just went with the old spellings, but they decided not to, so who's to say we may not have eventually ended up at those abbreviations anyway? New words are also always coming into the language, but whether or not they stay depends on the time and people (ex: "belittle" from Thomas Jefferson).

It is also possible that spontaneity does still exist, if not in thought (as mentioned in the presentation), at least in language, because people are always coming up with new ways to communicate (or abbreviate). They do realize that tone can be very difficult to detect online, so they come up with ways to convey it the best way they can. Emoticons were mentioned. It's very easy to come up with an emoticon, such as oAo, e-e, r-r, n.n, ^^, owo, -_-. Each carries its own separate meaning. Understanding them however would.. again, take some practice, along with seeing it in different contexts, but the skill needed to understand could also be similar understanding idioms in other languages. "The cat is out of the bag." How.. would this make sense to someone who was not familiar with American English? Heck, this happens with new words, too. "D'oh," "spiffy," "that is sick" (with a good connoation), "quiz," are just a few examples of words that people may not understand at first, but once explained, will. Why not also the abbreviations and emoticons used on the Internet and texting?

There is a system to the Internet language, just like all other languages. There are certain words that get abbreviated, certain letters that get cut (usually vowels), numbers that replace sounds (rebus writing, which also existed in the ancient Sumerian culture, so it's not just from chatspeak). It's not all random, so.. I'd say there's still hope. Once chatspeak and Internet language start getting unsystematic though, then yeah, I'd start getting a bit more worried myself, too. As long as people can understand each other, it's still communication. It may not be phone call or letters, but hey, before phones were invented or faster postal service, people were still able to communicate and talk to each other. Be it done vocally or texted/written, they both work. Language and writing don't necessarily need to be understood by everyone, because not everyone thinks the same way, just like not all spoken dialects of English are totally mutually intelligible.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Part in Summer Palace

For my part in the Summer Palace presentation, I focused on helping with writing the questions and also the most logical way and order to present them. Because I had written my response paper on indivualism in China, I was able to analyze the movie through that lens. There really is a lot of Western influence in the movie, and it is shown progressively. The students drink Western drinks and go to Western-style bars. The paper helped me better understand the characters and thus view them in a more sympathetic light. It was also possible to come up with answers to the questions in case we needed something to discuss and explain. Because I had been able to view the movie with the group in the library, I was also able to view the others' reactions to certain scenes in the movie, thus a short preview to how the class might act. Since we all had such different schedules, most of our group discussion for the presentation happened over e-mail.

We also had to pick out which scenes to show. Someone in the group came up with a list of the scenes, and I helped pick out which ones were the most important. During the presentation, I had the opportunity to direct what scenes should be shown and just how long each clip should be. While there were many sex scenes, a lot of the most important lines Yu Hong said came either right before or right after them. Without the context of the situation, we could hardly show the quotes that she had. Because the beginning had been cut out, I did a short synopsis of it in a WebCT post. We also had to summarize several parts of the movie that had to be skipped over, such as the conversation with Zhou and the girl in Berlin. It helped a lot that we had two days to do our presentation, because it would have been difficult to have the discussion since the majority of the class had not seen the movie.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Post It - Carrie Gets Busted" - Sex and the City and Cultural Space

Bars, as seen in the television show, "Sex and the City," are a place for both men and women to hang out, socialize, and possibly pick up someone. They are public spaces that are used to meet people. Although food is served, thus making it a place to eat, the socio-cultural world designates it more as a place of leisure (Barker 375). The lighting is generally dim, creating a more intimate setting, and music plays in the background. Women wear clothing that is culturally sexy, sometimes shows a lot of skin or compliments their shape, and will attract men, as seen when Carrie comments on how effective Miranda's skinny jeans are. Whether or not they will also depends on the “state of mind” they have and just how "sexy" they feel in them. Bars symbolize a space where people do not need to be so inhibited. As seen in the clip, bachelorettes will also frequent bars, as after they are married, their sexual and social freedoms become more limited. It is not generally accepted for married women to go to bars to pick up men. However, men have less of a cultural restraint, as Samantha ends up being blamed for kissing the girl's boyfriend, even though he was the one who first tried to initiate something.

The counter is a space for men and women to meet up and order drinks for each other. Whether or not someone has a significant other pales in comparison to the act of simply flirting, as proven when one man in the clip wants to order a drink for Miranda, but his friend brings up the point that he already has a girlfriend, both reminding him of his obligations to her and the first man's more valid claim on Miranda. In addition, once outside the club, Samantha and Carrie are subject to the laws, which is why Carrie is arrested by the police for smoking pot. The purpose of space has changed from one of leisure and enjoyment to one with more authority and structure.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Analytical Look at Summer Palace

Summer Palace, directed by Lou Ye, tells of a passionate love story between two college students, Yu Hong and Zhou Wei, during the late 1980s, right before the political turmoil of Tiananmen Square to the end of the century. The first half of the movie deals with the chaos of their relationship and how it is influenced by the events going on around them while the second, set in a more peaceful time, demonstrates the apathy and motions that each go through to fill the void within them. How the article, "Generation Ku: Individualism and China's Millennial Youth," takes a look at the significance of the rapid changes the newest generation of Chinese youth has gone through demonstrates the power struggle between traditional beliefs and gender roles against individualism and freedom that the characters in Summer Palace experience.

“Ku” is a new slang term developed by Chinese adolescents used as a “verbal icon of a youth rebellion that promises to transform some of the older generation's most enduring cultural values” (Moore 357). It is “derived from the English slang term “cool” (Moore 357) and is often used to describe the individualistic, Western-influenced, millennial generation, children of the era who lived through the Cultural Revolution. The usage of a slang term to define a generation is not something only seen however in China. In the 20th century, the USA has also gone through two cultural transformations led by the adolescents and young adults that were both also defined by a new slang term (Moore 358). China has always been more focused on kinship and collectivism, but recent economic reforms after Mao and influences from the West are creating individualistic tendencies where people work more towards their own goals instead of for the state (Moore 362). With the rise of capitalism and consumerism culture, both of which innately promote individualism, the seeds for rebellion are planted. Globalization has also given the youth new perspectives that their parents never had (Moore 357), leading to the inevitable clash with young people and authority, Tiananmen Square. In the Barker book, Hebdige says that “youth is only present when its presence is regarded a problem... This allows them to 'play with the only power at their disposal – the power to discomfort, the pose... a threat” (Barker 434). Students are only noticed when they stir up trouble, when they go deviant. Throughout the movie, it seems as if the students are barely monitored and the teachers pay little attention to them. It is only when fights or riots break out that they rise from their stupor to interfere. Thus, in order to create change, the students must do something as drastic as Tiananmen Square because it is the only action they can do to capture the attention of the world. They work together, focusing on their wants, the economic and democratic reforms that they desire, not simply the individual, but what the individual stands for.

However, it is not just individualism, but power, that helps to play a part in the events that unfold in the movie. A choice of whether or not to remain as a couple or be separate people is a question often raised in the first half of the film. There is a key point where Yu Hong wants to break up with Zhou Wei because she can't leave him. She realizes the danger of needing someone as badly as she needs Zhou Wei to be with her because it decides whether or not she will be happy. As Barker states, “power is regarded as pervading every level of social relationships” (Barker 10), including romantic relationships, and what Yu Hong and Zhou Wei have is no exception. There is constantly a power struggle between the two of them, once even escalating to an argument between the two where Yu Hong refuses to leave the room unless he hits her, which he then proceeds to do three times, with each time her continuing to provoke him until he finally gives in and hugs her, the two of them reconciling. Zhou Wei's wish to exercise his dominance over her conflicts with Yu Hong's defiance against his desires. According to Li Ti, her best friend, Zhou Wei prefers gentle girls, but Yu Hong is “hard,” which scares him and makes him uncertain of himself. Yu Hong is nothing like the submissive, servile woman of Confucian society, being much more individualistic and aggressive, perhaps because of her rural background. The article gives the example of how in one rural community, “the groundwork for individualistic tendencies” was laid out by how the state in the 1950s “ruthlessly undermined family and local authority systems” (Moore 363). Yu Hong is in no way timid and weak, which is a “prominent feature of Chinese ku in light of the evidence indicating that the most salient way of being ku is to be individualistic” (Moore 372). To her father, she tells him not to worry about her, a sign of her readiness to be independent. Because Zhou Wei is unable to establish himself as master of the relationship, the two of them are constantly breaking up and getting back together, with Yu Hong even saying that she is bound to him through destiny for better or worse. For her, true love can only appear in the midst of angst and suffering, and her relationship with Zhou Wei is so full of ups and downs that for the two of them, at least during their college years, they do find true love.

Sex and love is a dominant theme in the film and is just as important in there as it is for China's millennial youth. With the rise of individualism, there is the “tendency for young Chinese to establish boyfriend-girlfriend relations” (Moore 363). During the Cultural Revolution, good female comrades were not even supposed to think about marriage until their late twenties. Even before that, “dating and forming romantic relationships have long been prohibited in China, by Confucian-influenced families and, more recently, by dictate of the state” (Moore 363). While professors do not seem to interfere with relationships in the movie, the school authorities do, as seen in the scene when Li Ti and Zhou Wei are caught naked in bed together and punished. Thus, “the pursuit of romantic relationships is a profoundly individualistic undertaking” (Moore 363) because it marks personal interest instead of acting on behalf of the family. It may also be seen as detracting from studying, causing students to perform sub-par, thus failing the family. In the second half of the movie, Yu Hong has two affairs with men, the first one mostly for sex, the second one more for emotional support. Her wayward relationships with Zhou Wei and the married man in the second half of the film, show that they “function as mechanisms with a double impetus: pleasure and power” (Foucault 688). She is “the individual driven, in spite of [herself], by the somber madness of sex” (Foucault 685), for sex is forbidden in college and seen as highly individualistic while the first affair challenges the traditional structure of marriage. Yu Hong wonders why she is so eager to have sex with the men in her life. She is later quoted to say that it is only when she makes love do people see that she has a gentle side, that she isn't as “hard” as she appears on the surface. Power comes into play once again, for when she is in bed, she is the submissive one, the cultural role played by Chinese women, which then allows the men she sleeps with to be the one on top, the one in charge, therefore making them secure in their manhood.

Summer Palace is heavily influenced by the individualistic culture and beliefs of Generation Ku. It demonstrates the power struggle depicted in Yu Hong's relationships with men and also her own cultural history, which draws from a more collective background. While the word “ku” itself is not used anywhere in Summer Palace, the cultural meaning of the word in Chinese youth society and how it has come to be permeates the film, demonstrating how it often conflicts with traditional structure and personal relationships.


Works Cited

1.Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies, 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications: Los Angeles, 2008. Print.

2. Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality.” Gender Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies, Queer Theory. p. 682-691. Print.

3. Moore, Robert L. “Generation Ku: Individualism and China's Millennial Youth.” Ethnology, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005): p. 357-376. 10 October 2009. Web.

4. Summer Palace. Lou Ye. Perf. Hao Lei, Zhang Xianmin, Hu Lingling. Palm Pictures. 2006. DVD.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I went to the Starbucks near my apartment in Northridge on Saturday, September 19th, 2009. It was a hot autumn afternoon, right after I left Mikomicon, an anime convention. Upon entering, I ordered a drink and took a seat by the window near the counter so I could have a good view of all the customers in the cafe. Once I got my drink, I opened my book to begin recording notes.

There are four cashiers total, three of which were
female and one male. They all look to be about college-aged. Already in the cafe are an Asian male and an Asian girl, both working individually at their own tables. The Asian male is looking around the cafe while reading a textbook. The Asian girl has a newspaper open on top of her pencil case and book. To my right, by the counter, a white girl and an older white male are having a conversation about school. The girl carries most of the conversation, explaining about how she was checking e-mail and what should be sent, how she had to handle sports first to make sure an appointment can work out. The white man remarks about how difficult it seems, which closes the conversation, and he leaves first. After a few minutes, the girl also goes, taking the back door. A Hispanic woman comes in, orders her drink quietly, then sits down across from the Asian girl, diagonal however so that they are not facing each other. A biker comes in and strikes up a conversation with the female cashier at the register. He seems to be a regular, as they share a friendly rapport about how he is doing and what the day is like. Another older white male walks in, perhaps another regular, because the cashier and him chat about walking and not walking enough. Their conversation continues as she makes his drink.

All the tables at Starbucks are slowly filling up as people come in and sit down with their drinks. Another white male walks in, orders a tall hot drink and sits down with his laptop once he gets it. The Asian male is now staring off into the distance while the Asian girl has abandoned the newspaper (which the Hispanic woman has begun to read) and is looking through her textbook.
Although I cannot see them, I can hear the three female cashiers gossiping behind the counter about a guy (the kind that you could take anywhere). Apparently, they know each other well enough to know siblings by name, although not by age, as one girl brings up her brother, who is coming to town, and the tattoo he has, one with a heart with a puzzle piece that fits inside of it. A father and son walk in, standing a bit away from the counter, an indication that they are thinking about what they want. None of the friendly rapport from the previous customers occur, so they probably are not regulars. Having served their customers, the male cashier returns from cleaning around the store and joins the conversation the female cashiers are having.

A group of four Asians walk in. The two girls point to the food display. One male goes to the restroom while the other takes a table and sits with his laptop. The younger Asian girl takes the table across from him and chats while the older woman orders two drinks, then joins the younger girl. All three talk. Meanwhile, a white girl, perhaps associated with sports from the design on her shirt, is next to walk in. Again, the social norm is to stand in the back before approaching the counter with her decision. Once that is done, she takes a table, cleaning the top before officially sitting down. A white mother and her two girls, about the age of six and ten, are the next to enter. They approach the counter almost immediately, with the mother discussing with the older girl what they want to order. The interaction between the mother and her children is very sweet: she sings and dances along with them in public while discussing the party that they will head over to later. More customers come in and slowly file into a line. The male cashier is now making the drinks, as the African American cashier has left. Two more Asian girls walk in and wait, leaning against the stand until the cashier calls out to them before they will walk up and order. Once they have done so, one girl takes the big table with the very first Asian girl while the other goes to the restroom. A white woman comes in asking for where the restroom is, which an employee readily points out to her.

An Asian couple walks in. The male pays while the girl walks around, then comes back. Together, they look at the products while waiting for their drinks. The previous Asian group that had walked in are chatting together at their two tables, although separately. The younger male shows the two girls an ad, which the younger girl studies more seriously than the older. They now speak amongst themselves. An older white male comes in, orders his drink, and leans on the counter while waiting for his money back. He puts his change in his pocket, counts the dollars, and throws the receipt into the trashcan. He leans on the counter while a female employee makes his drink, then thanks her. The male coworker says goodbye to his coworkers, using, "Bye, guys," even though they are all female.

The discussion between the coworkers about the brother and the tattoo was interesting, because they specifically mentioned him having a heart tattoo with a puzzle piece inside. While I could not hear most of the conversation, they did seem surprised. Although men in our society are now being slowly encouraged to be more open with their feelings and be romantic, the fact that they brought it up is a sign that even with the media broadcasting, it is still more uncommon than common. The reference itself to the puzzle piece was symbolic of the missing piece in his life that he was searching for, but this may only be because I have been culturalized to believe that sort of thing.

While at Starbucks, there weren't too many couples that showed up. I did find it interesting however how people knew to stand in the back if they had not yet decided what to order. It was more often in the younger generation however that people did this; the mother and the older white male who came in last waited at the front of the counter while making their decisions. This could almost be called a display of dominance. The Asian girls who came in waited for the cashier to call them before, perhaps a reflection of their own culture. We learn naturally to stand in the back while thinking, so that any customers who walk in and know what they want already can order first. It is not taught officially to us, merely picked up. In addition, the group of Asians who walked in may have been there more because of enriching friendships, not romantic relationships, because they sat based on gender, not girl with guy, girl with guy. They were one of the few groups who remained at Starbucks to socialize, although one of the men had brought his laptop, so he was probably there because he realized the women would chat for a long time, so he might as well get some work done while he could.

I found the male co-worker's usage of "guys" referring to his female coworkers a specific feature of the California dialect. It is a shortened version of the phrase, "guys and gals," and may be a sign of the word usage slowly changing. In some areas of the country, people will use "y'all" or "yous." Here in California however, we ignore gender and simply use "guys." It could be a sign of his casual relationship with his coworkers, because he did not use “girls,” which while it would have been more correct gender-wise, sets him apart from them. His choice of "guys" brings them closer, because he acknowledges them as equals.

From the looks of it, Starbucks is both a place where people can gather and meet socially and a retreat where people can study or work. It is both convenient and cheap, because people can simply order a drink and spend less than five dollars, then sit at a table for hours. Whether or not coming to cafes to study started off as a rarity that influenced movie makers or became popular because of movies, the majority of the people who came into Starbucks either stayed for a long time with their drinks and working, or left almost immediately. My sister often goes to cafes to study, and it was not until I actually came myself and got a feel for the environment that I now understand why she likes to do so. We are each enclosed in our own world, which consists of the table we choose to sit at and the drink, which serves as our subsistence. Even if we do not come with our own music, the cafe plays something to entertain us. It is a symbol of getting things accomplished, perhaps why those who stay often stay instead of simply leaving. When we think of cafes, we think of not just getting a drink, but also socializing with friends or a place where we can work quietly to ourselves and not be disturbed. It has been established as a cultural space to socialize and work, not simply a place to purchase food and drink.