Thursday, 23 April 2009

Gender Transition in a Virtual Environment

Would the audience notice a slow change in human proportion over the course of an animation? Would one be able to tell that a character has changed from male to female between the start and finish?

I would like to investigate this. If gender is in fact important to the aesthetic quality of an animation then it would be assumed that the audience would notice a change in the levels of masculinity/femininity within a form.

A digital form which morphs between male and female. An ambiguous form which can choose its gender, and apply the change in an analogue, flowing way - or a digital, immediate way. Physique and voice tonality contribute so much to gender identification in the physical world, yet on the internet these factors are often not specified or available. Gender is an assumption based on our expectations and conditioning of language choice and linguistic structure.

Mark Poster mentions how we can assume a different identity and gender on the internet.
From his essay "Cyberdemocracy" taken from "Reading Digital Culture" edited by David Trend:

"The structural conditions of communicating in Internet communities do introduce resistances to and breaks with these gender determinations. The fact of having to decide on one's gender itself raises the issue of individual identity in a novel and compelling manner. If one is to be masculine, one must choose to be so. Further, one must enact one's gender choice in language and in language alone, without any marks and gestures of the body, without clothing or intonations of voice. Presenting one's gender is accomplished solely through textual means, although this does include various iconic markings invented in electronic communities such as the smiley [:-)] and its variants. Also, one may experience directly the opposite gender by assuming it and enacting it in conversations." p. 268

Also, how would a transition of gender affect the audience's experience of an animation? Would there be an air of discomfort or would there be nothing? How would the audience respond?
Would any response be an unconscious one (evident through bodily cues) or would the audience notice consciously.

Mark Poster outlines a case of gender redundancy causing a characters perceived 'death' in an online context:

"A man named Alex presented himself on a bulletin board as a disabled woman, "Joan," in order to experience the "intimacy" he admired in women's conversations. Van Gelder reports that when his "ruse" was unveiled, many of the women "Joan" interacted with were deeply hurt. But Van Gelder also reports that their greatest disappointment was that "Joan" did not exist. The construction of gender in this example indicates a level of complexity not accounted for by the supposition that cultural and social forms are or are not transferrable to the Internet." p. 267

It will be interesting to see the implications of this in the context of a contemporary dance.