Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Primacy of "intelligence" in "popular" posthumanism

"For they caused me to see that it is possible to attain knowledge which is very useful in life, and that, instead of that speculative philosophy which is taught in the Schools, we may find a practical philosophy by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air, the stars, heavens and all other bodies that envrion us, as distinctly as we know the different crafts of our artisans, we can in the same way employ them in all those uses to which they are adapted and thus render ourselves the masters and posessors of nature" -- Descartes, "Discourse on Method" (italics mine)
 "But it turns out that we are central, after all. Our Ability to create models -- virtual realites -- in our brains, combined with our modest-looking thumbs, has been sufficient to usher in another form of evolution: technology. That development enabled the persistence of the accelerating pace that started with biological evolution. It will continue until the entire universe is at our fingertips" -- Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near 

I set these two quotes against each other, so we can recognize that at the outset, Kurzweil's teleology is close to Descartes. In fact, his claim that humans will eventually "saturate" matter with intelligence and that the universe will "wake up" and become conscious sounds vaguely similar to Hegel's notion of Absolute Consciousness at the end of history. Consciousness is indeed a focus of Kurzweil's book, as he also, per Descartes, appears to uphold the privilege given to consciousness and intelligence. But rather than a soul or 'mind', Kurweil argues that we are a pattern that may gradually shift but essentially holds firm, regardless of the material medium on which it is instantiated. Kurzweil's work exemplifies N. Katherine Hayles' claim that we have shifted from presence/absence to pattern/randomness. For Kurzweil, the goal is increasing order and harmony in the universe, which will most likely increase complexity, but not necessarily; Throughout the text, we get the sense that his caveat about reduced complexity from order is actually a desire.

The desire is that technology and greater intelligence that comes with it can solve all our problems -- disease, death, war, income inequality, etc. His relentless assumption that if we can become more intelligent and then the "nonbiological" machines that will be 'us' will eventually surpass human intelligence, we can solve problems. Sure these technologies will bring in new problems, that mostly concern issues of control and possible terrorism, but those age old problems that humans just haven't been intelligent to solve yet -- we'll solve those. Eugen Thacker has recently cautioned against the view that biotechnologies offer "technical solutions to social and cultural problems." To assume that we will be able to solve our problems once we have become more intelligent implies that intelligence consists of rational understanding that we can communicate and agree upon in order to act. Kurzweil assumes that intelligence also corresponds with "creative" capacities, but, we have seen throughout history that a lot of creative work is not associated with rational or even 'emotional' intelligence.

I focus on this particular avenue because Kurzweil has assembled a large amount of research and argumentation for his position based on on countless scientific studies (although some more credible than others). We could sit here and critique him for thinking that by 2040 or whatever the Singularity will be here because of exponential growth of technology or we could critique his neglect of the animal (for the most part), but his argument more than any of that hinges on this slippery concept of intelligence, a focus I also found in Fukuyama with the exception that Fukuyama was defending an inherently complex and standard human IQ that we should attempt to maintain (at least on a bell curve).

Kurzweil defines intelligence (if it can be called a definition) on pg 296: "Intelligence is the ability to solve problems with limited resources, including limitations of time."

So intelligence is framed as the ability to solve problems, the very thing Kurzweil says super-intelligence will enable us to do. But is intelligence really measured by problem-solving capability?

Intelligence, as a word, derives from the Latin verb, intelligere, which in turn derives from inter-legere, which means to "pick out or discern." Wikipedia continues (and I realize that this may not be entirely accurate):

Intelligence derives from the Latin verb intelligere which derives from inter-legere meaning to "pick out" or discern. A form of this verb, intellectus, became the medieval technical term for understanding, and a translation for the Greek philosophical term nous. This term was however strongly linked to the metaphysical and cosmological theories of teleological scholasticism, including theories of the immortality of the soul, and the concept of the Active Intellect (also known as the Active Intelligence). This entire approach to the study of nature was strongly rejected by the early modern philosophers such as Francis BaconThomas HobbesJohn Locke, and David Hume, all of whom preferred the word "understanding" in their English philosophical works.[2][3] Hobbes for example, in his Latin De Corpore, used "intellectus intelligit" (translated in the English version as "the understanding understandeth") as a typical example of a logical absurdity.[4] 

Historically, then, its not a surprise that we link transhumanism with immortality and a kind of hyper-rationalist, masculinist, transcendence-laced -- discourse (I have yet to hear of a female extropian/transhumanist). 

But etymologically, if intelligence is meant to signify discerning or picking out, this means that is not limited to a kind of problem-solving approach. Instead, following the more recent continental theory, we could think of intelligence as picking out or discerning problems -- or even picking out something and then inventing with it. But again, not to solve a problem, but to make it more apparent or to show the aporias that confront us (here I am drawing loosely on some of Greg Ulmer's work). 

But what about privileging intelligence in general? Why intelligence? Why not stupidity? Why not not-knowing? I am not saying this as a Luddite reaction to Kurzweil's extensive accounts of developments in GNR technologies (Genetic, nano, robot) but in the sense that how does intelligence solve our problems? Have we not seen intelligence been used for ill-conceived ends? Most everyone would agree Hitler embodied the wickedness of a certain ideology (I hesitate to call him a 'bad man" because it sounds so silly and utterly inadequate), but how many people would say he was "stupid" "unintelligent," "ignorant"? 

So here we have to add that if Kurzweil wants to maintain a kind of technological-intelligence optimism that the assumption is that we (and the non-biological entities that follow us) becomes more "morally intelligent" too. 

But what the hell is "moral intelligence" ? Or "ethical intelligence" ? The moral/ethical/political principles discussed in Kurzweil's book are not radical. Rather, despite his speculative technological imagination, he does not imagine any new political or ethical arrangements that would come out of this (just ethical "problems" that need to be solved). 

What is the relationship between intelligence and values? 

Now we're in really deep shit. Once you start saying "ah, that value clearly reflects on that person's intelligence" you start to use intelligence as a bludgeon against people you don't agree with, and, of course, this leads to ad hominem attacks galore. We don't want to start questioning people's values based on their intelligence do we? And is it really their intelligence that came up with these values or their cultural, social, and political position? 

This focus on intelligence, at once a narrow and vague understanding of it, is the Achilles heel of popular posthumanism: Its always about the mind, consciousness -- AI rather than AL. The seat of all problem solving is the (bio or non-bio) intelligence of the individual innovator -- a convenient narrative for Kurzweil to perpetuate as an inventor and innovator himself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Full Lyrics and Chords to Posthumanism Song

The Net that usurped the Sky
Capo on 2

Emin                                            G
Well I got people on my right and people on my left
D                           Am            Emin
Tellin’ me that I can live forever
Emin                                             G
One through faith in the Lord, the other a computer cord
D                                 Amin           Emin
My body’s done for either way I go
Emin                                                                   G
Cuz them old white men hate their flesh, rather be turned to code
D                                     Amin                                      Emin
They can’t stand decay and death, so they’ll digitize their soul
Emin                            G
A secular salvation, perfect communication
D                                Amin               Emin
Without noise, without  mediation

But you can’t escape mortality
C                                                         Emin
By the software programs on your PC
Even if we drug our food
C                                          Emin
We can’t transcend our finitude
And if heaven’s not  even a state of mind
It can’t flow through a cable line . . .
That dream is just a waste of time
A disguised intelligent design

Abar                         F              C
Of the gods who refuse to die
Abar                           F        C
That don’t care for you or I
Abar                           F       C
Just their transcendental high
           Abar          F               C
On the Net that usurped the sky

But this is not the only choice, someone says in a machinic voice
You can take the path that goes under
Leave goddesses and Lords, embrace the cyborg
God is dead and man a recent blunder
Cuz blasphemy’s the piety of thought that breaks the Net where we are caught
And man and gods find themselves parodied and mocked
A sensed ideation, invention and creation
With remainder, endless differentiation

And we know that, you can’t escape mortality
By the software programs on a PC
Even if we drug our food
We can’t escape our finitude
And if heaven’s not even a state of mind
It can’t flow through a cable line
That dream is just a waste of time
A disguised intelligent design

Of the gods that refuse to die
That don’t care for you or I
Just their transcendental high
On the Net that usurped the sky
On the Net that usurped the sky . . .

Monday, April 9, 2012

Posthumanist Song/Media Project and Manson's Posthumanist Grotesque

The Net that usurped the Sky
Capo on 2

Emin                                            G
Well I got people on my right and people on my left
D                           Am            Emin
Tellin’ me that I can live forever
Emin                                             G
One through faith in the Lord, the other a computer cord
D                                 Amin           Emin
My body’s done for either way I go
Emin                                                                   G
Cuz them old white men hate their flesh, rather be turned to code
D                                     Amin                                      Emin
They just can’t stand decay and death, so they’ll digitize their soul
Emin                            G
A secular salvation, perfect communication
D                                Amin               Emin
Without noise, without  mediation

But you can’t escape mortality
C                                                         Emin
By the software programs on your PC
Even if we drug our food
C                                          Emin
We can’t transcend our finitude
And if heaven’s not  even a state of mind
It can’t flow through a cable line . . .
That dream is just a waste of time
A disguised intelligent design

Abar                         F              C
For the gods who refuse to die
Abar                           F        C
That don’t care for you or I
Abar                           F       C
Just their transcendental high
           Abar          F               C
On the Net that usurped the sky

This is my posthumanism song, which is looking like its going to be more of a critique of transhumanism for a critical posthumanist perspective. I have been trying to draw a parallel between religion and transhumanism, culminating in the chorus that refers to the "gods," referring not to the Olympian deities, but to those who have self-appointed themselves prophets, leaders, or saviors  in what I call, in the song, "The Net that usurped the Sky." The sky has been replaced by the Net (internet, but also other nets: nets that capture and dominate nature and animals and neural nets, which is a kind of jab at some of the cognitive materialists. The nets are where we now find our pale, quasi-scientific gods. These are self-appointed ubermensch that do not understand two things about Nietzsche's figure.

1.) The ubermensch will never arrive because it is a constant becoming

2.) Becoming-ubermensch is not acheived through a transcendence of man (even though it is still in a sense "overcoming" man) but through going-under (undergoing) -- endlessly enduring and working through our finitude.

The song still needs another verse and then I will record the song and use it as a soundtrack to images/video in order to illustrate/elaborate on some of the lyrics for my posthuman "media" project. On the one hand, I'm contemplating shifting from the transhumanism to a critical posthumanism. On the other hand, I almost want to stay with the critique. If I stay with the critique, I can use the pre-chorus and the chorus over again, but if I want to move on to critical posthumanism, I will have to come up with entirely new lyrics.

If I choose the former, my jumping off point will be Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto," in which she framed cyborg politics as "blasphemous," so that the song shifts toward a subversion of religious motifs. I hope to include the turn toward animal studies within the lyrics as well. The challenge is to try and channel these ideas without straying too much into jargony language that will not flow well with my folk-pop chords and arrangement. However, I am thinking that a major video source for the second half of the song will have to be the blasphemous images of Marilyn Manson, who brilliantly subverts religion in both lyrics (sometimes at least) and images, perhaps epitomized in his donning the clothes of a Catholic bishop. His "Nobodies" video also contains many powerful images of him as a kind of man-tree-animal hybrid. The cover of Manson's Mechanical Animals shows him as a kind of genderless or gender-confused cyborg -- even the name "mechanical animals" suggests a kind of Phillip K. Dick/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep thematic. I may also consider throwing in images of Sinead O'Connor burning the pope's picture. Again, this is to show that a critical posthumanism demands a kind of killing of old gods, rituals, religions, and, ultimately, beliefs.

So, in a way, you could say this song was written in the spirit of Marilyn Manson and Friedrich Nietzsche, despite sounding nothing like Manson. Indeed, if I were to describe Manson's work I would have to use the term posthuman grotesque. Manson's posthuman, I think, is actually more in line with Haraway's Cyborg than transhumanisms. His posthuman is grotesque, open, dirty, but also not in a cyber-punk kind of way. This is an earthy posthumanism, a posthumanism of becoming-animal-machine-woman, if you'll allow me the list of Deleuzian terms. Look for yourself:

Region 4: Transformation through Imagination, A Reflective Review

At Thomas Center Gallery, from now until April 28th, anyone can view, for free, an exhibit that artistically explores the complex local issue of the Cabot/Koppers Superfund Site. The EPA defines a Superfund as the “the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites” and is also “the name of the fund established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.” I’d like also to think about Superfund’s connotations. “Superfund” sounds to me like an economic surplus combined with an image of Superman. I imagine an economic superman. In Gainesville, there is surplus, but it’s not economic; rather it’s a surplus of toxic material that has soaked into the soil, the material traces of the Cabot/Koppers wood treatment plant. Thus, the Cabot/Koppesr plant has created waste, producing harmful effects that outlives its own historical time. As the works in the exhibit show though, we cannot easily locate the origin and the cause at the Cabot/Koppers wood treatment plant; indeed, there are many origins, including our own values and desires, as Murphy’s Well Being, the centerpiece of the exhibit highlights, and as the video taken from the exhibit explains. As Ulmer Ulmer, head theorist of the Florida Research Ensemble, so pointedly puts it in his book, Electronic Monuments: Problems B Us.

I have had the honor to work with Greg Ulmer in a graduate seminar last spring during which he and the FRE were researching and developing Murphy’s Well Being. I firmly remember the day when he had made a significant breakthrough and shouted “PEPPPER!” (See the above video for an explanation of why this is important). The course was titled Gift Game Strategy Economy, four words juxtaposed together that somehow structured a course. But Ulmer has a unique method and theoretical apparatus that helps him structure his courses. The course was complicated, theoretically dense, and infinitely rewarding, but for brevity’s sake, the basic idea is that we were to gather information about a disaster and archive it in a blog (click link for my blog) and then create a final project using Prezi that makes visible through manipulating images, text, and video interdisciplinary connections that do not attempt to solve the problem, but rather, to explore it; Ulmer teaches students to dwell in the complexity of situations by analyzing and exploring a problem through many different avenues. (My final prezi can be found below and embedded in my blog site)

I mention my personal connection to the exhibit because anyone who has studied with Ulmer, read his books, or taken a course with him, will notice the significance given to personal narrative in his method. The personal participates in the collective and is important aspect of our connection to the world around us. Ulmer’s theory takes into account the affective dimension of human experience as well as the cognitive. This general attitude corresponds to the Superfund Art Project’s goal to organize an art exhibition that would “ ‘express the science and the emotions’ of living in proximity to a toxic Superfund site in a way that will make the story come alive” (“Transformations” 5). The affective dimension of the work does not preclude cognitive insights nor does the exhibit favor one particular emotion (anger, pity, happiness); instead, the work rewards extended engagement with a wide array of feelings, knowledge, and intuitions so that one comes away with a new outlook on not only the Superfund site, but also the greater Gainesville community.

Before I describe and interpret Murphy’s Well Being, though, I want to take a moment and recognize two the other artworks that gave me pause, John A. O’Connor’s Left Behind (2012) and Anthony Costranovo’s Citizen Bio-detector (2012). O’Connor’s piece consists of three panels of mixed media on Sintra, but the resemblance of the paintings to the surface of blackboard is uncanny. The blackboard images, O’Connor notes in his artist statement, arise from his classroom experience as both a student and a professor, but the blackboard also signifies the possibility of erasing and redrawing history. He writes in his artist statement,

Erasing and moving borders become a history lesson: a history of the work itself. Wiping out and/or covering up images and messages goes far beyond the processes themselves. The procedure raises several questions: What is covered up? Why? What is missing? (“Transformations” 38)

I actually approached the “final” panel of the piece first, thinking the other panels were actually other artworks, so I was confronted with the full complexity of the palimpsest built upon the previous images. I saw two ‘sticky notes’, one red that reads “Their science,” one white that says “your reality.” At first I only saw the vaguely human outline of a figure that appeared in an abstract lotus meditation pose, so I thought it was saying something about left and right, yin and yang, or some such, but then I saw the blue “sticky note” at the top, which says “Get it? You will.” So, as if I were struggling to find Waldo or the hidden picture in the noise of colors, I started to see other shapes, figures, and text. slightly erased, blurred, and almost transparent equations and chemical structures in the background, a vague shape of a skull started to poke through the ‘chest’ of the humanoid figure and underneath a skull and cross bones—I was starting to get it.

At this point I noticed the other panels and began to compare and contrast them. One of the final images I saw in the last panel was a human target, complete with rings and a bullseye at the center of the skull. These figures slowly revealing themselves to me in layers created an uneasiness rather than a direct “meaning.” Indeed, although the first panel clearly potrays a skull and crossbones layered over chemical equations, this is not merely about death. Because the blackboard situates the piece in a pedagogical scene, the piece to me regards the abstraction of science into a self-sufficient figure and code, a code that ‘erases’ the visible differences between toxic and innocuous chemicals. But do not think that I have explicated and ruined the work for you, there are still many traces bleeding through the canvas, despite the effort of the eraser.

Anthony Castranov identifies in his artist statement that a major problem in preventing the public’s engagement with the Koppers/Superfund site issue is “the expense of testing and the lack of access to appropriate tools.” In order to remedy this, Anthony has created Citizen Bio-Detector, a tool-vest that will allow citizens to gather data concerning the water quality of creeks in the neighborhood surrounding the Koppers site. As a vest that positions the LED display for data on the back of the vest, people wearing the vest are more apt to ask what these numbers mean. I find this piece interesting for many reasons, but mostly because of its invention of a device that, at least theoretically, would actually work. Castronovo claims that “multiple units can be created that can be loaned to people in the area,” so that we may see people actually wearing these units. This particular piece, in contrast to many of the pieces on display, could theoretically be reproduced and used as a combination of a research tool and a performative spectacle that will, in Castronovo’s words, “draw attention to issues and stimulate dialogue and action” (“Transformations” 18).

There are many other pieces that invite the audience to pause, reflect, and feel. but I hardly consider it adequate to describe these works in a few paragraphs, nor do I think my analyses of the works above definitive or even ‘correct’. All of these works deserve to be viewed in person, as access is free and the exhibit small enough to where one can spend time reading artist statements and drinking the healing nutrients of the artworks.

But plan on multiple visits especially for what I called above the “centerpiece” of the exhibit, Florida Research Ensemble’s Murphy’s Well Being. I spent at least two hours exploring this piece and I still desire to return, take more notes, and make more connections. Yes, I took notes because I could not help but note the connections and meanings ‘drawn’ from the well. Before I get too ahead of myself though, I should describe the exhibit. As one walks into the Thomas Gallery, we hear and see the main video posted above that explains the macro-structure of the project. Toward the end of the video, it invites the viewer to “interact” with the well. The “well” being the video refers to is a cylindrical object located in front of the wall on which the images are projected that came up to about my belly and was about three feet in diameter (it is a large well). Peering into the cylinder, we see a screen projecting an image of water in the well, but when we touch it, the well pulls us in to reveal – not a bottomless pit – but a map of the superfund site, divided into regions and labeled appropriately. Within the map, the viewer notices names such as “Tattoo,” “Alachua,” and “Pearce.” There are at least twenty names on there or so (I didn’t count) and next to each name, a sound icon appears. If the viewer pushes the icon on the screen, the perspective zooms in and colors start to appear, colors that resemble the ones in the overview video which are vaguely psychedelic, reminding me somehow of the roto-scoping techniques Richard Linklater used in his film Waking Life.

At first see the person as a kind of cardboard cutout in a pose. If we touch the screen again, we generate a menu including links to History, Myth, Philosophy, the three subsections mentioned in the overview video. Regardless of which link we click on, the sequence of images is the same. On the left side of the wall, we sit in on a mini-interview with a resident or place in Gainesville and hear about their lives and their knowledge of the Superfund site. The first sequence then gives way to the right side of the wall where we are treated to another genre of discourse, including self-help guides, documentaries, deep ecologists, eastern wise men, music videos, musicals in films, commercials. The videos on the left, so far as I could tell, were all unique but sometimes the videos on the right would repeat for different people on the map. Thus, it was never guaranteed that we would discern an explicit connection between the left and right side, although sometimes the connection is powerful. Flashes of insight and reason take place not only within the individual sites on the map, but also between the sites. Each of us will focus on different details that somehow puncture us, which Barthes calls the punctum, which Greg Ulmer has used extensively as part of his methodology. Some of the resident’s narratives did not resonate as strongly as others and surely many of this would depend on the viewer of the work. I happened to notice, if I remember correctly, that one man outside the Salvation army were calling people “jerks” and that I had seen in the corner of the video documenting the Occupy Corporations rally had a shirt that said “Jerk” and I”m sure some other things. This could be written off as a coincidence, but such coincidences can also serve as a method of invention for our own thinking.

As someone who rarely if ever participates in direct activism such as protests, walkouts, or rallies, I tended to focus on the philosophical side of the work. Murphy’s Well Being is a well of well-being – its main purpose is to look at “happiness.” But happiness in this formulation, I think, meant to signify a fleeting emotional state, nor the utilitarian notion of happiness as “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” but rather Aristotle’s sense of eudemoniaeu “good” and daimon “being.” But for good or for ill, most of the videos call this “happiness” rather than well-being or eudemonia. So we are treated to many views on happiness that creates a cognitive dissonance (but not necessarily disagreement) in order to show how difficult it is to achieve collective (and not just individual—this is why we are also not in the realm of Aristotelian “virtue” ethics, where virtues are properties of individuals) well-being. How can we reconcile John Lennon’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun” with Buddhist enlightenment?

But we live these contradictions, these aporias every day and rather than ignore them, this artwork asks us to engage and, to draw on psychoanalytic language, to “work through” them. I want to offer an example of what I think is one of the most powerful sequences. A couple months ago, Cornell West came to speak at Bo Diddly Plaza and at University of Florida in support of Occupy the Corporations. I unfortunately did not attend these events, but luckily, someone in the Florida research ensemble did. The “Bo Diddly” link takes use to the scene as Cornell West preaches as though he were preaching philosophy. It is truly a beautiful performance in and of itself. But even more potent is after or before the speech, when West is introduced on the ground to the “history” of Gainesville’s Superfund site. From the videos, he seems to be unaware of it, but he listens attentively, asking questions and responding with a look of concern. Just as the “history” portion fades out, we hear someone tell him “please check into it. . .”

This event is set against a video where the Coca-Cola Company sets up a “special” coke machine on a college campus, the “happiness machine,” to unsuspecting college students. As soon as I saw what was going on, I immediately thought about Coke’s recent slogan that has always disturbed me: open happiness – what a vague, but powerful slogan – open happiness. Well, the video is an experience in “open” happiness – happiness that “everyone,” at least in the video, has access. The video can be found below.

On the one hand, the video shows that, indeed, a plenitude of cokes, including a person in the machine whose hands[1] give out flowers, pizza, a giant club sandwich as a girl says “thank you coke,” can definitely make people smile, bring people together who weren’t together before, and change the entire dynamic of a setting. Neither the commercial nor its iteration in Murphy’s Well Being wants to hide this fact, but then we must ask a few questions. What happens when we think about Coke’s slogan in relation to John Lennon’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun”? And what happens when we remember that this is a rare, staged occurrence and that corporations only hand out free stuff so they can record it, present it as the “face” of the company, and let you drown in a well of caffeine and sugar in relative anonymity. I still feel as though there are so many connections to make and parts of the well to explore, but I have to leave some surprises and room for your own punctive experience.

I hope I have shown the breadth and, pun intended, the depth of these works that are working for our collective well-being. I exhort you to draw from this well as if it were a fountain of youth and then draw some lines on a paper, and then erase or redraw the lines, so that we recognize that even if we are only on the margins, we are all connected to the local, Gainesville community and, as Marshall Mcluhan calls it, the global village.

For more information on the exhibit and other events at the Thomas Gallery click here.

[1] So many connections are shooting through my brain right now: Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (this may be a visible hand, but it’s still anonymous) and the hand that gives with one hand what it takes away with the other (or in this case, the hands that give you one thing but the other hands of the corporation are hidden and draining the well drop by drop. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Becoming Crustacean: South Park and Posthumanism?

In his essay in Posthuman Bodies, Eric White argues that crabs within the film Attack of the Crab Monsters, "threaten the intelligibility of gender," since the crabs are as "indifferent to the gender of their victims as becoming they are unperturbed to find, after having feasted on numerous bodies, that they will henceforth be creatures endowed with multiple personalities instead of a unitary self" (248). Thus,  'becoming crustacean' is an incorporation of the human mind into the crab where it lives on in a different embodiment; the minds incorporated and assimilated into the crab are able to live in a different way and one of them is particularly exhilarated to find himself in an embodiment that, according to White, "lifts the censorship of the body habitually imposed by the repressive superego" (249). There are benefits, in other words, to becoming-crab.

Such a reading of a 'human' embodiment of crabs immediately called to my mind the South Park episode, "South Park is Gay," which is a bit of an ironic title, considering that all of south park does not turn gay (only the men and boys; in fact, it is interesting to note that barely any young girls are featured in the episode, if at all) and, furthermore, they do not turn 'gay' but metrosexual because of the popularization of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." While we may simply dismiss the criticism of Queer Eye as Trey and Matt's person despising of the show (and we may end up there by the end of the analysis), it could also be argued that the problem is the way the town reacts to the show, imitating its essentialist, stereotypical gay behavior.

Indeed, it could be argued that Matt and Trey are not bashing gay people by any means, but the appropriation of a particular strain of gay culture-- male gay culture, lesbians are not mentioned whatsoever in this episode, or, I believe, in the show -- in order to promote a kind of consumerist ethic and a stereotypical image of the gay male as addicted consumer. One could argue that metrosexuality, when taken to its extreme, is the image of innocent, joyful, consumerism without having to deal with marginalization for 'deviant' sexual acts. Both the adults and children perform their metrosexual identity by shopping at malls, using skin products, 'makeovers', flambyoant clothes (of which they constantly comment on), gestures, slight lisps, and pet names, such as "dollface."

In addition to the representations of the men as rampant consumers, they also embody the competitive attitude of capitalism. Rather than competing for who is the most "masculine," the kids now compete to determine who is more 'gay'; rather than discriminate and beat up 'gays' (or people who 'act' or 'perform' a particular constructed homosexual identity), they beat up non-gays. Thus, aside from their performance of identity through their appearance and some minor behavior changes, they remain associated with competition generally associated with male identity (although this is not necessarily true). When Kyle decides that he does not want to go along with the new 'fad' of metrosexualism, saying that he didn't feel "comfortable," his friends abandon him, kids tell him to take is "non-flaming ass" elsewhere, and proceed to beat the hell out of him. Arriving home, Kyle is confronted with this father, who, initially confused at his friends' behaviors, conforms to it just as we expect him to be furious at Kyle's beating. Instead of focusing on the problem that his son has been beaten for being 'different' (which used to be the 'norm'), Gerald focuses on the horror of his external appearance, declaring that he can use all sorts of beauty products to hide his beaten, marked state as an outsider to the dominant 'gayness' (metro-ness) of south park's males.

I keep wavering between the terms 'gay' and 'metro' because the episode constantly puts into question the issue of performance of gender. At school, the men have all began to perform the stereotypical 'queer' identity. Mr. Garrison, the boys' teacher and a gay man -- a very gay man, as he is frequently seen with "Mr. Slave," his sex slave -- recognizes that all the boys are "acting gay." At first, he chastises the children for claiming an identity they couldn't possibly understand, to which one student says he's a "catamite" and Eric, attempting to counter this even though he clearly has no idea what a catamine is (a young boy kept for sex by an older man), he responds "I'm half bi," a designation that makes no sense.  When Mr. Garrison says "Eric, you're not half bi," Eric proves the point of Mr. Garrison, who understands (at least we assume) gay at this point as constituting homosexual acts, by saying "I"m a quarter bi--my grandfather was half-bi so that makes me a quarter bi." Not only does this little tidbit reveal Cartman's ignorance, but it also refers to the attempt of biologists to root gayness in a "gay gene" that people might inherit gayness from parents.

But although in the above scene we assume that Mr. Garrison implies that the children couldn't possibly be having gay sex, and thus making them 'gay', he reveals his own reliance on performance/appearance when he arrives at a bar filled with the newly metrosexual men, saying to Mr. Slave, "Look at that! Our cup runneth over." However, he does test the waters by asking about the men's clothes. When the answer in a typically "gay" fashion, Garrison asks quite directly if they want to "come back to his place and pound Mr. Slave's ass." The men say no, claiming they are "straight" Garrison is confused, and finally yells "Why won't anyone pound Mr. Slaves ass!" First, we should note that Garrison assumes that any gay person will immediately have sex with a sex slave. But perhaps more importantly, we find that Garrison too associates gayness with outward and visible performance rather than sexual acts -- or at least, that the performance implies the desire for homosexual acts: "Those pants and those shoes say you pound butt" -- and "your shoes say you take in the butt."

On the one hand, we can critique Garrison for his assumptions about performance and sexual preference, but on the other hand, the only reason the men are performing gay identity is because they realize that its 'totally cool'; it is only 'totally cool' because of the popularization of Queer Eye, which puts forth a particular gay identity that serves to perpetuate the gay as consumer (and again, only male gays). One of the men say that Garrison is merely "one of us now," indicating that queer is the new square. Garrison is furious and says "We've spent our whole lives trying not to be one of you, you can't do that to us!"

Mr. Garrison, despondent, and mimicking the boys' usual behavior, confides in chef, asking him what black people did when white people appropriated their culture. Chef says that black people just tried to remain one step ahead via the modification of language. Chef recites the transformation of "in the house" all the way to "flippity floppity floop" because white people started saying it. Is this comparison appropriate? Either way, Garrison (perhaps unintentionally) shows his unawareness of other appropriations of culture when, as he leaves, he says to Mr. Slave they have to get back to their "flippity floppity floop."

Both Mr. Garrison and Kyle have been so deeply affected by this transformation of culture and their subsequent ostracization (Kyle) or assumed assimilation (Mr. Garrison) that they decide the only way to solve the problem is to go to its source: the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy people. Its ultimately the entertainment industry's fault that these men have taken on this identity and by 'legitimizing it' robbed it of all its meaning outside of a surface representation of 'gayness'. Furthermore, by legitimizing it,  instead of deconstructing the opposition, they have re-inscribed a binary opposition, simply privileging the other term.

Interestingly enough, competition remains between Garrison and Kyle as much as the gay men who face off at the mall. While Stan maintains that Randy is "better dressed" than Clyde's father and they begin to argue about "who is better dressed," Garrison and Kyle argue over who came up with the idea of killing the Queer Eye people first and thus who has been "oppressed" more. Tre and Matt are great at taking these arguments to their extreme to show their ridiculousness, but unfortunately, rather than following the advice of Mr. Slave who suggests to them, "Don't you see how ridiculous this all is!", both Garrison and Kyle take this to indicate that they can simply kill them together. Similarly, back at the mall, when the wives all the men are sick and tired of their obsession with their looks (rather than with them), they tell the men they don't like them acting gay. In typical south park fashion, rather than acknowledging how ridiculous such arguments are and how much pragmatic sense it would make to return to their former relations with their wives, they call their wives "metrophobes" and declare that they need a Metro Pride parade to raise awareness of their discrimination (mostly coming from their wives). Thus, south park parodies our tendency to resolve conflicts between groups by finding a common enemy (Queer Eye, Metrophobes) rather than recognizing the entire situation as absurd and ridiculous. The Metro pride parade has such appropriated chants as "we're here, we're not queer, but we're close, get used to it,"  and "out of the malls and into the streets" which have lost any power from their appropriation of privileged white males. It's not "out of the closet" and into the street--but the malls.  Its not the fact that they won't declare some sort of fixed identity that is the problem with "metrosexualism", but maintaining their privilege as the dominant, normative, and "non-queer" group ('we're close' -- but still MEN--we would never fuck other men. . .), reinforced by violence and stigmatism. Their 'metro pride parade' is a bunch of white men and boys confirming that they can be whoever they want for however long they want (so long as the fad lasts) and that you need to accept us because we are white male and dominant.

Mr. Garrison marvel at how the "Queer Eye" people could do this "to their own kind," their own "people," marking himself as part of a community. Garrison says, "You're selling out your own kind. Us gays have created a culture that is uniquely ours. If we keep trying to make straight people into us, we're going to have no identity left." To his surprise, the Queer Eye cast don't buy it, and Garrison concludes that they must not be 'gay at all'. The cast's voices lose the lisp, drop an octave, and they lock Garrison and Kyle in the room. Its not just that they aren't gay -- but -- they are

CRAB PEOPLE, who have been banished by men to the earth's crust.

At this point, most of the audience is reveling in the absurdity and, at least on first viewing, I remember distinctly laughing through repetitions of the phrase "what. . .the. . .fuck. . ." Crab people are "small and weak" and so they decide that if you can't beat man change man. And it is here that we get to the moment where performance of queerness, posthumanism, and Attack of the Crab Monsters meet.

The episode in some sense is a reverse of the crab incorporating/assimilating/differently-embodying the human personality; rather, in the episode, the crab becomes-human by donning skin-suits of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." But rather than called a 'monster,' as in the film discussed by White, the crabs in the episode are deliberately referred to as "crab people" and, indeed, repeat this mantra to the sound of a tympani ad nauseum.

 In a sense then, the crab people are not drastically other than man; in the one deviation from the relentless repetition of "crab people," the voiceover singing the song says "tastes like crab, talk like people." Does the taste of the crab make it distinctly other than human and what does it say about the crab's otherness that they can put on a skin-suit and transform themselves into "gay men"? Is South park suggesting that all gay men are really crab people?

To the last question, the answer is an emphatic no, since we know that the Queer Eye guys are not 'gay' at all. Indeed, given their plan to overthrow the world by "changing" man, they also seem to all be male crabs. In this sense, the crab people do not challenge gender identity at all -- it is a mere appearance of becoming-crustacean.

The appearance of becoming-crustacean is literalized when Kyle asks what if they refuse to go along with the plan? The crab people, rather than saying they will kill him (which, they can't do, since they are so weak), say they will turn them into CRAB PEOPLE.

Paralleling the form of the gay montage of the first "makeover" the other boys give Kyle, the crab people do the exact same thing to Kyle again, except that he is given  a "crabpeople" suit rather than designer clothes, antennas instead of hats or hairdos, and red paint (?) instead of facials. The song that plays during the initial montage is interwoven with the "crabpeople" mantra.  Thus, the crab people believe that by changing the outward appearance of Kyle and Garrison, they can make them into crabpeople just as they 'changed' man by turning them 'metrosexual'.

But whereas we can perform a socially recognizable identity (like 'gay' or 'straight') we are less able to perform, merely by the transformation of our outward appearance, the identity of crabpeople; or, if we are, then crabpeople are not very different from the human males they seek to change. They aren't crabs, they aren't people, but they are more like "people" than crabs, at least as portrayed in the south park episode.

Furthermore, the crab people, in their (male?) assumption that the race will become helpless without men, forget that there are still millions of pissed off women. In the end, the women burst in, claiming that they turned their husbands to "whiny little wussies' and proceed to beat the shit out of them, killing them. They claim "we didn't have a choice" because they couldn't stand their men. They realize that it is their husbands "manliness" that they were attracted to in the first place and conclude, incidentally like Garrison and Kyle, that the only way to get them back was to "kill the queer eye guys." On the one hand, this act re-inscribes a normative hetro-sexuality, where men don't want to act gay or 'feminine' because then their wives would cease to be attracted to them. This is a problematic resolution from the perspective of a 'queer' reading of South Park. On the other hand, we could read the act of killing the queer eye guys as reversing the role of men and women, where women take up the responsibility to act on their own behalf. But tt is hard to not read this murder (is it murder? Are crab people 'people'? Are they killable? are they sacrificable? Are they representative of capitalism's appropriation of gay culture for profit?) as a return to the norm and a somewhat conservative response to some of the important questions raised by the satire in this episode. Violence against those who perpetuate a difference, an ambiguous space that straddles the line between gay and straight, the wussy, the dandy, the metrosexual, is the only way to stop the world from being taken over by crab people. In essence, men need to be men because that's what women are attracted to.

Yet it is worthwhile to note that the episode, nor does the series in general, argue that we should destroy gay people in order to protect the world and reinscribe hetero-normative order. As I hope I showed in my earlier analysis, violence against someone 'different' (even if, in the case of Kyle, he is basically heterosexual) is critiqued through a satirical lens. The most charitable reading would be that the show reveals that to be 'metrosexual' is an attempt at "normalizing" and "legitimating" gay culture and that this essentially deprives it of any meaning or difference. Furthermore, it allows for white, males to pretend they occupy a minority and subversive position. As Randy says, to the typical sad-sap music, "Crazy, different, outcasts, call us what you want, but us metros are real people just like you." This is when they decide to have a "metrosexual pride parade," -- as if their really needed to be a "metrosexual" awareness, as if 'metrosexuality' actually constituted an oppressed and disenfranchised position. But this is clearly not the case; this particular form of metrosexualism is, as I have already pointed out above, characterized by shopping and beauty products. This is not a minority position.

South Park ultimately affirms that identity is quite malleable and that appearance changes behavior, which in turn, changes the relations among people. In this sense, we're always already posthuman because identity becomes an outward performance of signifiers that we recognize as being constitutive of that identity.  I think South Park is critiquing the ease in which white, heterosexual males are able to appropriate and 'own' any identity they want as if they were playing dress up like a bunch of kids. The ease of moving from one stereotypical minority to the next (while maintaining their autonomy as white males) is exemplified in the last few moments of the episode.

Again, in typical south park fashion, rather than concluding that perpetuating fads of 'minority groups' to be appropriated and assumed by rich, white, males is deeply problematic, the studio execs decide to "bring back the Latin fad." We as viewers are then treated to a hilarious image of Randy saying to Jimbo et. al. standing on their front porch with a  "hey esse" surrounded by beer and a BBQ grill.

Like fathers, like sons. The boys approach Kyle with a "hey esse, you wanna play catch with us?" When Kyle expresses bewilderment at their sudden change in behavior he asks why all of a sudden they want to hang out with him. Stan says its "cool homes" and Kyle gives a speech about how shitty they have been to him. The language is already catching on in the school, even if they haven't nailed the clothing and 'behaviors' yet. When Kyle finishes his speech, we see that now that the 'gay' cause no longer is 'in', 'cool', and thus applies to their lives, 'gay' returns to its pejorative connotation: "Ah jesus kyle, don't be such a whiny little gay wad" "Yeah don't be such a fag dude."

The appropriation of identity by characters in South Park is always short lived and the identity is promptly forgotten and erased (including lessons that may have been learned from them) once it is no longer "useful" to the person appropriating them. For instance, in the "Ginger" episode, Cartman begins the episode claiming gingers have no soul, but when the other boys trick him into thinking he has become ginger, he takes his rightful place as the leader of the gingers, advocating for their cause and convincing them that everyone but gingers must die. When he almost murders Kyle, the "daywalker" (i.e. a Jew -- a ginger at heart -- or (not)soul according to Cartman), Kyle whispers in his ear that his identity is not even skin deep. Immediately, Cartman has a sudden realization that he was going about it all wrong (since he would then be killed should he wipe of the gunk put on his face) and convinces the gingers that they shouldn't kill each other with a lame song: "Hand in hand we can live together ginger or whatever we're all the same/we shouldn't kill each other cuz that is lame."

South Park, then, shows the danger of a kind of "postmodern" identity, where identity is skin deep and thus can be appropriated and performed by anyone and changed at will. Such a notion of identity does not take into account how much easier it is for the privileged class  to take on whatever identity they please in order to to commodify and exploit that identity to serve their own, selfish purposes.