Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Control and Freedom” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, “Control and Freedom.” Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 247-297. Print.

In this essay Chun discusses how Internet commercials by companies such as Cisco Systems instilled feelings of paranoia in their viewers, implying that if they were not wired they would fade away into technological obsolescence. After September 11th, however, Chun notes that this consumer urgency to get the most up-to-date hi-tech product was displaced by a new paranoia about the Internet as a potentially dangerous tool for terrorists. She describes how “the U.S. military demanded new security measures in order to prevent what it called an ‘electronic Pearl Harbor; and the Senate passed sweeping new electronic surveillance measures” (257).

In the rest of her essay Chun goes on further to describe how Internet and more general technology users are subject to a vexed experience of control-freedom. She offers face-recognition technology (FRT) as one example. Chun emphasizes that while FRT has the potential to overcome problems of human error and racism often associated with police tactics such as racial profiling, this technological solution to maintain our “freedom from terrorism” also requires subjects to place themselves under overt surveillance. Chun expresses additional concern over how technology has been increasingly framed a means of upholding civil liberties, problematically belying the urgent need for actual political, legal action.

Chun further explores the popular webcams that have increased freedom by democratizing celebrity as amateur video bloggers, for example, became famous off publishing their work to sites such as Chun, however, calls attention to how these webcams epitomize the vexed relationship of control-freedom as they eerily resemble surveillance cameras. She describes “camwhores” who film themselves and offer Internet audiences a “live show” of their private lives, in their homes or at work. Chun emphasizes that while these “camwhores” appear to be in a position of vulnerable openness, viewers are subjected to a similar vulnerability as their vision is carefully controlled and manipulated. Chun ultimately concludes her essay by encouraging individuals to embrace the vulnerability that comes with our experience and usage of the Internet because it can open new exciting possibilities for democracy.

Annotation: Paul Baepler’s “Introduction” to White Slaves, African Masters (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Baepler, Paul. “Introduction.” White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

In his introduction to White Slaves, African Masters Baepler directs our attention to the largely neglected genre of Barbary captivity narratives. While many today may be familiar with Mary Rowlandson’s tale of captivity among the “savage” Indians or Frederick Douglass’ famous slave narrative, stories about the seizure of American sailors, merchants, and women along the Barbary Coast have somehow been forgotten, relegated to distant memory. Baepler contends, however, that Barbary captivity played a significant role in shaping the early political policies of the new republic. For instance, it “forced the government to pay humiliating tributes in cash and military arms to African rulers, stimulated the drive to create the U.S. navy, and brought about the first postrevolutionary war” (2). These narratives also deeply influenced public imagination, providing many Americans with their first glimpses of the distant land of Africa, its culture and its people. Consequently, Baepler argues that by examining these once familiar stories, recognizing where they overlap and borrow from the tradition of Indian captivity and slave narratives, allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of how racial categorization and perceptions of “otherness” developed in America. Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of these Barbary captivity narratives is their incredible diversity. The authors present a wide range of oftentimes-contradictory attitudes and perspectives, for example, using their experiences to critique as well as justify chattel slavery in America. But what I found most interesting and perhaps most relevant to my own interests, is the absence of any verifiable female accounts of barbary captivity. Baepler reveals that the two stories in the anthology purportedly written by women are most likely false. Yet, he asserts that the “existence of these ersatz accounts suggests that the demand for ‘true’ African captivity tales, particularly accounts of women in peril, outstripped their availability” (11). I would like to further explore the public fascination with “women in peril,” and particularly the differences between male and female accounts of barbary captivity. Whereas men often pictured themselves as laboring in a “communal space,” the few accounts we receive from females emphasize isolation and confinement (16). How do these disparities provide insight into attitudes towards women’s rights in early America and how are slavery and womanhood intertwined?

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Scenes of Empowerment” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Scenes of Empowerment.” Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 129-170. Print.

In this article Chun discusses how the Internet was initially marketed as a means for overcoming and even eradicating the “race problem.” She asserts that MCI’s (Media Control Interface) commercial “Anthem” deliberately displayed racially marked individuals to accentuate cyberspace’s capacity to liberate these people from the limitations of their flesh. Chun accentuates, however, that such logic problematically disowns accountability for acts of individual and institutional racism, displacing racism as a burden “othered” users must solve themselves. She claims that MCI’s commercial forwards the notion that “these others are happy with their inequality in real life because of their virtual equality elsewhere” (136). Chun further argues that this inequality cannot simply be addressed by spreading access to unwired areas in the world. Too much emphasis on the problem of access, she asserts, obscures other inequalities such as how English remains the dominant web language and that programming jobs are consequently often outsourced to English-speaking nations. Chun’s article focuses on how race is dangerously proliferated through the Internet as a commodity to be consumed. Users are extended the opportunity to become a transcendent postmodern subject that can “pass” as any race, gender, etc. But Chun notes that this “passing” problematically occurs outside of history and specific socio-political contexts where racialization is a vulnerablity.

Chun concludes her essay with an important reference to the Mongrel search engine, which works to combat racism online. Users who input racist search terms find themselves linked to antiracist sites. In this way the creators of Mongrel disrupt the supposed control and mastery of the “user” by exposing them to their own vulnerability on the web. The sites associated with Mongrel importantly do not offer authentic images of the “other” but rather work to debunk the notion of authentic information and an authentic “other” all together. Chun asserts that Mongrel and other web innovations challenge old frameworks of democracy and open up new possibilities of how democracy can be achieved. She offers Wikipedia as one interesting example where information is open and non-authoritative because “there are no authors” (170).