Annotation: Mimi Nguyen’s “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

Nguyen, Mimi. “Queer Cyborgs and New Mutants: Race, Sexuality, and Prosthetic Sociality in Digital Space.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 281-305. Print.

In her article Nguyen critiques the uncritical celebration of the cyborg as a “transcendent figure of the technological sublime” (284). She admits that cyborgs do help denaturalize essentialist notions of identity as fixed to a rigid material body. Nguyen writes, cyborgs have been popularly depicted as able to “generate new bodies and design new selves in the choosing and fusing of new parts in a potentially endless process of consumption and self-invention” (286). Cyborgs therefore support a concept of identity as fluid and flexible. The ease with which cyborgs can replace or alter parts of their material body also suggests that one’s interiority is not necessarily tied to one’s flesh. Nguyen accentuates that this disjunction can also be understood with respect to people who have queer sexual identities such as those who identify themselves as transgender or engage in drag. But rather than sanguinely glorifying the power of these queer cyborgs to reconfigure their bodies and endlessly reinvent themselves, Nguyen stresses the need to analyze what it means to be a queer cyborg and to engage in “cybernetic drag” in specific social and political contexts.

She offers the example of Karma, a Vietnamese cyborg in the New Mutants series of Marvel comics. Nguyen asserts that Karma’s mutant state recalls the traumatic history of the Vietnam War where the United States used biochemical weapons such as napalm. She emphasizes that this causal history should not be ignored in the celebration of Karma’s mutant powers. Nguyen further elucidates Karma’s vexed position as a cyborg who must masquerade as a normal human being or be otherwise marked as a freak, yet her Vietnamese-ness already distinguishes her as “foreign” and “freak-ish.” Nguyen ultimately encourages her readers to not merely entertain the fantasy of a cybernetic existence but rather what it means to be a cyborg in a specific historical, social, political context and all the discrimination that may come along with that.

Annotation: Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s “Good Politics, Great Porn” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

Tu, Thuy Linh Nguyen. “Good Politics, Great Porn: Untangling Race, Sex, and Technology in Asian American Cultural Productions.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 267-280. Print.

In this essay Tu discusses how the online porn industry thrives from the presence and representation of Asian bodies. She emphasizes that contrary to claims about cyberspace as virtual and immaterial, web industries such as porn reaffirm that bodies really do matter online. Porn sites, in fact, make gender and race hyper-visible as users are encouraged to input these qualities in their search for a desired sexual object. Tu reveals that the online porn industry also problematically reinforces and perpetuates Orientalist notions about Asian women, “that they are exotic and hold limitless sexual knowledge, yet docile and eager to please” (268). With the Internet as the vehicle of information transmission, these stereotypes and fantasies regarding Asian women are even more troublingly circulated to a mass global audience.

Yet Tu does not view the Internet as merely a vehicle of oppression as she notes the work of people such as Mimi Nguyen. She deliberately names and describes her site, “Exoticize This,” in provocative terms to jam and disrupt digital pathways, redirecting users looking for porn to a web page that discusses Asian American feminist issues. Kristina Wong’s mock porn site, BigBadChineseMama.com, strives to further a similar project as Nguyen, by displaying Asian female bodies that do not correspond to Orientalist fantasies, ultimately shattering those myths. Tu in addition describes Bindigirl, a fascinating work of digital art by Prema Murthy. She notes that in the bio of this pornographic Asian female avatar, Bindi recognizes her hyper-sexualization and the failure of technology to liberate her. Bindi’s pointed awareness of herself as a sexual object leads her to demand money from her viewers, which can be interpreted as some kind of resistance. Murthy’s use of CU-SeeMe technology, which requires people who view her art to specifically interact with it and become a part of the performance is also displaces users from the usual position of passive voyeur to literally experience how it feels to be watched and recorded. While Tu ultimately celebrates the work of these individuals who are introducing much-need politicized art to the Web, she also recognizes the potential danger of these artists relying on irony and humor to convey their messages, which can be easily misinterpreted.