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 youtube.com. 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: 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).

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference on my paper: “The Haunting Realities of Cyberspace in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” See my prospectus here.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 3-36. Print.

In this essay Chun discusses how cyberspace narratives perpetuate Orientalist fantasies. She emphasizes that authors employ Orientalism to make “electronic spaces comprehensive, visualizable and pleasurable” and how conceptions of cyberspace have become deeply intertwined and even inextricable from those Orientalist ideas (4). To explicate her argument she analyzes William’s Gibson’s Neuromancer and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.

Chun offers a helpful discussion of how cyberspace functions as a new frontier to be explored and colonized. She asserts, “Like all explorations, charting cyberspace entails uncovering what was always already there and declaring it ‘new.’ It obscures already existing geographies and structures so that space is vacuous yet chartable, unknown yet populated and populatable” (7). Chun suggests that while cyberspace and its real world counterpart, the Internet, appear as a new and untouched terrain to be claimed, this stems from the imperialist fantasy of initial contact. Chun ultimately calls for a more nuanced analysis of cyberspace as not just a “new frontier” but rather technology that is programmed and structured in specific ways. She parallels efforts to spread Internet technology to Third World countries as an extension of imperialist missionary movements, where “spreading the light” in terms of both religious faith and knowledge is disturbingly intertwined with capitalistic endeavors to make profit. Chun’s description of cyberspace as an apparently “new frontier” steeped with “old” imperialistic legacies is characteristic of most cyberpunk narratives, which present futuristic technologies and settings that are hauntingly familiar.

In her essay, Chun discusses how the future portrayed in these fictional works looks Japanese. Yet the images of Japan are highly selective and do not suggest a modernized, hi-tech society but are rather anachronistic, featuring ninjas and samurais “drawn from Japan’s Edo period” before the country’s contact with the West (12). Chun cites Johannes Fabian’s theory of “denial of coeval” as one explanation, where “the native other,” is treated not existing or evolving at the same time and is therefore more primitive and inferior.

In her analysis of Neuromancer, Chun asserts the American hacker “cowboy,” Case, emerges as the imperialistic figure who jacks into cyberspace—the new “Orient.” Chun discusses several scenes where cyberspace is described in exoticized ways that parallels it with an Oriental beauty to be once again penetrated by a white imperialist. She suggests further that the Japanese in the novel are depicted as “mechanical mimics (imitators of technology)” to further reinforce American technological superiority and repress anxieties about Japan as an economic threat.

Chun asserts that Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell employs a similar form of Orientalism, but from Japan to China and where America is associated with bad technology. She suggests that in the film Hong Kong is orientalized “into a flood of information,” just as Japan was in Gibson’s novel, presented a mass of data for the hacker to penetrate. Chun also importantly notes how Hong Kong posed an economic threat to Japan in the same way the country appeared as a dangerous rival to the US. Cyberpunk fiction therefore emerges as a means relieve economic anxieties by depicting the “other” as inferior mimics or “‘soulless’ informatics” (26). Chun additionally cautions the American interest and fascination with anime. She suggests that viewers may take voyeuristic delight in gaining insight into Japanese culture and appropriate it as an American product. But I argue that the Orientalism that Japan perpetuates with respect to Ghost in the Shell demands for a more nuanced examination of the power relations between the East and the West and the recognition that they are not simply unidirectional.

Chun concludes her essay with a discussion of the popularity of Asian porn, which has revealed a flexibility in the definition and category of “oriental.” She notes that on these sites, some Russian and mutilated, disfigured women are represented alongside those females conventionally conceived as “Oriental.” Chun suggests that the interest in this selection of women suggests an association of “Oriental” with “submissive and lacking” (29). She states further that the Communications Decency Act to censor certain violent and disturbing materials from being featured on the Web was passed because of a specific concern about how the Internet encouraged people to cultivate and indulge in “‘excessive’ sexuality” (30). She suggests that the Internet has been often promoted as a vacation or recreational space where individuals feel that they are no longer subject to normal laws or restrictions and can assume secret identities. Chun ultimately leaves readers to contemplate the implications of policing or not policing sexuality on the Internet.

Chun’s essay offers me a helpful understanding of how the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is not simply a “new frontier” but also embodies old imperialist and Orientalist legacies.