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A teledildonic future?

Kirsten Krauth

Kirsten Krauth is a former OnScreen Editor for RealTime.

Barbara Creed, Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2003 ISBN 1 86508 926 5

Barbara Creed’s Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality centres primarily on sex and representations of the self in various contemporary media. These include online and virtual forms, New York comedies like Sex and the City, women’s romance novels and erotic/pornographic films by female directors. She also examines the breakdown of public and private domains through ‘Reality TV’ and ‘crisis TV’ (such as coverage of the September 11 attacks) and the effect of this breakdown on perceptions of sex and violence. Alongside this Creed discusses the concept of a ‘global self’ and the potential of the internet to effect social change, a nice counterbalance to the usual focus on the web as a sordid generator of evil intent.

Given the time involved in book publishing it’s inevitable that parts of Media Matrix already seem dated. Creed’s discussion of Reality TV and shows like Big Brother unfortunately comes at a time when people appear to be tuning out in droves from shows like The Resort and My Restaurant Rules. This rather undermines her claim that: “Given the postmodern disrespect for traditional forms and values, Reality TV promises to offer ever more explicit and dramatic glimpses into areas once considered taboo.” Instead, Reality TV seems to be offering increasingly banal and mind-numbing glimpses into personalities and scenarios no-one is interested in watching after a few episodes. Creed uses the word ‘taboo’ a lot, but I think she is stretching the definition. Sure, if a Hot House contestant slept with a donkey or a Resort player was filmed showing everyone her vagina (as in an Annie Sprinkle performance mentioned later in the book) the description might be more appropriate.

Media Matrix’s chapters read like discrete essays. As variations on the same themes this is not a problem if you are just dipping in and out (as many readers probably will), but it means the book as a whole doesn’t quite gel. However, there are some strong offerings, notably Creed’s analysis of the female reader, the cyberworld and the erotic/pornographic. “Mills and Boon dot com: The beast in the bedroom” is a terrific update on that much-venerated cultural studies topic, the woman’s romance novel. Creed entertains with her comparisons between romances from the 80s and those from the aptly described noughties, revealing that the genre has certainly turned a new leaf and become soft porn for women: “What the Mills and Boon text is doing, then, is endorsing perverse forms of sensual and sexual pleasure for women.” This also helps explain the phenomenon of recent best-seller The Bride Stripped Bare: it’s Mills and Boon masquerading as ‘good’ fiction, or soft porn between decent covers. And it’s a lot more stimulating than The Resort.

Creed’s analysis of cybersex provides the most energised writing in the book. She examines the usual areas of readily available pornography, online dating and the creation of personae in online spaces like MUDs (multi-user domains) to express sexuality in creative ways. But what really interested me was the concept of virtual sex, or ‘teledildonics’:

...virtual sex will evolve in two quite distinct, but related, directions. The first, which is possible now, involves sex with a machine or a virtual body; the second, which is predicted to be at least 30 years away, involves sex with people who are not present.

At the moment it is apparently possible to don a helmet and have virtual sex with a celebrity. Can you imagine it? It’s revolutionary! Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron. Or both! A post-Oscar party in your own bedroom. People will never leave their homes. All their desires will be catered for. People will no longer be able to tear themselves away from George or Cameron or Lassie to go to work. While having sex with someone ‘not present’ is nothing new, the future possibilities for expressions of sexuality are pretty mind—or body-blowing. By wearing “special glasses and a sensory vibratory suit” a couple can dial into each other from different parts of the globe and actually feel what the other’s ‘virtual’ hands are doing. While disembodied, this experience offers up new worlds of fantasy, quite different from pornography, which is primarily visual.

Media Matrix is geared to a tuned-in audience and I like the fact that Creed self-consciously writes for people who are playing with the possibilities of the web, who love and are inspired by cinema and who are willing to take risks with what they imbibe. I also like her suspended judgement; she is displaying the wares for us to appreciate and question, without the censorious tone often found in academic texts. At times I find her use of history a bit enervating, but this might be because I did cultural studies 10 years ago and don’t want to go back to the same textbooks. The book is at its best when Creed writes passionately and poetically about current developments and the future; here her writing has the power to project you into fantasies about what’s to come and consider ideas not often mooted. After reading Media Matrix I have only one question: where do I get a virtual helmet? De Niro is waiting...

Kirsten Krauth is a former OnScreen Editor for RealTime.

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 8

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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