Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Pixel Whipped: Pain, Pleasure, and Media
by Ruberg, Bonnie, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2015, 161; 3733365
Abstract (Summary)

At a time when technology seems increasingly poised to render the material realities of its users obsolete, putting the body back into digital media has become a matter of pressing social significance. Scholars like Lisa Nakamura have written compellingly about the importance of attending to the embodied identities of those who sit behind the screen: a crucial step toward disrupting the systems of inequality that characterize much of twenty-first-century Western digital culture. Similarly dedicated to issues of social justice, this project argues for turning attention to another essential element of the relationship between technology and the body: how digital media makes users feel. Far from being disembodied, digital tools have become crucial platforms for expressions of selfhood and desire. Yet, on a phenomenological level, virtual experiences also have a surprising capacity to directly affect the real, physical body. To demonstrate this, this project maps a network of key examples that illustrate how pain and pleasure—commonly imagined as the most embodied sensations—have in fact been brought to life through a range of media forms.

Beginning with the novels of the Marquis de Sade, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and Pauline Réage, this project contends that concepts of sadomasochism and literature have evolved side by side for more than two centuries. Moving from textual to visual forms, the project turns to Pier Pasolini’s Salò, a film that notoriously “hurts to watch,” to investigate the intersection of violence, complicity, and viewership. Next, the project moves into the digital realm, offering a reading of the erotic power exchange that drives video-game interactivity. In the final chapter, the project explores digital BDSM: practices of bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism that take place entirely in virtual spaces. Across these chapters, the project argues for the value of “kink” as a critical lens, much like the “queerness” in queer studies, which underscores the cultural and personal significance of experiences that hurt. Together, the works and cultures considered here bring much-needed attention to the place of non-normative desires in media, both digital and non-digital. They also serve to productively challenge the perceived divide between the “virtual” and the “real.”

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lucey, Michael
Commitee: Bates, David, DeKosnik, Abigail, Naiman, Eric
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Comparative Literature
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 77/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, LGBTQ studies, Multimedia Communications
Keywords: Bdsm, Digital cultures, Kink, Media studies, Sexuality, Video games
Publication Number: 3733365
ISBN: 978-1-339-21640-9
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