RGB: You and Me (A Queer, Feminist Analysis of Emotion, Affect, and Materiality within Google Images)

Version of Record: Bigelow, Megan (2014). RGB: You and me (A queer, feminist analysis of emotion, affect, and materiality within Google Images). Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.5. doi:10.7264/N3TQ5ZTW

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Creative Commons License
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1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Megan Bigelow
CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Abstract: RGB: You and Me is a visual and textual project based on the intersections of representation, color, popular imagery, hegemony, affect, and the social, situated within Google Image searches and Wikipedia. Drawing upon the work of Luciana Parisi, Robin James, Jamie “Skye” Bianco, and Charles W. Mills, I will argue that these colors and suggested related terms illustrate how technology and images both reify and reinforce dominant ideological norms—through the enmeshment of technologies and bodies—and propose that a queer, feminist, material consideration of these effects within the framework of affect theory has implications for ethical projects and theorizing from spaces such as in-betweens and what Parisi calls incomputables.

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4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 2 RGB: You and Me is a visual and textual project based on the intersections of representation, color, popular imagery, hegemony, affect, and the social, situated within Google Image searches. First, a short description of the technical processes used to generate these grids is necessary.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In August 2012, I took each of the 70 emotions listed in the Wikipedia entry for ’emotion’ and ran each individual emotion (‘happiness’ for example) through a Google Image search, saving the first 25 images for each emotion. I then used Photoshop’s RGB ‘average’ tool on each of the 25 individual images. This tool finds the average color of a selection containing many individual pixels of color within each image, and returns one solid color for all of the pixels contained in that image. I then composed a 5 x 5 grid for each emotion, so that each square within the grids represents one of the 25 images. Finally, I included the ‘suggested related searches’ that Google Images suggests for each emotion, which appear in parentheses after the title of each grid.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The grid and the suggested related searches then reveal both which colors and which words were returned, algorithmically, with each emotion.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 These colors within algorithmic representations of the image and emotions are not only tailored to my web history and data profile, but are situated within larger systemic social forces of race, gender, power, sexuality, and more. Technology is never neutral with regard to these systems, but is one of many conduits for such forces.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Affection ArtAffection (suggested related searches: “public display of affection”, “showing affection”)

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The first grid, Affection, is mostly dark browns; many of the images in the ‘affection’ search depicted lions in affectionate poses. The Anger grid is mostly reds and pinks, recalling the association of red with anger. Euphoria is largely purple owing to how almost all of the images returned were of a purple colored perfume bottle, Calvin Klein Euphoria, and the Desire grid is composed almost entirely of images of a cell phone, HTC’s “Desire” model.

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11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The grid reveals color palette patterns across the 25 individual images for each specific emotion, allowing both the associated colors and the related terms to be seen. These reveal the hegemonic, dominant norms of color associated with these popular representations of both the image and the emotion itself.

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13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In a similar way to how the networked, algorithmic processes that designate which images are returned as the first 25 in the Google Image search—processes themselves embedded and enmeshed within the same sociality and culture generating the images—I also sought to recall how emotions themselves are socially and culturally produced through interaction with others and within social networks. What relations exist between the thousands of images we view each day across multiple contexts and our perceptions, affects, and interactions as they are situated within larger social systems of power, gender, sexuality? In turn, how do these also relate to the establishment of emotional norms?

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Drawing upon the work of Robin James, Jamie “Skye” Bianco, Charles W. Mills, and Luciana Parisi, I will argue that these colors and suggested related terms exemplify how technology and images function as both conduits and reinforcements of dominant ideologies. I argue that this occurs through the material intersections and enmeshment of technology and the bodies of viewers as they search and view the associated colors and suggested search terms.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 I contend that the images, the colors, and the technology of Google Images itself which is used to access them is not neutral, but serves to reinforce and propagate dominant cultural norms, and furthermore, that technology itself is never neutral, but is instead one of many modes of reproducing hegemonic culture, norms, and beliefs. I will conclude with a consideration of the implications of these ideas within ethical projects situated within queer, feminist frameworks.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 I am interested in considering the role of color, the affective result of the palette for each grid, and the sociocultural content of both the original source images and the resultant grids, considering them as entities in a relation involving material changes between the grids and the bodies of viewers.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 How does color relate to biological and sociocultural responses in viewers whose bodies are always already situated within material systems of privilege and oppression, and how do both the original content and palette of these first 25 images returned within the searches function as conduits for systemic social forces of gender, power and sexuality through the bodies of the viewers?

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Relatedly, what might a queer, materialist, embodied feminist approach to and critique of these epistemic norms involve, and what sort of ethos might it produce?

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 2 Additionally, the list of emotions in the Wikipedia entry changes constantly. As of this writing, some of the emotions depicted in this project are no longer listed on the page, and others have since been added. These elements also recall the mutable, ever-shifting elements of emotion, culture, and the social.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 I’m interested in how these elements, concepts, and colors are experienced affectively, a concept defined by Patricia T. Clough as

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 a substrate of potential bodily responses, in excess of consciousness . . . [and the] bodily capacities to affect and be affected or the augmentation or diminution of a body’s capacity to act, to engage, and to connect, such that autoaffection is linked to the self-feeling of being alive—that is, aliveness or vitality? In this conceptualization, affect is not only theorized in terms of the human body. Affect is also theorized in relation to the technologies that are allowing us to both ’see’ affect and to produce affective bodily capacities beyond the body’s organic-physiological constraints. The technoscientific experimentation with affect not only traverses the opposition of the organic and the non-organic; it also inserts the technical into felt vitality, the felt aliveness given in the preindividual bodily capacities to act, to engage, and connect—to affect and be affected. (Clough 2007).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 I argue that an understanding of the material, bodily effects of viewing these images and colors as conduits for hegemonic ideologies must take into consideration the material enmeshment of bodies and technologies and the underlying social systems that shape them, and that the aesthetic is a powerful realm for the flow of hegemony.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Robin James, in ‘Oppression, Privilege, and Aesthetics’ from Philosophy Compass states:

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Patriarchy, white privilege, and heternormativity are interlocking systems of privilege and oppression. These systems are deeply embedded in the West’s most abstract reaches (e.g., philosophical concepts) and its most concrete, material realities (e.g., human bodies). The aesthetic is a particularly charged point of transfer between the ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete aspects of systemic privilege and oppression. Thus, both ‘the aesthetic’ as such, and the specific concepts from aesthetics (e.g., the visual, disgust, or beauty), can be used to examine the relationship between patriarchy, white privilege, and heteronormativity as systems, on the one hand, and gendered, raced, sexually-oriented bodies, on the other. (James 2013, p. 103)

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 For example, the suggested related terms for ‘boldness’ were “’boldness quote,’ ‘boldness symbol,’ ‘holy boldness,’ ‘being bold,’ ‘truculent,’ and ‘vehemently’”; the term ‘holy boldness,’ with its appeal to the patriarchal authority of the Bible and Christianity, is particularly noteworthy in consideration of the role of the color blue and other ‘active’ search terms such as ‘vehemently’ as they might relate to normative white heteropatriarchal masculinity.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 James continues:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Aesthetic arguments gain legitimacy, consistency, and credibility by participating in gendered (or raced or sexualized) systems of organization. A theory of beauty consistent with broader cultural logistics of gender and race is granted greater credibility and plausibility than one that is inconsistent with white heteropatriarchal norms. (James 2013, p. 110)

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Though aesthetic concepts may seem to be neutral with respect to race, gender, and sexuality, and have nothing to do with politics or inequality at all, they only appear neutral because they conform to hegemonic norms. In other words: aesthetics’ apparent neutrality is actually evidence of its centering of whiteness and heteromasculinity, to say nothing of bodily and cognitive “ability,” etc. (James 2013, p. 111)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Need Caption from Author/ArtistNeed Caption from Author/Artist

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Here, James’s arguments are particularly relevant when considering the source images for the ‘Jealousy’ grid: fully half of the source images (12 out of 25) for ‘Jealousy’ depicted a white male/white female couple embracing or showing affection, the ‘jealous’ third party was represented as a white female. The sole image which depicted a man as the jealous third party consisted of an image of a white man and an Asian woman walking away in the foreground, arm in arm, from an Asian man who was positioned in the background.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Other examples of the relation of color, culture, and bodily affect can be seen in the ‘Anger’ grid which is mostly reds and pinks, recalling the association of red with anger. The suggested related terms for anger were ‘anger management’, ‘anger art’, ‘anger cartoon’, ‘funny anger’, and ‘angry face’.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 I found the first suggested term, ‘anger management’,

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Anger (suggested related searches: "anger management", "anger art", "anger cartoon", "funny anger", "angry face")Anger (suggested related searches: “anger management”, “anger art”, “anger cartoon”, “funny anger”, “angry face”)

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 2 particularly curious in its implication for the ‘management’ of anger, especially when considering which bodies (as distinct subjectifications) are permitted free expression of anger and which are not, and how power and oppression relate to the stratification of such permissible expressions of anger, particularly as it relates to stereotypes such as those of ‘angry feminists’ and ‘angry black women’.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 4 The ‘Affection’ grid (above) contains many browns due to the number of images in the ‘Affection’ search which depicted lions and cheetahs in affectionate poses. The related search terms were ‘public display of affection’, and ‘showing affection’. As brown is sometimes considered to be a ‘warm’ color, one formulation from among the many I think can be drawn out of the analysis of these images, colors, and rhetoric is a consideration of how might the material, bodily response of viewing a ‘warm’ color in the context of affectionate poses by sentient, emotive members of other species relate to ethical and social projects, particularly those of queer, feminist approaches to ethics which work to dismantle systems of oppression, decenter white heteropatriarchy, and critically and ontologically think through the relations between human and non-human species, such as projects concerning post-human and animal subjectivities.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Of particular interest is what Charles W. Mills describes as ideal theory in contrast with non-ideal theory. Here, the dominance of ideal theory:

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 In a trivial sense, ‘ideal’ theory applies to moral theory as a whole (at least to normative ethics as against metaethics). Since ethics deals by definition with normative/prescriptive/evaluative issues, as against factual/descriptive issues, and so involves the appeal to values and ideals, it is obviously ideal theory in that generic sense, regardless of any divergence in approaches taken. Call this uncontroversial background normative sense of the ideas, which with we will not be concerned: ideal-as-normative (emphasis mine).

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Mills continues, detailing non-ideal theory:

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 The crucial common claim—whether couched in terms of ideology and fetishism, or androcentrism, or white normativity—is that all theorizing, both moral and nonmoral, takes place in an intellectual realm dominated by concepts, assumptions, norms, values, and framing perspectives that reflect the experience and group interests of the privileged group (whether the bourgeoisie, or men, or whites). So a simple empiricism will not work as a cognitive strategy; one has to be self-conscious about the concepts that ‘spontaneously’ occur to one, since many of these concepts will not arise naturally but as the result of social structures and hegemonic ideational patterns. In particular, it will often be the case that dominant concepts will obscure certain crucial realities, blocking them from sight, or naturalizing (emphasis mine) them, while on the other hand, concepts necessary for accurately mapping these realities will be absent (emphasis mine). Whether in terms of concepts of the self, or of humans in general, or in the cartography of the social, it will be necessary to scrutinize the dominant conceptual tools and the ways boundaries are drawn. (Mills 2005)

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 I find his conceptualization of non-ideal theory particularly relevant here in considering which boundaries are being drawn, delineated, and represented as my particular algorithmic result within Google’s search functions, and, consequently, which boundaries are naturalized, and which boundaries are absent.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 James, again:

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 There are several ways interpretive horizons and orientations use the ‘aesthetic’ to open out issues of privilege and oppression. Because they are ‘nonlinguistic’ and non-propositional, we can and oftentimes do learn horizons/orientations through encounters with works of art: by watching film and television, by listening to music, by dancing, etc. Aesthetic norms are ‘pedagogies’ of privilege and oppression.’ (James 2013)

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 2 Though here my analysis is limited to the searches present in this project, I find James’s notion of aesthetic norms as pedagogies to be particularly useful in thinking of the bodily, material implications in terms of privilege and oppressions of any Google Image search and the material implications for bodies viewing the results.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Finally, I turn to affect theory, particularly as it relates to queer, feminist, embodied practices and the consideration of the preindividual, preconscious, autonomic responses and shifts in relation to culture, the social, and the larger systems of power and oppression which shape all bodies, finding it to be a particularly useful framework to work within.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Bianco, in ‘Queer Urban Composites: Any City or “Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany),”’ from Ada 3: Feminist Science Fiction, speaks wonderfully:

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 There is no outside, no slow, clear space of objectivity from which our critical discoveries may reveal a sustaining and sustainable truth. We are captured inside the procedurality of cross-mediation, queerly practicing, consciously or not, a digi-logics of affective analysis – the motions of making, of what I call queer creative critical compositionism. In this milieu, several things should be clear to the (post)humanist in the digital age, to the digital (post)humanist, and to the digital media practitioner: 1) the issues of computational and digital media literacies today are comparable to the issue of alphabetic literacy in the 19th century; 2) the critical function in digital media is creative and aesthetic as well as technical and works through affect and design, and as such, we must become modular scholars, makers, and coders; and, 3) affect and non-discursivity demand our immediate queer “analytics of attention.”

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Bianco’s notion that there is no outside and no objectivity underscores the concepts I am interested in working with in a queer, feminist, ethos of non-ideal theory as it relates to the aesthetic realm and its interactions with and implications for bodies, technology, and their lived materialities.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Again—what might a queer, materialist, embodied feminist consideration of these norms involve? How is non-ideal theory a productive starting point for a related ethos? How will all of these relate to temporality, as the deep enmeshment of culture, hegemony, technology and bodies continues to enfold within multiple medias of time, space, and affect?

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 1 In Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space, Luciana Parisi notes that “structural changes in programming are not negligible, but are in fact ontological expressions of culture and power” (2013), and in “The Adventures of a Sex” from Deleuze and Queer Theory, she discusses spaces and incomputables.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 2 The space in which atoms relate to each other is infinitely divisible yet continuous, a fuzzy quantity, an inexact cipher, an incomputable materiality, which is nonetheless held-together by virtual populations at the interval from one transition to another, entering singular composition, folding inside out according to certain pressures, gradients, inflections. (Parisi 2009, p. 82).

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 2 For a philosophy of immanent desire to become relevant to queer theory, sexuality has to be housed by intensive spatio-temporal regions expressing the how, how much, when of the becomings of sex. Sexuality is not the ultimate order of the symbolic but the desire primarily implicated in the abstract feeling of what happens to the world, when mental, affective, social, aesthetic assemblages transversally combined across all scales of matter, deploy the singular engineering of each world as an event, a pure occurrence of sex. (Parisi 2009, p. 87).

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 3 Coupling affect theory’s concept of preindividual, preconscious forces with Parisi’s concept of incomputables and events, it is within and from these indeterminate spaces—with the pre, with the in-between, and with the wild fabrics of that which cannot be computed and calculated—that I suggest are spaces from which immanent, ethical, queer projects might theorize what Deleuze and Guattari spoke of when they said “Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987)

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Parisi again:

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Deleuze and Guattari suggest that abstraction only entails the primacy of complete assemblages, the gelling together of pre-individualities, a felt continuum that embeds discrete bodies within a field growing by its edges, adding and subtracting components: an ontogenetic process in which all elements play a part and yet no element can form a whole. The abstract machine entails an engineering patchwork of partialities passing from one state to another, fusing and breaking into each other, and yet belonging-together at points of transitions, which are less irreducible dots than inflections, critical thresholds, curvatures of imperceptible continuities. In other words, an abstract machine entails a mathematical topology of matter, whereby beneath the continuity and discontinuity of forms and substances, expressions and contents, entire populations of passional signs grow by connections. (Parisi 2009, p. 81)

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 2 From the before, the pre, with the in-between, and with the wild fabrics of that which cannot be computed and calculated—what new connections might be formed? What new colors might be assembled? What new tools might be made? What old tools might be broken, repurposed, reframed, tinkered with, and reformulated to create new affects, new percepts, new concepts, new experiences—“entire populations of passional signs” (Parisi, 2009, p. 81) and “realms that are yet to come”? (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987)

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57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Works Cited

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Bianco, Jamie “Skye” 2013. ‘Queer Urban Composites: Any City or “Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany)”’, Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, issue 3: Feminist Science Fiction. Available from: http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-bianco/. [28 November 2013].

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Clough, Patricia T. (ed.) 2007. The Affective Turn, Duke University Press, Durham and London, p. 2.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari 1987. “Introduction: Rhizome.” In A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p. 5-6.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 James, Robin 2013. ‘Oppression, Privilege, and Aesthetics’, Philosophy Compass, vol. 8, pp. 101-116.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Mills, Charles W. 2005. ‘”Ideal Theory” as Ideology’, Hypatia, vol. 20, no. 3 (Summer 2005), pp. 165-184.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Parisi, Luciana 2013. “Soft Extension: Topological Control and Mereotopological Space Events.” Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 87.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Parisi, Luciana 2009. “The Adventures of a Sex.” Deleuze and Queer Theory, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 81, 82, 89.

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66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Sample of images from project, entire series may be viewed at http://meganbigelow.com/rgb-you-and-me 

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