A Doll’s House: The Sims, Star Wars, BDSM

How’s that for a controversial title? Way to get flagged by SafeSearch, too…

There’s some insight into The Sims (free registration required) and social learning in the New York Times today. The piece emphasizes how children’s roleplay in The Sims bears close resemblance to their play with dolls, allowing them to rehearse social behaviour, and explore identity. What seems particularly noteworthy here is the observed gender difference in approaches to the game. From the original article:

The popularity of The Sims among girls dovetails neatly with some researchers’ ideas about the fantasy lives of kids. “Children generally want to create characters, but with girls we see them wanting to create a friend,” said Marjorie Taylor, head of the psychology department at the University of Oregon and author of “Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them” (Oxford, 1999). “It might be expressed through a doll or something like The Sims or be completely imaginary, but with a girl that character is often going to be someone just like them, another girl that they can relate to … but with boys, they are often more interested in actually taking on a pretend identity. Rather than it being a character outside themselves, boys want to create a character and actually inhabit it.”

Coming upon this article today has given some longitudinal perspective to my thoughts about youth and subculture. Subcultures (whether musical or otherwise) seem to be adult forms of roleplay, and it could be argued that they have lineage in the kinds of play we engage in as children – be that playing with dolls, video games, or what-have-you.

We might even describe it as a sequential process, with children maturing through various phases of roleplay. For example, playing with Star Wars action figures – a masculinized form of doll play for boys, occupying the same space as hockey cards and comic books – may evolve into more aggressive activities, such as first person shooters on Atari/Nintendo. This play could also mature into activities of more complexity (like The Sims, or conventional RPGs). There’s also an apparent continuity of development between doll play, roleplay, and music subculture (via teen pinups, fan cultures, and later record collecting) that’s worthy of some exploration.

But other, less musical subcultures are relevant to the discussion too, even if only for the terminology they adopt to explain what they do. “Play” is a term adopted by contemporary fetish subcultures to describe their activities, and much of the “play” that these groups engage in (and the way that they verbally frame their experiences) bears some (superficial, at least) resemblance to playing with dolls. And I’m not even going to get started about furries.

On a personal note, maybe the unavoidable sci-fi and horror influences I had as a child (Outer Limits, Dawn of the Dead, etc.) were a direct roadmap to Cabaret Voltaire and Bauhaus?

zine to blog: an introduction

[Note: this is a work-in-progress in support of doctoral research into the nature of online music subculture, in multiple parts. Expect abrasion, naïvete, half-truths and sticking my foot in my mouth at every turn. And feel free to comment, or toss me references! I know I’ve got a lot of reading to do…]

Consider this first post an ice-breaker of sorts.

For those who do not already know this, zines were a hallmark of the circulation of independent music in the latter part of the twentieth century. The contemporary indie music zine is an historical descendant of 1970s punk culture (for a concise background on this phenomenon, see the Wikipedia entry on punk zine). Continue reading “zine to blog: an introduction”

Ringtones and Mobile Society: article

There’s a thorough scholarly treatment of the ringtone in contemporary public life in the December 2005 issue of First Monday. Author Sumanth Gopinath gives us an historical account of the ringtone in the context of the rise of the wireless telephony industry, and how this development has played a role in our everyday experience. In the author’s own words:

ringtones are central to the contemporary sonic imaginary … (and have) progressed quickly in a series of stages or moments from the initial, functional ringtone to the tone as a digital sound file … entire cultural practices have appeared in conjunction with particular stages and seem likely to decline, as the outdated forms of ringtones with which these practices are correlated become increasingly infrequent.

The piece synthesizes a wide range of research in its attempt to enrich our understanding of the ringtone in contemporary culture: its history, its situation within Western tonality, its role in the contestation of public and private space, and its comparison with older mobile music technologies such as the Sony Walkman and the boombox.

Towards the end of the article, Gopinath provides an insightful critique of mobile content as a commodity, and how its profitability is “revitalizing a stagnant music–industry oligopoly”. He goes on to explain that “for some companies, the ultimate aim (is) to transfer content to mobile systems, devalue the Internet in the process, then buy up those online assets and eventually transform them into for–pay services.” We are reminded by this example that

internet utopians should be wary of the sustainable independence of new media under capitalism — forms of originally independent media like cable television were understood and used in a similar way to the present Internet and ultimately found themselves under the ownership of large media conglomerates.

File this under “comments, anyone?”

Music taste and crystal balls

Music scientists know you better than you know yourself (free registration required). Remember that as with all research there are limitations on what you can conclude from it, and that large scale analyses emphasize aggregate effects in populations, ignoring the elusiveness of agency, and ever-intractable/intangible actor-network theories, not to mention how the whole shebang is royally screwed by forces of commoditization and marketing so sophisticated we hardly see it anymore, and hardly care. What I mean in more respectful terms is that this sort of research often ignores the initiative of individuals and groups working within (and for that matter, outside) business and cultural structures in ways that make certain products happen and certain other ones die like dogs.

I wore a black fedora to a swing dance one night (several months ago), surrounded by Chinese-Canadian kids in sweatpants. There was no booze served. And had I the expertise, I would have joined that totally unwholesome Charleston circle near the front. Too much social mediation going on to quantify according to the framework arrived at in some study of what’s on people’s iTunes playlist-epitaphs, and in their crummy blog memoirs. Music lives in human environs, and is usually made to live through performance, and, dance. And it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) solely occupy a rarefied space between the earbuds – it occurs within the total social experience or social performance of the people doing it. Don’t tell me you can quantify the totality of the rain outside, the cut of a girl’s dress, the strange mixture of smells in the place, the nervousness of being among an unfamiliar crowd, and the limitations of a low-powered sound system in a big old hall…(etc., etc…)

But if what you’re interested in is “what are the kids listening to”, then I suppose such a tunnel vision view is all that’s required. See you at the next IASPM conference. Hopefully.

…and the angels are voyeurs

There’s an interesting (& refreshingly accessible) piece in Wired about music and public space. Not only is it a good read; it’s also written by one of my favorite undersung raconteurs, Momus! His livejournal is also, well…lively, so I’m linking (music geeks and dandified whatsits please take note).

His writing on this topic (more of it here) raises lots of interesting questions:

Songs are fascist immigrants, conquistadors who’ve come, inevitably, to slay indigenous sound wherever they find it.

Yes, quite. I don’t think I could have put it better than that. But maybe it is the influence of the surrounding culture of fascism/colonialism that endows the songs of here and now with that character? In other cultural ecologies, might songs more gently enter public spaces? Is the situation different (even if only slightly) in Japan, for example?

In Noise Jacques Attali calls the industrial/electronic 20th century an age of repetition, an era in the circulation of music that bears the seeds of its own destruction. He writes that the hyper-accumulation of commercial music will eventually overextend itself, people will recoil in horror, and the whole commercial music regime will then self-destruct. In our malaise over the ubiquity of song, are we maybe witnessing a slice of that moment of change?

About Clicknoise

This weblog was started to document music, culture and network technologies in a world that’s increasingly noisy with change. From iPods to ringtones, from Cubase to AJAX, from Ableton Live to loopfaxes, and from reel-to-reel cacophony to the drone of a million clicks, silent in isolation, but deafening taken all together, this is Clicknoise. Welcome.

An “About Me” is coming soon. As I’m a bit of an unwilling crossover between indie music, academia, and the high tech industry (I wish I had nothing to do with the latter, but it pays the bills, and it can be intriguing at times in its own right), I can promise wild mood swings and possibly too many question marks.

But then again, google has replaced all the question marks in our conversations, hasn’t it?

Or would that be wikipedia?