I recently saw Helvetica, a documentary directed by Gary Hustwit about the typeface of the same name — it is available streaming and on DVD from Netflix, for those of you who have a subscription. As someone who studies ubiquitous socio-technological infrastructures (and Helvetica is certainly one), I know how hard it is to seriously pay attention to something that which we see every day. It may seem counter-intuitive, but as Susan Leigh Star reminds us, the more widespread an infrastructure is, the more we use it and depend on it, the more invisible it becomes — that is, until it breaks or generates controversy, in which case it is far too easy. But to actually say something about what well-oiled, hidden-in-plain-sight infrastructures are, how they came to have such a place in our society, and why they won out over their competitors is a notoriously difficult task. But I came to realize that the film is less of a history of fonts, and more of an anthropology of design.
This is a response to they hypertext fiction work Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson. It is comprised in part of ‘patches’ of other works, most notably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have made this essay entirely out of parts from the novel.
The vast worlds of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) seem to be the closest implementation of postmodern theories of identity. In these games, a player is able (forced, even) to radically constitute their on-line self at will. Despite this, these virtual gaming communities should not be seen as safe spaces in which a subject can realize their true (or ideal) self. In these games, a globalized capitalist hegemony is furthered both inside and out of the virtual world, violent normalization based on hierarchy and militarism is commonplace in all but the tamest on-line realms, and seemingly free-form gender play becomes appropriated, paradoxically entrenching a stable gender order.
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