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Algorithmic Aesthetics

Bodies and Subjects in the Era of Big Data

Andrew J. Ball

Though the authors in this general issue of Screen Bodies engage with a wide array of media, they express a shared group of concerns. Namely, how recent technological advancements and the big data cultures of the Information Age are altering social norms concerning the body, the subject, and intimacy. The first two articles focus on increasingly data-oriented cultures that have given rise to aesthetics derived from quantification and mathematics. In “Qualities Over Quantities: Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice,” Amy Christmas examines the “surveillant aesthetic” present in three multimedia art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience (2002 to present), Jill Magid’s Composite (2005), and Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions (2012–2013). Christmas argues that these artists explore new modes of subject constitution and constraint, and reveal the potential of “dataveillance” to bridge formerly disconnected processes of “quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative)” self-formation. Similarly taking up questions of aesthetics, the “quantified self,” and its relation to narrative, Kallie Strode examines the datafication of beauty in “Narrating (Sur)face: The Marquardt Mask and Interdisciplinary Beauty.” Strode reflects on the ethics of quantifying beauty and looks to the plastic surgery method patented by Stephen Marquardt, who has developed a model of facial beauty using the golden ratio. The Marquardt mask, she argues, exemplifies an algorithmic aesthetic that is being applied to the reformation of bodies. Along similar lines, in “Cyborgian Salariats” Stephanie Bender argues that the individual is subordinated and rationalized by modern technology. Bender examines how Sasha Stone’s photo essay “Hundred-Horsepower Office” presents an optimistic vision of a new kind of subject, the Weimar-era white-collar worker, a human-machine assemblage that combines the body and modern office technology.

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Melinda Luisa de Jesús

Since 2008 I have had the pleasure of teaching Girl Culture at California College of the Arts (CCA), a private art/design college located in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article features student zines from Girl Culture at this college.

Girl Culture is part of the school’s general studies curriculum in the Humanities and Sciences at the upper division (junior and senior) level. The course title comes from Sherrie Inness’s foundational anthology defining American Girlhood Studies in the twentieth century, Delinquents and Debutantes (1998), in which she notes,

"Too often girls’ culture is shunted aside by scholars as less significant or less important than the study of adult women’s issues, but girls’ culture is what helps to create not just an individual woman but all women in our society. (11, emphasis in original)"

Girl Culture explores the myriad forces that have an impact on American girls’ lives today and seeks to identify the places where artists and designers can best advocate for girl-centric liberation, autonomy, and joy.

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Beyond (Hyper)Masculinity

Images of Boyhood in Croatian Young Adult Novels in English Translation

Marija Todorova

This article gives an outline of stereotypical representation of the Balkans as a predominantly violent culture that legitimizes violence through the lenses of (hyper)masculinized characters represented in Croatian literature for young adults selected for translation into English. A representation of this stereotypical image can be found in one of the most recent translations of a contemporary novel for children from Croatia, Odohohol and Cally Rascal by Matko Sršen. Meanwhile, the second case study of this article focuses on the analysis of translated young adult literature that promotes or contests violent masculinities. The novel The Teacher of My Dreams by Miro Gavran portrays a more complex image of masculinity from the Western Balkans, promoting a depiction of an emotional, intellectual, and rational male.

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Jonathan A. Allan and Cliff Leek

This special issue of Boyhood Studies takes two terms—boys and storytelling—and positions them alongside one another. In some ways, we take seriously Charles Dickens’s oft-quoted notion that “A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” What does it mean to take the stories of boys and boys’ stories seriously? Are they really among the “best that [are] ever told”? In the space of education, and with declining literacy rates among boys, what does it mean to study storytelling? Or, what might it mean, to borrow a phrase from Carol Mavor (2008), to “read boyishly”? In this special issue, we hoped to bring together scholars working on the relationship between boys and storytelling, to consider the kinds of stories that boys are told, and to also consider the stories that they are not told. Our goal was to consider the importance of storytelling in boys’ lives as well as the importance of the storytelling of boys’ lives. That is, we were interested in boys as both real and embodied, as well as in the fictional boys that populate the literary universe. The issue presented here brings together a host of perspectives that all work to explore and expand the literary and cultural study of boys and storytelling.

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But the Boys Are Still Bullies

A Typology of Supporting Characters in Queer-Themed Picture Books

James Smith

Although queer picture books are growing in popularity, research on these texts still tends toward an overgeneralization of the field. This article takes a narrow focus on secondary characters in texts that center boys wearing dresses to see what reactions to boyhood gender nonconformity are supported in this subcategory of texts. Through close readings of various scenes throughout eight picture books, the article highlights gendered and aged patterns in these responses: women are supportive but distant, girls are close allies, men are absent or hesitant to support the boys, and other boys are generally bullies. The article concludes that while these texts are ostensibly queer because of their protagonists’ gender performances, they nevertheless fail to disrupt gender norms beyond the lives of their central characters.

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Representations of Race and Boyhood in Infant and Toddler Media

Heather Moore Roberson

The hit streaming series Cocomelon has become a household name for many families with infants, toddlers, and kids at heart. Cocomelon introduces our youngest population(s) to a Western world that privileges flawed and utopian post-racial perspectives. I contend that the show presents a perspective on race and identity that glorifies color-blindness and ignores racial differences that would educate children about the complexity and beauty of diversity. This commentary imagines a Black infant and toddler boyhood in children’s media that prioritizes race, culture, and identity and recommends other children’s programs that invest in culturally diverse representations of childhood.

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Companions and Villains

Reading about Boys in Early Twentieth-Century Girl Scout and Camp Fire Girl Series Fiction

Jennifer Helgren

This article examines boy characters in early twentieth-century girls’ scouting fiction. These series, marketed using the names of the recently established girls’ organizations, supported female empowerment. They also included important boy characters: brothers, companions, villains, and bullies. The first three types are exemplars of what boys’ workers envisioned as middle-class manhood: youthful wildness and spunk channeled into habits of hard work, self-reliance, and intelligence. These boys would also recognize girls as near-equal partners at a time when marriage norms were becoming more companionate. Rural bullies and ethnic villains, by contrast, provide warnings about boys who do not develop manly self-control. Girls’ series helped shape how modern girls thought about their male peers, including what girls would and would not accept in their relationships with boys.

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Cyborgian Salariats

Rationalization and the White-Collar Worker in Sasha Stone’s “Hundred-Horsepower Office”

Stephanie Bender

This article examines Sasha’s Stone’s photographic constructions of the salaried worker, or die Angestellten, within the rationalized Weimar office as published in his 1926 photo essay “Das 100-Pferdige Büro—keine Utopie” (The hundred-horsepower office—no utopia). I analyze his images of the modern office and the white-collar employee as participating in the public discourse regarding the highly debated phenomenon of rationalization, presenting the Angestellter as a tool of rationalization rather than an individual, creating automata-like employees that fit with the broader trend of depicting such employees as what Matthew Biro describes as cyborgs, or human-machine hybrids. I assert that Stone’s essay performs a dialectic role in relation to other, distinct versions of the same photographs, suggesting that technology within the sphere of the modern office, while inevitable and necessary, is possible only through the subjugation of the individual humanity of those at work by such technology.

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“Defining Ourselves for Ourselves”

Black Girls Conceptualize Black Girlhood Online

Cierra Kaler-Jones

Black girls have long created their own subversive and creative forms of curriculum and pedagogy. I explore adolescent Black girls’ suggestions for teaching and learning about Black girlhood online based on a virtual summer arts program called Black Girls S.O.A.R. Through performance ethnography, we contended with our conceptualizations of Black girlhood and identity sense-making. The co-researchers suggested that storytelling, learner-centered pedagogy, and intentional community-building must be central in virtual pedagogy and saw reclaiming girlhood and self-care as two essential topics for teaching Black girlhood content. I also reflect on the tensions and possibilities of co-constructing participatory learning environments with Black girls, particularly as it relates to disrupting power and adultism.

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Ken Parille, Kenneth Kidd, Jay Mechling, Victoria Cann, and Edward W. Morris

Reading Characters, People, and Properties

In this piece, I reflect on superhero comic books I read in my childhood and adolescence, noting that as I collected and read stories featuring the character known as the Silver Surfer, I slowly began to realize that the character’s traits, as established in the first comic in which he appeared, seemed to change in comics published later. In searching for explanations for these changes, I began to pay attention to a comic’s credits, recognizing that different writers and artists understood the character in different ways and often felt no obligation to maintain a consistent approach. I eventually realized that a comic’s credits sometimes misrepresented the labor invested by each of the story’s creators. This long process led to an ongoing interest—in both my writing and teaching—in the ways that our interpretation of a story and its characters can be enriched by understanding the conditions under which it was produced.

Books of the Heart

What might reflecting on favorite books from our childhood tell us about our past and current selves? This short meditation on that question first considers reading memoirs and experiments in rereading, and then reviews some favorite books from the author’s own childhood, speculating on their appeal and potential significance for identity consolidation.

The Fantasy of the Boy Scout Handbook

Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, I opened my new Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys in the summer of 1956, at age 11, in anticipation of moving from the Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts that fall. I found in those pages a fantasy that moved me deeply, a romantic fantasy of hiking and camping in the wilderness with a band of boy buddies. That fantasy has deep roots in fiction for boys and in books like the Handbook, appealing to the boy’s desire to escape the surveillance and control of adults and to fashion a community of “lost boys” in a wilderness setting ideal for strong male bonding in friendship.

“I Never Had Any Friends Later on Like the Ones I Had When I Was Twelve. Jesus, Does Anyone?”: Reflections on Learning about Boyhood through Stand by Me

This piece offers reflections on the 1986 movie Stand by Me, drawing on some of the main themes and contextualizing them in relation to my own childhood as a girl growing up in the 1990s. I reflect on how in my rewatch of the movie, I was struck by the ways that the class positions of the boys echoed my own experiences of transition and liberation through education. I also reflect on the significance of seeing boys cry and be scared—feelings that the boys at my school were policed out of performing in public.

Boy Genius: Reflections on Reading The Great Brain

Based on reflection and analysis of a formative childhood text, this essay disentangles the relationship between reading, intelligence, and masculinity. The author argues that although reading fiction appears to encourage empathy, books written specifically for boys may contain detrimental messages about masculinity. The analysis reveals that the popular Great Brain series reinforces notions of whiteness, ableism, and masculine superiority. These messages are reinforced by the books’ emphasis on pragmatic “genius” and the savior trope in boyhood.