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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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Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh

Girlhood Studies, as an academic discipline, is continually growing. Since some educational institutions include girls’ studies as part of a special curriculum, an academic program, a certificate course, a minor, or as part of Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, Girlhood Studies has a presence in academia although at this stage rarely in an autonomous department. This interest in the pedagogies and practices of teaching Girlhood Studies is an important aspect of its growth as a field of study not only at the university level but also in other academic settings and outside of them, be they workshops, special programs for girls, and summer camps, among others. Depending on these formal and informal educational contexts, the discussion of approaches to teaching Girlhood Studies ranges from the theoretical to those that outline hands-on projects that invite and promote the discussion of girlhood. As Claudia Mitchell (2021) states in her editorial “What can Girlhood Studies be?” the research and scholarly work in Girlhood Studies “stands as its own theoretical and practical area” (vi) that warrants its study and teaching and that prompted the production of this special issue on teaching Girlhood Studies.

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Claudia Mitchell

A dream, dating back to 2001 when the late Jackie Kirk, Jacqui Reid-Wash, and I passed through a section labelled Girls Studies in Foyles Books on Charing Cross Rd., London, UK, was that someday there would not only be a journal devoted to girlhood studies but also a whole interdisciplinary teaching area. We talked about how students of youth studies, or childhood studies, or what was then called women’s studies might consider girlhood studies as an option in their programs or as a whole area of specialization. The dream of the journal was realized seven years later with the first issue of Girlhood Studies in 2008. Since then, as the guest editors of this Special Issue on Teaching Girlhood Studies highlight, there have been many initiatives including the development of courses on Girlhood Studies, and community/university activist projects. And now, finally, we have a whole issue devoted to teaching, curricula, and pedagogies of Girlhood Studies.

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Figure 1. Male bodybuilders from the Physical Culture Society of Montreal posing semi-naked with their trainer in a photo (Public Domain).

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“Falling down the Rabbit Fuck Hole”

Spectacular Masculinities, Hypersexuality, and the Real in an Online Doping Community

Jesper Andreasson and April Henning

Through hegemonic ideas about muscles and extraordinary performances, image- and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) and their use have been traditionally connected to hypersexualized masculinities. This link has resulted in spectacular ideas and fantasies about what IPEDs can do to/with men regarding their bodies and sexual performance. However, these ideas do not always manifest or correspond with daily life. Using a qualitative and case-study-based approach, this article investigates the relationship between doped and spectacular masculinities as they are presented and constructed in and through an online doping community, and users’ experiences of side effects of the doped body and its social consequences. Analytically, the article draws on Guy Debord’s work on the relationship between the spectacle and the real, and the ongoing theoretical debate on different reconfigurations and redefinitions of doped masculinities. It argues that anticipations of and effects from IPEDs can bring alternative ways of enacting doping masculinity and sexuality in the context of online communication while also blurring the lines between fantasy and lived experience.

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Claudia Mitchell

This issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, while unthemed in the sense that it comes out of an Open Call, reminds us that a foundational principle of Girlhood Studies remains one of contesting and challenging inequities. Furthermore, how girls themselves might, under some circumstances, take up critical issues in their lives is evident in these contributions. Each of the contributors has placed front and centre the idea of contesting. Recently in a publications panel at a graduate student conference, participants, eager to get their work published, wanted to know more about this journal. Two of their questions stand out. “May the articles be quantitative as well as qualitative?” and “Is it enough that at least half of my participants are girls?” This collection of articles responds beautifully to these questions in offering an affirmative to the question about quantitative and qualitive data when the point is to use appropriate evidence to contest gender norms, and a negative to being about representation in terms of simply including girls.

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Lu Yang

An Artist in Transformation

Ari Heinrich, Livia Monnet, and Gabriel Remy-Handfield

Lu Yang (陆扬, 1984) is a critically acclaimed new media artist and rising star based in Shanghai, China, who works across film, games, performance, and installation. His work has been exhibited at numerous biennales and exhibitions in China and around the world, including the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. He has collaborated on videos with high-profile rock bands like The 1975, and one of his videos featured in a 2020 fashion show of the Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning.1 Lu Yang has also won prestigious awards, including the BMW Art Journey Culture award in 2019, and Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year award in 2022, and the artist was anthologized in Barbara London's critical history of video and the digital arts, Video Art: The First Fifty Years (2020), as well as in Dominique Moulon's Chefs d'oeuvre du 21e siècle : l'art à l'ère digitale (Masterworks of the 21st Century: Art in the Digital Era, 2021). In contemporary art and popular culture, Lu Yang is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

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Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power

It was difficult to determine the right cover for this special issue. The purpose of the issue was to encourage new ways of thinking about the phallus, and the aim was to find an image that did just this—ask people to wonder what the image is telling us. What does it represent? What is the story? It is perhaps ironic that the image we found most appealing is a device designed to prevent a penis from functioning. In the late nineteenth century, masturbation was believed to cause mental illness, and solo ejaculation was considered a form of sexual dysfunction, and this is one example of many, often brutal, devices created to physically prevent erections and masturbation. Sitting over modern blue jeans, however, the image is erotic and evokes BDSM or kink culture. The old and the new, repression and eroticism, are one and the same.

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Masculinity, Sex, and Dicks

New Understandings of the Phallus

Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power

This special issue brings together interdisciplinary work exploring the relationship between bodies, masculinity, and the penis or phallus. The symbolism, significance, and meaning of the phallus or penis has varied historically and across disciplines. In the psychoanalytic tradition, “the subject…can only assume its identity through the adoption of a sexed identity, and the subject can only take up a sexed identity with reference to the phallus, for ‘the phallus is the privileged signifier’” (Segal 2007: 85). Jacques Lacan's work has inspired feminist critiques of “phallocentrism” in high and popular cultural texts since the 1970s (Segal 2007). Elizabeth Stephens (2007) describes the ancient Greek ideal of small penises as indexing self-control and rationality, while the Romans celebrated virility and power, which they associated with a large penis. Other scholarship has explored the racialization of penis size, such as the stereotype of Black men as possessing large penises, indexing hypersexuality and often depicted in racist terms as representing aggression or lack of civility (Lehman 2006).

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A “Sense of Presence”

The “me of me” in Black Girlhoods

Claudia Mitchell and Ann Smith

We begin by paying tribute to feminist Black scholar, bell hooks, who died 15 December 2021. As the numerous citations in just this issue alone bear witness, she has had a huge influence on feminist ways of thinking particularly in relation to how race, gender, and capitalism intersect. In her well-known essay, “In Our Glory” on Black girlhood and visual culture (), she offers a memory of losing a photograph of herself as a young girl in the 1950s masquerading, as she called it, in full cowgirl regalia.