Much has been said in the current HASTAC scholar's forum about democratizng education (actually, lots of brilliant discussion there!), which is incredibly valuable and important. Considering the current economic problems that universities and schools are suffering, such discussions are integral to the developing innovation and experimentation that will be necessary in pedagogy and scholarship so that we can continue to educate students as the cost of education goes up.
Another democratizing phenomenon (if I may take the liberty of calling it that, despite the obvious technical skill sets and hardware necessary to participate) is that of iPhone apps. Now, you don't even need to be a professional computer programmer or developer to make applications and have them distributed to millions of iPhone or iPod touch users worldwide. According to Apple's online store, there are "Apps for Everything." These include apps to share photos, to find nearby bathrooms, to locate sex offenders (http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/09/29/iphone.app.fight.crime/), and now to objectify and fetishize Asian women.
That's right. There are apps that facilitate fetishizing and objectifying Asian women (actually there are similar apps to objectify all women and men of color, the most striking ones that I came across multiple times just happened to be of Asian women) for purchase at the iTunes store.
And the most disturbing part? There's more than one. According to the Angry Asian Man, who first blogged about this issue back in December (http://www.angryasianman.com/2008/12/geisha-for-your-pocket.html), then in March (http://www.angryasianman.com/2009/03/yellow-fever-for-your-pocket.html), and again this past week (http://www.angryasianman.com/2009/10/pervy-iphone-upskirt-app.html), there are at least three iPhone applications that blatantly identify Asian women as other and then sexualize them. Since then, I've also come across "Pink Clouds Exotic Beach Babes" (http://findfiles.com/app-link.php?appid=318528704) which offers pictures of "Sexy Asians, Hot Latinas, Gorgeous Africans, Cute Europeans and Americans, and of course amazing ethnic mixed babes showing their beautiful bikini bodies..."(from iTunes description). So now, fetishists the world over can purchase these apps for as little as 99 cents and have the objects of their orientalism in their pockets to dance for them (as a Geisha), sit/stand immoble for their gaze, or squeal as they blow air up their skirts.
Pushing aside the desire to vomit, the most troubling factor here is that Apple is actually distributing these apps. A powerful organization in its own right, with a cult of their own loyal customers, Apple excercises discretion, or at least it's supposed to, in the apps it approves and sells through its store. As these articles (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/10/07/satirical-iphone-apps-not-cool-upskirt-iphone-apps-cool/, http://gizmodo.com/5344621/the-most-racist-app-apples-approved) show, the decision by Apple to disapprove of some "questionable" apps and approve others that are even more questionable condones a certain type of racist behavior that is disturbing. It's not so disturbing that individuals or companies made these apps in the first place, because there are, of course, people out there who will do what they can to make a buck or to satisfy a desire or to get a laugh, but now it has become so much easier to share and disseminate such narrowminded racism and sexism with the ease of communication offered by ICT. Even with digital divide issues in mind, the Internet has helped tremendously in breaking down certain existing barriers to education and information, but, as this example shows, it has also made it much easier to share and even sell potentially harmful racist, orientalist, sexist perspectives and desires in ways that seem harmless and benign, but are even more dangerous and insidious because of it.
Now, I use the Internet for entertainment as much as anyone, but seriously Apple? Not cool.