Blog Post

The HASTAC Community, Standards and Seeing Interdisciplinary Connections

The recent discussion in the thread Community Standards for Virtual Spaces was spurred by, among other posts, my post of Elle Mehrmand's performance fauxlographic. The post contained an image from the performance which contained nudity, and therefore the HASTAC site admins edited my post to remove the image and link to the UCSD Visual Art Department's website which is hosting the image. I wish that this wasn't two weeks before the end of the semester and I didn't have two papers to write, on top of conference papers, publisher deadlines and deadlines for galleries for spring shows, so that I had more time to respond. Still, I am eager to post a few thoughts in response to the very rich discussions which have taken place in the standards forum. 

First, I want to state in response to Fiona's self described "disjointed" comment, which was actually very compelling and apparently very heartfelt, that I love HASTAC. I have met some of my nearest and dearest colleagues in academic thanks to HASTAC, as well as developed sone wonderful friendships. I even met my current PhD advisor, Jack Halberstam, in the HASTAC forum on Queer and Feminist New Media Spaces. I am joining in this discussion with the best of intentions, in order to participate as a HASTAC scholar in making HASTAC as amazing, participatory and transformative as I believe it can be. I am so grateful to the HASTAC scholars, to Fiona and Cathy and everyone who makes HASTAC possible and holds open this space for artistic, academic and theoretical experimentation. 

Second, I am very concerned about the suggestion that the legal Terms of Service be used as the basis for the Community Standards document. Among other things, the Terms of Service prohibits posting any material which is "offensive... vulgar, obscene, profane, or is racially, ethnically or is otherwise objectionable;... (iii) Content that is pornographic, sexually explicit or contains nudity; ... Content which contains software, software viruses... links to other websites that contain Content not in compliance with the Terms of Service" These restrictions, as I understand them, could be easily interpreted to disallow Critical Code Studies discussions of software code for computer viruses, The Queer and Feminist New Media forum's discussion of Monica Ong's skin whitening remedy for asian women, Alexis Lothian's vidding discussion which links to erotic (possibly pornographic) vid remixes of Battlestar Galactica, and a whole host of other very important discussions on HASTAC regarding the intersections of digital culture with art, race, gender, sex and ability and how those intersections inform our understanding of comtemporary power and social control. 

The point made by John Carter McKnight is central, I think, in that the real problem here is self-policing at the risk of preventing important discussions of contemporary issues. I cited Ai Weiwei's recent tweet saying "if they see nudity as pornography then china is stuck in the Qing dynasty" not to be snarky, but to point to the fact that these issues are very contemporary and global. The removal of Elle Mehrmand's poster for fauxlographic cannot be separated from the fact that her performance is about Iran and Wikileaks. Her body parts as covered or uncovered in that flyer are a direct response to the headscarves worn by Muslim women and the perception of certain types of bodies as terrorist bodies, the agency of women to choose to over or uncover themselves and the rhetorics of American exceptionalism which would present the US as a rational place of democracy in contrast to an oppressive regime which forces women to cover their bodies in order to justify military action against Iran. 

By removing her flyer, HASTAC is reproducing the act of forcing women's bodies to be covered up which Iran and other middle eastern countries are accused of as a justification for war, and doing so under a heteronormative rhetoric of protecting the children. The legal argument about minors seeing the image does not hold up, because the Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California (1973) specifies that:

Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. Roth v. United States, , reaffirmed. A work may be subject to state regulation where that work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

As such, anything posted on HASTAC, in a post by a scholar, not in a malicious spam post for example, has "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" for being placed in a context of academic discussion. By following the rules of the Terms of Service, crafted by lawyers to cover all possible legal issues, we would not even be able to link to respected journals such as GLQ which do contain images and language which may contain nudity or be considered "offensive". 

I am also very leery of having some areas of the site hidden from those who do not have logins, as this makes posting here much less valuable to the bloggers. A simple warning in the footer or front page can suffice. One tact which may be useful is to create our own terms of service based no our own goals and desires, like Zach Blas' transCoder license agreement, which uses the language of license agreements but modifies them in a queer way. 

    Ultimately, though, I feel that regardless of the text of the Terms of Service, it is up to the HASTAC administration to defend the space of HASTAC as a place where "humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and engineers" can engage in rich intellectual and artistic discussion. To follow on what McKnight said, I think that the bloggers on the site should not have to be the ones making these arguments, we should be coming up with amazing, challenging, rich, interesting discussions and content and if someone like the university adminsitration where the site is hosted wants to come and interfere with the discussion, I think the HASTAC administration should be the ones defending the valuable work being done here and standing up with all the reasons that it is perfectly appropriate to post photos of nude bodies, even those engaged in having sex, to this site for discussion and analysis.

    I myself am poblishing a chapter of a book in the spring entitled Porn After Porn: Contemporary Alternative Pornographies, based on my paper "Queer Porn as Postcapitalist Virus", which was accepted for the Marxism and New Media Conference held at Duke in January, and I hope to be able to post my paper here for discussion. Duke has supported my erotic artwork extensively, with a performance I did with Elle Mehrmand entitled technésexual which was supported by The Experiencing Virtual Worlds Working Group, Information Science + Information Studies, Art, Art History and Visual Studies and Women's Studies. A video of the performance is here and was followed up by a discussion with a class and an artist talk at Duke's Nasher Museum. 





    This is another excellent, thoughtful post, Micha, to help us think through the aspects of this that we are at liberty to think through. And I'm very much hoping we can go with your suggestion here: "A simple warning in the footer or front page can suffice."  Fiona points out the way our Drupal home page CMS works, all you have to do is put that warning in the heading and put the images lower down and then someone has to click past the warning (on the home page---barely there for a minute or two, since  we have so many posts that nothing stays there long) to get to the post.  I hope the SC will share your idea..  That seems to be so straightforward.   I'd like to begin the converation with that as a starting point, just because I am guessing we all share the same principles on this issue.  It is figuring out a practice, the details, compatible with the actual technology Drupal (alas) offers us, and the affordances of our virtual network, that is the issue.  


    (NB:  I'd like to make one small correction to your post.  To my knowledge, we did not remove the post or the link. Or at least, that was never up for discussion.  The only discussion was to have the image on the site (where it went to the homepage automatically) or to have the link to the UCSD site.    The link is still there and, to my knowledge, has been all along. Although, my goodness, we were indecisive.  And went back and forth, back and forth.  I want to apologize to you publicly for that.  It's a sign of our confusion and that's why we decided to make this discussion all public and solicit the best opinion we could from the community.  The issues are complex, and there is nothing pro forma about this discussion.   It's what needed to happen.  Thank you for your contribution to this too.  Everyone will learn from it. That's the whole point of a network so this is very valuable, far beyond our 7800 or so members.)


    It is extremely important to be having this conversation now, online and with the SC, because the main item on our agenda for the SC is what happens to HASTAC and the HASTAC Scholars after our current funding sources come to an end.   Duke has been extremely generous in funding HASTAC, in keeping the most flexible policies for a self-forming community with minimal moderation, in allowing a wide range of expression and open topics generated by the interests of the membership, and in keeping Duke's name way "below the fold" even though the University contributes generously to us and, even with all of our extra-office volunteer efforts (from most of our HASTAC Central staff who are working full-time and funded by the MacArthur Competition and Duke not HASTAC, which collects no dues and has no money of its own) and without which HASTAC and HASTAC Scholars couldn't exist.    As we think ahead, about which organization will host HASTAC in the future (this is still some years away but looming), it is  important for SC and future central HASTAC administrators to be able to discuss HASTAC principles and values.  That was not the intention in provoking this discussion but the timing could not be more important.  

    We're going to reschedule the SC agenda to put this at the end and invite you and the other Scholars to that discussion, even as we continue ongoing discussions with the various organizations we represent and that represent the HASTAC network.   As a supporter of a HASTAC Scholar, your institution becomes an institutional member.  But HASTAC itself has no legal status apart from other institutions, so we have a lot of issues to work out and these thoughts will be very useful.

    I very much hope people who have examples of how other virtual organizations operate will contribute to our discussion.   We need principles.   And we need concrete, working models of how other organizations with similar principles and a similar scope carry out their mission.   


    Micha, we've thought about producing some of the HASTAC Forums as e-books that could be downloaded free or for a small fee from Amazon or Lulu or the U of Michigan HASTAC series sometime in the future.   I suspect this forum would be hugely useful to others in gender studies, sexuality studies, as well as those setting up their own virtual organizations and networks.   At the HASTAC Conference, let's take some time to get together and talk, perhaps with others involved as well, about the possibility of editing an e-book on this topic.   These are not the kinds of issues that get "solved."  They are constantly recurring, with so many new possibilities and exceptions and so forth.   We can all learn together and that's the whole point of HASTAC, learning together.  I was sorry to miss you last year at Duke, and look forward to meeting you next week.  Thank you again for this very serious discussion. 


    Thank you for your thoughtful reply Cathy. I agree, that this has to be an ongoing process and I look forward to our conversation at the HASTAC conference. 

    I also think that examples abound. For one, the GLQ journal's website, from Duke University Press, hosts a cover image from their journal here:

    From the issue "Rethinking Sex" which could be said to be almost identical, in content, to the image in the fauxlographic flyer, a fully nude frontal image of a woman who's head is obscured. Their website, as far as I can tell, contains no warnings, click through terms or any indications of adult content. I assume this is because they know that as an academic publication they do not fall under the usual obscenity laws that govern most other websites. 

    Also, the issue on GLQ History, Vol I, discusses many of their dealings with censorship in the 1990's, which seem very relevant to this discussion, such as:

    GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12.1 (2006) 5-26

    The History of GLQ, Volume 1

    LGBTQ Studies, Censorship, and Other Transnational Problems

    by Carolyn Dinshaw


    This is exactly what we need, Micha.  I think the solution is going to take about two minutes--exactly what you and Fiona propose seems just right for us and for the culture of expression and dialogue we have championed this past decade.  But I hope we take the full half hour to really talk this through.  I'm so glad you will be there.   The investment of the community in this decision is very important as we go forward.   Many thanks again for making this such a valuable contribution.  I've heard from a number of people who have been reading this forum and learned from it on many levels.


    This is what I am afraid of getting dropped out of the conversation here:

    By removing her flyer, HASTAC is reproducing the act of forcing women's bodies to be covered up which Iran and other middle eastern countries are accused of as a justification for war, and doing so under a heteronormative rhetoric of protecting the children.

    I get that we have to understand what we do here as part of a wider network of people and interests, but I really don't want those concerns to override what we do as scholars and end up reinforcing the problematic social structures that make our work transgressive in the first place. I think HASTAC is in a powerful position to make a statement about online academic/hybrid community, the value of oppositional work, and the importance of maintaining integrity in the face of (perceived?) institutional pressure.

    Let's not forget that what sparked this issue was not something that most people would mistake as pornography even by the SCOTUS decision above. It was a flyer for an art installation by a woman of color critiquing hegemonic regimes.

    I give a hearty +1/This./Like/Thumbs-up to Micha's suggestion that everything we do here falls under the umbrella of "of value" - artistic, literary, whatever - and should be defended as such. This is not 4chan. We're not posting boobies for lulz with a racial slur attached as the only comment. (4chan, incidentally, does have its own content and posting policies that we might look at for funsies.) Doesn't this satisfy legal concerns? Not trying to be thick here but really.

    As for the community part, I'll reiterate what I posted on the other thread about making this a safe space for more than just a lowest common denominator. Profane, vulgar, pornographic queers of color (in this discussion, the most "extreme" example I can think of given the dynamics of the regulations we're talking about) are just as important as the little guys!