Miniskirts and Wigs: The Gender Politics of Cross-Dressing on Lip Sync Battle
Britta Hanson / University of Texas at Austin

Channing Tatum breaks out his version of Beyoncé for his rendition of "Run the World (Girls)."

Channing Tatum breaks out his Beyoncé to perform “Run the World (Girls)” on Spike’s Lip Sync Battle.

On January 7, 2016, Channing Tatum blew up the internet. He strutted onto Lip Sync Battle’s stage wearing a voluminous blonde wig and a tight black mini-skirt to faux-sing “Run the World (Girls),” with Beyoncé herself joining in at the number’s end. The performance became a viral sensation, and the episode itself an all-time ratings high for Spike. (( Rick Kissell, “‘Lip Sync Battle’ Sets Spike Network Ratings Record,” Variety, January 12, 2016, http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/lip-sync-battle-sets-spike-ratings-record-1201678032/ )) This overwhelming popularity was not because of the excellence of Tatum’s dancing, but because of its gender-bending presentation.

Tatum’s performance is only one of many times that Lip Sync Battle has blurred traditional gender roles; in fact, the majority of LSB’s episodes contain some form of gender-bending, and the performers who do so almost always win. Judith Butler taught us years ago that gender is inherently performative, and that drag in its many forms has a powerful subversive potential. (( See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990). Granted, Lip Sync Battle does not embrace drag culture, only allowing cross-dressing in a comical way, but I argue that even the mild form of cross-dressing LSB hosts is still potentially subversive. )) Yet LSB presents an intriguing paradox: while it hosts a plethora of non-normative performances, the show ultimately reifies gender binaries, and places its stars squarely back in their “original” gender. (( Notably, the show’s attitude mirrors what Chris Straayer identifies as the “temporary transvestite” genre, which depicts constant transgression while constantly reminding the audience of the character’s “original” gender. See Chris Straayer, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-Orientation in Film and Video (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 46-50. ))

The show’s structure is simple. Two stars (usually of TV-based fame, but sometimes musicians or film actors) lip sync to two songs each, with the winner decided by the in-studio audience’s applause. Because the music is always a prerecorded, familiar pop hit, the star’s responsibilities are limited to mouthing the words and, more importantly, presenting the most outlandish physical display possible.

The measure of this outlandishness is directly related to the subversion of the star’s image. The sweet, demure Anne Hathaway won her battle by clamoring onto a life-size wrecking ball in her underwear to perform Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” Cross-dressing is treated as another method of going all the way for the competition. Justin Bieber, after performing Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” while affecting femininity, including comically swaying his hips and even stroking competitor Deion Sanders’ chin, explained afterward that “I just totally committed! Full commitment.” Occasionally stars embrace the subversive nature of their performance: former NFL player Terry Crews, after dancing to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” half-naked accompanied by baton twirlers, said he found inspiration in his wife and four daughters: “sometimes you just need to access your feminine side,” he exclaimed to wild cheers from the audience.

Terry Crews accessing his "feminine side" during his performance of Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles."

Terry Crews accessing his “feminine side” during his performance of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.”

But LSB as a whole does not foster such open-mindedness: instead, the program carefully positions its performances as temporary aberrances in the stars’ lives. Stars must constantly reestablish their personas, as Richard Dyer explains, and LSB allows them to act out who they are, or are not. (( See Richard Dyer, Stars (London: BFI, 1979), 20. )) So while the most popular performances involve macho men – professional athletes, rappers, action movie stars – wearing dresses and wigs, the show works hard to show that the stars’ costume and dance choices have no bearing on their “real life,” which means demonstrating that the stars are irrefutably heterosexual and cis-gendered.

LSB employs several strategies to corroborate its stars’ straightness. Most simply, host LL Cool J will ask the star to discuss how unusual this was for them, such as when comedian Gabriel Iglesias told Cool J that dressing as Donna Summer required him to shave for the first time in five years. Other times, the spouse of the performer also appears on the show, with their shocked reaction to their partner’s gender-bent performance serving as an external guarantee of heteronormativity. (( For example, when Iggy Azalea performed Silk’s “Freak Me,” complete with grabbing her crotch and miming sexual intercourse, her then-fiancé Nick Young stated adamantly that “She don’t do that…she don’t do that to me!” )) Throughout, Cool J and color commentator Chrissy Teigen model the acceptable reaction to these antics. Cool J, a rapper, is often quietly disapproving, while Teigen, a model, spends most of her time evaluating how sexy (or more often unsexy) the performers are in their adopted garb. (( And that garb itself is often intentionally ridiculous, with Deion Sanders’ wig for “Like a Virgin” more closely resembling Einstein than Madonna. The few occasions when such costumes are not ridiculous, as in Jim Rash’s form-fitting P!nk costume, often leave the hosts unsure how to react. )) These strategies taken together are meant to signal that these performances cannot possibly be taken seriously. (( While the length of this piece restricts me from discussing male versus female cross-dressers in detail, female cross-dressers on LSB often work even harder than the men to reestablish their gender identity, with their second, non-drag number usually being hyper-feminine: see Jenna Dewan-Tatum’s “Pony” and “Cold-Hearted” or Kaley Cuoco’s “Move Bitch” and “I’m a Slave 4 U.” ))

Jim Rash's "seduction" of Joel McHale to "Something He Can Feel."

Jim Rash’s “seduction” of Joel McHale to En Vogue’s “Something He Can Feel.”

When a performance breaks these careful restrictions, the show is thrown into chaos. One of LSB’s lowest-rated episodes featured three total gender-bent performances by competitors Jim Rash and Joe McHale. The most notable of these was Rash’s self-described “seduction” of McHale to En Vogue’s “Something He Can Feel,” during which he straddled McHale’s chair and proceeded to caress and shimmy all around him, while McHale grimaced horribly. Despite his scowling, McHale commented afterward that “someone is going to need to wipe off” his seat, and that this sort of thing happens “all the time” on Community, the show both men act in. Cool J and Teigen seemed flabbergasted. Teigen asked Rash if he had ever done “all of that” before, to which Rash replied, “don’t worry about it.” In this way, Rash, who has refused to comment publicly on his sexuality, indirectly linked himself to homoerotic practices in his own life, and McHale, who is heterosexual, indicated that his active participation not only in their on-stage interaction, but in similar events in their professional lives. Thus both performers actively embraced a subversive gender position, although McHale, after his own performance in drag, acknowledged that their actions were outside the norm: “thank you for letting me shorten my career in front of you,” he shouted to the audience.

Group Shot

Chrissy Teigen, Jim Rash, LL Cool J, and Joel McHale pose after Rash and McHale’s final, cross-dressing performances.

What then, is the ultimate effect of all this gender confusion? For the stars, very little. As long as they carefully delineate their performance from their star persona, this exercise merely signals to casting directors that the star is capable of playing many (gender) roles outside of their normal type. The most immediate benefit is to the network. LSB airs on Spike, a channel which has recently attempted to expand viewership from an exclusively macho-male demographic to one that includes female viewers and attracts co-viewing as well. (( See the original description of their brand when the channel relaunched under that name in 2003: “TNN network can call itself Spike TV,” USA Today, July 7, 2003, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/television/2003-07-07-spike_x.htm )) Network president Kevin Kay commented that LSB was picked up because “it felt like the perfect show to help launch that rebrand.” (( L.A. Ross, How Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Lip Sync Battle’ Launched SpikeTV’s Rebrand: ‘Right Swing at Right Moment’, TheWrap.com, April 16, 2015,
http://www.thewrap.com/how-jimmy-fallons-lip-sync-battle-launched-spiketvs-rebrand-right-swing-at-right-moment/ )) For the network, too, LSB is meant to be a step outside of its box, but not a complete leap.

David Greven argues that our “new queerly-inflected mainstream movie practices” have the potential to open up “safe zones of polyvalent pleasures.” (( David Greven, Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 17. )) This is far too utopic a vision to extend to Lip Sync Battle. There is certainly potential for breaking the strict boundary between male and female in the show’s constant cross-dressing. But as we have seen, the show shuts down any subversive possibility as effectively as Tatum wore his wig.

Image Credits:
1. Promotional image for Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, Season 2, Episode 1, originally aired January 7, 2016.
2. Author’s screen grab from Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, Season 2, Episode 5, originally aired April 23, 2015.
3. Author’s screen grab from Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, Season 2, Episode 13, originally aired April 28, 2016.
4. Promotional image from Spike’s Lip Sync Battle, Season 2, Episode 13, originally aired April 28, 2016.
Please feel free to comment.




A Part and Apart: Hawaii and Domestic Satellite Broadcasting, 1967-1971
Selena Dickey / University of Texas Austin

Engineers Ready the Intelsat Satellite

Engineers Ready the Intelsat Satellite

In the “International” section of Broadcasting’s July 24th, 1967 issue, the industry trade journal reported the blast off of “A second synchronous Pacific communications satellite…a twin to the present Intelsat II satellite now providing 24-hour commercial service between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Thailand.” [ ((“Sept. 20 Blast off for Pacific Satellite,” Broadcasting 73, no. 4 (1967): 58.)) ]

In this nearly unnoticeable notice, Broadcasting alerted readers of the most recent step in satellite communications: with a second successful launch, engineers had proven their satellites could achieve and maintain geostationary orbit (that is, reaching an altitude of approximately 22,230 miles and moving at the same speed and rotational direction as Earth so that it stays in place over a single location). But yet subtly, this small announcement also shows how Hawaii is rhetorically configured as a part of and apart from the United States: though the 50th state in the Union, it is lumped together here with various Pacific island nation-states, marking it as not really domestic but, instead, as the section title reminds us, “international.”

The a part/apart-ness of Hawaii is nothing new. Many have looked at the pop culture representations of the island state, from tourism and airline campaigns showcasing the wahines with never-ending supplies of leis to the films of Elvis and Gidget hip-thrusting and surfing across the sandy beaches to the television shows featuring McGarrett and Magnum P.I. chasing criminals through the palm trees. All of these images have created a myth of Hawaii, an escapist’s multicultural utopia so utterly different from the mainland and yet so a part of it that, unlike Australia, Japan, the Philippines or Thailand, no passport is required.

What makes Broadcasting’s coverage different, however, is how its rhetoric configures Hawaii as a part/apart in a discussion of off-screen processes. Similar to the images of island exoticism that filled television and cinema screens, here the industry discourse surrounding the role of developing satellite technology also blurs Hawaii’s connection to the mainland and blends it with the foreign. That both onscreen and off-screen logics function in this way is significant. Both reveal how ideology operates not only within visual discourse but also within industry, policy and technology discourses. In other words, analyzing hula girl and tiki hut tropes is important, but it isn’t the whole luau.

For instance, other industry trade journals focusing on the novelty of satellite transmission also configured Hawaii in rather ambiguous terms. As a Variety article covering the sat-casting of the 1968 Presidential election put it,

[T]here is no reason why foreigners can’t see U.S. election returns live… With foreign newsman commenting on the pictures relayed by pool cameras, 18 1/2 hours of coverage were arranged for Europe and 9 hours and 20 minutes for Hawaii, 2 hours and 25 minutes for Australia, 6 hours and 30 minutes to Japan and two hours to the Philippines. [ ((“Election Via Comsat,” Variety 252, no. 13 (1968): 122.)) ]

Clearly, one of these things is not like the others.

Hawaii is, once again, slipped into a list of foreign regions and countries, its status as a U.S. state overlooked, reconfigured as a foreign body vying for satellite transmission time.

Sat-Casting the 1968 Election Results

Sat-Casting the 1968 Election Results

Even though the number of Broadcasting and Variety articles covering satellite technology and its connection to Hawaii is limited (approximately 30 stories from 1966-1971, the era when television broadcasters first began using satellite transmission), the rhetorical maneuvers and slippages of these longstanding trade journals, subtle as they may be, reveal how the industry conceptualized the island state at a key moment of telecommunication development: Hawaii as Other, as foreign. And this, paired with the findings others have made about onscreen representations of Hawaii, only further reinforces how Hawaii’s identity has been shaped and deployed in certain ways—ways often laden with explicit and implicit power dynamics. If evidence of this can be found in such a small sliver of writing on the development of satellite technology in this brief moment of history, how many other off-screen contexts have, over time, merged and mixed to shape the popular mythology of Hawaii?

For broadcasting industry insiders (network executives, affiliate station general managers, advertising and marketing firms, policy makers, etc.) reading these stories in the late 60s and early 70s, Broadcasting and Variety‘s rhetorical strategy of “othering” Hawaii had real world effects. Satellite technology was new; the role these key stakeholders would play in its development was still undecided; and the way these publications framed the issue within their pages—Hawaii not as a state but as a foreign market—influenced programming, advertising, and telecommunication policy decisions.

These decisions then rippled out to viewers and the general public, shaping their access and exposure to programming. That Hawaiians glimpsed the results of the 1968 Presidential election through the same satellite feed as Europeans and Australians, for example, marks their television experience of this event as significantly different from that experienced by Americans in the continental United States. Sure, Hawaiians were a part of the election—they voted in it, after all—but so too were they excluded from it, receiving national election coverage on an international satellite feed. Put another way, Hawaiians were a part of the mainland, exercising their voting rights as American citizens, and yet apart from the nation’s televisual “flow.” The consequences of this ambiguous—and uneven—televisual relationship with the mainland are complex and the subject of my ongoing research, but what can be said here is that, in the three-network era, access to and participation in a common national television “cultural forum” wasn’t so common, or even so national.

Paumalu Earth Station, Hawaii's Satellite Access Ground Station

Paumalu Earth Station, Hawaii’s Satellite Access Ground Station

Looking at the ways off-screen practices shape regional identity has gained traction in television studies, with Victoria E. Johnson’s, Steven D. Classen’s, Yeidy Rivero’s, and Myles McNutt’s work particularly standing out. All take into account different elements, from policy to production to local politics, and each considers the ways those elements—operating beyond the frame of yet shaping what appears on a television screen—nuance and reshape our understandings of regional identity. Similarly, Broadcasting and Variety‘s coverage of newly developing satellite technology and its effect on Hawaiian identity reminds us that not only are there other regions still left to explore but also other off-screen practices to examine. It reminds us that to conceive of a homogenous televisual flow, of unhindered participation in a national television cultural forum, fails to consider the unique position Hawaii occupied during this particular historical moment and opens up the need for further investigations into the way region shapes understandings of technology, television, and culture, and vice versa.

Image Credits

1. Engineers Ready the Intelsat Satellite
2. Sat-Casting the 1968 Election Results, Broadcasting 77, no. 8 (1969): 32.
3. Paumalu Earth Station, Hawaii’s Satellite Access Ground Station

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Games Done Quick: Performing Live for Charity
Kaitie Hilburn / University of Texas at Austin


Games Done Quick Logo

Games Done Quick logo

The biannual event Awesome Games Done Quick (named Summer Games Done Quick during its July broadcast) brings over a hundred players together in a showcase of gaming mastery. Unlike traditional esports tournaments, this event remains largely uncommercial and fan driven, using the weeklong live broadcast to raise money for charity. The Twitch broadcast lasts for a week, with over one hundred games featured on the schedule.

Speedrunning as a form of expansive gameplay highlights the collaborative and social nature of gaming that often goes unnoticed outside of designed multiplayer games. An attempt to complete a game in the shortest amount of time, this style of play pushes a game to its limits without breaking the explicit rules of the game. Whereas most gamers play within the implicit rules of the game, paths and sequences intended by the developers, speedrunning explores the limits of the game’s explicit rules. This allows for sequence breaks and exploiting glitches naturally found in the game. Speedrunning also allows for players to experience a familiar game in a brand new way.

Gamers at AGDQ

Gamers gathered at a Games Done Quick Marathon

Speedrunning marks its origins in early PC games such as Doom (1993) and Quake (1996), as these games allowed players to record and save play throughs as “demo” files to share with others [ ((see History of Quake speed-running)) ] . These early demo files only loaded on other copies of the game, making them only shareable with fellow players, thus emphasizing the dual nature of the gamer as both performer and audience. Very soon after Quake’s release, gamers began finishing levels as fast as possible and sharing their feats with others to try and beat each other’s time.

These early demo sharing speedrunning communities eventually spread as a form of gameplay with advances in gameplay capture software and online streaming video opening up the possibility of showcasing games without recordable demo files. Sites such as Speed Demos Archives and Speed Runs Live provide resources and serve as community sites for further exploration and exploitation of hundreds of games. The rise of Let’s Plays, E-Sports, and other forms of online gaming videos certainly plays a role in the increased visibility of speedrunning as a gameplay style, though it originated well before online video, emphasizing the performative and social nature of gaming inherent to gameplay itself.

Speedrunning a video game might sound obsessive or isolating, but this overlooks the inherently performative and communal nature of this play style. Discovery and planning takes place within a community of dedicated players, functioning as a knowledge community with the shared goal of pushing a game to its limits. Speedrunning emphasizes high performance, working to add these additional player-made challenges in order to re-create the initial satisfaction of beating a game. However, arguably more of the satisfaction of these additional challenges comes from sharing and performing these runs for an audience.

Cornel Sandovss argues that conceptualizing fans as performers, rather than just passive recipients of texts, “offers an alternative explanation of the intense emotional pleasure and rewards of fandom” [ ((Sandvoss, Cornel, (2005). Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity. 48.))]. Indeed, conceptualizing the gamer as a performer helps us better understand not only the pleasure they take in this emergent style of gameplay for themselves, but also the pleasure in performing to an audience and creating a new narrative experience for them. Games Done Quick offers a chance for selected members of the community to perform to a wider audience.

This video features speedrunner Shennagans playing through Pokemon Green version with the goal of getting to the end credits as quickly as possible, drastically subverting the expectations of traditional Pokemon gameplay. We see a number of things happening on the screen beyond just gameplay. The gamers are framed in a somewhat traditional social gaming context: on a couch surrounded by fellow players. This, along with game information, time, and information about the event, create a hypermediated space for viewers that both harkens to a familiar gaming space and provides maximum coverage of the run itself. Though largely silent in this particular clip, gamers seated on the couch often provide additional insight, explaining tricks and strategies to the audience. Given the popularity of the event, speedrunners often try to make these runs more accessible by explaining the game as they play through.

The Twitch interface also includes a chat sidebar for viewers to comment and interact with the event. Twitch chat often functions under a mass crowd mentality, especially as more users participate in the chat, with memes, chants and inside jokes being the most common forms of expression.

Twitch chat screenshot

Screenshot of Twitch chat

The speedrunning community remains largely uncommercial, with only a select few runners making an income from Twitch streams. Games Done Quick functions on a volunteer basis, distinguishing itself from other large-scale e-sport events. The event itself serves as both philanthropic community as well as and showcase and celebration of the community.

Gamers have arguably always existed as both performers and audience, alternating between identities as needed. The speedrunning community probably exhibits this more than any other style of emergent play communities, as indicated by their extreme subversion of gameplay, their quick adoption of live streaming as a means of disseminating gameplay to an eager audience, and their commitment to community collaboration. With live streaming on the rise and the accessibility of video hosting, gamers have more means to reach an audience than ever. Games Done Quick utilizes the social bonds of gamers and existing networks of speedrunners to collaborate for an altruistic cause while showcasing their mastery over various games. Looking at speedrunning as an obsessive and isolated hobby overlooks the immense community effort that goes into this gameplay style.

Image Credits

1. Games Done Quick
2. Gamers at AGDQ
3. Twitch Chat

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Player Two Wins: Announce Your Game Second
Cameron Lindsey / University of Texas at Austin

CoD:IF vs BF1

The reveal trailers for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 premiered within 4 days of one another.

On May 2nd, 2016, the reveal trailer for the newest installment of the Call of Duty (CoD) series of video games, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, appeared on YouTube. Four days later, the Battlefield (BF) YouTube channel uploaded the reveal trailer for the newest installment in their franchise, Battlefield 1. Both trailers boasted a substantial number of views within the first few days, [ (( At the time this article was written, the CoD trailer had 29,480,442 views. The BF trailer had 41,499,713. ))] and video game and technology journalists quickly posted articles about the newest installations of these rival franchises; however, the tone of many of these articles did not praise both games equally. In fact, many of articles seemed primarily concerned with the record-breaking failure of CoD’s trailer and the overwhelming success of BF’s trailer. At the time this article was written, the BF trailer had over 1.9 million likes while the CoD trailer had just under 3 million dislikes. In fact, the reception was so diametrically opposed that Forbes claimed “‘Battlefield 1’ is the Most Liked Trailer in YouTube History, ‘Infinite Warfare’ the Most Disliked.” [ (( Tassi, Paul. “‘Battlefield 1’ Is The Most Liked Trailer In YouTube History, ‘Infinite Warfare’ The Most Disliked.” Forbes. 9 May 2016. Web Accessed 27 June 2016. ))]

Articles on the reception disparity draw a couple of conclusions. Some articles focus on the apparent failure of the CoD trailer and see this as the result of repetitiveness in the CoD franchise and its reliance upon the futuristic trend. [ (( Tassi, Paul. “”Battlefield 1′ Shows Why ‘Call of Duty’ Should Have Gone Back To World War II.” Forbes. 7 May 2016. Web. Accessed 27 June 2016.))] Other articles focus on the apparent success of BF’s trailer and praise the developer’s inventiveness and creativity in setting the game during WWI. [ (( Whitaker, Robert. “Why Battlefield 1 Could Be The Best WWI Game.” Rock, Paper, Shotgun. 17 May 2016. Web. Accesses 27 June 2016.))]

CoD:AW vs BF:Hardline

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Battlefield: Hardline featured similar pros and cons, but they were not met with the same reception.

These claims seem suspect, though. If inventiveness were the rationale for BF’s success or repetition the rationale for CoD’s failure, then why did the previous installments not follow this pattern of massive likes and dislikes? After all, BF: Hardline took a novel approach to the genre by setting the game in the “War on Crime,” and both CoD: Ghosts and CoD: Advanced Warfare continued the slow progression into futuristic shooters. And yet, both CoD games appeared in the list of the top ten best selling video games that year, unlike the BF installment. [ (( IGN Staff. “These Are the Best Selling Games of 2014 in the US.” IGN. 15 Jan 2015. Web. Accessed 27 June 2016.))] One possible rationale for the fanfare towards the BF trailer and the disdain towards the CoD trailer stems, not from anything specific about the games or trailers themselves, but simply their proximity and the order they were released. BF’s trailer may have received such fanfare because it premiered only four days after the CoD trailer, which had already received tepid, if not outright negative, reviews. [ (( Koch, Cameron. “The ‘Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ Reveal Trailer Has 340,000 Dislikes and Counting.” TechTimes. 5 May 2016. Web. Accessed 27 June 2016.))] In fact, in the video game industry, releasing second— being the respondent, not the pioneer—seems to be advantageous.

Take the announcement of the Sony’s Playstation 4 console at E3 in 2013 as another example. Only hours before the Sony press conference, Microsoft revealed their new console—the Xbox One. In their reveal, Microsoft announced the pricing, design, and features of their console. As such, when Sony later revealed their product, they were able to make obvious jabs at Microsoft. Sony highlighted their support of independent developers, their continued support of physical game discs, a lower price, and a lack of continual surveillance machinery. The response from journalists and bloggers was swift, noting the PS4’s many advantages over the Xbox One—many of which were first pointed out by Sony. [ (( Sam Byford. “PlayStation 4: Sony Outmaneuvers Microsoft on Price, Design, and Common Sense.” The Verge. 11 June 2013. Web. Accessed 27 June 2016.))] Based on reported sales, the PS4 has gone on to outsell the Xbox One by several million units and, while the aforementioned features likely played a significant role in consumers’ choice to buy one console over the other, the “better” choice was made more obvious by the contrast between the two companies’ reveals. Simply put, Sony benefited from revealing their console directly after Microsoft. Clearly, it is advantageous to reveal video game products—games, consoles, etc.— directly after your competitor.

PS4 versus Xbox One

The reveal of the PS4 right after the Xbox One mirrors the reveal of CoD and BF.

This may seem like an obvious claim. However, it seems particularly true in the video game industry. The same kind of reveal seems less likely in film, especially since film teasers or reveal trailers accompany films from the same studios. For example, it is unlikely that someone in a theater setting would see the trailer for a DC superhero movie directly after a trailer for the competing Marvel movie. The same can be said of television. However, gaming platforms and AAA video games are often revealed in direct competition through digital platforms or at major conventions where multiple publishers are likely to reveal their newest products.

Only after the release of these CoD and BF games and the accompanying sales reports can we draw any solid conclusions. It’s likely that these record-breaking likes and dislikes have little effect on actual sales. While the PS4 has outsold the Xbox One, the sales of the Microsoft console are not meager—still in the tens of millions. If both of the games succeeded, like both of the consoles have succeeded, it could represent a continued trend in video game marketing recognized by Zackariasson and Wilson in 2011. After observing and interviewing professionals involved in video game marketing they noted, “Unfortunately, we still see examples where developers use the Internet to distribute their games with the logic ‘if we put it out there, it will sell.’ This approach creates noise and is detrimental to good games as they may get lost in the noise”. [ (( Zackariasson, Peter, and Timothy Wilson. The Video Game Industry: Formation, Present State, and Future. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.))] Whether or not the possible success of both CoD and BF in future sales would cause other good games to get lost in the noise is a debate for another article, but such hypothetical success would certainly support the old adage that, “any press is good press.”

Image Credits:
1. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare versus Battlefield 1
2. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare versus Battlefield: Hardline
3. Playstation 4 versus Xbox One

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A Girl Divided: the Fragmented Shōjo in Perfect Blue
Dylan Levy / University of Texas at Austin

pop-idol Mima emerging from the computer world
Pop-idol Mima emerging from the computer world

In Satoshi Kon’s debut animated film, Perfect Blue (1997), 21 year-old Mima Kirigoe quits her career as a pop-idol singer with the group Cham to pursue her newfound dream as a respectable television actress. Yet Mima’s transition does not suit some of her fans, particularly an overly obsessed young male that goes by the alias Me-mania. Me-mania desperately wants to preserve Mima’s pop-idol image by blogging on a self-made website called “Mima’s Room” under the assumed identity of Mima’s pop-idol persona. As Me-mania discredits Mima the actress as the “true” version of Mima, and as Mima herself checks the website more and more, she begins losing sense of her identity and gradually descends into delirium; the more she checks the website, the more confused and fearful she becomes by the presence of a supposedly “other” Mima.

Part of why Perfect Blue is considered a horror film is because of its twist on the traditional shōjo (Japanese young girl) character. The film addresses and subverts traditions of the shōjo image, positioning the characters Mima and her alter-ego, pop-idol Mima, as fragmented entities of the shōjo. My argument is that, in the words of Thomas Lamarre, Perfect Blue “play[s] with genre” by “play[ing] with gender.” [ (( Lamarre, Thomas “From animation to anime: drawing movements and moving drawings.” Japan Forum 14.2 (2002): 351. Web. 23 Aug. 2010. ))] In this case, pop-idol Mima, with her innocent and playful disposition, complicates the shōjo image through her ghostly existence and her haunting and threatening of Mima.

As Meg Rickards astutely notes, Mima starts seeing her pop-idol self reflected in surfaces and screens [ (( Rickards, Meg. “Screening Interiority: Drawing on the Animated Dreams of Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.” IM: Interactive Media E-Journal of the National Academy of Screen & Sound. Issue 2 (2006): n. pag. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. ))], and in one seminal segment, Mima checks the website and meets her past pop-idol version of herself within the computer. Pop-idol Mima seemingly converses with Mima, scorning her for having done a rape scene for a television series and calls her “filthy” and “tarnished.” No longer confined to being Mima’s reflections upon a train window or the computer screen (when it is turned off), pop-idol Mima appears as an autonomous being with influence not just in the computer realm she (or it?) inhabits, but eventually upon Mima’s world. The film suggests that while pop-idol Mima “invades” Mima’s private space, Mima may also have transgressed into the world of the computer through her delirium. Thus Mima’s room and “Mima’s Room” may actually converge into a single, albeit mysterious, space. This convergence, however, is at odds with the Mima’s fragmented psyche and identity.

Pop-idol Mima now talking to Mima from within the computer
Pop-idol Mima now talking to Mima from within the computer

As they stare at each other, the differences between the two characters reveal the film’s warped engagement on the shōjo tradition. While the “classic shōjo,” as Susan Napier describes, may be “cute, innocent…and accommodating” [ (( Napier, Susan J. ‘“Excuse Me, Who are You?’: Performance, the Gaze, and the Female in the Works of Kon Satoshi. Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation. Ed. Steven T. Brown. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 34. Print. ))], the shōjo can also be vulnerable and seductive [ (( Ibid., 29. ))]. Perfect Blue presents two separate entities of the shōjo image: one “innocent” and “cute” in pop-idol Mima, and the other “vulnerable” and even “seductive” in Mima herself. Whereas pop-idol Mima exudes “cuteness” and “innocence” through her perfect posture, pink outfit—a high skirt, long pink leg stockings, and a headband with a bow tie—and her cheerful laugh, the real Mima is clearly vulnerable, afraid, and even ashamed by her torrid and, what Me-mania and other characters would arguably call “seductive,” rape scene she performed on TV. As Mima sits frightened and slightly turned away in a high angle shot over pop-idol Mima’s shoulder, she appears dwarfed in comparison to the pop-idol’s stature. Furthermore, the pop-idol’s skin literally shines brighter than Mima’s, not only because the pop-idol is “a ghost of [Mima’s] former self” [ (( Rickards, n. pag. ))], but also because she is seemingly “innocent” and pure. Ironically, while the film presents Mima’s room and “Mima’s Room” as convergent spaces, the film refuses to consolidate all the aspects of the shōjo, instead fragmenting it into two characters that are themselves pieces of Mima’s identity.

Pop-idol Mima’s shōjo qualities of innocence and cuteness may also endow her with the ability to float, as she demonstrates by skipping across vast lengths of space. The “floating” tendency is central for female animè characters in Hayao Miyazaki’s films, as Thomas Lamarre explains. According to Lamarre, Miyazaki’s women have a deep connection to nature that allows for “a certain potential for buoyancy in relation to natural forces, to the wind” [ (( Lamarre, 351. ))]. For Lamarre, Miyazaki’s women connote tenderness and innocence that allows them to seemingly float in space. Pop-idol Mima, however, subverts this tendency by the fact that she comes from a computer realm. She first demonstrates her ability to float as she skips backward across the room from the bed to the window curtains. As she does so, she smiles and even chuckles, clearly expressing her idyllic pop-idol and shōjo qualities. As she approaches the curtains, however, the film begins to further complicate pop-idol Mima’s relationship within the space of Mima’s room.

description of image

Window Scene: Pop-idol Mima, with no reflection, standing in front of what may or may not be a windowpane; pop-idol Mima standing on a ledge, clearly seen through what appears to be an open entry way; Mima runs into the windowpane and stares at her own reflection

When a shocked, frenzied Mima demandingly asks “Who in the world are you!?,” the film cuts to the pop-idol chuckling in front of the curtains, which mysteriously part. At this point, the film highlights the consequences of the convergence: just as pop-idol Mima and Mima are now in a shared “Mima’s room,” the boundary between privacy and publicity is no longer stable. Mima’s private life is on full display as symbolized by the opening of the curtains, from which anyone standing outside can see into her private space. Moreover, the breaking of the division between privacy and publicity is even enhanced by how the division between the balcony and the room is further complicated. As the film cuts to a long frontal shot of the pop-idol standing on top of the balcony ledge (smiling modestly and waving one hand, again maintaining her cheerful, “innocent” disposition), the barrier does not appear to have any drawn reflections (middle image). In fact, the film seems to illustrate the division as an opening, or a doorway. The film even confirms this when Mima attempts to run out to the balcony and, instead, hits the windowpane and briefly glances at her reflection (right image), emphasizing Mima as a character divided. The shot is the exact same as when pop-idol Mima opened the curtains and leapt through the window (left image), but unlike her, Mima is unable to pass through it. The film clearly depicts pop-idol Mima as a phantom who can freely pass through barriers, such as computer screens and windows. Moreover, after Mima opens the window and comes out to the ledge, the film cuts to a long shot of a panoramic background of streetlights. The background moves right to left, inducing a tracking movement as pop-idol Mima casually skips across the tops of each streetlight. Her “floating” quality is on full display, and as her movements slow down as she skips deeper into the panoramic space away from the camera, her whole figure fades into the background. Indeed, this pop-idol Mima is truly an apparition.

In fact, it is through pop-idol Mima’s ghostly qualities that Perfect Blue enters a territory of horror and subverts certain genre tendencies of shōjo in animè. As said earlier, Thomas Lamarre argues that “to play with gender, is to play with genre.” Arguably, thus, pop-idol Mima’s ostensible purity and “innocence” allow her to float and effortlessly skip across wide spaces. However, pop-idol Mima is the complete opposite of Miyazaki’s female characters that Lamarre describes. Because she seemingly comes from a computer space, her character actually has absolutely no “deep” connection to nature. Interestingly, then, pop-idol Mima somewhat complicates the “floating” characteristics of shōjo, making them no longer “cute” and whimsical, but rather ominous and frightening. As pop-idol Mima disappears in the panorama, for example, a close-up of Mima shows her with tears in her eyes, seemingly feeling ashamed, violated, and afraid. Pop-idol Mima’s abilities to float within the painted urban backgrounds and intrude upon Mima’s private space thus endow her with a terrifying, ghostly quality that subverts the tender qualities of “buoyancy” as evident in Miyazaki’s women and by larger extent the shōjo image.

Mima crying
Mima crying in fear and shame

Image Credits:

1. Pop-idol Mima emerging from the computer world (author’s screen grab)
2. Pop-idol Mima now talking to Mima from within the computer (author’s screen grab)
3. Window Scene (author’s screen grab)
4. Mima crying in fear and shame