Yours or Ours? The L Word’s OurChart, Internet Social Networking, and Identity

Curator's Note

In the first season of Showtime’s L Word, Alice charts her lesbian friends’ sexual relationships. In season four, Alice produces an interactive web-based chart and Showtime advertises OurChart—an Internet social networking site “for lesbians” with a chart, personal profiles (including a listing for Leisha who plays Alice), and advertisements. The promo for OurChart depicts Alice pressed against glass as if she is about to shift from one “side” of the monitor to the other and envisions the endeavor as the “first time TV and the Internet have […] come together and acted as a launching pad for a social networking site.” This is not new. However, this crossover and Alice’s/Leisha’s liminal position mess with distinctions between program/audience, actor/participant, and mass-produced/personalized. This is continued in the L Word’s Second Life setting—an Internet graphical “chat”—where individuals’ avatars can occupy the position of actors.

OurChart.com claims that “You’re on it” but doesn’t explain who is constituted by this liveness, direct address, and personalization. Lesbians are acknowledged, rendered as active subjects and erotic bodies, and sold to corporate advertisers and male users. Without qualifiers, OurChart’s “you” and “our” refer to anyone and everyone. “Male” is a profile option but sexuality has to be produced by the individual. For instance, people use the “Quality I most like in a woman” profile question to articulate essentialist ideas and male heterosexuality and homosexuality. Some men articulate their position with comments like “I don’t like women.” With such design and desires, OurChart addresses women but it is not ours.

Comments

This reminds me of the

This reminds me of the events that unfolded over the telephone chatlines and internet chatrooms catering to gay men living in Ottawa a while back. Men were meeting companions online and over the phone, setting up dates to meet in-person offline, and then getting beaten and even killed. I don’t want to instigate some moral panic here (it seems that all warnings about the dangers of gay sex need that caveat). After all, the slippage between avatar and body leaves great room for pleasures of all kinds. But participation in the decorporeal is fraught with its own kinds of risks that need to be assessed, managed, and taken into account in seeking out various online pleasures….

Michele White's picture

Thanks for the comment about

Thanks for the comment about OurChart and safety issues. I agree that the pleasures of representing in different Internet settings need to be related to the kinds of personal information we are providing and the ways we develop friends, relationships, and profile lists of friends in Internet settings.

It is interesting to note that the promo for OurChart indicates that it will provide a safe setting but that the very design of the site encourages individuals to provide information that makes them identifiable and available to a variety of security risks. I taught a class on Internet social networking this semester and one of the things that we considered is the ways Internet social networking sites encourage users to misread the setting as closed and safe. People also tend to use similar aliases and pictures on varied sites, which can lead to the production of a detailed data image and allow individuals to identify people even when they do not provide full information on any site. OurChart has spaces in its profile form for such identifiers as first name, last name, location, and zip code without indicating to users the potential risks in providing all of this information. Some people do follow the implicit directions and provide the information. Given the commercial aspects of OurChart, we might also consider how this material is being used for marketing purposes and further produces particular kinds of individuals.

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