Terms and Conditions
May 1, 2020
This paper explores and examines the problems that arise in our post-modern digital society. Just as I have checked the box and agreed to the terms and conditions without reading them, I have also been unknowingly agreeing to certain terms and conditions brought on by our patriarchal society. This blind agreement and acceptance of inequality and subordination is a result of many societal influences, but is highlighted in the hyperreality of social media and promoted by the excessive access advertisers have on female consumers.
Whenever we use the internet, we are inevitably required to sign up or sign in, in order to do anything other than merely browse. Even then, when viewing an online retailer, a window will pop up and exclaim that if you enter your email address now, you can unlock a great bargain on your purchase. If you want to order takeout, get a taxi, pay your bills, or count your calories, you need to make an account. Most of these apps and services have user agreements or terms and conditions that are always skipped over. They can actually be a nuisance, forcing users to go through an extra step and click “Agree,” when we could be doing what we were going to do even faster. The modern consumer has been continuously signing digital contracts with no intention to read them. Clicking the “agree to terms'' button or checking “I have read the terms and conditions,” box, is probably the most widespread lie among people today. This raises the question, what other terms and conditions have I unknowingly agreed to and accepted?
Process, Materials, & Methods
Reaching its climax during the COVID-19 pandemic, our world is becoming increasingly digital. During this time, if you are still employed and nonessential, you are doing everything from home. Zoom meetings, livestream workouts, and virtual happy hours are only a few examples of how many aspects of our daily lives are viewed through screens. Quite literally, a screen allows for the sifting of information. Your smart screen displays only what it believes is appropriate for you. Since reading Roland Barthes’ Camera Obscura to the explosion of “fake news,” I have become more and more aware that not everything seen on my screens can be considered truth. However, I believe what we are all seeing is so counterfeit, I would describe it as a highly curated mirage, individualized for each user. Somehow, my feed has turned into a plethora of trendy product advertisements and female bodies. Has the Instagram algorithm uncovered my underlying insecurities and deemed this content appropriate? Is that why they have given cosmetic advertisers complete access to me all hours of the day? This series, Terms and Conditions, explores the uncomfortable, unequal postmodern world that is impassioned by social media.
The series is entirely digital to represent how most people receive information. The use of collage displays the fragments of media imagery our brains absorb as we use the internet. Through screenshots, sharing, editing and reposts, the same content is seen over and again, the original user a mysterious unknown. Nothing is original. What Roland Barthes describes in his essay, The Death of the Author, is completely evident on sites like Twitter or Instagram. Barthes writes:
“The scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt: life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred.” (Barthes 3-4.)
“Postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirls of empty signals.”
With Barthes idea in mind that there is no magical process of the creator, I have chosen to collect imagery from my own media accounts. I also took inspiration from Richard Hamilton’s famous collage, “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing.” Hamilton wanted to portray the current society when he created this work of art in 1956 by using images from an American magazine (Tate, 2004.) Similarly to browsing social media sites, flipping through a magazine is a mixture of product advertisements and female bodies. Additionally, just as Richard Hamilton created a list of categories he wanted to include in the collage, I used my list of ad interests from my social media accounts to assist in data mining, (Tate, 2004.) By doing this, the work should appear oddly familiar to the viewer.
I also chose to digitally collage and manipulate these images to further expose the falsities that appear in the media. Every image we see has been edited in some way. Photo sharing apps and iPhone cameras make it easier than ever for someone to slim their thighs in photographs, add filters, and smooth skin. Most users attempt to portray an overconfident, pseudo wealthy persona that I have tried to capture in these collages by using ideas of semiotics. By taking the color schemes directly from advertisements, the viewer will get a similar sense while viewing these. Additionally, the use of mostly professionally lit photographs adds to this feeling of facade and plasticity.
Further, a new kind of celebrity has emerged from social media known as the Influencer. An Influencer is an advertiser in the form of a sexy body. In order to become a female social media influencer, it is required to post pictures of your body and face daily. Even most ordinary users without a large following are promoting a false life on social media. Walter Benjamin would describe this as “an artificial build up of the ‘personality’...preserves not the unique aura of the person but the ‘spell of the personality,’ and the phony spell of a commodity,” (Benjamin, 2010: 31.) Because of this, younger females create two separate accounts, one for the public, containing overly sexual, highly staged photographs of themselves, and one for their close friends where they will post more honestly about their everyday life.
Everyone on social media is using the male gaze to gain followers, attention, likes and even money. Claire Raymond of Oxford University states that “the pleasure of the male gaze is shared by all genders and sexualities even as its expression in camera-produced media constructs and continues the oppression of women. ” Analyzing social media from a feminist perspective is challenging. I do not criticize women for showing their bodies, however, the promotion of the male gaze is creating an insecure female user that is the perfect target for advertisers.
Due to this, the photographs of women I encounter on my timeline and use in my work are as interchangeable as Kylie Jenner or Playboy playmates. The “selfies” being posted by women are so overly sexualized, they are “simply objects for erotic absorption,” (Raymond, 2020.) Porn is the ultimate expression of the white male gaze and the mantra of the influencer is the same as advertisers: sex sells. However, because of the strict nudity guidelines on the sites, individuals have to be careful and try to get as close as possible without being explicit, which I have chosen to represent in my work as well.
The pressure arises, even for me, to post sexier, skimpier pictures on my account. This is highly disturbing as someone who is noticeably aware of the simulacra of social media. Similarly, users are unable to connect with friends without being bombarded with product advertisement after product advertisement. And it works too well. Again I experience a pressure to purchase through the invasion of targeted advertisements. The endorsements all reflect how to achieve the look of ancient patriarchal beauty ideals.
To juxtapose the overt found imagery and subvert the male gaze, I included some photographs of myself that were taken without the intention of ever being shared. For example, sweaty, mostly naked photographs taken in my bathroom to keep track of weight loss or a picture of my swollen eyes to remind myself how many times I have cried over a toxic relationship. In my data mining, these personal images are the byproduct of social media use. By including these extremely private, amateur images, I am rejecting the male gaze by showing what women look like when they are not in the public eye.
Lastly, the patterns that are created are to visualize the “ludic loop” of doing the same thing over and over again, for example, checking different social media accounts, because every once in a while we receive a small reward (Tinworth, 2017.) By continuing the ludic loop, we are perpetuating the patriarchal system and continuing the cycle.
This work references Walter Benjamin’s essay, Art in the Age of the Mechanical Reproduction, because it explores the problems with modernity. Benjamin describes a world of mass media, mass commodification, and mass culture which is all too relevant today. He declares that the essential task of the moment is to make sense of modernity. I am creating this work as an attempt to make sense of our postmodernity which is complete access to the information, social media culture, ad algorithms, invasion of privacy, etc. Additionally, Benjamin writes that reproductions repress the aura, or the realness of an object that can be felt by being near it, (Benjamin, 2010.) We can never be physically close to anything we absorb through screens.
Additionally, I describe social media as a “hyperreality,” a term coined by Jean Baudrillard. This means that social media and the internet provide users with experiences that are more intense and entertaining than everyday life. Because of the excitement and the small rewards, such as likes, the realm of the hyperreal can control our behaviors, for example, the entire country watching Tiger King, (Baudrillard, 1988.)
Baudrillard also writes about the “ecstasy of communication,” which accurately describes the unlimited access to information and images. He explains, “the absolute proximity to and total instantaneousness with things, this overexposure to the transparency of the world …. He becomes a pure screen, a pure absorption and resorption surface of the influent networks.” (Baudrillard, 2012: 30.) Basically, a user in a postmodern world becomes entirely influenced by the hyperreal world of social media, therefore perpetuating the cycle of the male gaze and patriarchal beauty ideals.
“The power to gaze at someone extends from the social permission to touch them. Whether they want this touch or not,” (Raymond, 2020.) By promoting and perpetuating the male gaze on social media, women are promoting and perpetuating the male gaze in real life. While creating this series, I have examined my own personal experiences and become glaringly aware of situations I have been in and accepted, inspiring me to write my own terms and conditions. I have also spoken to many women who all continuously recount real life situations of discomfort, anxiety and invasiveness similar to those feelings promoted through social media. It’s easy to be under the impression that times have changed, however, the events described below are true stories that occurred over the past few years, not decades ago.
I acknowledge that I will be persuaded from a young age to care a great deal about my appearance. I understand that hair is very important. I will wear makeup every single day, whenever I leave the house and if anyone comes over. I understand that most of my life will be spent trying to lose weight. I know that by checking this box, I accept that my manager will grab my ass and I will get unwanted massages at the auto body shop. I know that I will often feel small, disrespected and unheard. I know that I will always be asked to do the “bitchwork” because I am afraid to say no. I will do more work for less money. I will cry if I ever have to talk to my boss about my performance. I will never ask for a raise. I acknowledge that my body will punish me every month that I am not pregnant and if one day I decide to have a baby it will be mostly my responsibility to raise her. I also understand that I will tell her that she can grow up to be anything she wants, even if I do not believe that is true. I accept that women are beautiful and men are powerful.
I agree to the conditions.
I agree to the terms.
Quotes from my conversations with women
“The owner used to watch porn on the TV in the basement.”
“A man in the kitchen would follow me out to my car every night.”
“I left because the owner slapped my ass.”
“My AP teacher has made me uncomfortable but he gives me good reviews. What are you gonna do?”
“My professor messaged me last night with a photo and told me he missed me.”
:My boss used to ask me how many people I’ve slept with and brag that he had slept with more than 200 women.”
“My boss wanted to take me to Italy.”
“He asked me to shoot steroids into his ass on multiple occasions.”
“He would text me all the time about banging my coworkers”
“I am usually the only girl in all of my classes.”
“When I used to play video games with my friends, the second I got online all the guys playing would ask me what size my boobs were.”
“When I met my ex boyfriend's family for the first time, his grandpa looked at my boobs and said, ‘let him play with those.’”
“My math teacher in high school asked my friend if she wore anything under her skirt and if she likes watching the girls change.”
“He locked me in the bathroom.”
“Some guy locked me in his room and I had to kick the door out.”
“I don't remember sleeping with him but I assumed I just got too drunk. Now he’s in jail for rape.”
Barthes, Roland. The Death of the Author. Routledge, 2018.
Baudrillard, Jean. The Ecstasy of Communication. Semiotext(e), 2012.
Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Prism Key Press, 2010.
‘Just What Was It That Made Yesterday’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (upgrade)’; Richard Hamilton, 2004. Tate- https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-just-what-was-it-that-made-yesterdays-homes-so-different-so-appealing-upgrade-p20271
Raymond, Claire. Womens Portrait Photography and the Male Gaze. Oxford University Press Webinar, April 2, 2020.
Tinworth, Adam. “A Phrase You Should Know ‘Ludic Loop.’” NEXT Conference, 9 April 2017. https://nextconf.eu/2017/03/ludic-loop/#gref