Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"You Sound a Little Nervous": The Disappearing Body and Identity Crises in Jonathan Goldstein's "WireTap."

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"You Sound a Little Nervous": The Disappearing Body and Identity Crises in Jonathan Goldstein's "WireTap."

Article excerpt

In THE I96OS, MEDIA THEORIST MARSHALL MCLUHAN posited the impossibility of understanding a culture without understanding its technologies. He argued that "culture and technology are inseparable because the effect of any new technology is so far-reaching as to reshape the culture that embraces it" (Gordon 14). Half a century later, David Bell similarly observed that in order to understand how "people and digital technologies interact, how we live together [...] we need to look at the stories that are told about these ways of life; stories that have material, symbolic and experiential variants" (5). Given the recent ubiquity of online communications tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogging in urban Canadian culture, Jonathan Goldstein's CBC radio program WireTap may be one of the most culturally relevant records of the ways Canadians have struggled to adapt to digital technologies over the last decade. (1) If, as Bell suggests, we look at what WireTap tells us about how we experience and live with new media, we find a pattern of anxieties associated with the body's inability to master rapidly changing communications media and the potential threats they pose to the users' autonomy.

WireTap was a weekly half-hour radio drama launched in 2004 and concluded in 2015. (2) It starred creator Jonathan Goldstein and a supporting cast of Goldstein's real-world friends, family, and industry peers. Throughout its eleven seasons the program documented a litany of technological changes, most commonly through self-parody. Goldstein's character Jonathan (3) is overwhelmed by the increasing presence of digital technologies in his life that gradually render his corporeal, material body irrelevant. The ways in which the program looks at relationships between bodies and technology resonates with what Donna Haraway says of the "boundary between science fiction and social reality": that it is "an optical illusion" (8). The observations Haraway advances in her seminal work "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s" remain apt today, something that can likewise be said of McLuhan's cultural analysis of the 1960s. Haraway states, "we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs [...] a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation" (8). WireTap extrapolates the transformation Haraway identifies, examining the joining of material body and digital technologies in such a way as to both reflect and parody the potential outcomes of such hybridizing. Where Haraway positions the transition to cyborg bodies as apocalyptic, arguing that "the cyborg is also the apocalyptic telos of the 'West's' escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space" (9), WireTap demonstrates the digital end of this untying, presenting its main character Jonathan as a man in cyberspace.

Throughout this paper I examine several WireTap episodes that productively demonstrate a convergence of Haraway's feminist cyborg and McLuhan's theory of media in our increasingly digitized environment. The point of this examination is not cautionary; WireTap's parodic representation of new media eschews technological determinism in favour of innovative and imaginative cultural analysis. Nevertheless, the scenarios presented in WireTap suggest risks that digital media pose to the futurity of Haraway's feminist cyborg given the possibility of the digital media's wholesale erasure of the human body.

Technology and the body

Although most of the communications technologies examined in WireTap are easily recognizable by listeners, the plots in which characters struggle to navigate new media offer an unexpected look at the challenges of online identity construction and privacy--even when those technologies are fodder for parody. …

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