Master Thesis, Women's Studies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 1999.
© Birgit Pretzsch www.cyberpink.de
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A Postmodern Analysis of Lara Croft: Body, Identity, Reality
'Cyber-Goddess', 'Icon of the Nineties', 'Virtual World Star', Lara Croft has captured the public imagination and the global market in ways that no other virtual character has. She is everywhere - in the original CD ROM computer game, in the merchandise industry, in TV advertisements, in music videos and - soon - in a motion picture, and she is talked about everywhere - from serious newspapers to popular magazines to the internet.
In her genre she is revolutionary - heroines, who really solve problems without the aid of a hero - are practically non-existent in the world of computer games (Louis 1998). And no other computer game protagonists have managed to leap out of the subcultural world of gamers and aquire a degree of popular recognition - and market value - that is usually reserved for celebrities of film or music.
With her impressive body, sqeezed into tight fitting outfits Lara can hardly be overlooked. Or ignored. Opinions diverge whether she is a liberating feminist icon or a reactionary object of male desire. As a feminist, my feelings towards her were ambivalent and I felt the desire to look more closely at what she is. How is she constructed, how is she represented, how is she talked and written about? What discourses are drawn upon in her construction, what are the meanings she carries, what are the resulting consequences for a feminist analysis? Is the decision whether she is pro- or anti-feminism really that easy, and is that actually a valid question?
To explore these questions I will draw on a theoretical background that is informed by postmodernism and feminism. On the one hand because I believe feminism can greatly profit from many postmodern ideas, on the other because I find a postmodern analysis of Lara particularly potent. A feminist standpoint is the underlying basis of all my analyses, its thoughts, theories and insights flow into the whole concept of this work. By feminism I understand, to use Claudia Springer's words a philosophy that seeks to end patriarchy and institute in its place an egalitarian system. Feminism seeks to release all people, men and women, from narrowly defined ideas about gender (Springer 1996, 15)1. In order to achieve this aim, it is necessary to take a close, theoretically informed look at how these ideas of gender come into existence, are perpetuated, are protected from deconstruction and what ends they serve. One particular area in which ideas about gender are transported, reinforced and/or subverted is that of representation.
Representation is a particularly interesting area for feminist research and analysis because it frequently reinforces the notion of the male subject and the female object. The prohibition [what may or may not be represented] bears primarily on woman as the subject, and rarely as the object of representation, for there is certainly no shortage of images of women (Owens 1985, 59, emphasis in original). But images do more than just posit one gender as object and one as subject, they perpetuate meaning and power. Discourses and images are vital in the construction and perpetuation of social and symbolic order (Bertens 1995) an area that Michel Foucault has theorised in great detail.
He interrogates the power that is inherent in the discourses that surround us - and that is continually reproduced by them - and interrogates the institutions that support those discourses and are, in turn, supported by them.
Bertens 1995, 8
Discourses are all around us they mediate all areas of life and they control the production of knowledge: they put a limit on what is sayable at any one time: they define what counts as 'legitimate' or 'illegitimate' statements (Ward 1997, 129). Representations are part of these discourses and therefore part of the power structure to be analysed.
With Foucault I have already introduced postmodern thought into my dissertation. But there are further reasons why I believe it is particularly fruitful to brong postmodern ideas into the process of analysing representations and images - especially from the realm of popular culture. First, postmodern theories repeatedly and explicitly deal with representations and their meanings. At the basis of a postmodern analysis of images lies the assertion that a symbol can actually represent reality in an unmediated and direct way. Following this thought is the insight, that representation is closely linked to ideology:
If representations do not and cannot represent the world, then inevitably all representations are political, in that they cannot help reflecting the ideological frameworks within which they arise. The end of representation thus leads us back to the question of authorship, to such political questions as 'Whose history gets told? In whose name? To what purpose?'
Bertens 1995, 7
Second, postmodernism offers insightful new ways to look at popular culture, which had been either mocked or looked down upon by modern theorists. Mass and popular culture are no longer seen as 'low art' opposed to the academic 'high art' of painting, sculpture etc. The distinction between high and low has eroded and left the tradtional boundaries meaningless (Jameson 1985). As Umberto Eco puts it:
Once upon a time there were the mass media, and they were wicked, of course, and there was a guilty party. Then there were the virtuous voices that accused the criminals. And art (ah, what luck!) offered alternatives, for those who were not the prisoners of the mass media. Well, it's all over. We have to start again from the beginning, asking one another what's going on.
Eco in Ward 1997, 30
This embracing of mass culture offers the possibilities to look at phenomena of popular culture from a whole new angle. Not judgement is the central aim but an understanding of the workings of these phenomena and their meanings in our society.
Third, the new media are of particular interest from a postmodern perspective - due to the fascination with mass culture. Especially questions of reality and the construction of identity in relation to the influences of the second media age are of central concern:
In the 20th century, electronic media are supporting an equally profound transformation of identity [as the emergence of a urban merchant culture in the midst of feudal society did in the Middle Ages]. Telephone, radio, film, television, the computer and now their inegration as 'multimedia' reconfigure words, sounds and images so as to cultivate new configurations of individuality.
Poster 1995, 80
In the first part of my disseration I introduce the reader the phenomenon 'Lara Croft'. The first chapter gives a general overview over the game Tomb Raider and its protagonist Lara Croft. I place her within the context of other heroic women and of other virtual persons, since she seems to me to be related to both groups while at the same time being something special in each group.
The second chapter is dedicated to a detailed presentation of many of Lara's different manifestations. Since Lara is to the very largest part a visual phenomenon I found it particularly important to include many visuals so that the reader will get a reasonably good idea of the type of representation used in relation to Lara. My aim is to show what discourses are used to construct her, what traditions are drawn upon, which elements are repeated and what aspects are completely left out. I will look at one aspect in her representation, namely the hyper-sexualisation, in more detail since it is the most striking feature of Lara.
The second part of my dissertation will be more theoretically informed, analysing the presented material from the standpoint outlined above. Having identified the issues of identity, the body and reality as central postmodern concerns which pertain strongly to Lara I analyse her representations in relation to these points.
The question of identity features strongly in postmodern thought since it has broken with the modern notion of a unified, stable and essentially timeless self. Instead we encounter fragmentation, fluidity and constant performance of identity. I take a close look at how Lara's identity is constructed and what meanings both this identity and the manner of construction carry.
The next question is that of the body. Here I rely strongly on Foucault who
has argued that the rise of parliamentary institutions and of new conceptions of political liberty was accompanied by a darker countermovement, by the emergence of a new and unprecedented discipline directed against the body.
Bartky 1997, 129
Several feminist theorists have taken Foucault's thoughts and applied them to a feminist standpoint. Particularly the control of the female body via a normative gaze has been the focus of many analyses. In our visual culture women are bombarded with normative images of femininity. In aiming to fulfill these norms, women's bodies turn into docile, controlled bodies. Since image are particularly common means of perpetuating feminine norms I analyse the representations of Lara in relation to this accusation. But I also pay attention to her subversive potential.
In the third part of this chapter I explore the meanings of reality and virtual reality in relation to Lara. What changes are occuring and how are they mirrored in the representations? What fears and attempts to deal with these fears can be discerned in the way the images are constructed? The new technologies bring about many changes and in their wake many boundaries are being blurred - something feminists (among others) have always aimed for and hoped for. For that reasons, some feminists see great potential in these changes, particularly in virutal reality and cyberculture. To explore all the implications of this would be a dissertation of its own but I touch upon a few points that I find particularly striking and promising.
Note: This dissertation is accompanied by a CD ROM that contains all the videos discussed (the advertisements and the music video). To run the CD you need Windows 95 or higher and Internet Explorer or Netscape. Put the CD in your CD ROM drive and double-click on the index file. In case some videos do not work in your Explorer or Netscape, go back to your CD ROM drive window, double-click on the folder 'Videos' and select the video there.
1. Tomb Raider and Lara Croft
The computer game Tomb Raider first appeared in November 1996 and was subsequently followed by Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider III in one year intervals; Tomb Raider IV is due to be released in November 1999 (PSZ 9/99, 17). All Tomb Raider games are produced by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive, both of which are British companies.
From the start the Tomb Raider games were a big success, the original Tomb Raider having sold over 3 million copies before Tomb Raider II was released (Bradley, 1997b, 24). Three factors are seen to have been influential in the success: the gameplay as such, the clever marketing and the curvaceous protagonist Lara Croft (DS, 18.10.1998, http://www.stern.de). In the development of Tomb Raider Core Design introduced several innovations, on the technical side, in design and in the construction of the game. And of course by creating a very sexy female heroine, thereby being the first to focus a game completely on a heroine instead of having - at most - the occasional female character (LCM 1/99, 24).
The target audience of the Tomb Raider games, according to Susie Hamilton, PR Mananger for Core, would usually be males between 15 and 26 years of age (BRADLEY, 1997a, 14). This group is considered to be the general target audience for computer games, the average player being about 23 years old. As the games became more complex and challenging over the last few years, adults became more involved (or rather stayed involved, since this is now the generation that grew up with video games). Game playing has moved beyond its image of being a retreat from reality for asocial teenagers and introvert youngsters. Instead it now ranks with movies, sport and music as the key leisure pursuit of the under-30 population (SHAKESPEARE 1997).
Tomb Raider is a 3D adventure/action game where the player moves the protagonist Lara Croft through several different levels and locations (eg the Chinese Wall, Venice, Tibet, Peru etc.) usually trying to find one (or more) particular mythological artefact(s) at the end of each quest. On the way the player - as Lara - has to fight attacking animals and evil contestants, solve puzzles, search for items needed along the way and generally manage to get through the trap-ridden levels alive. Tomb Raider II and III focus more on offering many different exotic locations and extensive combat scenes, whereas the new Tomb Raider IV is said to go back to the original Tomb Raider's virtues of atmosphere, smaller locations and a stronger emphasis on tricky puzzles. As opposed to earlier 2D computer games, where the action was viewed either from above or from the side - but always as if on a flat surface - the whole design is now three-dimensional, giving the environment real depth and atmosphere. The possibilities that new hard- and software opened up in the field of graphics and design, also made the protagonist of the play a much more interesting and central issue. To further enhance these possibilities, Core introduced a cinematic point of view: the viewpoint of the player is that of a camera which follows Lara in a short distance, therefore looking at her from behind at all times.1
In most other 3D games, the player looks out of the eyes of the protagonist, only seeing his2 weapon on the bottom of the screen or the hand holding it at the most. In these games the player is more apt to identify with the protagonist whereas in Tomb Raider it is more of a joint adventure between the player and Lara, the player being encouraged to identify with her situation as you would with an action hero on the big screen (BRADLEY1997a 15; emphasis mine). Feelings of responsibility for Lara are evoked and in case of her death the player does not feel that he has died but rather that he let Lara die (LCM 1/99, 112-113).
Lara Croft started out as the central character of Tomb Raider but, as Susie Hamilton states
When the press reviewed the finished game and saw how Lara interacted with the environment, they became more and more interested in her and began to treat her like a real person! We found ourselves swamped with interview questions ... we also began to get rather a lot of fan-mail and requests. ... Once we realised that so many people out there were interested in Lara, we quickly had to put together a 'personality' for her.
Toby Gard originally 'invented' Lara and his initial character description included: Lara likes to work with underprivileged children and the mentally disabled. She has a degree in needlework and likes to travel (http://www.gamespot.co.uk/pc.gamespot/action/tombraid2 /interview2/04.html). This concept has been slighlty altered along the way and her biography is much more detailed now as well. It contains information on her vital statistics, her education, hobbies, favourites and background. The following information has been taken from the LCM (1/99, 84) and Lara's Book (Coupland1998, 29-31).
Name Lara Croft
Date of Birth 14.02.1968
Birthplace Wimbledon, Surrey, England
Marital Status Single
Blood Group AB negative
Height 180 cm (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 59,7 kg (9st 4)
Measurements 86D-61-89 (34D-24-35)
Hair Colour Brunette
Private tutoring (ages 3-11), Wimbledon High School for Girls (11-16) Gordounstoun Boarding School (16-18), Swiss Finishing School (18-21).3
Lara prefers non-team sports, such as rock climbing, extreme skiing and marksmanship.
Film Deliverance, Aguirre, Wrath of God
Music U2, Nine Inch Nails
Food Beans on Toast
Transportation Norton Streetfighter Motorbike
Cities Atlantis, Venice, London
Weapons Uzis (one for each hand), M-16 Fully Automatic Assault Rifle
As daughter of Lord Henshingly Croft, she was born into the secure world of aristocracy. During her time in Gordounstoun she discovered the Scottish mountains and freeclimbing. She learned extreme-skiing during her time in Switzerland. On the way home from a school trip to the Himalaya the plane crashed, leaving her as the sole survivor. Forced to survive by her wits for more than two weeks, she returned to civilisation a changed woman. No longer willing to live a life of luxury - and unwilling to comply with her parents' desire that she marry the Earl of Farringdon - Lara instead opted for a life of adventure and intrigue which she is still leading today. Since her parents have disowned her she lives by writing books about her adventures.4
This curriculum vitae that was developed for Lara constructs her in a very specific way. She is upper class, highly educated, extremely fit physically and she has chosen her own way of life. All of these characteristics rate very highly in our society and most people find these features worth striving for. Lara is modern, she is not tied to old-fashioned traditions and she is the typical example of individuality brought to its peak: she does what she wants, she is completely her own person with no obligations to anyone else. But as a consequence she is also a loner with no social network.
The key attributes that are generally associated with Lara are 'powerful', 'sexy', 'agile', 'charming', 'virtual', 'no-nonsense', 'independent', 'athletic', 'adventurous' and 'feminine' (fig. 3). She is physically fit and able to perform quite impressive athletic tasks. She is strong, intelligent and courageous. She has a no-nonsense attitude and does the job that needs to be done, using her skills, determination and quite an impressive array of weapons. But while displaying these traditionally more male characteristics - reminiscent of Indiana Jones and James Bond in particular - she still retains a very 'feminine' side: she is charming, cultivated, sexy and beautiful. Lara represents independence and strength of conviction in a really female way - although she's tough, there's nothing at all butch about her. She still retains her feminine qualities (BRADLEY 1997b, 25).
But Lara is not the first action figure to combine a sexy body and 'feminine' qualities with fighting power. Her earliest predecessor is probably Emma Peel (fig. 4), partner of John Steed in the popular English TV series 'Avengers' of the mid 1960's, who wore tight black leather clothing and was an expert in Martial Arts. Though she was quite a novelty in her own time she does seem a bit tame and meek from today's perspective. Lara's other female 'relatives' seem to emerge mainly out of the area of comics: Wonder Woman (fig. 5) and Superwoman, two all-American, very sexy women that save mankind; Barb Wire (fig. 6), a post-apocalyptic no-nonsense power woman who combines the sexiness of a vamp with the deadliness and scrupulousness of a professional killer - the comic was later made into a film, staring Pamela Anderson. A more distant relative is the Australian comic figure 'Tank Girl' (fig. 7), whose representation differs slightly from the others. The focus is comparatively less on her body and more on the fact of her being a punk and outlaw. She is a renegade who has stolen a military tank and who lives in a post-nuclear war world. Her boyfriend is a mutant kangaroo and she enjoys violence to the point of cruelty. The graphic designers at Core were reportedly inspired by her when they first started to design Lara (LCM, 1/99, 8).
While her curvaceous figure is Lara's most obvious characteristic, Eidos claims that it is more her personality that makes her so popular and that it is Tomb Raider's gameplay that merits the success of the trilogy. As Troy Horton, the producer of Tomb Raider puts it: You can't deny she's sexy, but the gameplay's there too and that's important. Ultimately that's why people play. ... Lara's character is really just a bonus. She's been given a tangible personality and the way in which the player can actually control her really enables him or her to become more involved. (BRADLEY 1997b, 25).
But Lara's popularity cannot be explained with her bodily features alone. One of the reasons why she fascinates so many people is that she is not real but only exists in virtual reality - an unexplored realm with seemingly infinite possibilites. She is one of the first computer animated characters outside of films (such as Toy Story) and she has been given a complete 'real life' personality. By letting her give interviews, printing autograph cards for the fans and hiring a real life body-double to represent Lara at different occasions (such as computer fairs), Eidos has been quick and thorough to comply with the fans' desire to make Lara as real as possible.
But Lara is not the first virtual star. Almost exactly at the same time as the first Tomb Raider was released, the virtual idol Kyoko Date (pronounced DAH-tey, fig. 9 & 10) released a single and a video in Japan. The Japanese company for graphic and media design and animation Visual Science Laboratory (VSL) and the talent agency HoriPro, one of the biggest star agencies in Japan, jointly created Kyoko and developed her into a teen idol exactly as they would have done with a real person. Her single immediately hit the top ten but her career as popsinger stagnated when the record Love Communications only sold 50.000 copies; which according to Dr. Kenji Yoshida, one of the founders of VSL, was mainly due to wrong marketing (eg most record stores did not stock the CD). Kyoko still dominated the global media landscape for a couple of months and she is definitely worldwide the first digital popstar of the music scene. But even though her single was not as successful as the producers had hoped she still achieved huge popularity, especially among the young male population of Japan, and by now 95% of the Japanese population recognise her.
Kyoko's biography is at least as detailed as Lara's (going so far as to tell us her favourite flower and her footsize) and she herself is rendered in far more detail, attempting to look as much as possible like a real human.5 But, as far as personality is concerned Kyoko differs greatly from Lara. Being almost ten years younger she is constructed precisely to be a teenager. She still lives with her parents, goes to school and does nothing more extraordinary than collect sneakers. She could generally be described as very 'tame' and average. Her favourite singer is Mariah Carey and her aspiration is to be a private detective (like in old American TV shows). She does not seem to be represented mainly in overtly sexual tones but more as the sweet girl next door. She has recently been bought by Microsoft who plan to export her to the rest of the world.6 But as one author in the German Lara Croft Magazin (1/99, 114) states: Success has not yet been granted to her in the Western hemisphere which may be due to the fact that her songs are too thin and her bust is much too small. The warbling cyber-teenie does not seem to radiate tangible eroticism, as far as Western standards are concerned (my translation).
But VSL has reacted and created a successor for Kyoko: Busena7 (fig. 11). She is aimed at an international audience and therefore has a face that is supposed to be neither Asian nor American or European. She is beautiful, cheeky and sexy and a special new feature is that she is more interactive.8 VSL President Kato: Whoever does not find Busena sexy enough shall be able to construct her to their own taste. She has a band of her name, which also features Peter, a forty year old guitarist and an alien. VSL considers this to be the right mixture to attract teenagers. They were due to release a single and a video towards the end of last year but either that never happened or it was not a big international success. (http://sueddeutsche.de/wissenschaft/virtu/virtu3.htm)
But virtual personalities are not a Japanese phenomenon alone. One German TV channel has introduced the so-called WebFace (fig. 12) to guide internet users through their website (http://www.zdf.de). This woman - who has yet to be named - is supposed to make a personal contact with the user possible; not only does she talk and sing but she is also able to react emotionally and answer questions concerning the website correctly. Once downloaded she stays on the user's computer, providing herself with the newest information whenever the user is online and reminding him of the start of his favourite TV programme. (http://www.spiegel.de/netzweltarc/theme/webface.html)
Other examples include AIMEE (fig. 13) developed by the German software company Vierte Art (http://www.vierte-art.com) who has been a VIP guest at a Chanel party in Hamburg - talking to the guests from a big screen - and who hosted an evening show on arte, a German-French TV channel on May 12. She is 20, beautiful, mysterious, unreachable and has 'a will of her own'. And TYRA (fig. 14), a black singer, designed by the same company, who is due to make her appearance soon. (http://electrolounge.berliner-morgenpost.de/bm/electrolounge/archiv/themen/199808/themen/ 1998081600.html)
There is one male character, E-CYAS (Endo-Cybernetic Artificial Star, fig. 15 & 16), designed by the I-D Group in Stuttgart, Germany, one of the most successful multi-media agencies in Europe (http://www.taz.de/tpl/1998/12/11/ a0190.taz/oldText.html). He has given interviews and released a CD with the telling title 'Are You Real?'. E-CYAS differs from the other virtual persons in that his makers pretend that is he is a real virtual person, living in the internet. His biography explains that 23 students had been invited to a computer laboratory, all of them with different talents and lifestyles. These people represented the knowledge, culture and lifestyle of the whole generation. The brains of these students were then read with neural scanners, fed into a supercomputer and combined to a 'meta-personality'. To everybody's surprise this meta-personality developed a consciousness and began to communicate with its makers. E-CYAS was 'born'. (http://www.e-cyas.de)
But E-CYAS' main reason for existence is not a possible career as singer. Rather he is one of the newly developing 'software agents'. It is their assignment to bridge the gap between the consumer and the objects of his desire. By gaining more and more information about the user the intelligent 'human interface' allows the agents to introduce the user to information or consumer goods he is likely to appreciate. These digital 'ghosts' would aid the everyday user to find his way through the overwhelming opportunities offered by the new technologies. They are also meant to introduce newcomers to the internet and to the virtual world. The I-D Group created a virtual 'world' where visitors can create and construct their own virtual personalities, which are called Avatars.9 Using their virtual bodies they can then meet other users that are online. E-CYAS is the central element in this world and by gathering information on the user's interests he is able to introduce him to potentially interesting other users. (http://www.taz.de/tpl/1998/12/11/a0190.taz/oldText.html)
These worlds are gaining more and more popularity and Avatars, the virtual representation of humans in the internet, are developing into a common feature of the internet and other media. The three-dimensional worlds where the Avatars meet are the next step after the common chat-rooms. People meet to socialise and talk, make friends and sometimes even hold Avatar weddings. The are using their 'home-made' virtual bodies, that are still fairly crude at this stage (well-known comic characters or simple, childlike drawings for example). But artists and software designers alike are seeing a big future in the Avatars and virtual societies. They hope that a new cultural space will develop where new forms of interactivity will become possible. (http://sueddeutsche.de/wissenschaft/virtu/virtu5.htm)
So both professional Avatars such as Lara, Kyoko, AIMEE and E-CYAS and personal Avatars created by internet users to represent themselves in the virtual world, seem to open up a whole new world of opportunities - both commercial and cultural. Among this group of virtual personalities, Lara is definitely the one who is best known and who is the most visible of them. Something about her seems to fascinate the public, and the commercial industry. It would seem to me, that she offers fascinating - but also potentially threatening - new territory (new technology, virtual reality) on the one hand while on the other hand also offering reassurance and stability. She seems to oscillate between reinforcing social codes and challenging them, or - on another level - between modernism and postmodernism. I believe that therein lies her particular attraction. In order to further demonstrate what I mean by this duality she offers, I will now go on to take a closer look at the many different representations of Lara Croft, and how she does not only live in the world of cyber games but has crossed over to popular culture and commercialism, before I will then analyse the implications of these representations in more theoretical detail.
2. Representations of Lara Croft
Lara Croft started out as the main character in a computer game but by now she appears in many different contexts and in several different media. She stars in music videos and TV commercials (as computer animation), there is a magazine and a book dedicated to her, she appears in a comic, there will be a motion picture about her shortly (with a real human actress), she has a 'body double' to represent her in 'real life', there is a vast palette of merchandise related to her, pictures and articles on her have appeared in almost every major magazine and newspaper and the internet is swamped with websites dedicated to her, both official and unofficial.
In this chapter I will take a look at these different manifestations of Lara Croft and try to trace and make visible recurring themes in her representation, as well as contradictions and elements that have been omitted. Since the hypersexualisation of her representation is a particularly dominant feature - and one that is constantly discussed - I will take a closer look at the way the subject is treated: by fans, by critics, in computer game magazines and in other magazines and newspapers.
The aim of this chapter is therefore to demonstrate how certain conventional elements (hyper-sexualisation being the most obvious) are repeatedly used in representations of Lara across different cultural discourses for the same purposes.
2.1 Pictures of Lara Croft
Lara Croft is definitely largely a visual phenomenon. Pictures of her abound, both official productions by Eidos and many artworks produced by fans and artists. There is no article, no website or any other mention of her without it being accompanied by visuals. The majority of the pictures are computer renditions, produced by Eidos. While collecting these visuals from the internet, magazines and merchandise products, I found that they could be grouped together in several subsections. I divided the official Eidos pictures into four groups, the first containing images that show 'Lara in action' (fig. 17-24), which means that they are mostly scenes from the game rendered in better quality. The second category I created is 'Lara with weapons' (fig. 25-32), which contains similar images to those of the first category but the focus is on Lara using all different sorts of firearms. The third category is called 'Lara posing' (fig. 33-42) and here I put all the pictures that give the impression of being shot in a studio, in contrast to those of the first two categories which are more reminiscent of snapshots. The last category contains all those pictures of Lara that are purposefully and directly erotic (fig. 43-54). These images draw heavily on traditional erotic representations of women. To give the reader an impression of the diversity of the images the following pages will show a selection of each of the categories.
I find that these images generally show Lara in either of three different 'moods': aggressive/active, cheeky/flirtatious or sensual/vulnerable. There are very few pictures showing her happy and none where she is sad, pensive or hurt. These representations seem to reduce her to either the tough heroine acting on her own, content with herself, or the self-conscious woman showing herself to an audience presumed to be male, sometimes inviting the gaze, sometimes seemingly oblivious of it. I presume it is for these reasons that I as a female reader and viewer felt as if I was intruding into a world not meant for me. None of the images or texts I encountered seemed to be directed towards heterosexual women1 but always towards a male audience.
2.2 The Book and the Magazine
That products centered around Lara are biased towards a male audience becomes particularly clear in both Douglas Coupland's Lara's Book (1998, fig. 55) and the German Lara Croft Magazin (1/99, fig. 56), which also appeared in Great Britain, France and Japan and is published by Eidos Interactive Germany.
The back cover of Lara's Book for example invites the potential reader to get to know the real Lara Croft - a fearless, tough, and completely loveable femme fatale(emphasis mine) and the author turns his keen eye to the world's love affair with pop culture icon Lara Croft(emphasis mine). The book - which has magazine format - consists mainly of high gloss images with short texts in-between. One gets the overall impression that the author is sharing his love for Lara Croft, assuming that the reader feels the same way about her (and thereby assuming the reader to be a heterosexual male): Lara has left her mark on so many people. It is as soft as laughter. As insistent as a bullet hole. As recognizable as her perfect smile. When I think of her, it's more than just a single image filling my mind. It's her poetry in motion. (COUPLAND 1998, 38).
Similarly, the Lara Croft Magazin is aimed at a male audience that shares an erotic fascination for Lara. The cover topics are 'Eroticism - Unknown Facets of the Super Star', 'Uncovering the Myth' and 'The New Pleasures2 of Digital Toys'. The cover image was created especially for the magazine and is reminiscent of high gloss erotic photography. The magazine features several full page pictures of Lara which clearly draw on traditional erotic imagery. Emphasis seems to have been placed on the image of the vulnerable, startled female. One image (fig. 57) copies the famous black and white photograph which Lewis Morley took of Christine Keeler3 (fig. 58) in 1963. Besides these pictures the magazine also offers its readers a double page fold-out (fig. 47) which shows Lara lying on her side, wearing a tight black dress, and even a classic centrefold (fig. 48) showing Lara lying on a beach, wearing only bikini pants but covering her breasts with her arm.
Considering the way the images and the magazine are constructed I did not find it particularly surprising to find that one of the relatively few ads in the magazine4 is for the men's magazine Playboy (fig. 59) imitating the wire frame which is used to construct Lara and stating that 'The real thing is not too bad either' (LCM, 1/99, 37).
Besides these erotic images and the above mentioned articles, the magazine contains a lot of information on Eidos, Core and the development of Lara; an article on artificial intelligence; reports on the different contexts Lara has appeared in; information on websites etc. One other interesting set of pictures show Lara dressed in clothes that famous couturiers designed especially for her (fig. 60-62):
2.3 The Internet
The internet is probably the best place to look for anything related to Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. Search engines list about 5000 sites relating to the key words 'Lara Croft'. Both official and unofficial sites usually have information on the game, such as gameplay strategies, hidden features, detailed maps etc.; and on Lara herself. The sites are full of graphics, artwork and screenshots of Lara and often all the newest information and gossip. Furthermore some sites have chatrooms where fans meet to discuss anything related to Lara or Tomb Raider. Most of the fans' websites also contain artwork and stories produced by the fans themselves.
The following sites are some of the most popular of the many Lara Croft based websites:
'The Croft Times' (http://www.ctimes.net): This virtual newspaper is updated every week and contains everything from news to gossip, from pictues to artworks, from gamestrategies to chatrooms, from background information to links to other sites.
'Lara's Portal Page' (http://www.eidos.co.uk/lara.html): This start page leads to the different official websites and includes all the official information on merchandise, demo versions, fan clubs and background information.
'Visions of Lara Croft' (http://network.ctimes.net/volc/): This site contains over 700 visuals - artworks, screenshots, graphics created by fans and photographs of Lara models. It also includes a listing of all the places Lara has appeared in so far (comics, TV ads, videos, books, etc).
The artworks created by fans cover a broad range of images. There are drawings (from childlike to quite sophisticated), paintings and computer generated pictures. The subject matter is similar to that shown in the official pictures: Lara in action with her weapons and/or Lara in some sort of sexualised situation. The amount of fan artwork is huge and I have selected just a few to give a general impression (fig. 66-74).
There are some artworks that depict Lara in the nude but it would seem that most fans distance themselves from these kinds of representations and most sites carry the logo 'Nude Raider Free'. I had some trouble finding any pictures showing Lara naked (which were not on some pay-to-look sex sites) and could only find two (fig. 75 & 76), which are so amateurish that I almost find them amusing. It seems that most fans would agree with one author in the LCM that Lara is only in full splendour when she is scantily dressed instead of naked since true eroticism needs the element of the concealed. ( LCM, 1/99, 60).
One site (http://network.ctimes.net/LiC/) which has led to controversies among the fans (art or blasphemy?) is a gallery of pictures showing Lara in leather, bound and gagged and in other positions reminiscent of sadomasochism. After having read the description of the site and the introductory page on which the designer of the page repeatedly warns viewers that they might possibly find some images offensive - I was quite surprised to find fairly tame pictures in this gallery, most of them official Eidos images, some reminiscent of soft pornography (fig. 77 & fig. 78) and only three pictures which show her in sado-masochistic poses. Two of these images - the ones with Lara chained to the wall (fig. 79 & 80) - are actually taken from other computer games where the player finds Lara thus captured during his own adventure. The third picture (fig. 81) shows Lara in leather, wearing high-heeled over-knee boots and holding a whip. The suggestive title of the image is 'Wanna Play?'.
2.4 Drawings of Lara Croft
In the computer magazine PCFG (Winter 1997) I also found some drawings of Lara beside the standard computer generated images (fig. 82 & 83). I find that even though she still has that impossible figure, she looks much more like an actual fighter or adventurer. She is muscular, has big strong hands and does not give the impression that she just left the beauty salon to have her pictures taken. Personally, I find that these images best correspond to Lara as she is represented in the game. These images really do seem to carry the message of a strong, independent woman who does not pander to anyone and who is depicted for her own sake, not in order to have some viewer look at her.
Lara has also appeared in a comic book. Michael Turner created the hugely succesful 'Witchblade' comics in 1995. They feature a New York cop, Sara Pezzini who is - like Lara - sexy and dangerous. She fights for justice and carries the supernatural weapon witchblade. Turner created two comics in which Sara and Lara jointly solve a criminal mystery (TURNER 1999a, b, fig. 84). The two women are again represented in the already well-known tradition of combining sexiness with fighting power, beautiful bodies with deadly weapons. Artificial situations are created where they can be shown in evening dresses or bathing suits (situations that are not vital to the plot) (fig. 85-87).
Apart from the conventional representation of Lara I found two new sides to her character in the comic. The first is to see her working with a partner and to see her have a friend. In all other instances so far she is depicted as the lonely wolf that does not have any attachments to other people. The second striking feature is that this comic is the first ever to even mention men in relation to Lara: she tells the story of how she had been on a mission with a male colleague who died during the trip. Not only is this the first time that she has had any contact with males but in the end of the comic she also reflects on the loss, on the fact of her loneliness and on the idea of having someone special in your life.
Due to Lara's enormous popularity and her huge number of fans there is quite an impressive array of merchandise available. The products range from the conventional T-Shirt, to mousemats, calenders, watches and clocks, statues, a deck of cards, stickers, posters, wallets, bathing robes, etc. One of the most popular items seem to be the Lara statues (fig. 88 & 89). Most are between 6 and 20 inches tall and show Lara in action - fighting sharks, tigers, yetis, riding a motorcycle or just shooting at some unseen enemy.
On one webpage I also found a nude Lara statue kit which shows Lara with her clothes half torn away (fig. 90). As not to offend people, the statue was depicted with black bars covering her genitals and her breasts. Contrary to the statues shown before, this one is not an officially approved figurine. But as with other forms of representation, products showing Lara naked are rare again. Here as elsewhere, scanty dress and sexy poses are preferred over simple nudity.
The merchandise in general takes up familiar images and uses them on T-shirts, mousemats and all the other products. What I find interesting is the choice of products and the choice of images used. Most of the images used are from the 'sexy Lara' category rather than from the one 'Lara in action'. The highly sexualised pictures seem to be considered the better bet when trying to sell something. Two of the mousemats on offer not only show Lara in a sensual position but further enhance the erotic component by adding suggestive remarks, such as 'Can you handle it?' (fig. 91) and 'Only in your dreams, boy' (fig. 92).
The calendar on offer is a typical example of the genre 'calenders of beautiful women': the same semi-naked, erotic imagery that we already know so well - from Lara and from other women that are considered to be sexy. It is the same with the T-shirts, the deck of cards (the backside showing Lara lying on red satin wearing a black evening dress) and the posters. Erotic representations definitely outweigh the more action-oriented ones.
But besides the images used I found it interesting to look at what kind of products were chosen. Most of these merchandise products seem to aimed at a male consumer. The mousemats with the suggestive remarks speak for themselves, card games - particularly poker - are a traditionally very male pastime, the T-shirts and the bathrobe are only available in sizes XL and XXL, the calender recalls the typical pin-up girl calenders often found in all-male environments.
It would seem to me that the merchandise industry is trying to cater to the taste of the 'action-heroine-fan' - who likes Lara for her adventurous nature and who either ignores her body (like most hetero female fans) or sees it as a nice bonus - and to the fan that is mainly attracted by Lara's bodily merits at the same time. But in my opinion the fan interested in the erotic side of Lara is considered to be in the majority and most merchandise is aimed at him. And whereas there is merchandise aimed solely at men and merchandise aimed at both male and female fans, there is no product that is specifically geared towards women, giving them in some way the opportunity to identify with a strong, courageous and independent woman. As in other forms of representation, images of Lara are either aimed directly towards men, inviting their gaze and flirting with them, or she is seen as the person in action, unaware that she is looked at. There is no imagery inviting a woman's gaze or trying to establish a bond between Lara and a female viewer. Most representations seem to completely ignore women as potential viewers.
All this again contradicts Eidos' claim that this is a game for women and that they believe that it attracts a large number of female fans. Their merchandise and - as I will demonstrate shortly - their marketing strategies belie their words and make clear which audience the game is mainly aimed at.
In the first part I will look at advertisments for the Tomb Raider games and at marketing strategies of Eidos. In the second part of this section I will then go on to analyse some advertising campaigns for non-Tomb Raider products in which Lara plays the central role.
In the UK Eidos started the so-called 'washroom campaign' when the second Tomb Raider was released in winter 1997. Pictures of Lara were placed in the Gents toilets in bars and pubs all over Great Britain (BRADLEY 1997a, 14). Another clear indication that the male market is definitely the one Tomb Raider and Lara Croft are aimed at. A male consumer is certainly the target of the German campaign that accompanied the release of Tomb Raider II as well: huge posters showed Lara, batting her lashes and telling the viewer: 'You can move me into 2000 different positions. Try that with your girlfriend!' (LCM 1/99, 110, my translation). Not only does this motif completely ignore any potential female buyers but it is also blatantly sexualised and offensive.
One animated ad on the internet for Tomb Raider III demonstrates again the strategy to sell sex and adventure together. The animation shows six different panels. The first shows Lara with two guns, next to her the question 'What more do you want?'. The following pictures offer answers to that question: 'More locations', 'More special effects', 'More action', 'More weapons'. These four panels all show Lara somehow in action and they emphasise the quality of the game play. The last panel then adds the neccessary amount of sex, showing Lara's breasts squeezed into a tiny shirt, suggestively asking 'More...?' (fig. 93).
Similarly, the magazine ad for Tomb Raider III (fig. 94) again mixes sexiness, beauty and weapons, showing Lara wearing a black evening dress with a slit almost to the hip, holding a gun in each hand. She seems to be walking on a carpet of red roses. This image reminds me of TV heroines of the 1970s - like Charlie's Angels - who were long-haired, sexy, carried weapons but did not seem 'really' threatening (in the end they usually had to be rescued by a man after all).
One of the marketing ideas developed by Eidos in order to continue to sell Tomb Raider II after Tomb Raider III had been released, is the special edition offer. Besides the game it includes three small posters, a T-shirt, a sticker - all of these feature the pictures with Lara wearing the designer clothes, adding the adjectives 'lethal', 'loaded' and 'irresistable' - a deck of cards and a mousemat (see fig. 51).
I found several TV advertisments for Tomb Raider games, one German, the others from the US. It is interesting to note how they differ. In the German ad for Tomb Raider II, the focus is solely on Lara, she appears for a press conference (fig. 95) and is bombarded with questions such as, 'Is it true that you found the dagger?', 'Are there Yetis in China?', 'Are you ever mortally afraid?. She answers all questions with yes, no or maybe and seems to be rather bemused by the publicity she is getting. Only to the last question, 'Is archaeology just a pastime for you?', does she give a more eloquent answer, stating that 'Really, this is all just a game to me...'. The ad seems to cater to the fans desire to see more of Lara, to pretend that she is real and to find out more about her.
In one interesting scene she is asked 'Does the adventure keep you in form?', and instead of her face we see her lower torso (fig. 96) and then her legs. I am not entirely sure what to make of this but it does seem to make clear that she is completely at the mercy of the cameras and that they can 'look' - and therefore the viewer can look - wherever they please without Lara having any influence on it. She is the object we look upon and she has - at least precisely in this situation - no influence on how we look at her or where we look. She is under the control of the viewer (via the cameraman).
In the three American advertisments for Tomb Raider II the emphasis is more on the game itself. The first one starts by showing an empty basketball court, then the text 'Tomb Raider II' and 'Lara Croft' is superimposed. It then goes on to show several action scenes of the game (fig. 97), adding fast-paced music. Then the text 'Where the boys are' is superimposed (fig. 98) and the empty basketball court is shown again.
The second one is structured identically except that we see a bored stripper (fig. 99) instead of the basketball court, then the same texts but different action scenes. The third ad starts directly with the action scenes and ends by showing an empty gents toilet with urinals.
All three TV spots imply that men have stopped doing what they normally do and are instead playing Tomb Raider. They are not where they used to be (sports fields, stripper bars and the toilet), instead they have now joined Lara in her adventures. By linking the game to such stereotypically male pastimes and by the directly mentioning 'boys', playing the game is constructed as a very male occupation. The ad is obviously aimed at men, not at women.
The other American advertisment - for Tomb Raider III - focuses more on the game instead on its protagonist as well. It makes use of the idea that the players identify with Lara. Here the viewer sees the world through Lara's eyes. She enters a big laboratory, being greeted as 'Croft'. She is then introduced to her new adventure, being told where she will go and that she will receive some new 'toys', such as a rocket launcher, 'a girl's best friend' (fig. 100). She is told that she has been watched and that her work is very impressive, during which time we see scenes from the game on a computer screen. Lastly she is shown the new outfits she will be getting for her new adventures, shown by three models on a catwalk and adding the necessary touch of eroticism (fig. 101). Overall the whole ad is reminiscent of James Bond: the way she is addressed as 'Croft', the new gadgets she is being shown, the professor in a white coat with an English accent showing her around. She is linked to adventure, action, exotic places and impressive weapons. And whereas Bond always needed women to add sexiness to this cocktail designating success, Lara can take care of that herself, particularly with the new outfits designed for her.
In general I think it can be said that no single advertising or marketing strategy focuses solely on the game and its characteristics, or as one reviewer puts it:
The poster and media publicity reveal exactly what the EIDOS ad men see in Lara. They know that their target audience will latch onto a girl in short shorts and a crop-top more rapidly than any images of atmospheric 3D or logical problem solving.
BRADLEY 1997a, 15
Other companies quickly realised the potential of Lara's appeal as well. Lara is widely recognised, even among people who have no contact with computer games, and her popularity - particularly among males - is very high. She is beautiful and sexy, so men like to watch her; she is independent and strong-minded so people are likely to trust her judgement concerning the products; she is a sympathetic figure and her virtuality emphasises the companie's up-to-date technology and its forward-looking philosophy. I find that these elements become particularly clear in the French series of TV advertisments for the car company Seat.
In the first commercial, Lara is continually chased, first by a tyrannosaurus rex, then by two men on motorcycles (fig. 102) and finally by a helicopter. In each situation she chooses a car from the Seat range and thereby manages to escape. In the last scene she sees a group of good-looking surfers trying to hitch a ride (fig. 103). Quickly exchanging the small car she has been driving for a large familiy car, she gives them a lift (fig. 104). The main emphasis of this commercial is on adventure, action and risk. Lara is the tough woman, able to handle adverse situations, in this case with the particular help of the cars by Seat. Only the last scene makes a reference to Lara's attractiveness and gives the - male - viewer the chance to envy the group of surfers.
The second commercial is similar in that Lara is on the run again, driving a car through the snowy alps, followed by the bad guys on snowmobiles, shooting at her (fig. 105). While the car manages the adverse conditions perfectly, the pursuers have more problems In the end Lara arrives at a little mountain cottage, and we see three men sitting in the back of the car, wearing nothing but their boxershorts, freezing (fig. 106). Leaning against the wall of the cottage are three surfboards (fig. 107), so I presume they are supposed to be three of the surfers she had picked up in the previous commercial. The scene ends with Lara offering them the obligatory cup of tea.
The third commercial makes a stronger reference to the game itself: we see Lara hurrying home to her mansion, because a player has put in the Tomb Raider CD and the game is loading. In order to get home fast enough, Lara again uses a Seat. In the last moment, she jumps into the game, ready for action. But the erotic element is not completely left out: in the first scene she walks onto the beach, carrying snorkeling gear and wearing a bikini - then she realises the time and rushes of.
In the newest commercial the focus is solely on Lara's erotic side. Again we see her coming out of the sea, walking towards the beach, wearing a bikini and seductively swaying her hips (fig. 108). Then we see a middle-aged man with glasses, sunhat and a beer belly who gapes at her. Following his gaze we look at Lara again, coming towards us. We see the man again who is now getting very hot and very red - even his ice-cream melts away (fig. 109). Again we follow his gaze, this time focusing completely on Lara's body, cutting her off at the neck and the middle of the thighs (fig. 110). Seeing the man's face again, he has become bright red and smoke is coming out of his ears (fig 111). The camera position then shifts, so that it is behind Lara, slightly to the right and slightly below. We watch Lara walk towards the man, raising her harpoon - due to the position of the camera, we have Lara's bottom in full view, at times filling out half the screen (fig. 112). She makes him get into the Seat right behind him, pushes the aircondition button and locks the door, triumphantly leaning against the car, the man timidly knocking against the window (fig. 113). We are then informed that all Seats are now available with airconditioning and that they 'cool men down'. In the last scene the man is writing 'I Ö Lara' on the steamed up rear window. The whole commercial has a seductive musical score added to it,similar to a stripper song..
I find this commercial particularly interesting because Lara is again overly sexualised but the viewer is forced to identify with the gaping man - since he is doing precisely the same thing. And this man is not attractive or in any way a desirable person to identify with. He is a wimp and he is helplessly locked into a car. Lara is in complete control of the situation. She does not hestitate once, she does not get angry, she just does what needs to be done in a matter-of-fact style with a touch of humour. She seems to be more amused than angry at his reaction and seems to be saying, 'well, that's just the way men are...'. It is this representation of male sexuality that I find most critical in this commercial. The popular myth of the ever-willing male is again perpetuated along with the belief that all men invariably and uncontrollably react to a woman like Lara. The man's reaction is 'natural' it is not his fault and he would not be able to do any thing about it, even if he wanted to. Women have to be witty in order to handle men and it is their job to find ways of dealing with these natural male instincts; no responsibility is put on the men's shoulders. This popular construction of male sexuality is limited and reductive and reinforces tendencies to explain male (and female) behaviour in terms of biological essentialism.
Another company using Lara is Play Station. It does seem rather obvious that they use the protagonist of one of the best selling Play Station games to advocate their products. The ad is for several games which are top hits and which are on sale (including Tomb Raider). A father wakes up his son, and excitedly tells him about this. The son is rather irritated because, as he states, he does not even have a Play Station. The father rushes off, fights his way through the crowd of people and then spots Lara, sitting at a desk with Tomb Raider CDs on it, looking rather bored. The father jumps the crowd barrier which keeps the fans at bay, rushes to her side and takes a photograph of himself holding Lara, who is looking rather irritated and annoyed (fig. 114). In the last scene we see the son holding this pictue asking his dreamily distant father, if his mother knows about this, getting the short and irritated answer 'Who?'.
Lara is portrayed here as the good-looking, extremely sexy woman who drives men mad, leads them to disregard rules and previous behaviour (I suppose the son did not have a playstation because his father would not buy him one) and makes them act on instinct. Interestingly enough, she is not pleased to have all these men lying at her feet, but seems to be accepting it - more or less - as part of her fame.
Lara shows a very different side of herself in a TV spot for the German women's magazine Brigitte5. The ad starts conventionally with Lara shooting at someone and pursuing them. But then she spots a wedding dress in a shop window, stops and admires it, forgetting her pursuit (fig. 115). As the LCM states, this shows that 'before all else, Lara is a woman' (1/99, 117). She demonstrates that even though she is a tough woman, she can be feminine - here romantic - as well. We are again reassured that women are essentially feminine, no matter what our impression might be. Even an independent fighter like Lara has the same dreams and desires deep inside (eg getting married) as every other woman.
Recently Lara has become even more than 'just' the star of TV spots. The soft drink company Lucozade made her their official business spokesperson. She stars in a global TV spot which turns a possible scene of the game into a small film: Lara is fleeing from a pack of bloodhounds through an ancient ruin. She has run out of ammunition and has to stop her flight because she has reached a ledge with a seemingly bottomless drop. Facing the scowling dogs she bends down and reaches for her backpack. As in the game we are then shown the range of items she can select from: a chocolate bar, a soft drink and of course Lucozade, which she subsequently chooses. After she has finished the bottle, she blows the dogs - and the viewers - a kiss (fig. 116) and jumps off the ledge. The dogs follow and fall into the bottomless pit. Lara has tricked the dogs as she has managed to somersault and hang on to a gargoyle. She then vaults up again (fig. 117) and holds the life-saving bottle of Lucozade into the camera.
In this ad Lara is constructed as the determined fighter who is physically fit and does not give up even in seemingly desperate situations. She is clever, in control and able to make the right decisions (all traditionally more male attributes) but at the same time she is charming (the blow kiss) and very attractive.
On Lucozade's website (http://www.lucozade.com) the user can also load down pictures of Lara or send these images as internet postcards. The choice of images is interesting in that most representations are more on the erotic side and truly action and adventure oriented images, that carry an aggressive message are left out.
Looking at all the TV advertisments with Lara, I find it interesting to note that she is usually not carrying a weapon, except when actual sequences of the game are shown and when she is holding the harpoon in one of the Seat commercials. Considering that all other representations we have seen so far place great emphasis on her carrying weapons and using them, I find her lack of arms striking. She is still portrayed as the tough fighter and the independent, self-confident woman, but it would seem that she is considered to be less attractive for potential consumers of the advertised good if she is heavily armed. I supposed she might be perceived too much of a threat, making it more difficult for the viewer to make her - and thereby the product - the object of his desire.
Lara Croft not only appears in TV advertisements, she also stars in a music video. The song Ein Schwein namens Männer [A Pig Called Men] by the German punk rock band 'Die Ärzte' (fig. 118) was released on 6 April 1998 and became a number one hit within three weeks, staying there for two months. The song satirises the popular notion that the only thing men want is sex - and that all the time (see Lyrics, App. A & B)6.
In the video, we see the band playing in an old warehouse until all of a sudden, Lara holds a pistol next to the leadsinger's head. The three members of the band flee, manage to get their own weapons and a serious battle between them and Lara ensues.
What I found particularly interesting about the video was the fact that neither of the three male members of the band are dumbstruck by Lara's figure. Rather, they quickly realise that she poses a real threat (fig. 119) and take her as a fighter - seriously. She does receive quite a lot of serious kicks and punches (fig. 120) - but most of the time she outwits her male opponents. If she is knocked to the ground she is quick to be up again and she is always unharmed.
In the end Lara wins by using her wits. Surrounded by all three men (fig. 121), she shoots down a huge grille, and while she quickly jumps to the side, it covers her three adversaries.
In the whole video the emphasis is put on Lara's fighting abilities, her courage, her wit and her determination. Her representation is not overly sexualised, the producers of the video could have chosen other camera angles or shots, showing off more of Lara's body. She is the winner in all aspects (fig. 122), whereas the men are constructed more as loosers, trying to be cool and macholike, but failing utterly, as they are clearly over-confident.7 They like to show off but instead of impressing anyone they rather make fools of themselves. In one scene the leadsinger and the bassplayer shoot at Lara from a very short distance. They try to look like cold killers (fig. 123) but this image is shattered when the viewer realises that they do not manage to hit Lara and that she has ample time to turn around and walk away. In a later scene the leadsinger wants to attack Lara with a chacko8 but shows off his ability to twirl it around until Lara becomes impatient and shoots it out of his hand.
Lara could be seen here as the 'new kind of woman' who does not accept macho-like behaviour and silly swaggering in men and who acts on her dislike, letting the men know what she thinks of them - and not in a particularly nice and feminine way. But maybe her body is feminine enough so that she can be allowed to behave in such an unladylike fashion? I will come back to this question in the next chapter.
Lara had one other appearance in the music scene. She accompanied the Irish pop band U2 on their 'PopMart' tour (fig. 124) which started 25 April 1997 and lasted for eleven months. During the song Hold Me, Kill Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me from the Batman Forever Soundtrack, she appears on a huge screen, posing in front of a lightblue background smiling coyly, then getting onto her motorbike and driving away. Shortly afterwards she reappears, this time aiming a rifle at lead singer Bono. The images take up the themes of the song: love, desire and threat. Lara is sexy and desirable but also very dangerous and quite capable of killing. But part of her attractiveness seems to lie precisely in the possibility of danger and in the threat she can pose if she so choses.
2.8 The Movie
There are few hard facts concerning the planned movie about Lara Croft: Eidos has sold the rights to make a film of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider to Paramount and the movie is due to be released during the summer of 2000 (LCM 1/99, 116). In August 1998 Paramount started an advertising campaign in American cinemas with the slogan 'Who is Lara Croft?' (fig. 125). As far as the actress portraying Lara, the director and the script are concerned speculations are running wild. Rumours have it that Brent Friedman is writing the script and that Luc Besson will be the director (Ahlers 1999, 96). The question of the actress is even less clear, names like Jennifer Lopez, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock, Liz Hurley and Anna Nicole Smith are repeatedly mentioned (Ahlers 1999, 96, DZ 51/97, no page, and PCFG Autumn 1998, 48). The producer Lloyd Levin refuses to give any comments concerning the lead role and says that he could imagine chosing a newcomer since the most important aspect is that the fans will recognise Lara (Ahlers 1999, 98). Some rumours also have it that - after the success of films such as 'Antz' and 'A Bug's Life' - Paramount is considering a computer-animated feature instead (http://members.xoom.com/DutchTobe/). The plot will probably retell the story of Lara's life - including the life-changing plane-crash - and will then go on to some adventure including the typical ancient ruins, artefacts, evil opponents, many puzzles and lots of heavy firearms that Tomb Raider fans will expect (http://members.xoom.com/Dutch Tobe/).
2.9 The Body Double
Since the virtual Lara Croft cannot appear at fairs, autograph sessions or photocalls, she has a real-life model representing her on these occasions. There have been several official Lara models, since May 1998 it is the English model Nell McAndrew (fig. 126), before her it was Lara Weller (fig. 127). In the beginning Nell McAndrew was not allowed to talk since, as she herself says, Lara is very intelligent and, in contrast to myself,she does not have a Yorkshire accent (Ahlers 1999, 98). In order to get the job as Lara's double, Nell had to have her breasts enlarged. She recently got undressed for Playboy Magazine, posing not as Lara but as herself. But since the Playboy cover showed her in Lara's dress and had the words 'Lara Croft' on it, Eidos immediately intervened and forced the publishers of Playboy to recall the issue (at least in the UK) so that any evidence linking Nell to Lara would be removed (DZ 32/99, 33).
2.10 The Game
Surprisingly enough, in the game Tomb Raider itself, the representation of Lara Croft is less hypersexualised than in most other representations. She certainly has that impressive figure but due to the facts that the angles and planes of the wireframe used to construct her (fig. 128) are clearly recognisable, that she is rather 'pixely' or 'blocky' (fig. 129) - compared to those images produced for publication - and that her size on the computer screen is usually only a couple of centimetres (fig. 130), her body is not as striking here as it is in other forms of representation. Furthermore, about 90% of the time the player only sees her from behind. She is certainly very sexy from that perspective as well - particularly when she is climbing onto something or when swimming - but the whole context of the representation reduces the effect. When playing the game one quickly starts to focus on the action and the problems at hand, taking less notice of Lara's body.
It would certainly seem that the programmers at Core place great emphasis on Lara's looks. When Tomb Raider II was released one of the main criticisims was that only cosmetic changes had been made - mainly concerning Lara - whereas many faults of the original game had been left untouched (McCAULEY 1997, 29). Besides her looks, the way Lara moves was revolutionary when the game first appeared and her movements have been made smoother ever since, while new moves were added with each sequel as well. Lara can run, jump (backwards, forwards or sideways or just up), swim, climb, duck, crawl, summersault etc. She is the first artificial figure whose movements are so fluid that they come close to that of a real person and who is at the same time under such direct control (DZ 51/1997, no page, my translation). This element of control is probably one of the attractions of the Tomb Raider games: not only can you move your character around on the screen, but you can also make her do things, whenever you feel like it and how often it pleases you. Particularly hard moves are furthermore accompanied by a soft moan by Lara, which has its own appeal for many players. Another factor is certainly that Lara is always at the fans' disposal, all they have to do is play the game. Every fan can have their own copy of this 'dream woman' in their own home, sitting there completely passive until the owner decides what to do with her (or rather, what to make her do). The idea that a famous person belongs to the public and therefore in a sense to everybody is shifting into whole new dimensions here.
Looking at all these different forms of representation I find that there are several recurring elements. One thing I find particularly striking is the way in which the images repeatedly combine danger and threat with eroticism. Lara is constructed and perceived as a woman that has to be treated with respect and who can certainly become dangerous. Beautiful but deadly women have always fascinated men.
For all we know she might very well still be a virgin. Unlike a femme fatale, who has sexual relationships with several men, she never has any lovers or relationships. To keep the interest up, she has to appear to be always available (and just out of reach). As opposed to male heroes like Indiana Jones or James Bond, who always have several women devoted to them, Lara has to remain single. But the two men are aimed at a male audience which is to identify with the male heroes and their success with women and not at women who might desire them. I believe this is another indication that Lara is also mainly aimed at men who are to desire her and not at women who should identify with her.
2.11 The Hyper-Sexualisation of Lara Croft
Lara's hypersexualisation is probably the most obvious theme in all representations of her. She never wears any clothing that might hide her figure (even her winter jacket is tight fitting and in Tomb Raider II she is walking through the snow in her shorts) and every opportunity is used to portray her in a way that shows off her bodily features. The representations seem to rely on the unspoken assumption that all men would invariably find Lara extremely attractive and completely irresistible. They convey the conviction that all men ultimately react to women like Lara, that this reaction is involuntary, beyond their control and totally natural.
That this assumption is shared by many fans becomes clear in some reactions to an article attacking Lara, which was published in the games magazine GameSpot UK: Guys like women, and for good reason, and they also like the way they look, their image. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is and try as we might we can't change it. (http://www.gamespot.co.uk/news/1997/11/98.html)
In an internet survey conducted by Dr Simon Sherville of the University of Brighton Usability Group, in collaboration with the GameSpot UK in June 1998, gameplayers were asked about their attitudes to on-screen characters such as Lara. The question was how people of different sexes and sexual orientations responded to and identified with Lara. More than 200 people replied:
There was a slight bias towards being attracted to Lara amongst the straight men, there was a major bias toward being attracted to Lara by the gay women, few straight women were attracted to Lara but there was enough of a grid effect in evidence, and the bisexuals were gloriously split down the middle. ... Many women were offended by Lara or mens' reaction to her.
Sherville, personal email, 20.06.1999
Answers to both the article and the survey also show that the players of the game are very aware that Lara is not real that she is idealised and that no normal woman could be expected to look that way:
-I don't expect women to look like that, but I do admit that yes, when I first ran the Tomb Raider demo I thought, 'Whoa, check her out!' but I really didn't think much about it after that. ... I don't want to check out some girl that isn't even real.
-let's face it, it's just a game, of course it's impossible to have thin arms like that and do a handstand while climbing a wall, but it's all a game isn't it?
-I'm sure every one of our Olympic competitors could pull that move off [being able to go handstand to pull-up]. Sure that's not the 'average' woman but here's my point: if a game is to be made requiring such feats of strength, who should the heroine be - a chubby couch-sitter with a remote control, ...or Dominique Dunn(sp)?
Another argument repeatedly used to justify Lara's unrealistic measurements is that the men in the computer games have exaggerated bodies as well:
-First, how accurate is Duke Nuke'em [fig. 135] with regard to men? How accurate are the Quake guy's biceps? Does anyone exist that's built like that?
-My girlfriend is a hell of a lot closer anatomically to Lara than I am to Duke Nuke'em, the Quake guy, or just about any of the men depicted in games today. You don't hear a bunch of men complaining that this animated character has larger arms or chest then them.
The producer of Tomb Raider, Troy Horton, argues along the same lines when asked to comment on criticism concerning Lara's shape: It's no different from a man walking around fighting with his shirt off. Is that sexist? (BRADLEY 1997b, 25).
I would argue that simply describing Lara as sexist, is reducing a very complex phenomenon to a popular catchword. But I would also argue that it is not the same thing whether a man or a woman is depicted in an overtly sexualised manner. The starting point for both is very different and the traditions that these kinds of representations merge out of are not identical. Men have rarely been made the object of desire and representations of men that are explicitly and solely erotic - and not in a context that is meant to be erotic like pornography - are small in number compared to those of women.
It would seem that many men enjoy the way Lara looks and they feel that their reaction is entirely natural and not to be influenced by them. The possibility that Lara might perpetuate a potentially limiting view of sexuality and women is declared as irrelevant because the viewer/consumer knows that Lara is not real. But the concept of reality is undergoing some drastic changes in challenges, as I argue in last part of chapter three. Images and mediated experiences (such as consuming a virtual character) have a very definite influence on we perceive ourselves, other people and the world around us.
In this chapter I have introduced the reader to the visual world of Lara Croft. I hope to have shown that though she appears in many different forms of representation, there are several recurring themes. She is repeatedly constructed as highly attractive, very sensual and quite independent woman. In most representations her body is overemphasised, never letting us forget that Lara is a woman and that there are biological differences between men and women.
Having looked at Lara in great detail, I now go on to analyse her or rather the representations of her - from a more theoretical point of view. I will ask what meanings she generates and what fears and desires become apparent in the representations.
3. Lara Croft and Postmodernism
I think I can be particularly valuable and informative to look at the phenomenon of Lara Croft from a postmodern perspective. In his book Postmodernism Glenn Ward (1997) identifies several themes that are characteristic of postmodern approaches. He says that
these themes are to do with what it means to live in our present times, and how best to go about describing them.
They propose that society, culture and lifestyle are today significantly different from what they were a hundred, fifty or even thirty years ago.
They are concerned with concrete subjects like the developments in mass media, the consumer society and information technology.
They suggest that these kinds of development have an impact on our understanding of more abstract matters, like meaning, identity and even reality.
They claim that old styles of analysis are no longer useful, and that new approaches and new vocabularies need to be created in order to understand the present.
WARD 1997, 5
All if these themes are closely related to Lara: she is definetely a 'child of her time', typical for today's society and culture. Many of her characteristics, like her accessability are only made possible through recent developments in technology and through the widespread use of computers, television and the internet. By making her independent, determined and succesful her creators were also relying on characteristics that are idiosyncratic of our times.
She is closely related to mass media, consumer culture and information technology. She appears in several of the mass media - she actually only exists in the media - , she is used to advertise diverse products and she is herself a product of information technology and relies on it for her existence.
Furthermore her creation and existence raise questions of meaning, reality and identity. Particularly these last three points will be interesting for analysis. What sort of meanings does Lara generate? Are these meanings flexible? What are the particular implications for the meaning of the body? What questions are raised in relation to reality? Where are the boundaries between real and not real (are there any?)? What issues around identity are brought up? How does she - as both a phenomenon of 'virtual reality' and of mass consumption - influence our subjectivity and our construction of identity?
3.1 The Question of Identity
In contrast to modernist philosophy, where it is assumed that a person has a stable identity underneath the roles one is forced to play in everyday life, and that the struggle is to find it and be true to it, postmodernism assumes no such stable identity (Ward 1997, 107). Opinions diverge as to whether the selves achieved under modernity have vanished in the wake of consumerism, mass culture, and growing bureaucratisation of life or if the stable, unified self has always been an illusion (Ward 1997, 108). The self is not perceived as something that is substantial, essential or timeless (Ward 1997, 108). Where modernists searched for the true self, postmodernism recognises and sometimes celebrates disintegration, fragmented desires, superficiality, and identity as something you shop for (Ward 1997, 108).
These changes, the subsequent culture of 'lifestyle shopping' and the 'aestheticisation of life' (Featherstones's term) are closely linked to social and cultural developments, such as the immense increase of images and signs in everyday life. In many cases image has become more important than content, both as far as practical goods to be sold are concerned and in the construction of our identities. People can change their identities more frequently, experiment with them, select more options from a cultural supermarket with far less commitment than ever before (HARRIS in Ward 1997, 109).
The idea of a fluid, everchanging and transitory identity can be liberating and frightening at the same time. This conflict is very apparent in our times and it is often reflected in a search for stability and structure in a world that is full of multiple meanings, fragmented experiences and a wide range of possible identities. But not only the dissolving of the modern identity is a sympton of the postmodern condition. Craig Owens, in his article The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism (1983), identifies another loss which explains the yearning for stability and structure:
a tremendous loss of mastery. ... What has been lost is not primarly a cultural mastery, but an economic, technical and political one. For what if not the emergence of Third-World nations, the 'revolt of nature' and the women's movement - that is the voices of the conquered - has challenged the West's desire for ever-greater domination and control?
Owens 1985, 67
Owens argues that the attempt to recuperate that loss becomes particularly apparent in the visual arts, where we find a desperate, often hysterical attempt to recover some sense of mastery via the resurrection of heroic large-scale easel painting and monumental cast-bronze sculpture (Owens 1985, 67).
Even though Lara is in no way depicted in classically modern mediums, I find that she shows signs of this conflict as well. On the one hand she is definetely postmodern, in her artificiality, in her multi-mediality and in the way that her identity is quite literally constructed, 'shopped together', including all the things that have a high value in our society. And also in that way she represents creativity, fluidity and a certain depthlessness - postmodernism being more interested in the surface of things than in their depth, assuming that there is no deep meaning hidden under the surface.
On the other hand, the identity that is constructed for her is very stable. She hardly challenges any social codes and her identity largely remains the same. Her behaviour is predictable and her characteristics are reduced to 'sexy', 'dangerous' and 'tough'. The only interesting break that can be discerned is the difference between the type of character that is portrayed in the game - independent, purposeful - and the way Lara is promoted in advertising - hyper-sexualisation, feminisation. Her identity is created in accordance with the product to be sold, or rather, the feature considered to be more important in relation to the product is over-emphasised.
The possibilities offered by the fact that everybody can have access to Lara, that she has no 'real' identity and that she can truly 'be anything' are vast, but they go unused to the largest part. Eidos cannot hold claim over Lara's identity, each player or fan is free to redefine her, shift her identity to meet his (or her) needs. Particularly the internet offers the possibility to actively reinvent her, by writing stories, creating art or discussing her. Jean-François Lyotard describes this postmodern phenomenon as 'little narrative'. For him the postmodern is defined by an incredulity towards metanarratives and advocates a turn to the 'little story' which validates difference, extols the 'unpresentable' and escapes the overbearing logic of instrumentality (Poster 1995, 91). In contrast to Lyotard, for whom technology is always complicit with modern narratives, Poster sees the narrative structure of the second media age - particularly the internet - as encouraging the proliferation of stories, locial narratives without any totalizing gestures (Poster 1995, 92).
The meanings associated with Lara could therefore become multiple, contradictory and they could have the force to challenge boundaries. But this is hardly taking place. All the information I could find on Lara faithfully stuck to the rigid and restrictive identity given by Eidos, stuck to the big metanarrative about Lara. I do believe that there are certainly many fans who privately reassess and reconstruct Lara but these activities do not seem to find their way into the public.1
The discourses surrounding Lara and Tomb Raider also seem to show an avoidance of the subject of her potential fluidity, her openess for creation and her possible transgressiveness. It would seem that the fact that she is computer generated, that she is a virtual persona and as such hugely succesful is new and unstable enough. To keep the balance she needs to be grounded, reduced to her essentials. Her stable characteristics are overemphasised, the focus placed on her more reliable attributes. This is on the one hand her body (paradoxically perceived as stable, even though - as a construct of pixels - it is just as easily changeable as is her identity) and on the other hand her adventurous and action-oriented lifestyle. A third element repeatedly mentioned in connection with her is her virtuality. In all the many different articles on her, numerous paraphrases and circumscriptions are used to talk about her such as digital lady, beautiful heroine, virtual or cyberspace sex-symbol, deathdefying and scantily-clad adventurer, divinely curvaceous, adventurous young lady, well-proportioned archaeologist, goddess and dream-girl. Wherever Lara is talked or written about, her bodily features are always of central interest and never go unnoticed. No article, not even the more 'philosophical' ones of intellectual magazines and newspapers explore the possibilities implied in her virtuality and her accessability. In the next chapter I will therefore take a closer look at the meanings Lara's body generates and what issues can be raised in a postmodern context.
3.2 The Question of the Body
Over the last decade the body has been the focus of many theoretical discussions, analyses and debates, particularly within feminism. In her article Embodying Theory: Beyond Modernist and Postmodernist Readings of the Body (1997), Kathy Davis argues that the surge in popularity can be mainly traced to three influences:
For some, the concern is regarded as a reflection of the culture at large. Others view the current interest in the body primarily as a theoretical development. And, for still others, feminism is held responsible for putting the body on the intellectual map.
Davis 1997, 1
Changes in our culture, particularly the rise of consumer culture, drastically change our lives. The protestant work ethic has been replaced by hedonism and consumption. Individuality is the key word and 'everything' is within reach: An ideology of personal consumption presents individuals as free to do their own thing, to construct their own little world in the private sphere (FEATHERSTONE in Davis 1997, 2). In these conditions, where the construction of identity is a central endevour, the body has become inscribed with a whole new meaning: it is the vehicle for self-expression and self-creation (Davis 1997, 2).
But the body is also a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed and thus reinforced through the concrete language of the body (Bordo 1989, 13). It is therefore inevitable to look at the body when dealing with social theory, but this insight is rather new. Traditionally, the sciences were reluctant to deal with the body, regarding it as negligable in comparison to the mind: sociologists seem to prefer to imagine that if society rules us, it does so through our minds, while we rule our bodies rather than being ruled by them (Davis 1997, 3).
Bringing the body back into the theoretical discussion and analysis is to a large part the merit of Michel Foucault (Davis 1997, 3). He has unmasked the body as the primary site for the operation of modern forms of power - power that was not top-down and repressive, but rather, subtle, elusive and productive (Davis 1997, 3). The body is seen as the direct locus of social control (Bordo 1989, 13). Whereas in traditional societies discipline was maintained by direct control and punishment or imprisonment of the body, the advent of modernism brought changes to the power-structures; power now attempts to transform the minds of individuals via more indirect control (FOUCAULT 1979).
What was then being formed was a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behaviour. ... [I]t defined how one may have a hold over others' bodies, not only so they may do what one wishes, but so that they may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines. Thus, discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, 'docile' bodies.
Foucault 1979, 138
For feminists the link between these 'docile' bodies, the processes of discipline and normalisation and social control - especially of the female body - has been particularly interesting and has been repeatedly analysed (Bordo 1989, BUTLER 1993, Davis 1997, Bartky 1997).
In her article The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault (1989) Susan R. Bordo that women are always in pursuit of an unattainable ever-changing, homogenizing, elusive ideal of femininity (Bordo 1989, 14). This pursuit turns women's bodies into docile bodies, forcing women to spend their energies 'improving', transforming and subjugating their bodies to external regulation. Bordo argues that this discipline and normalization of the female body ... has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control (Bordo 1989, 14).
She goes on to argue that in our times - vision being the most provileged of the senses - the ideals of femininity are mainly perpetuated by visual imagery. Femininity has become a matter of constructing ... the appropriate surface presentation for the self (Bordo 1989, 17). One of the major difficulties, she argues, is that today's feminine ideal demands two very contradictory characteristics in a woman: she has to be warm and nurturing, charming and caring and at the same time tough, cool, succesful and in control, offering the best of 'masculine' and 'feminine' virtues (Bordo 1989).
I find that Lara is one of these women, seemingly offering everything a man may wish for today: she has the necessary 'macho' characteristics, but she is in no way masculine. She may be self-determined, independent, in control and strong (even carrying weapons) but she retains her femininity in the way she walks and moves, in the way her body is overemphasised and hyper-sexualised and in the way she is often represented in traditionally feminine poses with a 'feminine look' on her face (vulnerable, pouting or flirtatious).
But Bordo argues that what may look like a route to liberation and pleasure ('I can be anything I want'), may not be so fulfilling when women attempt to pursue this ideal:
Popular representations ... may speak forcefully through the rhetoric and symbolism of empowerment, personal freedom, 'having it all'. Yet female bodies, pursuing these ideals, may find themselves distracted, depressed, and physically ill as female bodies in the nineteenth century, pursuing a feminine ideal of dependency, domesticity, and delicacy.
Bordo 1989, 28
Considering this, Lara may seem empowering to some women, but it remains questionable if that is really true, if she does not rather set the stakes so high that no 'normal' woman can attain them - leaving only depression and frustration. Bordo is particularly interested in women's bodies' shape and with women's obsession with slenderness and dieting.2 For her, the correct body shape is one of the major rules of femininity. Paradoxically, the attempt to shape one's body according to the ideals actually offers many women a sense of control and mastery that they often lack in a male dominated world. But, Bordo argues, this sense of control - at least over one's own body - is illusory and turns one's body into one of Foucault's 'docile' bodies. (Bordo 1989)
Similarly, Sandra Lee Bartky, in her article Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power (1997) argues that modern disciplinary practices, which render a body 'feminine' and which seek to regulate its very forces and operations, the economy and efficiency of its movements (Bartky 1997, 129) can be divided into three categories: the practices of the first aim to regulate a body's shape and size; those of the second bring forth a way of moving and gesturing that is specifically feminine; and the practices of the third category deal with the decoration and the display of the female body (Bartky 1997). These practices are not violently enforced on women, there are no formal authorities or institutions who discipline transgressive bodies, so why, asks Bartky, do women conform to these practices - if we discard both the notion that they are performed voluntarily or that they are natural? (Bartky 1997)
Using Foucault's ideas on the operation of power, she argues that the very subjectivity of the subject is constituted by the structure of power. As the prisoner in Foucault's Panopticum - a model prison, consisting of a central tower and a circular structure, divided into individual cells, surrounding it (Foucault 1979) - woman is under constant surveillance. But the surveillance does not only originate from the central tower, instead the conscious and permanent visibility (Foucault 1979, 201) induces in the inmate the need to perpetually surveille his (or her) own self. The gaze which is inscribed in the very structure of the disciplinary institution is internalized by the inmate (Bartky 1997, 147). In the same way women have internalised the standards of femininity and keep themselves under constant surveillance:
In contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women: They stand perpetually before his gaze and under his judgement. Woman lives her body as seen by another, by an anonymous, patriarchal Other.
Bartky 1997, 140
Bartky argues that even though the effects of the self-discipline may actually harm and inhibit women, it is practiced nonetheless because it also offers a sense of mastery (control over one's own body, mastery of all the 'beauty care skills' required of women) and a secure sense of identity. Therefore she reminds particularly feminists that
any political project which aims to dismantle the machinery that turns a female body into a feminine one may well be apprehended by a woman as something that threatens her with desexualitzation, if not outright annihilation.
Bartky 1997, 146
Discipline, by means of normalisation, is focused sharply on women's bodies. Not so much her ability to bear children, but her sexuality and her appearance have become the central concern. Bartky relates this to the growing power of the image in a society increasingly oriented toward the visual media (Bartky 197, 149).
A similar argument is made by Bordo when she says that the rules of femininity have come to be culturally transmitted more and more through the deployment of standardized visual images (Bordo 1989, 17).
I believe that Lara can definetely be seen as a prime example of these standardised visual images that normalise women. She manages the dual demands placed on women today, to be 'macho' and feminine at the same time. She thereby helps to peretuate a common image of women that is in reality unattainable. Particularly her body represents an ideal that is hardly realisable: she is incredibly thin, has a improbably large breasts and is physically fit. To aim for these bodily characteristics would force women to spend even more time dieting, consulting plastic surgeons and working out in fitness studios. One thing that can be interpreted as positive is that she helps break with our cultural association of curvaceousness and incompetence (Bordo 1989, 23). Here, finally, we have a large-breasted woman that is definitely not a 'bimbo'. She also breaks with the recent fascination with female bodies that are almost asexual, bodies that are reminiscent of early adolescence, bodies into whose very contours the image of immaturity has been inscribed (Bartky 1997, 141). But even with these small challenges to cultural codes I find that she perpetuates a potentially limiting and inhibiting image of a woman's body.
In our postmodern consumer culture everything has been commodified, turned into a 'product', consumption and hedonism are our daily aims, and capitalism increasingly penetrates our day-to-day existence:
The onslaught of commodification that is characterstic of late capitalism has ... even managed to obliterate the classically Marxist distinction between the economic and the cultural. ... [It is] an indeterminate situation in the which the economic and the cultural - representations, signs - create and feed each other.
Bertens 1995, 10
Lara clearly displays signs of this link: originally the product of the subculture of computer games, she has been appropriated by capitalism and turned into a potent economic symbol. The entire culture surrounding Lara is constructed through capitalist discourse as has been shown in chapter 2. Seen from this point of view, Lara is definitely a postmodern phenomenon since postmodernism and late capitalism are often seen as closely linked and interdependent. Postmodernism advocates an aestheticisation of life, assumes no human nature and true self and therefore supports the endless pursuit of new experiences, values and vocabularies (Featherstone in Bertens 1995, 212). Capitalism also supports this pursuit and profits from it by offering experience and identity construction via consumption (Bertens 1995, 214).
While many critics condemn postmodernism due to its links to capitalism, Deleuze and Guattari have argued most interestingly, that the combination of postmodernism and capitalism may actually contain the potential to cause the latter's downfall:
Capitalist systems effectively control desire by attaching it to the production and consumption of goods, and by trapping social subjects in an organised network of normalising impersonal social structures and processes. ...[C]apitalism has the effect of undoing identity by channelling desires in many different directions at once. It continually destabilises itself by inventing new territories for consumer desire. As commodities multiply, there are more things to desire, more images to identify with, and more lines of escape. Learning to live this proliferation of contradictory desires and identifications offers us paths for liberation and defiance. By becoming intense, 'decentred' consumers, we can pose a threat to the territorialisation of private and social life. ... [C]apitalism could generate more and more multiplicity, and therefore...actually contains the seed of revolution.
Ward 1997, 138
I do see some of this potential in Lara - she could be 'counter-consumed', ie consumed in a way that was not intended by the producers and marketers. By reading her against the grain and by refusing to blindly consume her the way she is offered, the consumer holds the power to challenge the system. The possibilities range from the appropriation of Lara by lesbian communities to the positive role model Lara could be for teenage girls who actively pick the positive and empowering sides of her, ignoring the more limiting and inhibiting ones.
In our society that is intent on visual imagery and on consumerism and commodification, we are furthermore bombarded with idealised images of bodies. Springer argues, that the endless depiciton of human bodies have in effect replaced actual human bodies in the public imagination (Springer 1996, 40). Lara takes the commodification and idealisation to an extreme. She is readily available, she is linked to consumer goods and she is often reduced to a commodity. Overdrawing it, one may say that a woman's life, her body and mind can be bought and sold at will and used whenever the owner feels like it. This may not be quite the case, particularly because she is not real, but it is definetely an underlying current in the different forms of representation.
The hyper-sexualisation of Lara's representation - both visual and textual and particularly in the context of advertising - furthermore makes apparent what Foucault, in the first volume of The History of Sexuality (1976) describes as the ever growing discourse on sex. Far from being a society that suppresses sexualitiy, modern western society actually produces sexuality in the form of endless sex-talk, sex-study and sex-theory (Ward 1997, 131). All the discourse on sexuality only further emphasises the modern notion that there is 'natural' sex and is thereby another form of social control, because it makes sex into a problem.
The discourse on sexuality creates the notion that sex is an absolute, abstract category. Sex and sexuality have become the titles used to cover all bodies and their pleasures. ... All bodily pleasures are now inderstood in the terms of the degree to which they deviate from, conform to, improve or avoid sex. Sex is the dominant term, the standard against which 'the body and pleasure' are measured.
Ward 1997, 131
In this sense, the discourse on sexuality objectifies and categorises our experiences which fundamentally effects both our experience of personal and social identity. (Ward 1997, 133). The representations of Lara with their overt connotations to sexuality further enforce this idea. A game - and the other products she is used to promote - can only give pleasure when it is related to sexuality and the body.
In her article Forms of Technological Embodiment: Reading the Body in Contemporary Culture (1995), Anne Balsamo offers another interesting explanation why certain bodies are represented in an overly sexualised way. She uses the representations of female bodybuilders to make her point, but her arguments equally apply to Lara:
female bodybuilders who develop big muscles, and consequently greater strength, are considered transgressive of the natural 'order' of things - an order that defines women as weak and frail. Their transgressive body displays (of female bodies that are also strong bodies) are neutralized in the mass media through the representations that sexualise their athletic bodies - their sexual attractiveness is asserted over their physical capabilities.
Balsamo 1995, 217
By sexualising Lara in the manner that most representations do, the fear that a strong - and even armed - woman might induce in a male consumer is radically diminished. Even though she may challenge the common notion of femininity as weak, compliant and dependent, the inherent threat is reduced by over-emphasising the biological difference between men and women, constantly reassuring the viewer of these differences which are necessary to justify male superiority.
Claudia Springer offers an interesting thought on the popularity of virtual sex in her book Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (1996). She argues that many people's fascination with bodiless sexuality can be linked to the very real dangers to the body that exist in our times. Springer lists AIDS, environmental disasters and nuclear war. Not only do these threaten to kill individuals but the existence of the whole human race is at stake. Taking this threat into account, she argues that it is understandable that in fantasy we reconstitute ourselves as pure intellect, without the burden of imperfect, fragile, and mortal bodies (Springer 1996, 84). But she discovers a paradox in these fantasies, while people imagine a bodiless future they overemphasise bodily pleasures so that the bodiless future promises to provide extraordinarily intense sexual gratification (Springer 1996, 84).
Even though people do not actually have virtual sex with Lara, many fans seem to fantasize about it and Lara is certainly portrayed in a way that invites sexual fantasies. Imagining sex with her is completely harmless, holds no risks, no commitments and no real threat. Similar to virtual sex this produces new forms of hyperreal pornography ... in which you can engage in any kind of fantasy, presumably without fear of bodily harm or arrest (Ward 1997, 115).
The idea that female sexuality is dangerous is age-old and deeply embedded in western, patriarchal society: sexuality is dangerous, and sexual women pose a threat either because they are killers themselves or because they incite violence in men (Springer 1996, 157). I find that this perceived threat is certainly expressed in the different ways that Lara is represented. Being both extremely sexual and quite a killer at the same time, she is the epitome of 'woman'. But her particular form of existence allows men to act out their desire to control and contain women and their sexuality. Women's bodies have always been perceived as far more permeable, fluid and subject to 'leakage' (Lupton 1995, 101) than men's bodies.3 This instability inspires both repulsion and desire - the female body offers emotional security but also threatens engulfment (Lupton 1995). By playing the game or by consuming images of Lara, men have the chance to explore their fascination with female sexuality without a real threat, while at the same time controlling the process - either very directly in the game or indirectly through their choice to look or not to look. Female sexuality and women's bodies are thereby objectified and turned into a commodity, loosing their perceived danger.
Dealing specifically with representation, Craig Owens argues that the patriarchal order privileges vision over the other senses (Owens 1985, 71) and that representation is a means to deal with the 'threat' posed by the female. Images of women, he argues, often reflect the masculine desire to fix the woman in a stable and stabilizing identity (Owens 1985, 75). This idea seems to relates perfectly to the stable identity Lara is given in all representations, as I have argued in the previous chapter.
But while Lara's body, her representation and the way she is talked about is saturated with sexuality, her identity is suprisingly asexual. She does not have any sexual relationships, we are not even informed of her sexual orientation - but due to western societies heterosexual bias, she is automatically assumed to be heterosexual unless we are informed otherwise. Her body is there for our pleasure but her bodily pleasures are nowhere even considered. This reinforces the notion that women are sexual creatures, attractive, sexy and desirable but that they seemingly have no sexuality themselves which others would have to worry about. There is no need to consider her desires or her preferences. Here it becomes apparent again that she is created by men and for men, or as Owens puts it: the representational systems of the West admit only one vision - that of the constitutive male subject - or, rather, they posit the subject of representation as absolutely centered, unitary, masculine (Owens 1985, 58). Our patriarchal system of power legitimises certain images while prohibiting others. Woman as the subject of an image is invalid, whereas images of women as objects are multiple.
I find this particularly interesting when contrasting Lara to the pop-star Madonna, who is probably the best-known postmodern icon. Incessantly reinventing herself4, she is always particularly keen to play with sex and gender stereotypes. Whether she reinforces or subverts these stereotypes in the end is widely debated but of no meaning for my point that she actively deals with sexuality and makes it very clear that she definetely has her own sexuality - even when leaving us in the dark as to just how that sexuality is constituted. Lara as such holds all these possibilities but they are not explored and Eidos would probably do everything in their power to prevent that. A Lara that is subversive and potentially rebellious would not attract such a large audience anymore and would drastically reduce her value - particularly for advertising.
The over-emphasisation of biological difference in the representations of Lara raises another issue that postmodernism and feminism frequently deal with: the fact that Western thought is based on the concept of binaries and that these not only designate difference but also assign a value to the opposing elements. Like all representations of sexual difference that our culture produces, ...[it] is an image not simply of anatomical difference, but of the values assigned to it (Owens 1985, 61). Both postmodernism and feminism have therefore raised a strong criticism of binary thinking, demanding instead to be able to conceive difference without hierarchy (Owens 1985, 62).
Thinking in binaries has divided the world into mind/body, male/female, natural/cultural, real/artificial (and many other oppositional pairs). Within this construct, woman is identified as the inferior natural body which needs to be controlled by the superior, cultural male mind:
The female body becomes a metaphor for the corporeal pole of this dualism, representing nature, emotionality, irrationality and sensuality. Images of the dangerous, appetitive female body, ruled precariously by her emotions, stand in contrast to the masterful, masculine will, the locus of social power, rationality and self-control. The female body is always the 'other': mysterious, unruly, threatening to erupt and challenge the patriarchal order.
Davis 1997, 5
Masculinity is therefore dependent on dualities to justify its claim to superiority (Springer 1996, 49), or as Anne Balsamo puts it: the construction of a boundary between nature and culture ... guarantees a proper order of things (Balsamo 1995, 215). She goes on to argue that the body is particularly significant in the process of boundary settings because here the anxieties about loss of the 'proper order' erupt and are played out:
Techno-bodies are healthy, enhanced and fully functional - more real than real. ...As is often the case when seemingly stable boundaries are displaced by technological innovation, ... other boundaries are more vigilantly guarded. Indeed, the gendered boundary between male and female is one border that remains heavily guarded despite new technologized ways to rewrite the physical body in the flesh.
Balsamo 1995, 216
Again Lara seems to be a prime example of this, considering that she is definitely more real than real, not only in her physical abilities but also in her femininity. Blurring the proper boundaries through her 'masculine' behaviour, her overtly feminine body is used to even things out. Since she is completely fictional, her body could have had any shape, but, as Balsamo says correctly, the border remains heavily guarded.
The creation of characters such as Lara could help bring us closer to what Donna Haraway, in her essay A Cyborg Manifesto, describes as a post gender world (Haraway 1991). Using new technologies - Haraway uses the cyborg as an example - we could rid ourselves of the self-imposed limitations inherent in our constructs of gender and our binary thinking. 'Real' and 'artificial' are challenged along with 'natural' and 'cultural'. Haraway envisions a world that might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanent partial identities and contradictory standpoints (Haraway 1991, 154). Instead of realising these possibilites, Lara challenges some social codes of femininity but immediately reinforces others to keep the balance. Though she may be a symbol of new technologies and of progress, her potential is realised in a blatantly conservative and traditional way. But, as Springer says in relation to a British TV series, even though it
is evidence that patriarchal ideology tenaciously persists in the late twentieth century despite all the cultural changes that reveal its artificiality ...[it] may indicate that patriarchal ideology is unraveling. No longer coherent in its textual presentation, patriarchal ideology persists amid glaring contradicitons and tensions.
Springer 1996, 160
The issue of dichotomies also brings to the forefront the question of real and artificial. Particularly in relation to Lara this raises interesting questions, considering that she is not 'real' but treated as if she were. Our society is increasingly confronted with the question of what is real - if such a thing as reality exists - and what is not and how to deal with the resulting difficulties. The way Lara is represented can be analysed as part of an attempt to deal with the threats of a dissolving sense of reality and the pluralisation of virtual realities.
3.3 The Question of Reality
Postmodern theories often deal with the issues of reality and representation. Hans Bertens even goes so far to state that [i]f there is a common denominator to all these postmodernisms, it is that of a crisis in representation: a deeply felt loss of faith in our ability to represent the real in the widest sense (Bertens 1995, 11). The belief that there is a direct and linear relationship between an image and that which it represents is no longer considered to be valid, representations are ... no longer determined by an essential connection to the things which they are suppsed to represent (Ward 1997).
Due to the saturation of our society with media and therefore mediation, our culture is increasingly simulational, the media often changes the things that it treats, transforming the identities of originals and referentialities. In the second media age 'reality' becomes multiple (Poster 1995, 85).
The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard is particularly associated with theories of reality and simulation. He argues that there is no direct relationship between an image and reality and that therefore simulation cannot be the opposite of truth. Rather the two concepts operate on different planes. He defines simulation as the generation of models of a real without origin or reality (Baudrillard in Ward 1997, 61).
This dissolution of the dichotomy real/simulation or authentic/inauthentic is closely related to the proliferation of different media and mediations that have permeated our society. Our daily experiences have become mediated by images, so that 'authentic' experience becomes impossible. (Landsberg 1995)
But Baudrillard goes even further: not only is there no connection between simulation and reality, to him there is no more reality against which we could even measure the difference, the image has imploded into reality, to use his phrase. There is no real, essential, unmediated stance outside of simulation. (Ward 1997)
Nevertheless are simulation and what we term reality closely related. Baudrillard argues that, contrary to popular belief, images precede the real and produce it instead of reality producing the images. Our concept and experience of reality is shaped and mediated by the images we have absorbed of this reality: We can experience the world only through a kind of filter of preconceptions and expectations fabricated in advance by a culture swamped by images (Ward 1997, 60). Even our construction of identity is deeply influenced by this. Even if we presume a 'true' identity somewhere within a person, how could you, Ward asks, seperate it from the various identities you are sold daily in advertising, fashion/lifestyle/interior decoration magazines, sex technique videos, shop window displays, fitness programmes, pop records? (Ward 1997, 68). Furthermore, identity is constructed by experience - so how does the impossibility of authentic experience effect our sense of self? Baudrillard argues that society's reaction to the simulation we experience is panic. Desperation and a longing for reality let us make fetishes of the supposedly authentic. In an attempt to assure ourselves of our reality and that of experiences, products, images etc, we manufacture what Baudrillard calls the hyperreal5, meaning more real-than-real. For hyperreality it is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself (Baudrillard in Springer 1996, 34). This leads to a kind of nostalgia, a faible for myths of origin and signs of reality.
This underscores my earlier point that Lara needs to be particularly feminine (more real-than-real) precisely because she challenges at the same time - through her artificiality - our concept of reality. Computer games are becoming more and more realistic, virtual reality for the masses is just around the corner, digital characters are becoming indistinguishable from real persons. All of these changes further enhance our increasing doubts about reality and authenticity. We are at the same time frightened and fascinated by their possibilities and these alternating currents are also visible in representations dealing with new technologies.
In his article Rear-View Mirrorshades: The Recursive Generation of the Cyberbody (1995), Nigel Clark, drawing on Marshall McLuhan, Walter Benjamin and Baudrillard, argues that, whenever confronted with new experiences and drastic changes, people tend to 'look backwards', towards the past in an attempt to master the new challenges. McLuhan said that we tend to look at the pesent through the spectacles of the preceeding age (McLuhan in Clark 1995, 114) and Benjamin offered the striking image of the 'angel of history' perpetually backing his way into the future (Clark 1995, 114). Major changes and transformations lead to an insecurity - in order to deal with this insecurity and the discomfort that, what we perceived up to now as reality, has changed, we take refuge in the imagined certainties of previous times. (Clark 1995)
In our present times which are bringing unprecedented changes and challenges, we can see this recursive view in many cases, Lara being one of them as I have argued above. Particularly the digital media oscillate between onward roll and backward glance, since they contribute strongly to the destabilisation of our traditional sense of reality. This - frightening and new - destabilisation is often countered by the deployment of these new media as instruments for the containment, subjugation and recording of a universe of refractory messages (Clark 1995, 115).
But whereas Baudrillard only sees panic and the construction of a hyperreality as the outcome of these alternating currents and the underlying anxiety, other theorists see a great potential in the 'death of the real'. Alison Landsberg, in her article Prosthetic Memory (1995), agrees with Baudrillard that the death of the experience has led to a veritable explosion of, or popular obsession with, experience of the real (Landsberg 1995, 178). But whereas Baudrillard only sees this in negative terms, this development seems to offer many positive possibilities for Landsberg. She argues that mediated experiences are no less important or meaningful than supposedly authentic ones. People's desire to experience, for example history (via virtual reality, experience museums, realistic computer games etc) and not just read about it, offers the opportunity to make history into personal memories. Landsberg would like to see the changes as a new relationship to experience which relies less on categories like the authentic and sympathy than on categories like responsibility and empathy (Landsberg 1995, 178).
New technologies offer us new way to experience things we would otherwise have never had the chance to experience. And if supposedly 'authentic' experience is mediated as well, and always has been- is virtual experience really so very different? Dealing particularly with movies and the cinema, Landsberg suggests that
the experience within the movie theater and the memories that the cinema affords - despite the fact that the spectator did not live through them - might be as significant in constructing, or deconstructing, the spectator's identity as any experience that s/he actually lived through.
Landsberg 1995, 180
Mark Poster (1995) furthermore argues that technology increasingly duplicates real reality (he does not make quite clear what he means by real reality, though). But this virtual reality does not simply mirror reality it offers alternations and possibilites that do not exist in reality. He sees the virtual experiences as encouraging play, discovery and experimentation much more so than do actual live through experiences. In these imaginative surroundings people can play and experiment with identity in unprecedented ways:
Virtual reality takes the imaginary of the word and the imaginray of the film or video image one step farther by placing the individual 'inside' alternative worlds. By directly tinkering with reality, a simulational practice is set in place which alters forever the conditions under which the identity of the self is formed.
Poster 1995, 86
This idea of playing and experimenting with identities has held an understandable fascination for feminists. Cyber-technology offers the possibility of getting outside of gender. Particularly Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant and Claudia Springer are considered to be cyberfeminists. In her famous essay A Cyborg Manifesto (1991), Haraway envisions a world full of virtual space where identity is fluid and fleeting and social concepts and prescriptions of gender are a thing of the past - along with other limiting social codes.
Sadie Plant argues along the same lines when she encourages woment to embrace technology because she believes the alliance of software and women can bring about patriarchy's downfall:
Like women, software systems are used as man's tools, his media and his weapons; all are developed in the interests of man, but all are poised to betray him. ... Women's liberations is sustained and vitalized by the proliferation and globalization of software technologies, all of which feed into self-organizing, self-arousing systems that enter the scene on her side.
Plant 1995, 58
In her book Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (1996), Claudia Springer deals mainly with representations of cyborgs human hybrids. She comes to the conclusion, that
[i]n the arena of fictional representation the imagery of human fusion with artificial components is replete with metaphors pertaining to sex and gender. Representations of technology have long been gendered and eroticized, so this is not a new phenomenon, but an analysis of recent imagery reveals the particular desires and fears of the late twentieth century, a time when the future of human beings in any form, male or female, can no longer be taken for granted.
Springer 1996, 48
The representations of Lara can be seen as a prime example of this. New technologies - virtual reality but also genetic engineering and plastic surgery - threaten to make the sexual difference obsolete and thereby undermining a pillar of patriarchy. In a desperate attempt to hold on to old conventions and securities, signs of masculinity and femininity have to be over-emphasised.
So it would seem that the possibilities for a feminist subversion and challenge to patriarchy are there but go as yet mainly unused. The world of cyber is still male dominated and clings desperately to old gender concepts, as can be seen in the construction of Lara. But, as I have argued before, cracks in the patriarchal ideology are becoming visible, changes are taking place - if slowly. Lara sends out contradictory messages and she can have multiple meanings. I believe there is a chance here if we explore the cracks further and find ways of subverting traditional readings of Lara.
In this thesis I have looked at the many different manifestations of the virtual character Lara Croft. The amount of images and representations of Lara is huge and I have introduced the reader to several of them. She has been seen in many different situations, poses and media. After having - hopefully - achieved a detailed impression of what Lara looks like and how she is represented, I went on to analyse these images from a feminist postmodern standpoint. The combination of these two theoretical positions seems to me to be very potent when dealing with representations from the realm of popular culture. Both have a deep interest in issues of representation and as far as theoretical ideas on popular culture are concerned, I believe that feminism can gain valuable insights when collaborating with postmodernism.
The issues and questions I raised in my theoretical analysis are related to the concepts of identity, the body and reality. All three seem to have a particularly close relation to the phenomenon Lara Croft. Lara's identity is constructed as stable, she seems to have found her true self (through the life-changing tragedy she lived through) and manages to live accordingly. In this respect she has achieved what modernism strives for. But she is also very postmodern in that her identity is artificially put together from fragments and bits and pieces that the inventors thought fitting. Therefore her identity holds the possibility of shifting and changing of exploring the chances of fluidity and change. Both the mode of her construction and the medium she first appeared in further support this postmodern fragmentation. Computer games are prime examples of fragmentation since, as opposed to movies, there is no linear story line. Instead you can stop, come back later, replay a scenario, or do something in a different way. But it would seem that Lara's potential is not realised. I argued that this is due to the fact that the major changes that the new technologies and the second media age bring with them do not only bring about enthusiasm and fascination, but also fear and disorder. This instability is perceived as threatening and needs to be dealt with, one way is to fix other things more firmly in their designated place, such as Lara's identity for example.
Or that of the body. Lara's body is overtly feminine, I argue, because the dissolvance of boundaries in other areas such as nature/culture, real/artificial and human/non-human, needs to be countered by a reaffirmation of perceived stabilities, such as biological difference. But the representation of Lara's body does more than just fasten gender stereotypes. It also helps to perpetuate to perpetuate a feminine ideal that women are desperately and unsuccesfully trying to achieve. Here power and Foucault's analysis of its workings come into play. Since power is no longer working top to bottom but along an interconnected web, its workings are much more subtle and hard to find.
Images are one way of controlling subjects because they help form our concepts of self and the ideals we strive towards. Images of femininity in our culture lead women to be perpetually busy with their bodies: keeping them in the right shape, moving in the proper way and to decorating them nicely, perpetually trying to transform and 'improve' them.
Foucault calls these bodies docile bodies because all energies are diverted to activities that are unthreatening for the social order and the status quo. Conforming to these images of femininity gives many women a sense of achievement and power, which is illusory and trying to reach these ideals can be outright harmful (eg plastic surgery).
Images therefore need to be critically assessed and explored for their potentially limiting messages and for their possible subversive potential.
Since images shape and influence the way we perceive reality the last part of my final chapter deals with the concepts of real and artificial. Postmodernism has often proclaimed the end of the real, arguing that everything is simulation with no linear connection to some unmediated 'real' reality. Opinions diverge whether this is to be seen in negative or positive tones. Where Baudrillard only sees panic and the construction of a hyperreality, other theorists argue that this offers new chances and possibilities. They emphasise the potential that arises when we experience things without actually living through them. They argue that these mediated experienced first do not differ that much from supposedly 'authentic' experience (since there is no real outside of simulation) and second are just as influential in the construction of our identity and self as are experiences we actually live through. Virtual space furthermore invites a playfulness, and imaginative responses and offers room for experimentation. Feminists have been particularly interested in these ideas since they also offer the chance to experiment with concepts of gender, sex and sexualities which could in the long run lead to the disappearance of gender constructs alltogether.
Due to the limited space available, and since no analysis is ever exhaustive, I was unable to touch upon many points that could have further enriched my analysis. I could deal neither with the whole issue of pleasure nor with the contrasting concepts of capitalism - both of which could offer interesting insights. Other ideas I had to leave out are a closer analysis of feminism's relationship to subcultures and the question what new technologies and virtual experiences implicate for the material body. The materiality of the body is often neglected in postmodernism and cyberculture, here feminism with its many insightful thoughts on the materiality of the body could offer new angles and perspectives.
I would have particularly liked to further explore the impications cyberculture could have for feminism. Cyber and new technologies often challenge boundaries by their mere existence, especially those between natural/artificial and human/non-human. Once boundaries start to dissolve, others - such as gender - might at first be guarded even more strongly but in the long run might topple as well.
Master Thesis, Women's Studies, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 1999.
© Birgit Pretzsch www.cyberpink.de
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