Content theft and impersonation are issues that can have serious financial impacts on those whose careers take place online. Cam (2018) explores and extends the fears surrounding online identity theft, suggesting that the physical body is the ultimate identity protection device. Alice is a popular camgirl who goes by the moniker of Lola. Like many YouTube personalities and social media influencers she has curated an attractive image of herself online. She interacts with her fans, but has never met them. Her mediated image (and name) is all they know of her. The crisis of the film occurs when Alice gets locked out of her account, yet Lola is somehow still streaming online. Alice has lost control over her self-presentation. The site’s customer service is ineffective and the police are aggressively unhelpful. There is not a system in place that is equipped to deal with many of the issues individuals are facing online (impersonation, intellectual property theft, harassment, etc) and individuals may find themselves with little to no legal recourse. Alice is left to navigate this loss of identity on her own, mimicking the lack of resources that currently exist for those curating online identities.
As Brooke Erin Duffy argues, the labor that social media producers perform is invisible to followers. While we as audience members of Cam see the labor that Alice has put into her online brand, her viewers do not. The fake Lola is breaking the rules Alice had put in place for herself, and yet her audience doesn't know or care. They accept the “new” Lola and never notice a difference between the two. Even worse, while Alice no longer controls or benefits from her online persona's behavior, she ultimately suffers the consequences. Her personal relationships are threatened because of the actions of her digital doppelgänger.
Because the fake Lola looks identical to Alice, it is only through physical self-harm that Alice is able to gain back access to her account. The physical body is thus made to be the indicator of truth. While Alice had previously simulated self-harm as Lola, it is only by undergoing physical trauma that she is able to reassert her claim to her channel and name. For Cam, it is the corporeal body that remains triumphant over the superficiality of online identity.
I reall enjoyed your post,
I reall enjoyed your post, Andrea. I like that through the week we are threading together the suppression of affect to the suppression of labor in digital self-mediation. I haven't seen Cam yet but it is on my immediate to-do-list! It sounds like it defiinitely engages with the uncanny and the simulacrum. What are the limits of the ability to simulate another's identity or of digital imitation? Does the impostor's self harm or her labor matter, does the digital image feel? Or is it a zombie body?
Edgar Allan Poe's short story William Wilson (1839) echoes Alice/Lola's unnerving and ultimately violent relationship with her doppelgänger. Really want to watch this film now - but am equally terrified to see what happens next...
Live-Streaming Body Horror
Wow, that trailer was a ride! Building off of Jenny's comments, I also feel like the themes that Cam evokes relate to Artificial Intelligence and the cultural fears surrounding the uncanny valley. Echoing the spectral text dialogue in Personal Shopper in Jenny's post, the other "Lola" that streams despite Alice's non-involvement is a too-real copy that Alice cannot control. Lola is more Alice than Alice was. The live-streamed self becomes the reality, the one self-presentation that Lola's fans believe to be the truth to Alice. An inversion occurs here in Cam that is like Alice drifting through the looking-glass. From the trailer, I'm left wondering what role shame may play, primarily shame at the live-streamed exposure of the body that then literally develops a life of its own. On this front, I wonder how Cam relates to other media with narratives of exposure of one's online activity or browsing history, a type of "selfie data trail" that has become the fodder for portrayals such as Black Mirror's "Shut Up and Dance" episode, where the main character is blackmailed into increasingly bold and violent tests in order to avoid exposure of his browsing history. I wonder what else Cam brings to the fore at the intersection of live-streamed media and self-images? What changes when we think of selfies through the lens of the live-streamed self with its ability to attest to a truth beyond question due to its liveness?
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