erotics and repression in stranger chat sites

Curator's Note

I’m taken with the erotics of “random stranger” websites – omegle (at first, and ever in my heart, a text chat), chatroulette (whose video-based format affords more familiarly pornographic exchanges), and manroulette (another video-based spin off, where the cock really comes out).

What is it about these sites that opens such a profound and mysterious gate to eros? John McGrath, in “Loving Big Brother,” writes about the erotic possibilities of these new topographies, of the delight in the absent/present other, the denaturalization of Euclidean space, of how this weaving of suspense and indeterminacy suddenly lays bare our own moral code, leaving us to pique and question and play with it. I’ll add to that the evocative context of a deep pervasive silence – the purity of this one signal, this one connection, textual or visual, between the two of us through the void.

I find omegle deeply and intimately erotic. I am told “You are now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!” So I type “Hi!” and smile and wonder “Why are we here? What are we doing together?” It’s like cruising – the glance, the smile, the faith that the glance and smile are sufficient unto themselves but also the stirring hope that there might be …. something else, something more. The mystery of the give and take of making each other, and making each other fit, from such an undetermined palette.

And, surprise! The opening of this new space invites repression and regulation! Normative identity categories are re-imposed along with Euclidian, territorial space. Almost always, the first question on Omegle is “asl?” [“Age/Sex/Location?”]. Rarely, I assure you, is the sought–for answer “55 y.o. gay man Toronto.” The quick visual check and “next” is standard on chatroulette and manroulette. On chatroulette map, screen shots of chatroullette sessions are posted and linked to geographic locations. This attachment of the generative erotic space to the socialized and territorialized place of the home excites a whole new kind of terror (one learns quickly to extract a statement of age from one’s new friend) and shame (yes, I checked Toronto on the map before posting it here).

The fly-over video of chatroulettemaps evokes much of this: the silence, the space, the cruising glide, the faces bored and intent, the cocks, the tits, the abs, and the jarring drop into someone’s home town.

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