Digital objects are inhabitants of this world. Inhabitants with their own materialities and temporalities. How can we think the specifics of the existence of digital entities? A Youtube video is an inhabitant of the real world, but does it have a sensibility, or an imagination? What kind of sexuality, if any, corresponds to it? What sexual experiences are possible for a YouTube video? What desires, what pains, what pleasures?
Can a Youtube video lose its virginity? Desvirguer Analytics is a Mundo Oculto project that claims to remove the virginity of youtube videos, giving them their first view. An algorithm automatically finds and reproduces, on a page with humorous advertising spam spoofs, youtube videos that have a zero view counter. This project mockingly suggests the possibility that a YouTube video can be deflowered.
What is virginity? Perhaps the most widespread use of this word is the one that refers to a person, with a vagina, who has not experienced vaginal penetration from a penis. It is true that, if we look for more specific definitions of virginity, we can find other meanings: instead of vaginal penetration with a penis, it can be referred to a broader sense of sexual relations, instead of being applied to people with vaginas, we can speak of people in general. One can even talk about virgin oil, or virgin forest. However, when we speak of virginity the term seems to refer, par excellence, to a supposed state of people with vaginas, which is prior to the first penile vaginal penetration.
The concept of virginity has historically acted as a biopolitical dispositif aimed to control the sexuality and reproduction of bodies with a vagina. Think of the most representative figure of virginity: the virgins, women who, because of their lack of penetrative sexual practices, were considered virtuous, valuable, clean. Once that virginity is suspended, the only way to claim that value back, to overcome the devaluation and contamination implied by the first penetration, is to serve as the reproductive machine of humanity. And this redemption is always partial, incomplete. The bodies with penis “take” virginity, the bodies with vagina “lose” it. There is no equality in the evaluation of the sexual interaction of the bodies.
In this sense, “losing virginity” appears as a form of passiveness. If deflowering is an action that appears associated with masculine activity, being deflowered is an effect associated with female passivity. Virginity is actually a misogynist metaphor that refers to a state corresponding to bodies sexualized as feminine. The change that aims to produce only makes sense from a value scheme that supports an alleged superiority of masculinity and bodies with a penis, as opposed to the passiveness of femininity, and of bodies with a vagina.
Virginity is a moral concept, not a biological one. Its placement as a biological state is purely metaphorical. The description of bodies that haven’t been penetrated by a penis as “virgins” transforms the morality of the concept into a supposed biological materiality. It assumes both a restrictive sacralization of the female bodies, as it conceives those bodies as something valuable only insofar as they do not perform certain sexual acts; and a political hegemony of the penetrative, where the same action that devalues the female body, gives value and prestige to another type of body: the masculine.
How can a YouTube video be deflowered? For the Desvirguer Analytics’ project neither the concept of virginity itself, nor the action of “removing it”, are in question. Its meaning is not ironic, or figurative: the very fact that there is something like “deflowering” is accepted by this project as a material reality, not as a moralizing metaphor. The only thing that is put into question is how to apply that concept to a YouTube video. The autoplay function that is automatically activated on the page changes the status of the video: from virgin to deflowered. A view is the mechanism by which the superiority of the search algorithm is effected upon the digital image. The automation of the view adds a nuance of imposition, of lack of consensus, to the act.
Desvirguer Analytics unfolds a conservative moral that links sexual acts with the corruption of the essence of beings, but instead of placing it on female sexed bodies, it places it on digital beings, as sacralization of the digital image. We are facing technological conservatism disguised as witty humor. As with the biological metaphor of virginity, digital images are conceived as “virgins” according to a supposed state prior to screen display. In exchange for their previous anonymity, the videos finally comply with the norm of being accessible at all times to vision.
These images don’t come to meet us, instead they are pulled from the anonymous mass of youtube data centers, to our screens. As an act of street harassment, which singles out a female body from among the other bodies that occupy the public space, to violate it; youtube videos are subjected by the algorithm of Desvirguer Analytics to a process of coercive feminization, for which the result, all too familiar for the political subject that women are, is the effective loss of political power and ability to inhabit the public space in their own terms.
The project proposes a resignification of virginity through digital theatralisation. It’s assumed that a YouTube video increases its value when it’s seen: the more views, the better. Desvirguer Analytics gives reality to the concept of virginity, presupposes that it’s a state that must be lost, but also assumes that there is a quantitative worth for youtube videos. The execution of the deflowering click attempts against the virginal sacralization in two ways: 1) because of the emergence of virginity in a stage in which is supposedly alien 2) assuming that the greatest number of views – the largest number of erotic encounters, following this metaphor – increases the quality of the digital objects to which the virginal state is attributed. Through this mechanism, we convert the videos into exhibitionists that seek to be consumed by digital voyeurism.
However, Desvirguer Analytics fails in its attempt to desacralize because, on the one hand, it ignores the video as a possible agent that has effects on the viewer, reproducing the biopolitical discourse on passive virginity referred above; and on the other hand, it asserts the sacredness of virginity, which at the beginning seems to be confronting, in a negative way, by carrying out the valorization according to which a digital object with a greater number of views – at least one – is more desirable than one with less views. Here the concept of virginity is left intact, because its negation is executed from a strictly binary conception, which conceives only two terms: destruction via banalization, or absolute sacralization. The criticism of virginity is not as simple as the project presumes.
With the trivialization of the possibility of an autonomous sexuality of digital images, Desvirguer Analytics also trivializes its capacity for agency, and our possibility to have consensual sexual interactions with them. It grants us, as spectators, an unjustified preeminence. There is no equality here between digital and organic beings. The superiority of views is typical of a vision regime that digital programmers / artists impose upon images, and between these YouTube videos conceived as feminized digital images and the masculinized algorithm that deflowers them. The symbolic conservatism of sexual morality thus overlaps the conservatism of the technologic performance.
The algorithm that operates in this project assumes that these videos want to be seen, that they must be “saved” from lack of recognition and anonymity, that they are incomplete beings that only make sense thanks to the added value that a view dispenses to them. The videos, however, even those disdained for not having a single visit, already exist in a database that is beyond our vision and, in this sense, they are computed and processed, they are related to algorithms, they are stored in databases, they have effects on human and non-human bodies. They do not require our views to have consequences in the world.
What does a YouTube video desire? What can an image do? Just as female bodies are not there to be deflowered, and they do not experience lack or contamination for the sexual acts they decide to engage in, the images have functions that exceed the mere “being seen”. Digital images demand assemblies, spaces, rights, desires. Their functions are not determined by the viewer, be it a human, be it an automated reproduction algorithm. They have a life of their own. It would be necessary to dismantle the joke: to affirm that in fact the digital images are sexual beings, with all the possibilities and problems that this could present. To take the joke seriously: that would be truly radical.
What kind of sexual acts does a YouTube video demand? Maybe the plethora of undetermined options we claim for ourselves. Maybe instead of grossly assuming that we know what they are, how they work, what they want, and what they like, that we can manipulate and modify them as it please us, it is time to start asking ourselves what kind of interactions can we have with those digital images, to develop a more sophisticated erotic for our encounters with them.