Sentence-sliced Text Chapter 8
Chapter 8 Cultural Freedom: A Culture Both Plastic and Critical
- Gone with the Wind
- There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South.
- Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow.
- Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave.
- Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.
- -MGM (1939) film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel (1936)
- Strange Fruit
- Southern trees bear strange fruit,
- Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
- Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
- Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
- Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
- The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
- Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
- Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
- Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck,
- For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
- For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
- Here is a strange and bitter crop.
- -Billie Holiday (1939)
- from lyrics by Abel Meeropol (1937)
In 1939, Gone with the Wind reaped seven Oscars, while Billie Holiday's song reached number 16 on the charts, even though Columbia Records refused to release it: Holiday had to record it with a small company that was run out of a storefront in midtown Manhattan.
On the eve of the second reconstruction era, which was to overhaul the legal framework of race relations over the two decades beginning with the desegregation of the armed forces in the late 1940s and culminating with the civil rights acts passed between 1964-1968, the two sides of the debate over desegregation and the legacy of slavery were minting new icons through which to express their most basic beliefs about the South and its peculiar institutions.
As the following three decades unfolded and the South was gradually forced to change its ways, the cultural domain continued to work out the meaning of race relations in the United States and the history of slavery.
The actual slogging of regulation of discrimination, implementation of desegregation and later affirmative action, and the more local politics of hiring and firing were punctuated throughout this period by salient iconic retellings of the stories of race relations in the United States, from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? to Roots.
The point of this chapter, however, is not to discuss race relations, but to understand culture and cultural production in terms of political theory.
Gone with the Wind and Strange Fruit or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? offer us intuitively accessible instances of a much broader and more basic characteristic of human understanding and social relations.
Culture, shared meaning, and symbols are how we construct our views of life across a wide range of domains-personal, political, and social.
How culture is produced is therefore an essential ingredient in structuring how freedom and justice are perceived, conceived, and pursued.
In the twentieth century, Hollywood and the recording industry came to play a very large role in this domain.
The networked information economy now seems poised to attenuate that role in favor of a more participatory and transparent cultural production system.
Cultural freedom occupies a position that relates to both political freedom and individual autonomy, but is synonymous with neither.
The root of its importance is that none of us exist outside of culture.
As individuals and as political actors, we understand the world we occupy, evaluate it, and act in it from within a set of understandings and frames of meaning and reference that we share with others.
What institutions and decisions are considered "legitimate" and worthy of compliance or participation; what courses of action are attractive; what forms of interaction with others are considered appropriate-these are all understandings negotiated from within a set of shared frames of meaning.
How those frames of meaning are shaped and by whom become central components of the structure of freedom for those individuals and societies that inhabit it and are inhabited by it.
They define the public sphere in a much broader sense than we considered in the prior chapters.
The networked information economy makes it possible to reshape both the "who" and the "how" of cultural production relative to cultural production in the twentieth century.
It adds to the centralized, market-oriented production system a new framework of radically decentralized individual and cooperative nonmarket production.
It thereby affects the ability of individuals and groups to participate in the production of the cultural tools and frameworks of human understanding and discourse.
It affects the way we, as individuals and members of social and political clusters, interact with culture, and through it with each other.
It makes culture more transparent to its inhabitants.
It makes the process of cultural production more participatory, in the sense that more of those who live within a culture can actively participate in its creation.
We are seeing the possibility of an emergence of a new popular culture, produced on the folk-culture model and inhabited actively, rather than passively consumed by the masses.
Through these twin characteristics-transparency and participation-the networked information economy also creates greater space for critical evaluation of cultural materials and tools.
The practice of producing culture makes us all more sophisticated readers, viewers, and listeners, as well as more engaged makers.
Throughout the twentieth century, the making of widely shared images and symbols was a concentrated practice that went through the filters of Hollywood and the recording industry.
The radically declining costs of manipulating video and still images, audio, and text have, however, made culturally embedded criticism and broad participation in the making of meaning much more feasible than in the past.
Anyone with a personal computer can cut and mix files, make their own files, and publish them to a global audience.
This is not to say that cultural bricolage, playfulness, and criticism did not exist before.
One can go to the avant-garde movement, but equally well to African-Brazilian culture or to Our Lady of Guadalupe to find them.
Even with regard to television, that most passive of electronic media, John Fiske argued under the rubric of "semiotic democracy" that viewers engage in creative play and meaning making around the TV shows they watch.
However, the technical characteristics of digital information technology, the economics of networked information production, and the social practices of networked discourse qualitatively change the role individuals can play in cultural production.
The practical capacity individuals and noncommercial actors have to use and manipulate cultural artifacts today, playfully or critically, far outstrips anything possible in television, film, or recorded music, as these were organized throughout the twentieth century.
The diversity of cultural moves and statements that results from these new opportunities for creativity vastly increases the range of cultural elements accessible to any individual.
Our ability, therefore, to navigate the cultural environment and make it our own, both through creation and through active selection and attention, has increased to the point of making a qualitative difference.
In the academic law literature, Niva Elkin Koren wrote early about the potential democratization of "meaning making processes," William Fisher about "semiotic democracy," and Jack Balkin about a "democratic culture."
Lessig has explored the generative capacity of the freedom to create culture, its contribution to creativity itself.
These efforts revolve around the idea that there is something normatively attractive, from the perspective of "democracy" as a liberal value, about the fact that anyone, using widely available equipment, can take from the existing cultural universe more or less whatever they want, cut it, paste it, mix it, and make it their own-equally well expressing their adoration as their disgust, their embrace of certain images as their rejection of them.
Building on this work, this chapter seeks to do three things: First, I claim that the modalities of cultural production and exchange are a proper subject for normative evaluation within a broad range of liberal political theory.
Culture is a social-psychological-cognitive fact of human existence.
Ignoring it, as rights-based and utilitarian versions of liberalism tend to do, disables political theory from commenting on central characteristics of a society and its institutional frameworks.
Analyzing the attractiveness of any given political institutional system without considering how it affects cultural production, and through it the production of the basic frames of meaning through which individual and collective self-determination functions, leaves a large hole in our analysis.
Liberal political theory needs a theory of culture and agency that is viscous enough to matter normatively, but loose enough to give its core foci-the individual and the political system-room to be effective independently, not as a mere expression or extension of culture.
Second, I argue that cultural production in the form of the networked information economy offers individuals a greater participatory role in making the culture they occupy, and makes this culture more transparent to its inhabitants.
This descriptive part occupies much of the chapter.
Third, I suggest the relatively straightforward conclusion of the prior two observations.
From the perspective of liberal political theory, the kind of open, participatory, transparent folk culture that is emerging in the networked environment is normatively more attractive than was the industrial cultural production system typified by Hollywood and the recording industry.
A nine-year-old girl searching Google for Barbie will quite quickly find links to AdiosBarbie.com, to the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO), and to other, similarly critical sites interspersed among those dedicated to selling and playing with the doll.
The contested nature of the doll becomes publicly and everywhere apparent, liberated from the confines of feminist-criticism symposia and undergraduate courses.
This simple Web search represents both of the core contributions of the networked information economy.
First, from the perspective of the searching girl, it represents a new transparency of cultural symbols.
Second, from the perspective of the participants in AdiosBarbie or the BLO, the girl's use of their site completes their own quest to participate in making the cultural meaning of Barbie.
The networked information environment provides an outlet for contrary expression and a medium for shaking what we accept as cultural baseline assumptions.
Its radically decentralized production modes provide greater freedom to participate effectively in defining the cultural symbols of our day.
These characteristics make the networked environment attractive from the perspectives of both personal freedom of expression and an engaged and self-aware political discourse.
We cannot, however, take for granted that the technological capacity to participate in the cultural conversation, to mix and make our own, will translate into the freedom to do so.
The practices of cultural and countercultural creation are at the very core of the battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment.
The tension is perhaps not new or unique to the Internet, but its salience is now greater.
The makers of the 1970s comic strip Air Pirates already found their comics confiscated when they portrayed Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Daisy in various compromising countercultural postures.
Now, the ever-increasing scope and expanse of copyright law and associated regulatory mechanisms, on the one hand, and of individual and collective nonmarket creativity, on the other hand, have heightened the conflict between cultural freedom and the regulatory framework on which the industrial cultural production system depends.
As Lessig, Jessica Litman, and Siva Vaidhyanathan have each portrayed elegantly and in detail, the copyright industries have on many dimensions persuaded both Congress and courts that individual, nonmarket creativity using the cultural outputs of the industrial information economy is to be prohibited.
As we stand today, freedom to play with the cultural environment is nonetheless preserved in the teeth of the legal constraints, because of the high costs of enforcement, on the one hand, and the ubiquity and low cost of the means to engage in creative cultural bricolage, on the other hand.
These social, institutional, and technical facts still leave us with quite a bit of unauthorized creative expression.
These facts, however, are contingent and fragile.
Chapter 11 outlines in some detail the long trend toward the creation of ever-stronger legal regulation of cultural production, and in particular, the enclosure movement that began in the 1970s and gained steam in the mid-1990s.
A series of seemingly discrete regulatory moves threatens the emerging networked folk culture.
Ranging from judicial interpretations of copyright law to efforts to regulate the hardware and software of the networked environment, we are seeing a series of efforts to restrict nonmarket use of twentieth-century cultural materials in order to preserve the business models of Hollywood and the recording industry.
These regulatory efforts threaten the freedom to participate in twenty-first-century cultural production, because current creation requires taking and mixing the twentieth-century cultural materials that make up who we are as culturally embedded beings.
Here, however, I focus on explaining how cultural participation maps onto the project of liberal political theory, and why the emerging cultural practices should be seen as attractive within that normative framework.
I leave development of the policy implications to part III.
Cultural Freedom in Liberal Political Theory
Utilitarian and rights-based liberal political theories have an awkward relationship to culture.
Both major strains of liberal theory make a certain set of assumptions about the autonomous individuals with which they are concerned.
Individuals are assumed to be rational and knowledgeable, at least about what is good for them.
They are conceived of as possessing a capacity for reason and a set of preferences prior to engagement with others.
Political theory then proceeds to concern itself with political structures that respect the autonomy of individuals with such characteristics.
In the political domain, this conception of the individual is easiest to see in pluralist theories, which require institutions for collective decision making that clear what are treated as already-formed preferences of individuals or voluntary groupings.
Culture represents a mysterious category for these types of liberal political theories.
It is difficult to specify how it functions in terms readily amenable to a conception of individuals whose rationality and preferences for their own good are treated as though they preexist and are independent of society.
A concept of culture requires some commonly held meaning among these individuals.
Even the simplest intuitive conception of what culture might mean would treat this common frame of meaning as the result of social processes that preexist any individual, and partially structure what it is that individuals bring to the table as they negotiate their lives together, in society or in a polity.
Inhabiting a culture is a precondition to any interpretation of what is at stake in any communicative exchange among individuals.
A partly subconscious, lifelong dynamic social process of becoming and changing as a cultural being is difficult to fold into a collective decision-making model that focuses on designing a discursive platform for individuated discrete participants who are the bearers of political will.
It is easier to model respect for an individual's will when one adopts a view of that will as independent, stable, and purely internally generated.
It is harder to do so when one conceives of that individual will as already in some unspecified degree rooted in exchange with others about what an individual is to value and prefer.
Culture has, of course, been incorporated into political theory as a central part of the critique of liberalism.
The politics of culture have been a staple of critical theory since Marx first wrote that "Religion ... is the opium of the people" and that "to call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."1
The twentieth century saw a wide array of critique, from cultural Marxism to poststructuralism and postmodernism.
However, much of mainstream liberal political theory has chosen to ignore, rather than respond and adapt to, these critiques.
In Political Liberalism, for example, Rawls acknowledges "the fact" of reasonable pluralism-of groups that persistently and reasonably hold competing comprehensive doctrines-and aims for political pluralism as a mode of managing the irreconcilable differences.
This leaves the formation of the comprehensive doctrine and the systems of belief within which it is rendered "reasonable" a black box to liberal theory.
This may be an adequate strategy for analyzing the structure of formal political institutions at the broadest level of abstraction.
However, it disables liberal political theory from dealing with more fine-grained questions of policy that act within the black box.
As a practical matter, treating culture as a black box disables a political theory as a mechanism for diagnosing the actual conditions of life in a society in terms of its own political values.
It does so in precisely the same way that a formal conception of autonomy disables those who hold it from diagnosing the conditions of autonomy in practical life.
Imagine for a moment that we had received a revelation that a crude version of Antonio Gramsci's hegemony theory was perfectly correct as a matter of descriptive sociology.
Ruling classes do, in fact, consciously and successfully manipulate the culture in order to make the oppressed classes compliant.
It would be difficult, then, to continue to justify holding a position about political institutions, or autonomy, that treated the question of how culture, generally, or even the narrow subset of reasonably held comprehensive doctrines like religion, are made, as a black box.
It would be difficult to defend respect for autonomous choices as respect for an individual's will, if an objective observer could point to a social process, external to the individual and acting upon him or her, as the cause of the individual holding that will.
It would be difficult to focus one's political design imperatives on public processes that allow people to express their beliefs and preferences, argue about them, and ultimately vote on them, if it is descriptively correct that those beliefs and preferences are themselves the product of manipulation of some groups by others.
The point is not, of course, that Gramsci was descriptively right or that any of the broad range of critical theories of culture is correct as a descriptive matter.
It is that liberal theories that ignore culture are rendered incapable of answering some questions that arise in the real world and have real implications for individuals and polities.
There is a range of sociological, psychological, or linguistic descriptions that could characterize the culture of a society as more or less in accord with the concern of liberalism with individual and collective self-determination.
Some such descriptive theory of culture can provide us with enough purchase on the role of culture to diagnose the attractiveness of a cultural production system from a political-theory perspective.
It does not require that liberal theory abandon individuals as the bearers of the claims of political morality.
It does not require that liberal political theory refocus on culture as opposed to formal political institutions.
It does require, however, that liberal theory at least be able to diagnose different conditions in the practical cultural life of a society as more or less attractive from the perspective of liberal political theory.
The efforts of deliberative liberal theories to account for culture offer the most obvious source of such an insight.
These political theories have worked to develop a conception of culture and its relationship to liberalism precisely because at a minimum, they require mutual intelligibility across individuals, which cannot adequately be explained without some conception of culture.
In Jurgen Habermas's work, culture plays the role of a basis for mutual intelligibility.
As the basis for "interpersonal intelligibility," we see culture playing such a role in the work of Bruce Ackerman, who speaks of acculturation as the necessary condition to liberal dialogue.
"Cultural coherence" is something he sees children requiring as a precondition to becoming liberal citizens: it allows them to "Talk" and defend their claims in terms without which there can be no liberal conversation.2
Michael Walzer argues that, "in matters of morality, argument is simply the appeal to common meanings."3
Will Kymlicka claims that for individual autonomy, "freedom involves making choices amongst various options, and our societal culture not only provides these options, but makes them meaningful to us."
A societal culture, in turn, is a "shared vocabulary of tradition and convention" that is "embodied in social life[,] institutionally embodied-in schools, media, economy, government, etc."4
Common meanings in all these frameworks must mean more than simple comprehension of the words of another.
It provides a common baseline, which is not itself at that moment the subject of conversation or inquiry, but forms the background on which conversation and inquiry take place.
Habermas's definition of lifeworld as "background knowledge," for example, is a crisp rendering of culture in this role:
- the lifeworld embraces us as an unmediated certainty, out of whose immediate proximity we live and speak.
- This all-penetrating, yet latent and unnoticed presence of the background of communicative action can be described as a more intense, yet deficient, form of knowledge and ability.
- To begin with, we make use of this knowledge involuntarily, without reflectively knowing that we possess it at all.
- What enables background knowledge to acquire absolute certainty in this way, and even augments its epistemic quality from a subjective standpoint, is precisely the property that robs it of a constitutive feature of knowledge: we make use of such knowledge without the awareness that it could be false.
- Insofar as all knowledge is fallible and is known to be such, background knowledge does not represent knowledge at all, in a strict sense.
- As background knowledge, it lacks the possibility of being challenged, that is, of being raised to the level of criticizable validity claims.
- One can do this only by converting it from a resource into a topic of discussion, at which point-just when it is thematized-it no longer functions as a lifeworld background but rather disintegrates in its background modality.5
In other words, our understanding of meaning-how we are, how others are, what ought to be-are in some significant portion unexamined assumptions that we share with others, and to which we appeal as we engage in communication with them.
This does not mean that culture is a version of false consciousness.
It does not mean that background knowledge cannot be examined rationally or otherwise undermines the very possibility or coherence of a liberal individual or polity.
It does mean, however, that at any given time, in any given context, there will be some set of historically contingent beliefs, attitudes, and social and psychological conditions that will in the normal course remain unexamined, and form the unexamined foundation of conversation.
Culture is revisable through critical examination, at which point it ceases to be "common knowledge" and becomes a contested assumption.
Nevertheless, some body of unexamined common knowledge is necessary for us to have an intelligible conversation that does not constantly go around in circles, challenging the assumptions on whichever conversational move is made.
Culture, in this framework, is not destiny.
It does not predetermine who we are, or what we can become or do, nor is it a fixed artifact.
It is the product of a dynamic process of engagement among those who make up a culture.
It is a frame of meaning from within which we must inevitably function and speak to each other, and whose terms, constraints, and affordances we always negotiate.
There is no point outside of culture from which to do otherwise.
An old Yiddish folktale tells of a naïve rabbi who, for safekeeping, put a ten-ruble note inside his copy of the Torah, at the page of the commandment, "thou shalt not steal."
That same night, a thief stole into the rabbi's home, took the ten-ruble note, and left a five-ruble note in its place, at the page of the commandment, "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
The rabbi and the thief share a common cultural framework (as do we, across the cultural divide), through which their various actions can be understood; indeed, without which their actions would be unintelligible.
The story offers a theory of culture, power, and freedom that is more congenial to liberal political theory than critical theories, and yet provides a conception of the role of culture in human relations that provides enough friction, or viscosity, to allow meaning making in culture to play a role in the core concerns of liberal political theory.
Their actions are part strategic and part communicative-that is to say, to some extent they seek to force an outcome, and to some extent they seek to engage the other in a conversation in order to achieve a commonly accepted outcome.
The rabbi places the ten-ruble note in the Bible in order to impress upon the putative thief that he should leave the money where it is.
He cannot exert force on the thief by locking the money up in a safe because he does not own one.
Instead, he calls upon a shared understanding and a claim of authority within the governed society to persuade the thief.
The thief, to the contrary, could have physically taken the ten-ruble note without replacing it, but he does not.
He engages the rabbi in the same conversation.
In part, he justifies his claim to five rubles.
In part, he resists the authority of the rabbi-not by rejecting the culture that renders the rabbi a privileged expert, but by playing the game of Talmudic disputation.
There is a price, though, for participating in the conversation.
The thief must leave the five-ruble note; he cannot take the whole amount.
In this story, culture is open to interpretation and manipulation, but not infinitely so.
Some moves may be valid within a cultural framework and alter it; others simply will not.
The practical force of culture, on the other hand, is not brute force.
It cannot force an outcome, but it can exert a real pull on the range of behaviors that people will seriously consider undertaking, both as individuals and as polities.
The storyteller relies on the listener's cultural understanding about the limits of argument, or communicative action.
The story exploits the open texture of culture, and the listener's shared cultural belief that stealing is an act of force, not a claim of justice; that those who engage in it do not conceive of themselves as engaged in legitimate defensible acts.
The rabbi was naïve to begin with, but the thief's disputation is inconsistent with our sense of the nature of the act of stealing in exactly the same way that the rabbi's was, but inversely.
The thief, the rabbi, and the storyteller participate in making, and altering, the meaning of the commandments.
Culture changes through the actions of individuals in the cultural context.
Beliefs, claims, communicative moves that have one meaning before an intervention may begin to shift in their meaning as a result of other moves, made by other participants in the same cultural milieu.
One need not adopt any given fully fledged meme theory of culture-like Richard Dawkins's, or Balkin's political adaptation of it as a theory of ideology-to accept that culture is created through communication among human beings, that it exerts some force on what they can say to each other and how it will be received, and that the parameters of a culture as a platform for making meaning in interaction among human beings change over time with use.
How cultural moves are made, by whom, and with what degree of perfect replication or subtle (and not so subtle) change, become important elements in determining the rate and direction of cultural change.
These changes, over time, alter the platform individuals must use to make sense of the world they occupy, and for participants in conversation to be able to make intelligible communications to each other about the world they share and where it can and ought to go.
Culture so understood is a social fact about particular sets of human beings in historical context.
As a social fact, it constrains and facilitates the development, expression, and questioning of beliefs and positions.
Whether and how Darwinism should be taught in public schools, for example, is a live political question in vast regions of the United States, and is played out as a debate over whether evolution is "merely a theory."
Whether racial segregation should be practiced in these schools is no longer a viable or even conceivable political agenda.
The difference between Darwinism and the undesirability of racial segregation is not that one is scientifically true and the other is not.
The difference is that the former is not part of the "common knowledge" of a large section of society, whereas the latter is, in a way that no longer requires proof by detailed sociological and psychological studies of the type cited by the Supreme Court in support of its holding, in Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in education was inherently unequal.
If culture is indeed part of how we form a shared sense of unexamined common knowledge, it plays a significant role in framing the meaning of the state of the world, the availability and desirability of choices, and the organization of discourse.
The question of how culture is framed (and through it, meaning and the baseline conversational moves) then becomes germane to a liberal political theory.
Between the Scylla of a fixed culture (with hierarchical, concentrated power to control its development and interpretation) and the Charybdis of a perfectly open culture (where nothing is fixed and everything is up for grabs, offering no anchor for meaning and mutual intelligibility), there is a wide range of practical social and economic arrangements around the production and use of culture.
In evaluating the attractiveness of various arrangements from the perspective of liberal theory, we come to an already familiar trade-off, and an already familiar answer.
As in the case of autonomy and political discourse, a greater ability of individuals to participate in the creation of the cultural meaning of the world they occupy is attractive from the perspective of the liberal commitments to individual freedom and democratic participation.
As in both areas that we have already considered, a Babel objection appears: Too much freedom to challenge and remake our own cultural environment will lead to a lack of shared meaning.
As in those two cases, however, the fears of too active a community of meaning making are likely exaggerated.
Loosening the dominant power of Hollywood and television over contemporary culture is likely to represent an incremental improvement, from the perspective of liberal political commitments.
It will lead to a greater transparency of culture, and therefore a greater capacity for critical reflection, and it will provide more opportunities for participating in the creation of culture, for interpolating individual glosses on it, and for creating shared variations on common themes.
The Transparency of Internet Culture
If you run a search for "Barbie" on three separate search engines-Google, Overture, and Yahoo!-you will get quite different results.
Table 8.1 lists these results in the order in which they appear on each search engine.
Overture is a search engine that sells placement to the parties who are being searched.
Hits on this search engine are therefore ranked based on whoever paid Overture the most in order to be placed highly in response to a query.
On this list, none of the top ten results represent anything other than sales-related Barbie sites.
Critical sites begin to appear only around the twenty-fifth result, presumably after all paying clients have been served.
Google, as we already know, uses a radically decentralized mechanism for assigning relevance.
It counts how many sites on the Web have linked to a particular site that has the search term in it, and ranks the search results by placing a site with a high number of incoming links above a site with a low number of incoming links.
In effect, each Web site publisher "votes" for a site's relevance by linking to it, and Google aggregates these votes and renders them on their results page as higher ranking.
The little girl who searches for Barbie on Google will encounter a culturally contested figure.
The same girl, searching on Overture, will encounter a commodity toy.
In each case, the underlying efforts of Mattel, the producer of Barbie, have not changed.
What is different is that in an environment where relevance is measured in nonmarket action-placing a link to a Web site because you deem it relevant to whatever you are doing with your Web site-as opposed to in dollars, Barbie has become a more transparent cultural object.
It is easier for the little girl to see that the doll is not only a toy, not only a symbol of beauty and glamour, but also a symbol of how norms of female beauty in our society can be oppressive to women and girls.
The transparency does not force the girl to choose one meaning of Barbie or another.
It does, however, render transparent that Barbie can have multiple meanings and that choosing meanings is a matter of political concern for some set of people who coinhabit this culture.
Yahoo! occupies something of a middle ground-its algorithm does link to two of the critical sites among the top ten, and within the top twenty, identifies most of the sites that appear on Google's top ten that are not related to sales or promotion.
Table 8.1: Results for "Barbie"-Google versus Overture and Yahoo!
Barbie.com (Mattel's site)
Barbie at Amazon.com
Barbie Collector: Official Mattel Web site for hobbyists and collectors
Toys and Leisure at QVC-Barbie
Barbie Bazaar Magazine
AdiosBarbie.com: A Body Image for Every Body (site created by women critical of Barbie's projected body image)
Barbie on Sale at KBToys
Barbie Bazaar Magazine (Barbie collectible news and Information)
If You Were a Barbie, Which Messed Up Version Would You Be?
Barbie: Best prices and selection (bizrate.com)
Visible Barbie Project (macabre images of Barbie sliced as though in a science project)
Barbies, New and Preowned at NetDoll
Barbie History (fan-type history, mostly when various dolls were released)
Barbie: The Image of Us All (1995 undergraduate paper about Barbie's cultural history)
Barbies-compare prices (nextag.com)
Andigraph.free.fr (Barbie and Ken sex animation)
Barbie Toys (complete line of Barbie electronics online)
Spatula Jackson's Barbies (pictures of Barbie as various countercultural images).
Suicide bomber Barbie (Barbie with explosives strapped to waist)
Barbie Party supplies
Barbie! (fan site)
Barbies (Barbie dressed and painted as countercultural images)
Barbie and her accessories online
The Distorted Barbie