Laborers of Love/LOL: Behind the Scenes


Session Title:

  • Critical Perspectives on Economies of Art Today

Presentation Title:

  • Laborers of Love/LOL: Behind the Scenes




  • For this paper, Jeff Crouse and Stephanie Rothenberg will discuss the critical issues raised in their crowdsourcing project “Laborers of Love/LOL” created in collaboration with Michael Schieben. The project explores how sexuality and desire are mediated through new technologies, specifically new models of global, outsourced labor. The project takes the form of an Internet service that uses anonymous online workers to create “customers” video fantasies.

    Utilizing Mechanical Turk, an online job engine created by Amazon.?com, LOL leverages a global online workforce of workers that are not specific to the sex industry but rather a diverse group of home/computer based workers. In an assembly-line fashion, Mechanical Turk workers collect images and video related to the fantasy from a variety of websites. A real time data visualization is then presented on the website consisting of worker locations (Waco, Texas; Bangalore, India; etc) and IP addresses of the mined content (images and video). This visualization maps the process and “production” of the video fantasy. The final product is a short video mashup, more funny than sexy and explicit, where 1970’s experimental cinema meets canned Photoshop filters, and ultimately reflects on how desire and pleasure are represented, fragmented and abstracted through the consumption of online digital media.

    The project evolved from Crouse and Rothenberg’s 2008 project, “Invisible Threads”, a virtual designer jeans sweatshop created in Second Life (SL) that explores the growing intersection between labor, emerging virtual economies and real life commodities. Using “just-in-time” telematic production, avatar workers paid in SL Linden dollars operated virtual textile machines that manufactured real world, wearable, blue jeans.

    Critical issues the paper will address include: outsourcing and the precarious/flexible virtual workplace with concern to ethics and worker alienation; the shifting role and definition of “sex worker”; sexual identity and preference; relationship of fantasy as a social construct and how fantasy functions behind the screen space of the computer. A brief overview of the technical side of the project including the custom software utilizing computer vision and advanced graphics techniques will be also discussed.

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