The week of April 24, 2016

Mutable lives

By Jesse Hicks

At the most fundamental level of the digital world, transformation is simply a matter of changing a few numbers: a one into a zero or vice versa, flipped by just a switch. It often feels like that mutability permeates upward; despite Facebook and other platforms that link our “real life” identities to what we do online, the Internet still holds the promise of reinvention, of a liminal space where we can be someone else. In this issue of the Kernel, we’re looking at transformations—how people become someone new.  

Five years ago, Patrice Wilson helped catapult Rebecca Black to a unique kind of fame: He produced her music video, “Friday,” which became a hate-watch phenomenon, garnering millions of views. The fame became a headache, resulting in legal battles and people accusing him of being a Svengali, if not worse. Still, he’s continued to produce videos in the same vein, with young girls singing simple lyrics over basic beats. None have seen the outsize success of “Friday,” despite what looks like obvious attempts at courting controversy. And now Wilson says he’s moving out of the viral game—even as his latest video seems engineered to make viewers say, “WTF.” Audra Schroeder goes inside Wilson’s production studio to find out just what it is he thinks he’s doing.

Meanwhile, Whitney Kimball goes inside the often-misunderstood community of furries. By now, we’re all at least cognizant that there are people who’ve adopted animal personalities, who dress up in suits of fur, and go to parties with one another. But Kimball delves deeper, talking in depth with Zarafa Giraffe, a 57-year-old veterinarian who realized only later in life that he was a furry. It was a transformative epiphany, and it joined him to a group of people who, even if they didn’t know him, reached out to help when he needed it.

And finally, Cynthia McKelvey profiles Neeko Bonzini, a body-modification artist who found himself heartbroken and without purpose, only to discover a new artform. Using sunlight and quartz, he burns intricate designs into skin; the burns turn to scars, permanent brands in the flesh. The work has become a calling for him; as he perfects his technique, he finds it bringing him closer to his clients—and to his estranged daughter.

Enjoy the issue.


Photo via Salvatore Gerace/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed