[Those who] oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, [George] Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World [Aldous Huxley suggested], they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell (1949) feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley (1931) feared that what we desire will ruin us.
~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)
Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? Practically we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.
~ William James, “The Play of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience,” from Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)
“Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired fashion.“
~ Dhoruba bin Wahad quoting Huey Newton
On the Digital Seduction of Uploading
Following 9-11, nonviolent animal-rights protesters like TED Fellow Will Potter were criminalized as domestic terrorists.
What do you think could happen at the today’s #MillionsMarch?
Will Potter: The shocking move to criminalize nonviolent protest
Filmed March 2014 at TED2014
There is much I haven’t shared from our research on YouTube twerking this semester, but today is about protest. It’s about walking arm-in-arm for justice and for power to the people not big corporations or militarized police forces.
There is a strong correlation to a few things in our findings and what you should pay attention to while out protesting at today’s Millions March – A Day of Anger (December 13, 2014). Don’t be seduced by the increasingly naive notion that there is absolute power in broadcasting your uploaded images and videos … right away!
Remember the English phrase extolling the virtue of patience, “Good things come to those who wait!” Good things like social wisdom, critical decision-making, and freedom from impulsive decisions that may be put your digital reputation at risk. Freedom of choice and expression online (and in person) are not free from negative consequences.
The Consequences and Bottomlines of Broadcasting
Whenever someone new learns that I study twerking, the reaction is always one of being startling or stunned and I am not even dancing in any of these videos.
Two nights ago, I used my research interest in twerking to seduce the attention of those attending YouTube’s Multicultural Holiday Celebration at their new Spaces location in New York City. Most people I meet in any context know little to nothing about the history of twerking’s origin in New Orleans. I was one of them before 20 months ago. It’s like not really studying the history of the post-I-Have-A-Dream, anti-poverty MLK or really learning about the Black Panther Party’s revolutionary efforts to gain sovereignty for black people. #powertoallpeople #powertotheland
Last week when sharing with a business law professor who teaches immediately right after my capstone course, I told him that this semester my undergrads and I had collected a 40-hour workweek of videos featuring adolescent and teen black girls who twerk. Being a white, Jewish male in his early 40s, he remarked with astonishment, “You mean, it didn’t start with Miley Cyrus???!? Wow! I thought it was just from last year!” he added with curiosity and a sense of intrique. That’s what I am after — people seeing the complexities of black girlhood. It is rarely questioned further.
Wow! That’s Really Cool! Get the Camera!!
Seeing girls back that thang up on YouTube is about more than what meets the eye. What interests me is the media studies aspect of how generalized others perceive black girls’ behavior and actions in a digital world of colorblind racism, hypersexualization, trolling, bullying and rape culture.
White girls get the wow factor that can really “make it rain” in views whenever they appropriate shakin that ass. I have one video of two 13-14 year-old white female teens. They are not that good but the video has 5 million views. There is not one video of black girls among the 700 collected by 18 different people searching and finding 40 videos each that has more than 800,000 views.
The wow factor of racial disparities goes for white mega-starts like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalia; even Taylor Swift can “check” on it for the Billboard charts.
Nicki Minaj offered the most critical response to this in an interview on The Ellen Degeneres Show back in November of 2013:
When a white girl does something that seems to be like “black,” then black people think Oh!!— She’s embracing our culture! So they kinna ride with-it. Then white people think, Oh! She must be cool. She-doin’-sumpin’ “black”!… But-if-a black person do-a black thang???!? It-ain’t-that-poppin’!
With one punchline, Minaj signifies on the gesture that defines twerking and today’s protest. #BlackLivesMatter
Don’t Shoot!: Learning to Back That Thing Up
(The Critical Rewind of Social Media)
Most of us cannot tell the difference between our own ass and a hole in the ground when it comes to digital media literacy or twerking.
Last year I met an early bounce rapper in New Orleans who told me that in late 1980s twerking was referred to as “p-poppin” short for “pussy poppin.” Its connection to the patriarchal gaze typically associated with strip clubs is obvious. Rap artists traffick in this site of seduction through the sight of black female booty poppin in their videos to tap that ass in determining what songs club-goers find most appealing. What amuses their impulsive appetite and attention for sexual representations? This reflects the political economy of producing rap music in the Dirty South—the production, distribution and consumption of a new kind of tough on black asses circuit. But no protest songs here, just more bounce to the ounce while silencing the political voices of girls and women in hiphop. #justgetonthedancefloor #anddontmakeasound (insert Lil Wayne’s “Love Me”).
Whenever someone asks me “what is twerking?” I often reply, “It’s popping and locking with your ass” to consciously link the dance to hip-hop culture (not simply rap). Why? Because girls in black communities love dancing; we love to werk that body. It’s part of our cultural heritage that begins before adolescence. Hip-hop culture was not the first iteration either.
In chance conversations, there’s rarely time to reveal how the kind of twerking associated with New Orleans has been collapsed with winin‘ from Trinidad and Tobago, mapouka traditionel from Côte d’Ivoire, or “funk” dance from Brazil and a host of other dances where one’s butt is featured via the webcam on YouTube. Suffice it to say, the history of twerking on YouTube is complicated and it’s complicated by some of the same socioeconomic and neoliberal politics that have us going out to march around the world today. Those contexts we cannot see while we our attention is captivated by some screen, namely the transparent forms of power that shape structural inequalities in the lives of brown and black males and females as well as they ways our bodies are continually policed in Ferguson, Brooklyn, and on YouTube with its claim to empowering a true digital democracy.
The Revolution May Be Televised,
But You’re Arrest, and the Truth, Will Not Be Free
The thousand adolescent and teen black girls who uploaded each of the 700 videos in our dataset totaling a 40-hour work week of video impressions were seduced by their ability to broadcast from the “privacy” of their own bedrooms. Everyone was doing it. Today, during the protests, everyone will capture images and videos that will surely be lost in the mute yet noisy traffic of millions of uploads broadcast on hundreds of social networks. But trust me when I say “Big Brother” is watching. And just because your record it, doesn’t mean everyone recorded will be safe.
I was listening to a live-streamed lecture by intersectional queer feminist and social activist Cathy J. Cohen, a fellow graduate of Michigan, last night. She said:
— Dr. Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D (@kyraOcity) December 13, 2014
The very images you upload may be used to criminalize the behavior of fellow protesters. Don’t get it twisted. You are the Third Reich citizens turning in their Jewish neighbors in the name of broadcasting yourself.
It might be worth taking 4 minutes to watch TED Fellow Will Potter tell his story of nonviolent protest and how he was criminalized as a domestic terrorist for a fight to gain animal rights (not even human rights).
Bottomline: Protect Yourself Before You Wreck (Broadcast) Yourself
So I close this post with some practical and useful facts for being prepared and being safe in the march happening all around the world today. #MillionsMarchNYC will be my place to practice.
Just consider that the process of criminalizing fellow protesters will start with YOU and your user-generated content exploited by small and large media outlets but more importantly by those surveilling citizens activities to criminalize their actions later. Beware the digital seduction to upload and broadcast everything live. We cannot watch 175 hours of video that will surely be shot in less than 3 hours today.
We must learn to be careful of this seduction. To learn to think of the consequences to our fellow protesters and ourselves later. Remember that Ramsey Orta felt he was indicted for shooting/filming the video of Eric Garner’s death. He was indicted on criminal weapon and firearm possession which Orta claims was falsified.
We all tend to shoot and upload from our mobile devices in the name of capturing “the truth” which is a reality that can be distorted to capture us in its snare, too.
“Is the preciousness of a diamond a quality of the gem or is it a feeling in our mind? … we treat it as both or as either, according to the temporary direction of our thought.”
~ William James
If you’re still heading to the march, here’s the route.
And here’s a list of things you need to know to protect yourself in case of any interactions with the police.
Know your rights and practice tactics that de-escalate situation with the police. Just be careful what you do with the media you create and upload onto your social networks whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, to name only a few.
Don’t be seduced! Think before you upload!!
Here is one of 247 videos we collected that appears to be black girls twerking but the video actually sits on the channel of a male subscriber who profits off the back of their adolescent play broadcast on YouTube.
“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
START AT MAD, TAKE ACTION
You may not care for this but I have to say, I LOVED IT!!! The bleeps in advertising and media don’t stop the hate or the violence and they ain’t filling no ones #swearjar. So let’s get real!
NOTE: The comment about twerking at 1:15″
Only critique I have of this is that there should be MORE black and brown women represented here. Little white princesses cussing is one thing. But perhaps our empathy meter goes WAY DOWN when people of color quotient goes WAY UP. #blacklivesmatter
This is from the Centers for Disease Control (including intimate partner violence):
Dating violence is widespread with serious long-term and short-term effects. Many teens do not report it because they are afraid to tell friends and family. A 2011 CDC nationwide survey(http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/nisvspubs.html) found that 23% of females and 14% of males who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age. A 2013 survey found approximately 10% of high school students reported physical victimization and 10% reported sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.
Need more facts to get agitated into action? Here’s recent data from 2014:
Where the relationship could be determined, 94 percent of black females killed by males knew their killers. Nearly 15 times as many black females were murdered by a male they knew than were killed by male strangers. http://www.vpc.org/press/1309dv2.htm
A recent report by the The Violence Policy Center (VPC) in Washington, D.C. found that black women are about three times more likely to die at the hands of a current or ex-partner than members of other racial backgrounds.
VPC, a national organization working to end gun deaths, reported that 94 percent of the black women killed knew their killers. More than half were killed by gunfire. And 64 percent of black victims who knew their offenders were wives, ex-wives or girlfriends of the killers. http://thegrio.com/2013/10/20/domestic-violence-awareness-month-black-women-homocide-intimate-partner-violence/
Girls and women should cuss some over this ish!!
Ms. Jamie Adedra (“Betty Booty”) Moore
Born: Wed., Feb. 14, 1990
Died: Wed., Nov. 12, 2014
Jamie A’dedra Moore was born February 14, 1990 in Queens, New York to James D Moore and AnnetteTownes. The date is significant for my research because YouTube launched its domain name on February 14, 2005. YouTube would launch Jamie and her two friends from ATL into online user-generated fame. On June 9, 2009 she and two other local twerkers uploaded their 3rd attempt to broadcast themselves as the Official Twerk Team on YouTube.
On Wednesday, November 12, 2014. Jamie was involved with a failed drug deal where she was accosted and shot in the head over $1115. Jamie better known on YouTube as BeTTy BuTT, the capitalized “T”s stand for “twerk team” which they made famous as a colloquial expression and a cultural meme. Twerk teams of lil’ sisters and cousins and later cheerleading squads and white girls in San Diego high schools led to a kind of moral panic following the appropriation of twerking by Miley Cyrus in a YouTube video in April 4, 2013 (that date is probably of no significance to Miley and her handlers–it’s the date MLK was assassinated). The video titled Miley Cyrus Twerking Video has over 6.7 million views to date.
My students and I since last summer have been learning about CPMs. The cost per thousands YouTube uses to calculate the monetization of a channel. According to several sources (will update later when I have time), the average subscriber today makes only $2.09/CPM minus a 45% cut for YouTube. To put the $1115 that Jamie was shot in the head for into CPMs, she died for 500,000 YouTube views.
Her top upload on her personal channel @BeTTy BuTT had only 4 videos. She had left the Official Twerk Team. More about that in another post. The video with the most views had only over 200,000 views. She died for twice that number and some. #bottomlines YouTube ain’t as lucrative as everyday folk want to make it out to be. When I tell folks I am studying twerking, black girls’ twerking on YouTube, one of the initial responses is always they are making money on YouTube. Pardon the vernacular but…NO THEY NOT!! At least for the millions of views she got with the Twerk Team and her own site she could have at least been remembered for her born name, her government name, in death. Not one news report claimed her real name. She was just some “dumb bitch” (pardon the expression) who twerked on YouTube. RIP.
Here’s more from her obituary online.
She was …
full of life, she enjoyed swimming, sewing, music, dancing, volunteering and spending time with family and friends.Jamie graduated from Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville, GA. She had many talents including fashion desiging, modeling and teaching dance. She was a the true daddy’s girl. She mirrored and enjoyed every minute of swimming, motorcycling and other thrill seeking activities with her father. Additionally, she loved making arts and craﬅs with her mother. Theyenjoyed sewing, crocheting and knitting many items which inspired her aryistic ability as a fashion designer. Recently, she was helping her mother create a website for her craﬅ business. Jamie had an awesome relationship with her stepmother and they enjoyed attending theater productions. Jamie’s aﬃnity for travel was inspired by stepmother and she loved traveling with her grandparents and aunt Curly. Jamie was a water lover and the beach was her best friend. She was also an ovarian cancer survivor.
“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
― Albert Einstein
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi
I learn so much more from creating content than writing about it some days. Action not reaction. Production not consumption. But analysis make my creative vision sharper.
About to start writing a book about all this work. The name will likely be
Digital Seduction: Black Girls, Twerking and the #Bottomlines of their ‘Net Worth on YouTube
Here’s a new version of the video my students and I produced last summer. I monetized my YouTube channel causing the initial version to be disqualified. Why? The student who did the production thought it was great idea–I did too as well as did the other students–to set the video to Lil Wayne’s “Make it Rain”. But the music politics of copyright got us. As Banksky reminds us we are forbidden to touch the advertisers and marketers of our pop culture, while that touch every aspect of our lives it seems. No twerking without music. No music without girls dancing. But who’s making top dollar on making it rain? Not black girls or women. #misogynoir #mileygate
Black Girls’ ‘Net Worth: Owning Their Own Creativity and Content
There is so much to be said, I don’t always know where to begin. but begin I will! And hopefully I won’t drive my students crazy in the process. This ish is complicated!
Here’s the new version with music by a commercial artist but this time a woman. I played with the pitch and the bpm. Maybe it will get past the bots. Tell me if you recognize the artist, if the beat works, and if the content sings!
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
I set up a new Google+ account and a separate YouTube account for my research. A new post is coming soon!
“You must learn her.
You must know the reason why she is silent. You must trace her weakest spots. You must write to her. You must remind her that you are there. You must know how long it takes for her to give up. You must be there to hold her when she is about to.
You must love her because many have tried and failed. And she wants to know that she is worthy to be loved, that she is worthy to be kept.
BEEN A MINUTE…
October has been an incredibly fulfilling and intense month so far. Aside from writing and teaching, I’ve been updating my blog here with a new header that speaks to my work on YouTube. I’m on the job market seeking a full-time position in digital media studies, ethnomusicology and/or African American/women’s studies. I attended the critical and intense Town Hall for Girls of Color hosted by Girls for Gender Equity and Kimberle Crenshaw’s African American Policy Forum at Columbia Law School two weekends ago in honor of The International Day of the Girl. And there’s a lot of new things happening with my collaborative ethnography team of undergrads. We start collecting new data on adolescent and teen blacks girls who broadcast while they twerk for my research and their Anthropological Analysis course and training.
All that said, this post is about another project that has inspired my work. This weekend, Saturday October 25th, 2014, Founder and Executive Director Aiesha Turman and the advisory board of The Black Girl Project hosts the 4th annual Sisterhood Summit at Empire State College from 10am – 6pm. I would love it if shared this post on your Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram or your Twitter!!
THE BLACK GIRL PROJECT: SISTERHOOD SUMMIT #BGPSS14
View the day’s program here. The theme is “Treat Yo’Self: Healthy, Whole and Free Black Girls.” Come volunteer for the morning (10-2) or afternoon (2-6pm) sessions! The girls and women attending need your support!! If interested, DM me at kyraocity at gmail.
Love, peace and hairgrease! All the ladies say “He–alth!”
— jj fap (@dopegirlfresh) October 22, 2014
— Omi (@RahaReiki) October 23, 2014
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
The Right to Protect Your Embodied Self-Expression
This talk on privacy from TEDGlobal in Rio last week is one of the first talks made public. As I shared about the Watching Black Girls Twerk on YouTube data about the ways girls images are essentially being “trafficked” by 44% of the 168 videos we collected, a woman said she wasn’t on social media but then added she made her first selfie the other day. If you carry a mobile phone, you are being surveilled with your phone itself, your calls, your photos and your microphone in ways you surely are just indifferent to.
As women and people of color, the lack of privacy could and probably will be much more harmful and detrimental to us when others perceive our actions of “bad” — whether that’s the state or fellow citizens who ability to flag or dislike your uploaded content, tweets and updates can perhaps lead you to lose your job these days. Factor in the discriminatory biases of race, gender and age, and you might see why I am studying the videos of black girls who twerk on YouTube. I am trying to understand the media ecology of surveillance by other consumers and by corporations like YouTube and VEVO and the possible implications all this has on black music culture, girls’ musical behavior and the social construction of our digital self-presentation. This work is bigger than black girls. It applies to us all.
Glenn Greenwald was one of the first reporters to write about the Edward Snowden files and the US governments surveillance of its citizens. His TED talk begins by talking about what I am most passionate about these days–digital self-presentation–and the indifference teens and adolescents (much less the rest of us) have when uploading images of ourselves made in private settings in front of a webcam. The moment initially leads to sense of “context collapse” or a sense that you don’t know who you really talking to out there in Internet land–you lose control of your image the moment you upload it. Greenwald begins:
0:00 There is an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to an experience which I am certain that everyone in this room has had. It entails an individual who, thinking they’re alone, engages in some expressive behavior — wild singing, gyrating dancing, some mild sexual activity — only to discover that, in fact, they are not alone, that there is a person watching and lurking, the discovery of which causes them to immediately cease what they were doing in horror. The sense of shame and humiliation in their face is palpable. It’s the sense of, “This is something I’m willing to do only if no one else is watching.”
0:53 This is the crux of the work on which I have been singularly focused for the last 16 months, the question of why privacy matters
Educating Black Girls: Their Privacy Matters
I posted this comment after the video:
As a digital ethnographer studying how black girls’ images are being “trafficked” more or less to feed their adolescent desires to fit in through social media/online video or to feed the markets of objectifying female body parts, this talk speaks directly to an issue that I find most African American adults–parents, teachers and elders of any age–tend to be indifferent to. Our privacy…We give it away with YouTube in the name of some fake democracy or self-expression that will later be used as data to limit access to education, to jobs and more.
Thank you Glenn Greenwald for your passion, commitment and integrity to journalism’s core values in any society. Your work as a journalist reveals what is often hidden from us by others and by our own words that defy our lived realities. This is why my intention now is to help black girls learn what their elders are not equipped to teach yet.
“It irks me that we more easily embrace feminism and feminist messages when delivered in the right package – one that generally includes youth, a particular kind of beauty, fame and/or self-deprecating humour.
…It frustrates me that the very idea of women enjoying the same inalienable rights as men is so unappealing that we require – even demand – that the person asking for these rights must embody the standards we’re supposedly trying to challenge.”
- – Roxane Gay
Read more on “Fame-inists” in The Guardian, Oct 10, 2014
“Media Culture is the result of the industrialization of information and culture. Images, sounds and spectacles help produce the fabric of life, dominating leisure time, shaping political views and social behavior, and providing the materials out of which people forge their identities.” — Doug Kellner