The cheapest way to manufacture audience is through a high sex, high violence, high conflict content. It doesn’t take talent or research or investigative journalism. Yet it stimulates the appetites, much the same way that a high salt, high sugar, and high fat junk food diet does.”
Dr. Michael Karlberg, Western Washington University
see “Portrayal or Betrayal? How the media depicts women and girls”
“Girls are not passive recipients of these cultural messages. Girls are active agents. We know from developmental cognitive psychology that young boys and girls, once they know what their gender is, are very motivated to be the best example of their gender. And if the examples of femininity around you are a sort of tarted up, pornographied sexuality, then that’s what you’re psyched to be.”
Tomi-Ann Roberts, On the Sexualization of Girls
“Le racisme est la dévalorisation profitable d’une différence” ou, plus techniquement, “le racisme est la valorisation, généralisée et définitive, de différences réelles ou imaginaires, au profit de l’accusateur et au détriment de sa victime, afin de légitimer une agression.”
“Racism is profitable devaluation of a difference ” or , more technically, ” Racism is the development , widespread and ultimately, real or imagined differences in favor of the accuser and to the detriment of the victim, in order to legitimize aggression.” (Google translation).
- Albert Memmi, Racism
Value in Making Fun of Black Girls’ Identity on YouTube
In the last few years, I’ve taken to avoiding use the conjunction “but”. It has nothing to do with my research on twerking or feeling I could if it was even possible inspire all the other people who use the term to stop doing it by erasing the term, like naïve notions of erasing race by not talking about it. The intangible meanings of race, blackness or jokes about black butts do not disappear from individual behaviors in a world of 7.1 billion people or even more than 3 million Americans. When studying black girls on YouTube I’ve realized that I must confront the fact that we live in a world defined by bottomlines, by numbers. We are still a minority group. Our music still generates a great deal of revenue for companies not run by women or black folks.
The bottomlines or numbers game is both good news and bad news depending on how your frame it. The objective data I am gathering is demonstrating a perspective that cannot be seen by casual viewing of YouTube videos or ogling that a view went viral. Yet, we are being seduced by such views. The seduction of not only our attention but our cultural views are at stake. The “context is decisive.” as the saying goes, in any situation when dealing with bottomlines. So, let’s explore the “value” of representations of black girls on YouTube for a minute or two.
How are teenagers’ views of themselves affected by others in the disembodied online environment? Do teenagers take the attitudes of the anonymous others seriously in online interaction, or do they merely regard them as part of an entertaining and inconsequential role-playing game? (S. Zhao 2005, 389). Link to article.
I have a bold claim here. The value of being a black girl in the YouTube community of vloggers is not afforded to black girls themselves. It seems that others gain currency, get lots of views and traffic, when we girls/women who are deemed “African-American,” “ghetto,” “ratchet” or some other stigmatized identification, are the butt of a vlogger’s joke in YouTube videos. This one is about naming practices among black girls and it has accrued over 30 MILLION views!!
During a great conversation with sociologist Margaret Hunter the other day, I articulated a trend from our Watching Black Girls Who Twerk on YouTube dataset. The trend is that others are gaining the most value (economic and social currency) from making fun of black girls and women. The trend is profoundly encapsulated by Nicki Minaj in an on-screen interview from The Ellen Degeneres Show (Nov 2013) just after MileyGate:
“If a black person do a black thang?!? It ain’t dat poppin!” – Minaj
Her use of the colloquial term “poppin‘” in all its multiple meanings boils to one–a common hip-hop lyrical and music video trope: popping a women’s booty to make it rain. It also refers to seducing viewer’s attention which is critical in popular music media culture as well as to cause a stir or create drama such that people are talking about you (think Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” or Minaj’s “Anaconda” video). It’s all about the Benjamins, right? Dollar, dollar bills, y’all!
I don’t have much time to say much more but I wanted to open a conversation with my students and with the wordpress community and my followers. (Aside: I am thinking of moving this blog over to Tumblr because there are more black girls there online than here. Would you all be ok with that?).
The Counterfeit Culture of Black Girling Video View$
I’ll close with two quotes from two disparate but tangentially related camps. One is the Race Traitor community that has mounted a new abolition movement to end white superiority in our cultures.
Race Traitor: “We do not hate you or anyone else for the color of her skin. What we hate is a system that confers privileges (and burdens) on people because of their color. It is not fair skin that makes people white; it is fair skin in a certain kind of society, one that attaches social importance to skin color. When we say we want to abolish the white race, we do not mean we want to exterminate people with fair skin. We mean that we want to do away with the social meaning of skin color, thereby abolishing the white race as a social category. Consider this parallel: To be against royalty does not mean wanting to kill the king. It means wanting to do away with crowns, thrones, titles, and the privileges attached to them. In our view, whiteness has a lot in common with royalty: they are both social formations that carry unearned advantages.” – Noel Ignatiev 
I first heard about them 8-9 years ago when the use how counterfeit money or currency works in the U.S. as a metaphor for disrupting the system of white privilege. The US government must vigilantly fight against counterfeit dollars because 10% of more would corrupt our currency. The whole system would crumble — partly because, in my thinking, that if 10% of the population couldn’t tell the difference between the real and fake money, and that 10% told 20 people, the exponential impact would be seen within weeks. So you must guard against tainting the supply.
How to Detect Counterfeit Money (U.S. Secret Service): “The public has a role in maintaining the integrity of U.S. currency [could you swap “whiteness” and “patriarchy” here]. You can help guard against the threat from counterfeiters by becoming more familiar with United States currency [or the social system of white privilege or patriarchy]. Look at the money [value] you receive. Compare a suspect note [non-white/female] with a genuine note of the same denomination and series, paying attention to the quality of printing and paper characteristics [think YouTube views as currency]. Look for differences, not similarities.”
All this has me speculating. Do videos like the one above devalue what it means to be a black girl on YouTube? Is there is any value left on YouTube when you can generate traffic exponentially by “black girling” your content? But when it comes to the real thing, “it ain’t dat poppin'”!
I am using “value” here in the sense of monetizing your content as well as gaining social currency as a viral video. Does the video above taint the integrity of what it really means to be a black girl. How will viewers get the difference since the authentic version is rarely given attention.
What kinds of video do girls need to make to be more than a $tereotype that generates traffic by always being the butt of jokes including the drama that surfaces in discourse around black girls’ booty-shaking. Even there I have evidence that white girls get much more attention and views for doing what black girls do. Even Miley Cyrus can trump Minaj, Rihanna or Beyoncé on YouTube. Not combined by Iggy and Cyrus can step in and step out. Do the counterfeit moment and jump back into whiteness for profit.
What is the true value of broadcasting black girlhood?
How do we see or better yet, trust, the true value of being a black girl with these counterfeits of currency circulating on YouTube — the most public, public on the planet as Mike Wesch articulated in his YouTube ethnography.
We had the amazing blogger interested in digital black girls Hannah Giorgis visit our ANT4800 class this week. I audio recorded her visit. I may upload it if she gives us permission. She opened up a dialogue with a provocative quote from Junot Diaz, whose work I have yet to discover but if this is any indication, I am way behind the curve and will be catching up. And from this quote I got deeply connected to that my Black Girls YouTube project on twerking is very much about making some new mirrors for girls and for us women, too.
“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
MORE TO COME:
Stay tuned for a new vlog of mine on twerking and a video from my distinguished lecture at Rollins College last week.
Connecting People to YouTube Content
This past week I’ve taken to wearing my 2011 Shorty Awards lapel pin. Been reminiscing about the times I was highly active on Twitter. Years back, I was one of six nominees for the 2011 Nokia “Connecting People” Award along with Amanda Palmer. We both lost to Shannon Miller, a school librarian from Iowa who had over 20,000 followers among schoolkids and perhaps parents. I’ve written elsewhere about how that was a sign of the power of social media to beat out the usual algorithms of popular broadcast media. Amanda was the star then. I was already a TED Fellow. And the schoolteacher won. It was a loss I immediately embraced.
I’ve always been interested in curation in my social media interactions. Now that I am working primarily on YouTube and not Twitter like I was back in 2011, I’ve been sharing a view great videos that I think people should learn about and this one come from the weekly YouTube Creator Blog. At the end of each blog post the writer shares a favorite video they recently watched. Today it was:
Alex Carloss, Head of YouTube Originals, recently watched, “Kutiman – Thru You Too – GIVE IT UP.”
This YouTube video gives life. It’s truly original content and it’s curation at the same time. This is heaven, a true musical delight for musicians, DJs, video remix artists, and singers. It features a mashup of videos from other YouTube creators including the voice of a young black woman in the most compelling and creative way.
Check it out and consider becoming an original content creator on YouTube. I am!
Kyracatures: My iPhonography
Since 2011, I’ve taken extreme closeup shots with my iphone of nature and urban graffiti from the Williamsburg Pedestrain Bridge. The are intimate visions of life far below my usual reality so I call them Kyracatures. I’ve posted them on Twitter and Facebook but rarely here. So I am starting a ritual of bookending my posts. The open with 1-2 quotes and close with Kyracatures and perhaps some of my poetry.
I told the sacred women’s circle, “I miss my own voice.”
My words tried to hide the loss.
Today, I embrace the power of my inner feelings
and stand in the carefree expression of my divine.
Pleasure is mine.
I took the picture below right after a Black Girl Project Board meeting in late August. The flower was all of 3-4 inches in width. By the way, consider attending and registering for our annual Sisterhood Summit October 25th. Click here for more info.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
― Margaret Atwood
I wish there was more intentionality around posting on my blog, but hey!…”It’s my party and I’ll …” write when I want to. You know why? Teachin and writin’ (like pimpin’but different) ain’t easy. I thought I’d try to be funny this time cuz I am always so serious here.
A reminder about the purpose or mission of my blog. Black Girls YouTube is designed for two things.
- To have a space to express my thoughts, feelings and critiques of what’s happening when teen and adolescent black girls YouTube (“YouTube” is a verb in the blog title). I’m thinking of girls under 18 who vlog and/or twerk, who create content and engage with others on the platform, and
- To feature other online videos or talks about the social lives of black girls, especially the girls as distinct from women over 18, or that simply speak to issues affecting their self-presentation online.
The Power of Satire in YouTube Vlogs
As I organize the overall class schedule for my latest semester of a digital ethnography course that focuses on black girls who twerk on YouTube, I ran across a great video of satire about the Ray Rice controversy. I’ve basically been too busy to jump into the fray. I was searching through Chescaleigh’s latest videos and playlists and found this gem. It’s not one of her classics. She is now a curator for Upworthy and put together a playlist of her curated content. She writes:
I’m now a content curator at upworthy.com which is a new media site dedicated to promoting content that matters. This playlist contains some of my favorite content from around the web on a variety of important topics and social issues. To see more of my posts on Upworthy visit http://www.upworthy.com/franchesca-ramsey and make sure to “like” us on Facebook for more important content! http://facebook.com/upworthy
The latest in the playlist had me in stitches and got me thinking about the power of satire. As Wikipedia states, satire when some event, person or institution’s:
…vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.
You could read this as a shaming of a professional football player, Ray Rice. But losing his job will serve the purpose of shame very effectively. No satire necessary. You could read it as a shaming of his girlfriend-now-wife, whose name here need not be repeated. She deserves some privacy. No satire necessary there. But the institution, the corporate-person known as the NFL. Well…let’s just saw this satire by Megan MacKay posted Sept 12th does not fumble the ball about sexual abuse of women by pro ball players.
Teaching about Black Girls in a Predominately White Setting–NYC
I hope that we might find moments of satire in our class discussions since it’s such a pivotal genre on YouTube.
I wish I knew how to make a satire of this fact: I have 18-19 students and only one black student at one of the top public university’s in New York City. The student, Chris, and I represent [CORRECTION:] 10% of people in the room in a city where black people represent. African Americans represent 19% of the population in NYC, so we’re off by almost 50% [Math is not my forté but I know people who do math!]
The New York City Metropolitan area represents the largest city and metro in America with more than 18 million residents. African Americans have a rich history in this region even before the civil war. The New York Metro Black population is the largest of any city in the United States at close to 3.5 million. This is almost 9% of the entire Black population of the United States. New York City Proper has more than 2.4 million African Americans.
It’s odd to me that we cannot improvise and experiment with other forms of privilege (or even other majorities) in the classroom. The demographic of the college where I work has students from over 120 countries represented. In an average classroom, I have students from 14 different nations. But the black student population seems to be dwindling. So why teach about black girls? Because it matters that we pay attention to the “least” among us.
Hangin on a String
The other day, at an event with a circle of sacred feminine women artists, a string player who is an African American virtuoso shared that a major black pop artist had requested 30 black female string players be hired for a major gala event. They were hired and then 28 were summarily unhired because it didn’t look “diverse” enough for an event in NYC. When was the last time you saw 30 all-black women string players at a major arts event ANYWHERE? Thank god the multicultural censors stepped in. It would have been a tragedy to allow that! We should all thank them for saving the Metropolitan arts world from black domination one gala at a time!! Big them ONE BIG BAD APPLE for diversity! I <3 NY.
Given all this satirizing, you can probably imagine that i might be concerned about my classroom. If I have only one black student in a class about the ethnography–the first-hand personal study of online behavior–among teen black girls, how do I help the millennials hear the voices of the people we are studying without dominating them with black femaleness? How do we teach non-black students to avoid the trappings of stereotypes and stigmas usually attributed to black girls’ humanity by our mass and social media. Think about the comments below YouTube videos that feature or talk about race or blackness. Can you say #trolls 3x fast?
Thankfully, I trust in the humanity of my non-black students.
WE’RE ALL GREEN!! DARK GREEN KIDS ON THE BACK OF THE BUS!!
Monday I did this post-it note exercise giving each student a pink, green and yellow post-it (which I call “stickies”). They were asked to write responses to three prompts about themselves.
Below is a transcript of their responses. They made me feel like I don’t need to worry much. We have lots of concerns we share and from there we can co-create together AND bring complexity to both what we see and what we share to a quite diverse network no matter what we learn:
Political Science/ Philosophy
Green: Interest/ Aspect Topic
What is the purpose of posting twerking videos?
Life of young black girls on youtube
Extensivity/ [or the] Reach of youtube
How black girls are affected by racism and their culture
How different races view each other
People and their actions
How young black girls choose to face discrimination against them
Online communication (perception)
Black girl struggle
Philosophy and equality
Interested in how much i can learn about black girls twerking
Sub groups online
Why certain actions are done
Negative stigmas: Origins, solutions, results
Culture vs Society
Yellow: Self Identity/ Fears of YouTube Videos:
Chinese + Vietnamese
Italian + American
Asian American + Chinese American
Albanian + Caucasian
Girls in a man’s world
Fear of peer opinion
Don’t know what to vlog about never filmed myself before
I view YouTube videos as permanent. if someone quotes you/ screen shots what you say on twitter, its nothing in comparison to YouTube
I fear that my videos won’t be worth seeing
If it doesn’t turn out as planned
Fear of sounding like i don’t know what im talking about
Out of print refers to an item, typically a book, but can include any print or visual medium or sound recording, that is no longer being published.
The abbreviation OOP (also OP) is a more general term that encompasses craft, hobby, toy, and collectable items that are out of production. (Wikipedia)
Is a Black Girls’ Dance Her Primary Voice?
Most teen girls never speak with their mouths in their twerking videos. Many viewers misconstrue their mute-ness for a lack of agency. But dance plays such an important role during black adolescence and during youth for many Americans. It makes sense that they learn to “talk” and express themselves with their body. What complicates things is the objectification that a video frame creates for the viewer who is no place (not in the bedroom of the girl, not in their ‘hood, not conscious of their mind or cultural insights into the power of being in one’s body as an articulation of joy and doing your best. It’s the other narratives that come with projecting a teen black female body into a public that we overlook.
YouTube Vlogging: Empowering One’s Voice
This morning I recorded a vlog related to voice and out-of-print concerns. I posted it after visiting Maria Popova’s brilliant site BrainPickings.org. She wrote a blog post about a book titled BLAST OFF!, which is out-of-print. It’s about a black girl who describes space exploration. I wrote more than expected below (I always do). I guess I needed to make plain some of the politics of black publications and publishing that surrounds being a black girl/women in the U.S. Voicing those critical politics — using my voice and inviting black girls under 17 and those committed to them to bring voice to such matters — becomes increasingly important as I consider my legacy in life.
I’ve known that my voice is a key to my own empowerment after having people in my youth invade my private journals in ways that thwarted my freedom to write and speak for decades. So considering vlogging as a way out of that mind trap occurred to me years ago as a right of passage to liberation. This really intensified as I started having my students vlog in my anthro classes the last 18 months. But still I’ve resisted vlogging. So, here I go again. Take a listen!
Black Girls Gone (OOP): Blast Off! & Bushmen
Curious connections occupy my thoughts often and this is no different. The vlog above is the result of a connection made between out-of-print books and visual media by/about people of African descent esp. children’s books by/about black girls as well as the seeming lack of voice in user-generated twerking videos by teens.
I was listening to my favorite Sunday morning radio show On Being with Krista Tippett featuring an interview with renowned citizen-cellist musician Yo-Yo Ma. During the interview, Krista mentioned that Yo-Yo Ma had performed with the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, a well-documented and abused ethnic group of hunter-gatherers who now reside nationally within South Africa. They are urban and continue to protect and practice values that urban life has encroached upon as their traditional way of life. Anthropology has invested much ink into the research and study of the Kalahari Bushmen and you can find a great deal of video about them on YouTube.
When I searched for the music, I found the name of the project: Distant Echoes: Yo-Yo Ma and the Bushmen, but I found nothing to access the documentary that had once appeared on KLRU-TV, an Austin PBS channel. Nothing was available. Despite Yo-Yo Ma’s commercial success, the DVD was nowhere to be found online. There was barely anything written about the project online either. I found one great article from Harvard Magazine (so students and alumni at the nation’s most elite university were introduced to it). In in Yo-Yo Ma recalled how his obsession began with his undergraduate study in anthropology at Harvard. They described for readers who the Bushmen are and where they reside: The “Ju/Wasi (the name means “the proper people”) [are] a subgroup of the hunter-gatherers known as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, a desert region bordering Namibia and Botswana.” But other than that no evidence of the project is available or for sale, even on Ebay. Nothing public exists. OOP.
What Does a Public Role Mean for Teen Black Girls Who Broadcast?
As I continue to think about how we see adolescent black girls who twerk on YouTube, I constantly confront sociological issues as well as ethnomusicological ones. The word adolescent comes from a Latin word meaning “grow up.” What we do during adolescence tends to be considered critical by teens themselves, by their parents and guardians and by social scientists of every field including childhood studies.
If a quote from Proust tells us anything, then black people and black girls should be among the freest people in public given the constant of out-of-print publications about us.
Certain favourite roles are played by us so often before the public and rehearsed so carefully when we are alone that we find it easier to refer to their fictitious testimony than to that of a reality which we have almost entirely forgotten.
MARCEL PROUST, Within a Budding Grove
But the omission of critical texts about us, written to defy stereotypes and uncollapse how others tend to limit how we are see because of our skin color or myths about our difference as a “race”, is much more restrictive. So when publications go out-of-print, and for reasons too complicated to discuss here, we cannot compete with the dominant public discourse of lies that travels farther than our face-to-face reach can, especially when it comes to online media. We are still a minority in those ecologies as our co-presence with much more dominant media reveals.
It’s been my experience as a mid-career scholar of black culture and history as well as an ethnomusicologist that black and/or African-descent music and literature… let me clarify, that the books and the music of Africans and African Americans tends too often to be out-of-print in United States publications and worse yet when searching among the Internet of supposedly everything. We still don’t exist or are hard to locate despite our myths that the Internet makes everything accessible to all.
More from Wikipedia OOP:
An item goes out of print when a publisher does not reprint, re-press, or reissue after all copies have been sold to retailers. Reasons may include:
- the perception of the publisher that continuing to produce the work is no longer a commercially viable venture, i.e. that there is no longer a market for it
[We need targeted marketing to minority groups in publications to create a healthy democratic ideology of e pluribus unum. A diverse public based on white norms will not do in the USA or any other diverse nation. It breeds disintegrated public selves.]
- a limited print run (Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern)
- antiquation, or the obsolescence of content or format (laserdisc, VHS, compact cassette).
[Does black lit and visual media about black girls or other mean WE are not viable? WE are obsolete in our American public?]
- plans for a revised or reformatted edition
- the presence of errors, flaws, fabrication, offensive content, or plagiarism (sometimes preceded by a recall)
- banning or censorship
[This is particularly thorny when it comes to YouTube which rarely bans but they do sort of censor twerking videos with the persistent community “flagging” of twerking videosas “age-restricted content” which is common for videos that feature black girls under 17 . Since these videos will persist on the Internet, it’s like tagging or stigmatizing black girls as deviant online. It’s becomes a Scarlet letter marking difference or “ratchtness”.]
- intellectual property obstacles, such as the expiration of a publisher’s license to release content owned by another copyright holder. For example, a novelization of a film that was released 10 years ago is likely to go OOP for this reason. See licensing section in The Criterion Collection article for an example.
Out of print items are often pursued by collectors through aftermarket retailers such as used book stores, record shops, and online auction sites.[This has not surfaced much with black lit and visual materials like the old video sellers in Harlem or the cut-outs of records] Sellers of out of print merchandise on auction sites will typically include “OOP” or its equivalent in product descriptions. The designation is sometimes misappropriated—an example is in keyword stuffing, where the acronym is used to generate numerous search results even as it does not apply to the items retrieved. The abbreviation is sometimes placed in descriptions of items whose publication or production status is unclear (such as DVDs said to be returning to the “Disney Vault“) to affect interest in the product.
In a classic joke of observer bias, scientists of different nationalities studying rats ‘‘discover’’ in the rats the behavioral traits associated with the stereotypical conceptions of the scientists’ own nationalities. One group of scientists sees the rats operating in organized hierarchies, another group of scientists sees the rats responding to the impulses of the moment, yet another group of scientists sees the rats engaging in creative long-term adaptations to the environments in which they are placed, and so on. Each group of scientists sees what its members already ‘‘know’’ to be the nature of mammalian life. Each has difficulty seeing what the other groups of scientists observe. (Joshua Meyrowitz on “Power, Pleasure and Patterns: Intersecting Narratives of Media Influence,” 2008).
Crack Kills: On The Mediation of Booty by Black Female Emcees
Naw, i am trying to make no jokes about hoodrats with the quote above from a scholarly journal article. Instead, I am simply hinting at there are many ways to look at Minaj’s latest video Anaconda. But I would assert that when our biology is triggered with the sugar of sexuality, the choices start to get very narrow and dare I say hard.
Clearly black women see Nicky Minaj’s video Anaconda with a certain set of lenses. But it’s been interesting. It’s easy to find vlogs by black or non-black males on YouTube reacting to the video. I watched one video by HotNewHipHop, some random entertainment news channel on YouTube, that was utterly sexist in the man-on-the-street interviews with men and women including a lesbian woman. The interviewer asked if you’d trade a pair of Air Jordans for a lap dance with Minaj.
This was the first by a black woman. A vlog that really goes in deep with her entertaining analysis of the sexual politics of going the route of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s novelty song “Baby Got Back”. Watch!!
Here name is Irma. Irma Peny. She is a a Cameroonian singer-songwriter living in France. Love it!!
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
― Henry David Thoreau
“Your silence will not protect you.”
― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
#Ferguson: On Peaceful Protest and Democracy
Fatigue. Yes, we’ve all been experience attention economy fatigue with videos of police brutality, killing, tear gas, and assaults as well as resistance and disobedience in the name of justice. But we are still biological beings in a social ecology. If that social ecology lacks trust, does not feel fit and serve our needs, we suffer and fatigue comes. You must care for self to be able to hold such visual struggle for long. Take a break OR find a video that is like a balm in Gilead. THIS!!
Music by Mt. Eden “Oh That I Had”
Please read my previous blog post here:
Sara Baartman was a celebrity. Carried on a chair, she went to meet a duke. (73) Elites from out of town came to visit her. On Duke Street, two African children [freak show organizer Alexander] Dunlop had brought from Cape Town, probably in conditions of slavery, served her and the men. On Sundays, she went for rides in a carriage— much more like a woman of the elite than of the working class. Cartoonists represented her, songs were written, and poems were composed.(74)
Baartman was a celebrity who had to endure people poking her bottom and commenting on her figure. Her experience fit that of many performers of freak shows at the time, when freak meant wondrous or strange as much as it did awful and inferior.(75) — Scully and Crais (2008, 316-317) on the “Venus Hottentot”
LIKING TOO MUCH: BOTTOMS UP (the film)
Connection. Real connection. Everyone of us knows that social media is not giving us the biological connection we truly need to be authentically social. But we keep buying in. LIKING it all. Like. Like. Like. And more Like buttons. And top it off with a Share. What are we sharing for? This week I decided to stop using the LIKE button on Facebook in lieu of actually leaving comments if I liked something a friend or stranger posted on the walls of our daily exchange.
And what a week it’s been of entertainment info while #Ferguson freedom summer has been happening. Nicky Minaj released her Anaconda twerk-fest video and Taylor Swift has been criticized for what doesn’t even come close to twerking in my mind though she has one black woman doin the do. So much hate when what artists do is play with dominant scripts in our consciousness from the words of Kanye to the meme of twerking.
Presently, I’m writing a new article about “ways of seeing” the black bottom though the inherited media of popular music. While searching the web, I learned of a new documentary available that was featured by Madame Noire (August 6) in a CBS entertainment-information piece about butt augmentation. The film Bottoms Up was advertised there.
On the surface, “Bottoms Up” is a documentary film that examines the newest booming trend in aesthetic surgery – big butts. Placed under a microscope, the film explores the media’s impact and other societal pressures that have propelled big butts from a cult fetish to a mainstream phenomenon.
From Sir Mix-a-Lot, whose 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” sensationalized round posteriors – I like big butts and I cannot lie – to new artists like 2Chainz – She got a big booty so I call her big booty, it is men who actively pursue women with this new fetishized feature. So who is to blame – the media? Men? Women? – See more.
Baby Got Back is still gettin views, entertainment info traffic, distributing its messages to toddlers and adolescents across all nations who have little contact with black girls or women or recognize the objectification of their bodies they are being taught. A recent video of Sir Mix-A-Lot with the Seattle Symphony features a spectacle of mostly white woman shaking their asses like they just don’t care. Where is the counter cultural critique of this by white women? By conductors at symphonies or the black members? OH! They only have one black musician in the orchestra. That’s another conversation close to my heart as a classically-trained musician. But off-topic here. Twerking — Stay focused, Kyra!
WHY STUDY BLACK GIRLS WHO TWERK?
When I began exploring my interest in a practice on YouTube by black girls that most people I meet find repellent …if they even know what twerking is, I never imagined the richness of this study. I have begun to understand the pleasure and escape found in black girls’ who broadcast while they twerk. I still am learning how to represent it ethnographically in a way that honors the exploration of adolescence, the play and sensuality of black dance and sociality, and the complexity of twerking in online video. YouTube seems so liberatory and at the same time its a place of neoliberal exploitation of youth and their expressive cultural traditions and practices.
It’s been complicated by my own parallels as a black woman and formerly black girl adolescent struggling to discover my place in a world that denigrates blackness. Whether it was being called “pretty for a black girl” or being teased by white boys for what was then a small butt by comparison to the one I have grown into now. This is about me and not about me or my history at all. But what constantly comes up is the emotional injustice and subjective manipulation, dare I say the microaggressive assaults upon the ways others see my body and thereby how I perceive who I may be for others in the world. It dominates who I want to be at times. Worry for what others see and think and how I must overcome that to be free–and the struggle continues. But it’s personal that it’s not at all about me. It’s the sociology of being black and female if you have (or perhaps don’t have) the right big butt.
I often wonder what it would be like to be 13 today with Beyonce singing about surfboards and Kardashians implanting their bodies with what never shined on us.
So when I just discovered this new documentary Bottoms Up available on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon, I find myself trapped in a sort of damned if I do, damned if I don’t mentality. Buy it and contribute to the madness of our objectification in popular music media esp. online participatory video. Ignore it and shirk my objective research agenda. Contradictory #bottomlines if there ever was one.
CONSUMING AND BEING CONSUMED
This form of consumption is entangled with constantly sensing that the body you happen to possess is the object of derision and lascivious attention often masking any real attention to who I really am, the me within this body. And it’s entangled in that everybody is making a profit off it as long as they are not too dark or too black, too sexy or too cultural. Our bodies in some crazy neoliberal reality (not fantasy) is expropriated, extracted, take all the colonializing language of exploitation and globalization and it becomes a metaphor for the mountaintop (or bottom) removal of black women and girls from what’s profitable. We, it seems, are only viable as spectators of the sport or entertainment-info that uses our body for profit whether social or economic capital.
I find this work tiring. Hard. Difficult to parse out. I have to bite my tongue, the very last thing needed for a writer or scholar or for a black girl or woman. Shutting down breeds the bitterness. Better to take the bitter pill and dive in, I keep reminding myself time and time again.
I began to think of this work as being more about cognitive justice as well as emotional, ecological and sociobiological inquiry into violence vs. fitness for black girls (and women). Really for myself, too. This is inner warrior work and staying strong when the entertainment info machine and attention economy uses what houses your live and used to be part of your dance not the focus, takes deep and rigorous courage.
So with that, here is the trailer for the documentary Bottoms Up. If anyone has a way around buying this, I would definitely avoid doing so.