New YouTube Kids App. Don’t Forget to Search for Their Digital Traces!

 Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

 

What an amazing week! I want to give you a little review what’s been going on in my academic life and what’s been happening in digital media land, esp. YouTube at the intersection of race, gender and adolescents online.  Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been rebranding how I talk about my digital ethnographic research. I’m recoding the 1000 videos I’ve collected that feature adolescent black girls (ages 13-17 and younger) broadcasting while they twerk from the “privacy” of their bedrooms in a participatory research project with my three intro to anthro courses. More on that soon.

This weekend since Friday I have been attending the Eastern Sociological Association meeting here in New York City. It’s being held at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in Times Square. Any local New Yorker knows that how much we loath having to go to Times Square’s Tourist Trap. But because my friend (online and off-line) sociology professor Jessie Daniels (@JessieNYC) organized and is hosting a digital sociology mini conference it was well worth the trouble. And it’s been amazing. You can follow our live tweeting of the conference at #DigitalSociology on Twitter.

YouTube App Just for Kids Launched

This week YouTube announced a new app designed for kids and their gardens. It’s called  kids.

On February 23, 2015,  U2 launched a new kid-focused app for parents and guardians to download.  YouTube video advertising the new  access is pretty compelling. They also released a remarkable playlist of viral videos featuring kids titled Kids We Love.  It starts with of one my favorites  “Worry about yourself” featuring a little toddler in her car seat telling her dad to leave her alone, she can take care of herself. Many of the videos I’ve seen before. One is precious.  It’s called Kids play with paint a get it all over their faces. Reminds me of when I was that age.


Kyra-Kyra on the Wall/
Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

I was 4 or 5 years old staying at my Granny’s while my mother was at work. I’d been playing in my youngest aunt’s Avon powder … without permission. I’d been told not to play with my aunt’s makeup. I was having a ball with that powder puff imitating (or I thought mirroring) what I saw in a Warner Brothers’ cartoon.  I was too young to notice that I was different from the white female figure in the cartoon. The white powder became invisible, it disappeared on her skin. I had no idea that the Avon product betrayed my lie, and defined my otherness at the same time. My aunt’s tall dresser did not have a mirror attached so I never saw how I looked. When I heard my mother unexpectedly came in the front door after work, I jumped off a chair I had placed to reach her makeup and stood outsider my aunt’s room as if I had not been doing anything.  My mother, Ardell, asked me, “What have you been doing, Kyra??!!” I stood on the step and said “Nothing.” My little brown face was covered in white talcum powder and she still tells the story about how she tried not to laugh. Parents had a rough job before the Internet. Image telling a child to not watch YouTube. Or moreover, don’t upload any videos of yourself without my permission. Uh-oh!!!

From Dusty Faces to Digital Traces

Parents may be pleased with this but they also need to start search the YouTube archive for images of their kids by name. Even if videos are removed from a channel, they may still exist in the search archive. Check for the digital traces. They are not as obvious as the powder was on my brown face decades before digital video and mobile devices were tethered to today’s youth.

If I made the playlist for Kids We Love it would definitely include Princess973 or Princess Maji representin’ Jersey. Here’s her dancing to a remix of “Let it Go” from Frozen–clearly every parents favorite song they could stand not to hear one more time. Princess Maji is black girl genius!! She is much more incredible at dancing, if you asked me, than any of the kids represented in YouTube’s present playlist.

Misoynoir: Flirting with the Webcam From the Bedroom and the Backdoor

“If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” – Junot Diaz

Bailey first used the term [misogynoir] in an essay titled, ‘They Aren’t Talking About Me’ for the Crunk Feminist Collective. She defines it as a “word I made up to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American visual and popular culture.” Examples of Misogynoir include the rejection of Black women’s natural hair and ‘twerking’. http://www.thevisibilityproject.com/2014/05/27/on-moya-bailey-misogynoir-and-why-both-are-important/

 

Twerk Reconsider

 

An Ethnography of YouTube Twerking

More and more I’m realizing what’s emphasized in this week’s chapter in my new intro to cultural anthro textbook by Ken Guest (which is the bomb!!!). Chapter 3 is on fieldwork and ethnography. Guest frames ethnography as both a social scientific method of study and an art because of the use of fiction strategies to tell stories about people and structures of power.

Doing ethnography is such a fit for me as an artist and a thinker. I’m increasingly aware of how precious it is that I ended up teaching anthro and not just ethnomusicology to music majors who tend to spend all their time in notes and aesthetics and not enough time in the world of power and inequality. Think of the remarkable Bobby McFerrin and his apolitical stance. Ain’t knockin it but it’s only one way to be a musician in the world.  He’s not the Michael Jordan of music — his politics to eradicate differences show up in his art, but the talk of the full dimensions of say race, class, and gender are not prominent in either’s public discourse. I am sure privately it’s another matter.

Exploring Race, Gender and YouTube in Class

This semester I have merged my ethnography of YouTube and twerking with my intro course. We are recoding the 1000 videos collected in past classes. They will split into pairs, get 15 videos, find 3 scholarly articles that suggests how they can code for race, gender and or digital video/YouTube and then we will present all we learned. From the hive mind we will come up with 10 codes to then re-code all the videos with the same variables. Each of my 3 sections will have a different set of 10. It’s going to be amazing.

Yesterday I made a connection between the first viral video Numa Numa by Gary Broulsma in Jersey in Dec 2004 dancing in his bedroom to the Numa Numa song (aka Dragostea din tei by Ozone) which appeared on a website called Newgrounds.com. Until 2012 with PSY’s Gangnam Style is was the 2nd most watched viral video of all time with over 7 million views. Since then it sits behind Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus (2013) and just ahead of Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (2012). (Visit the most-watched YouTube videos list updated regularly on Wikipedia You can look at past changes as a subscriber there, too).

YouTube the domain was registered Feb 14th, 2005– 10 years ago — and it’s first video launched April 23, 2005. In only 10 years it’s become the 2nd most popular search engine on the Internet, the most public archive of user-generated and professional videos, and the source of revenue for both old legacy video and hundreds of everyday people who earn six figures from making videos online.

“YouTube fizzled in an early version, [Jawed] Karim [one of three founders] says: A dating site called Tune In Hook Up drew little interest. The founders later developed the current site, now broadcasting 100 million short videos daily on myriad subjects.” (Hopkins, USA Today, 11 Oct 2006).

The dating site initially offered $100 through Craigslist to attractive girls who posted ten or more videos but the ad ploy failed. Reportedly they didn’t get a single reply (Gannes 2006 in Burgess and Green 2009, 2).

A Select History of Viral Video Memes

Yesterday in class I mentioned that it’s not that easy to make a viral video on YouTube anymore. I added that the concept of viral videos–which students seemed to be unable to name in the academic ecology of the classroom; I’d asked them what they call a video that lots of people follow–came from the notion of memes by Richard Dawkins and that some argue that memes mirror the behavior of viruses and/or genes. To borrow from Yiddish, there is always a lot of michigas or craziness around the discourse of genes, women and black people in the US and the West. So you can imagine what happens to black girls historically and stereotypically. More about that another time.

The first viral video on YouTube uploaded on August 24, 2005 was the “Hey Clip” by Tasha and Dishka aka Lital Mizel and Adi Fremerman of Ramlee or “Ramla, city in Israel, on the coastal plain southeast of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Ramla is the only city founded by the Arabs in Palestine.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica). By 2006 it had 13 million views. Both Gary Broulsma and Tasha and Dishka recorded themselves with a webcam from their bedrooms and lip synched on camera, Gary used a shoot and upload approach flirting with the camera dancing in his bedroom desk chair while the Ramlee women, both 22 y/o, used significant video editing to stage their own music video for a boyfriend of one of the girls. THe former was set to the Numa Numa song which is from Moldova. The Hey Clip was danced to “Hey” by the Boston rock band The Pixies which inspired the alt rock boom of the 1990s according to Wikipedia (got research to do here but its a start).

Hidden in the shadows of these videos black girls were uploading dance videos from their own bedrooms with their desktop webcams and mobile phones as early as 2006 on YouTube if not earlier. 2005 the year YouTube launched was also the year of the costliest natural disaster and one of the 5 most deadliest in the history of the U.S. Hurricane Katrina left its devastation in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where millions were left homeless and 800,000 New Orleaneans were displaced to all points throughout the nation. http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2013/01/distribution-of-katrina-refugees.html

map shows the dispersion of the 800,000 refugees from Louisiana that fled as a result of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster measured by FEMA

map shows the dispersion of the 800,000 refugees from Louisiana that fled as a result of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster measured by FEMA

The youth of the Dirty South rap scene known as Bounce in NOLA lost everything –shelter and the sonic force of their records, DJs and sound systems but not the soul of their dance and rap. YouTube’s availability helped them connect while apart.

So when black girls started uploading videos a two way transference of culture began with digital video that was not possible to the degree it became with the very features that made YouTube a huge innovation in social media. It’s ability to allow ordinary users not only to broadcast themselves but to easily share and comment on each others’ audio-visual content.

Just as the intersections of race and gender affect access jobs and wealth and who gets on commercial TV and radio–traditional old media–these aspects of identity and power also live in the YouTube community but we have not learned to distinguish as easily or critically as we have been educated to do with the old mass media because of the asynchronous nature of new media — available anywhere, anytime by over a billion unique visitors a month. The sheer volume is hard to grasp and analyze ordinarily.

Flirting vs. Twerking:
Screening Difference Differently

People read Gary Broulsma and the Hey Clip in hindsight as cute and playful while videos of black girls twerking then and now are viewed very differently even among middle class blacks. A student sent me the meme at the top of this blog post last week. I’d seen before. Found it about a year ago in my research. She uploaded this version to her Instagram timeline. It reads “HOW TO TWERK” and after a line break below it reads “STEP 1: Reconsider.”

Why aren’t adolescent/teen black girls viewed as playfully flirting when broadcasting with the webcam? Some answers to this seem obvious. The culture of personal vlogging on YouTube usually involves face-to-face work, the deep and loose ambient intimacy of talking to strangers about the most personal things in one’s private life from the bedroom. Black girls are butt to face and their voices are lost in the translation of their expressive culture to audiences of people who do not know from where or from whom twerking emanated and how in the ambient ecosystem of YouTube.

You cannot see their intentions nor the pathway from them to Miley Cyrus’s Facebook upload in February of 2013 that led her to be considered for person of the year. YOU–Yes, You was Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2005 with the launch of various social networking sites that allowed you, the user, to shift from audience to broadcasting yourself, uploading and sharing content you produced for the world without any mediation…or so it seemed. You could freely traffic in getting views. The cultural institution of YouTube, YouTube itself and entities like VEVO, are not distributing this content for free even if adolescent youth and other produsers think so. They sell us produsers to advertisers. The ads are not the products–as Joshua Meyrowitz writes in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (1985)–we are the products. YouTube sells not only our eyes to advertisers but we advertise the products for both YouTube and its advertisers and distributors like VEVO.

9 out 10 viral videos are made today according to WSJ by professional content creators rather than users like Gary Broulsma or Lital and Adi in the mid 2000s. And the most watched videos on YouTube are music videos. 9 out of 10 are VEVO videos. The exceptions are the novelty hits of the original CBMF (Charlie Bit My Finger) video and the Gummy Bear Song and  PSY’s Gangnam Style (which left Justin Bieber’s “Baby” in the dust, produced for a professional Korean recording artist), all of which are not distributed by VEVO.

These are my questions to my students today as we explore the full scope of human diversity by studying both people on YouTube and structures of power within the YouTube community and ecology.

  • How do black girls fit into the full scope of human diversity on YouTube?
  • How does the intersection of race and gender affect our perceptions of Gary, Lital and Adi, and the nameless but seemingly known black girls who twerk on YouTube and other digital video sharing sites?
  • How do we learn to apply the knowledge you are newly acquiring about fieldwork and ethnography to learning how people learn to see race and gender on YouTube and how they see twerking and/or black girls who broadcast while they twerk?
  • Are there differences when Miley Cyrus or Iggy Azalea twerks versus Nicky Minaj, Beyoncé or Rihanna? What factors could we code to map differences even if you think they might not be there? How to we objectively check without qualitative content analysis and scholarly research about race, gender and YouTube not to mention adolescent and teen black girls?
  • How do we learn to understand twerking and YouTube from a global scope, starting with the people and communities on YouTube (and beyond), and how do we study both the people and the structures of power within YouTube to better understand how all humans are interconnected?

That’s our semester’s mission. See my previous post on privacy for a discussion of the 8 yr old video I found late last week that I introduced in class this week. You need to 13 and up to officially register as a subscriber on YouTube. One black male student in my 2nd class urged us to consider that the title of that video suggests that it is not Wame’s video at all. Perhaps another example of the digital sex-trafficking of minor black girls on YouTube.

Issues about segregation keep surfacing in my mind which is why the “back door” is used in the title. Whites only entrances and segregation of public accommodations seems so far away from user-generated spaces and free participatory media publics. But YouTube is not as different from offline space as we think when it comes to race, gender and power differences.

Privacy (No) Adversity (You Bet) for Black Girls Who Twerk on YouTube

 “All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

“Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Adverse Childhood Experience: Black Girls and YouTube

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris in pediatric care is one of my sheroes, esp. for children in communities of color who suffer high levels of childhood trauma including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence. 

Below I share her persuasive and passionate TED Talk that introduces viewers to the The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

As I wrote up a new abstract today about the re-segregation of black girls’ musical identities in the blurred public of YouTube, I am increasingly present to the emotional and cognitive impact of new media and digital video on the socialization of black girls’ adolescent brains and their views of how they see themselves differently than others. We must bring more of a sociological lens to our ethnographic and ethnomusicological study to help us all understand the social forces that do not empower online black girls’ value in their own eyes and perhaps more importantly in others. Their ecological fitness is at stake.

Seeing ourselves through Technology:
What Do Black Girls See?

I am writing an article titled Mirrors, Monsters and Webcams about the ways in which girls learn to see/hear themselves through technology from the 1970s to now. I was thinking about how the policy of Desegregation affected me and my view of my self identity when I was an adolescent learning to fit my body into the latest dance in the mirror just outside my bedroom. A white woman about my age with whom I was sharing about this article reminded me how we 2nd generation television teen girls would dance with the TV screen, too.  I am making an argument for public/private and public/domestic spaces that hinges on an understanding of Segregation policies and early social media practices of radio and television in the 1970s.

The twerking videos I study of black girls who broadcast from the “privacy” of their bedrooms always make me think about how segregated that space–the bedroom–was and still remains for black girls’ dancing. In public settings there is more exposure to harm and the bedroom was a barrier to public groping but also an easy target for domestic abuse. Your closed door symbolized safety, temporary as it might have been. Having privacy was a key to adolescence. The webcam has changed how privacy works for everyone. But that change didn’t begin with Web 2.0.

The differences then and now are both complicated. It wasn’t simple when American Bandstand was broadcast into your family’s living room or bedroom (we had a TV in my mom’s master bedroom, too). It was uncomplicated when Soul Train blew its horn into the soundscapes of domestic life. Even my local show The New Dance Show with its host the Moonman in DC shaped how I wanted to perform my Self when I finally entered the public sphere. The private space of home back then also became a place for advertising the consumption of musical media to teens through radio and television. Parents began to lose more and more control before kids ever left their front doors. Today on YouTube it’s much more complicated with forms of segregation in mixed engagement that is both alarming and invisible to far too many. That’s what I am working out teasing out in my latest article.

You Betta Be In Before Dark!:
What is Public Safety on YouTube?

Adolescent play with strangers was rare when I was a kid. And parents tried to protect you by insisting you stay within shouting distance. The boundary was always marked by the onset of twilight. You better be home before it’s dark. Parents born before Desegregation in the South where I grew up knew or remembered that the general public was never save for dark-skinned folk. Daytime was dangerous, too. What was really a concern was the possibility of not being under a caring watchful eye when visibility decreased. What happens when being visible to strangers you meet online becomes the norm for adolescent girls of any color, but particularly for black girls?
Two days ago, I found a twerking video uploaded that same day by an 8 year old black (seemingly Afro-Brit) girl. YouTube’s age minimum is 13.  Her brother, who is recording the video and seemed a bit younger than her based on the sound of his voice and what frames he was capturing with a mobile webcam–he seemed fascinated with the technological capacities of the camera; with what it can do.
This adolescent 8 year old in contrast to her brother was all into the technology of her body–which is an important aspect of socialization for black girls historically and for young American girls in general. She was so into managing and performing the technology of twerking, of self-presenting herself like what she perhaps had seen before, that she seemed almost unaware of the implications of the camera. She was clear she would be made visible from its upload, I am sure. The video appears to be her channel with her actual name, which is mentioned in the performance by her brother. Her channel only has 2 videos. This video received over 600 views in less than one day. What’s more disturbing is the engagement below it. 3 comments, all by males, designed for “grooming” — like pimps and predators groom girls or boys for sexual abus — inviting her to expose or unclothe more of body. No comments per se about her dance.

I am sure you will find this as disturbing as I have.  I could say much more about this video and how YouTube is not monitoring it’s content for harm to minors. I could also talk about the appetite that the porn industry produces that leads young men and strangers to solicit hooking up with this girl.
Screen Shot from YouTube 2015-02-21 at 2.34.53 PM

Screen Shot from YouTube 2015-02-21 at 2.34.53 PM

Who Poisoned the Well in the First Place?:
YouTube’s Ecology meets Systemic Bias

Dr. Burke Harris’s talk speaks to learning how much adversity can harm children’s cognitive growth and emotional well-being not to mention their life chances and health well into their adulthood.  This is why my research matters so much.  I am trying to link the pleasure of messing around online for girls to the need for better digital media literacy and attention to not simply their social agency but their cognitive fitness in the most crucial years of their brain development. YouTube is not always the best environment for girls’ public health.
Dr. Burke-Harris states in her TED Talk, which I watched live last year:

I did a master’s degree in public health, and one of the things that they teach you in public health school is that if you’re a doctor and you see 100 kids that all drink from the same well, and 98 of them develop diarrhea, you can go ahead and write that prescription for dose after dose after dose of antibiotics, or you can walk over and say, “What the hell is in this well?” So I began reading everything that I could get my hands on about how exposure to adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children.

http://go.ted.com/X5Y

 

♥ Watch Your Back! Stop Messing Around with Your Assets, Love!

 ♡ ♥ A Valentine Weekend Post ♥ ♡

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval….[It is] a bid for the attention of strangers — … hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see. – Jon Ronson, NYT, Feb 12, 2015

If we’re going to be watched, judged and constantly commented on? We’ll choose just what that is, thanks very much. – Daisy Buchanan, “Anti-Selfie Day,” The Telegraph, Feb 14, 2015

Feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion

One tweet. Just one off-handed tweet that was read at the intersection of whiteness, AIDS and colliding contexts of meaning (i.e., context collapse) cost a young PR director her job. It happened while Justine Sacco was “flying while white” from the United States to South Africa–the land where she was actually born. It took one tweet to have career to fall from sky of privilege. The NYT article about it is a must read for anyone interested in learning from social media blunders including literally-read tweets and the role of public shaming at the hands of your own self-generated digital content today.

My interest in the piece concerns digital self-presentation and the costs of such content. It speaks to two concerns that I’ll sum up in 140 characters (or less).

Number 1:  to the consequences of social media costs more than money and can last a lifetime. Wake up! Stop giving away your assets.

I witness indifference among black girls who broadcast while they twerk. What I notice is their indifference to their own digital ‘net worth – their social capital or assets. Not only what they could make from their content but the consequences of what others see or think about their content that may not matter now but may cost them later. What concerns me is their ecological fitness in a patriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalist world that was not and is not designed for their gain or growth and development. The impact that twerking videos may have on their future net worth — their monetary assets after debts owed — also concerns me. Both your digital and future net worth involve your online reputation now.

The music media of television and radio got us first. We’ve been hoodwinked into believing the struggle is and has been over being consumers of media.  Joshua Meyrowitz corrects this thinking in his book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior (1985). We were not consuming TV, we were being consumed by it (to paraphrase a powerful expression from a young black woman at a conference I attended on gender, sexuality and hip-hop). We actually were and still are the products of media. Social media platforms sell us to advertisers. That is how the business model of media has always worked. So, even as black girls create their own content, they are being sold to media companies by the eyefull including rap artists like Wacka Flocka Flame, Juicy J and K-Stylis who create twerk songs by the dozen to advertise their “art”. We are all being bought and sold on Facebook and on YouTube to the highest advertising bidders which is … Facebook and YouTube along with VEVO and Amazon and many others.  This is the media ecology of online living. So the issue of your reputation comes second to what advertisers are selling on the back of your videos, tweets, likes and updates. If you lose your job, they still make it rain no matter what.

This is why the study of black girls twerking on YouTube can be insightful and go well beyond being about us vs. them. If a young white woman heading up PR at a firm can lose her job and threaten her future reputation from one off-handed and indiscriminate tweet, what do you think is the cost for you? Studying twerking YouTube videos, videos that will persist for years and years to come for black girls and others of any class or background has a lot to offer in thinking about digital reputations online and off.

Number 2: On social media, your assets can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Protect your future ‘net worth now! Beware 

The misogynoir — the anti-black sexism (as well as the anti-female racism) faced by black women in social media reflect forms of structural inequalities that young girls of color, esp. black girls, on YouTube may learn way too late not unlike Justine Sacco. Dare I say that “the stakes are highest for those who are darkest” in any visual social media on the Internet. They are highest for those who use their bodies to tell stories that strangers (even if black and female) may not be able to decode from your point of view.

Strangers — both people you’ve never met and those you call friends that you only know online–simply cannot decipher others’ behaviors, esp. adolescent play or the messing around that black girls who make twerking videos are doing just like other kids playing around with video production and content creation on YouTube. Black girls generally shoot and upload their twerking videos so their motives — their cultural as well as their technical intentions in making videos — are not apparent. If they were using filters and screen caps or adding verbal commentary to accompany their twerking, the context might be more apparent and more significant to strangers. Friends they know in real life tend to get it. But the issue of what advertisers and media figures get is a whole ‘nother conversation.

Kstylis_Twerk_Music-back-large

Most of us cannot read between the lines of twerking videos, or between the “bottomlines.” This is even more complicated when watching a black teen twerk or bounce her ass to songs like “Trampoline Booty” or “Kangaroo Booty” or even “Booty Hopscotch“–all popular songs by Memphis artist Kstylis.  His songs dominate the dataset of 1000 videos I have collected.

On Cognitive Assets: “The Booty Don’t Lie” (So Saith Monae)

Last summer while conducting this research, I suggested to a white male student that he allow himself to see these young girls are merely having fun online, messing around. He quipped, “I don’t see emotion in an ass!”

This student, in my view, was not trying to be funny or glib. This was not his modus operandi. In class he always demonstrated a slightly older, more mature mindset. He was open but he was also stuck.He couldn’t, at first glance, see past what he imagined was nothing more than sexual, nothing more than (and this is my take not his) “asking for it”; enticing the wrong kind of male attention; all he could see is the notion of soliciting sex with that ass, to be blunt. (Again, this is my take on his reaction, not his).

This is why I have been exploring what I call the “cognitive justice” aspects of digital media studies and media ecology. The part of the brain that is threatened by seeing things different than what we already know–the amygdala that does no critical thinking but does pull patterns from your past for usefulness in what it perceives is happening now —  is alive and well when we confront implicit biases of race and sex. That part of our brain keeps us thinking we are safe–safe knowing that “those” people are get short-shrifted because they are deserve it. Our mind is being confronted with a truth that is difficult to set free. That day that student was cognitively stuck by my suggestion that black girls were just playing. Yet, that moment of cognitive distortion eventually did set him free.  He became one of the best interpreters of the video micro-culture of adolescent black girls twerking in the entire class last summer.  He also did some of the best ethnographic vlogging, too.

We must teach ourselves and teach girls that their cognitive assets come first! That don’t mean you can’t make twerking videos anymore. But it we could see more geeking out in those videos, learning techniques that give you social and cultural capital as a content creator, the conversations which switch from your ass to your real assets.

Just Messing Around on YouTube

Sharing images of oneself is lingua franca for online adolescent and teen girls. It is shaped by hegemonic masculinity and femininity. When we consider issues at the intersection of race, gender and age, we who are older KNOW that some will pay a higher cost for the digital presence and views of their body than others. Reputation politics are not equal. AND the long-term consequences of one’s digital reputation and how others perceive you can lead to future shaming. Your digital footprint (the images you leave on line) as well as your digital shadows (the traces that others leave behind associated with you or your imags) can give new meaning to the expression “Your first impression may be your last” or “First impressions are the most lasting.”  These footprints and shadows can lay dormant for years and then surface during your adulthood when you least expect it 3, 15, or 30 years from now.

Why make life any harder for yourself in the future? Managing one’s future reputation is a hard lesson to learn at a young age. It is  perhaps even more difficult to teach adolescents and teens (without the experience of a significant failure or loss. The adolescent brain and its cognitive resources are operating on impulse and emotion as it begins to prune what it really needs to survive in life and online. Adolescents use social media they way I used to use a mirror. The difference is that black girls as well as their male and female counterparts on YouTube are trying to find themselves through social media, through a networked public of people they do not know in real life, they only know online, and alongside a tiny micro-public of people they actually know both off- and online.  The former trump the latter in the long run.

Watch Your Back: What Happens on YouTube, Stays …

Twerking to Nice and Slow UsherThose of us who are older face the same trouble. We are all must learn that online spaces are not our friends. We all must learn what it means to create a single identity that occupies space online and off, across time and space, between jobs and on-the-job, and find ways to create safe play spaces that do not diminish the marketplace reputation we must begin to build at a much younger age and one that last throughout our lifetime.

Let me tell you. I, of all people, have had my share of public humiliation via social media. I know first-hand regret from my own radical transparency. It matters now that I am noticing just how naive and arrogant I was during my work-life until about 3 years ago. I am still learning.  Your digital reputation requires a new kind of digital literacy for black girls and women that is about much more than what platform you are on and know how to use. We have not begun to fully take into account what our digital ‘net worth means in a racialized, sexualized patriarchal world. It’s about more than shaming we often discuss around respectability politics. It’s bigger than #BlackTwitter!

Uploading May Criminalize Black Girls and Protesters at #MillionsMarch

[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:

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.

#FCKH8 – A Bad Word for a Good Cause #NSFW #girlhood

“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

And…

 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!!

Bet UOENO Her Name: Bottomlines for BeTTy BuTT

Ms. Jamie Adedra (“Betty Booty”) Moore

Born: Wed., Feb. 14, 1990
Died: Wed., Nov. 12, 2014

OI35000142_JamieMoore

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.

YouTube Creator: Shake it Baby (No Music, No Twerking)

Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
Albert Einstein

banksy_quote1“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!