YouTube’s 10th Anniversary!! April 23, 2005 – 2015

People are more likely to search for specific books in which they are actively interested and that justify all of that effort of reading them. Electronic images and sounds, however, thrust themselves into people’s environments, and the messages are received with little effort. In a sense, people must go after print messages, but electronic messages reach out and touch people. People will expose themselves to information in electronic media that they would never bother to read about in a book.    ~~ Joshua Meyrowitz, “The Merging of Public Spheres,” No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior, Oxford University Press (1985).

 

 
On February 14th, 2005, YouTube was founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, who formerly worked for PayPal. The first video Me at the Zoo was uploaded and published on April 23, 2005. From that moment on everything changed for video online. No more waiting forever for videos to upload on dialup connections or other. YouTube allowed video to be easily stored and shared and you could comment on others’ user generated content. You could post for free on the platform. The first viral video on YouTube was the Hey Clip by Israeli YouTuber Tasha and her best friend dancing in her bedroom lipsyncing a birthday wish to her boyfriend to the sounds of The Pixies. Stay tuned and there’ll be a great bonus for the real YouTube fans at the end.

 

 

The Hey Clip video has been viewed over 34 million times. My data collection of 800+ videos of over 1000 girls has collectively only 43 million views. Imagine over 600+ Superdome stadiums to full seating capacity, in either case. Black girls are lip syncing but with the narratives of their booty popping — kinetic orality that tops MIley Cyrus’s tail with no tale.

 

The YouTube Massive

Today, YouTube has over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. That’s 5 hours uploaded every second of the day. It gets over 1 billion unique visitors a month. It is a massive archive, popular culture network, a TV, a how-to service, a community of creators, and, of course for many a risky graveyard full of future nightmares waiting to happen. The digital persistence of video means our personal media will linger on well past the shelf life of our adolescence (chronological or otherwise), including the stupid jokes, pranks and aggressive acts of hatred or sexism that we once thought was merely funny or might go viral. MIllions of those moments did not.

We all probably gave up lots of personal ID markers that might allow a future college or prospective employer to search and never tell on Google. (Aside: I also learned last night that Google Trends now can filter searches to YouTube videos.) We may lose a prospective and a future job ten years from now for something we did 10 years earlier. A 72-year old Canadian high school drama teacher, who made in film 40 years before YouTube ever existed, was terminated from a position she held for years because of the online publicity of her experience 50 years earlier. It was made public online last June 2014. We are all not ready for the persistent, searchable nature of the contents of the world’s largest video archive and the second-most popular search engine in the world. You can run but you won’t be able to hide. Yes, the Bedroom Intruder is for real, yo!!  It’s Google!

 

YouTubeSpaceNY Kids

 

Last night, I attended an event at YouTubeSpaceNY on the new YouTube Kids app. I learned A LOT. Got a number of new ideas for my channel and getting the word out about the CSI work my students and I have been doing around my 800+ twerking videos. That’s 150 hours watched of black girls twerking from the “privacy” of their bedrooms on YouTube. 150 years after the 13th Amendment…but that’s a story for another post.  I hope my students and I will make a video tomorrow in honor of the 10th anniversary and upload it as I can bet lots of YouTubers will be vlogging about it in some way or manner.

Most of my students were 8 years old 10 years ago. Many of the videos in my data collection that most concern us are 8 year olds. So we might make a video about what kinds of things you were doing at 8 compared to now online. In the meantime, enjoy this exclusive YouTube Spotlight video. It describes the community part of YouTube to a “T”.

 

Happy Anniversary YouTube and the YouTube Nation!!

 

YouTubeKids Cupcakes

Ten years ago was a big year online and it was also a big year in the history of twerking. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in Dec of 2005. Much to commemorate with the #blacklivesmatter campaigns that might not have been possible in the way they have been without online video and social media platforms.

And just for a treat, the first black viral YouTube star Tay Zonday! We love our black people to be stuck in a stereotype. This is like the Don’t Worry Be Happy of YouTube. Enjoy!

 

So now, for the bonus!!

The presentation from last night’s YouTubeSpaceNY event about the new YouTube Kids App. This content should appeal to you hard-core YouTubers or up-and-coming vloggers, esp. those interested in the family and kid-friendly spaces of YouTube. Click on the pic on the YouTube Anniversary to access the bonus content.

YouTube Kids PPT

We Die Black not Human: Screening ‪Social Death #blackgirlsmatter

Social death [from Wikipedia] is the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society. Used by sociologists like Zygmunt Bauman and historians of slavery and the holocaust to describe the part played by governmental and social segregation in that process.[1][2] Examples of social death are:

“If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that the “Negro” has been inviting whites, as well as civil society’s junior partners, to the dance of social death for hundreds of years, but few have wanted to learn the steps. They have been, and remain today – even in the most anti-racist movements, like the prison abolition movement – invested elsewhere. This is not to say that all oppositional political desire today is pro-white, but it is usually anti-Black, meaning it will not dance with death.”
Frank B. Wilderson III

Kizzie

In class Monday, I shared that these deaths at the hands of the police are numbing my ability to cry it’s happened so much throughout my life since childhood. A naive Puerto Rican/ Dominican male whose been pretending he can get by in the class was gleeful and said “awesome!” after I shared that yet another man was shot dead by the cops on video. Stunned, I asked what was so awesome about it. He naively shared, as Darnell L. Moore, points out in the repost below, that this time would actually prove something. His naive public declaration does more harm to others and himself than he knows. It speaks to a problem I face in higher ed among students and faculty who resist that race/racism intersectionally affects them. This young man said in class weeks back that he doesn’t identify with race or ethnicity ; he doesn’t identify as Dominican or Puerto Rican. He’s American. More power to his right to self identify but his reaction was utterly clueless about not only the history of capturing such abuse on video and the lack of effect it has on structural/state violence but also the very thing I talked about in my TEDx talk on self worth being directly shaped by how others view us as racialized and gendered subjects, as organisms living in an environment.

This numbness in the moment it’s happening leaves me reducing individual lives lost to a nameless black man. I never shared his name Eric Harris was somebody’s son, somebody’s love of their life, somebody’s guardian as well as all his not so favorable acts and connections. It’s why we stand indivisible behind #blacklivesmatter with all who join us.

Tulsa Sheriff’s Office Robert Bates, 73, shot to death suspect Eric Harris in Oklahoma after pulling out his gun instead of his taser, all captured on cop cam. An arresting officer whose knee pinned the head of the violently assaulted man to the concrete said point blank “F*ck your breath!” as the wounded man gasped in shock at being shot and gasping for his last breaths of his life.

‪#‎ericharris‬ ‪#‎trayvonmartin‬ ‪#‎renishamcbride‬ ‪#‎rekiaboyd‬ ‪#‎michaelbrown‬ ‪#‎walterscott‬
Who sat in awe for the last breaths of these human being? Who helped them as they lay suffering without compassion? We die black and not human is on all our screens lately. The fourth screen handheld and mobile and the big screen that bears Oscar’s dead body but not Oscars. #oscargrant #12yearsaslave #passingstrange

It’s only at films mediated by a screen that individuals who are marked as oppressed groups of color are allowed to see ourselves as human in public. At least that’s how it feels.

For me as a child 40 years ago, this began first at home, watching television. First, it was the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me” (1975) with young actor Larry Fishburne when I was in junior high. I remember only the dead son not the surviving mother. Or “Cooley High” (1975). “Boyz in the Hood” when I was pursuing my doctorate.

This is patriarchal hegemony at work. It shapes the algorithms of my memory. Even as a woman I remember all these scenes about the boys and men before I think of the character of Celie in Alice Walker story shot for the big screen by Spielberg — The Color Purple (1985) — which broke my heart when I first saw it on TV while pursuing my master’s degree. Or even Tyler Perry’s 2010 version of For Colored Girls which brought on sobbing tears but left out the realities that matter for black and brown women that were so eloquently represented on stage in Ntozake Shange’s original choreo-poem which I saw when I was in junior high. I don’t remember feeling any way about it then but the I later bought book in grad school? Genius!

Only in the dark, narrowly focused attention of screens mediated by actors distancing the reality from its lived moments did it seem that I/we were allowed the permission or the freedom to mourn publicly and to resist before social death. It was only in the personal space of a private or somewhat segregated theater that I could grieve quietly and publicly mourn and even laugh to resist the hegemony of what has come to always seems like a destiny for us black and brown folk–man, woman, and child. And then there’s us women who are black and brown and the girls.

The more hidden deaths not immortalized often screen–the cis and transgender females and little black girls like Aiyana Stanley-Jones–seem to always matter less to everyone but us black women and our allies. Even black female “actors” on TV, film and the news matter less; little black girls like Quevenzhané Wallis or the president’s daughters Sasha and Malia at Thanksgiving or Racheal Jeantel in court not yet 18 are denied humanity online and in public. ‪#‎blackgirlsmatter‬

Really makes me wanna holler, they way they do our lives, to paraphrase Marvin Gaye. A better quote from Zora Neale Hurtston hits the mark.

I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.

My presence in the classroom matters but I wish I was teaching more black students at CUNY how to be engaged and to ethnographically study this networked public crisis. ‪#‎admissionsmatter‬ ‪#‎CUNY‬

Hip Hop Generation Feminism: A Manifesto

Originally posted on The Crunk Feminist Collective:

We are Hip Hop Generation Feminists.  We unapologetically refer to ourselves as feminist because we believe that gender, and its construction through a white patriarchal capitalist power structure fundamentally shapes our lives and life possibilities as women of color across a range of sexual identities.  We are members of the Hip Hop Generation because we came of age in one of the decades, the 1990s, that can be considered post-Soul and post-Civil Rights. Our political realities have been profoundly shaped by a systematic rollback of the gains of the Civil Rights era with regard to affirmative action policies, reproductive justice policies, the massive deindustrialization of urban areas, the rise and ravages of the drug economy within urban, semi-urban, and rural communities of color, and the full-scale assault on women’s lives through the AIDS epidemic. We have come of age in the era that has witnessed a past-in-present assault on our…

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“Slap her”: Fanpage.it video objectifies girls, exploits boys, and trivializes domestic violence

Featured Image -- 1608

Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D.:

As disturbing as the videos and comments I am studying on YouTube. Thanks Dr. Hains!

Originally posted on Dr. Rebecca Hains:

A new anti-domestic-violence video created by the Facebook page Fanpage.it is being widely shared because people find it heartwarming and touching.

I find it sickening.

The video’s description asks, “What happens when you put a boy in front of a girl and ask him to slap her? Here is how children react to the subject of violence against women.”

Fanpage.it: What's your name?As the video begins, it seems promising. An off-camera male voice asks five charming young boys questions, one at a time:

  • “What’s your name?”
  • “How old are you”
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
  • “Why?”

Thanks to this line of questioning, each boy is brought to life for the viewer. With a range of personal demeanors and interests, it’s easy for viewers to see each boy as a unique and lovely individual.

Then, each boy is visibly surprised when a tall, blonde, conventionally beautiful young girl joins them in front of the camera…

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The World is Watching and You are Listening

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves…. We proclaim our devotion to [our passion or dream], but we sadly practice the very opposite of [its] creed. … This strange dichotomy, this agonising gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

 
Disney myths

 

This past week or two has been what I might call my test at confronting the tragedy of not crossing the gulf between practice and profession, between what needs to be done and what I do instead. It ended in giving the talk of my life at TEDxUofM on my Bottomlines YouTube research about the digital ‘net worth of black girls ages 13-17 and younger on YouTube. I talked about the racialized and sexualized disparities in search results, views as currency, and in the comments directed towards white girls vs. black girls. No one had to tell me I accomplished something spectacular when I left the stage. I’d done more than I ever imagined and felt it was some of my very best work as a writer, a speaker and even as a singer.

When I left the stage, my former voice teacher, the renowned MET tenor George Shirley with whom I studied for 2-1/2 years at the University of Michigan, was waiting to congratulate me backstage. What a joy that moment was!! I hadn’t seen him for over 20 years. He said “You sound good!” And we spent about an hour over tea talking about the work you must do to do you best and how that work will eventually pay off in whatever you do. Even if you don’t sing for a living. He intimated that the work he saw me do on the stage of Power Center in Ann Arbor was my life’s mission, what I was made to do on this earth. I fell and felt that way. It was like belonging and being all rolled into one and finally the place or my skin didn’t matter. I wasn’t diminishing my own voice anymore.

For 20 years I’ve been studying the intersection of race and gender in black expressive cultures through the lens of black girlhood and their musical play. For the last 2 years, my attention has focused on online black girls who are “messing around” on YouTube–uploading videos with editing, twerking to invisible audiences from the “privacy” of their bedrooms while others degrade their practices below their videos treating them like call girls and sluts. On YouTube you are who others say you are, or so it seems for online black girls. And so it has seemed for me as a black woman, as an African American citizen whose family has been in these lands for 9 generations and still suffers the effects of institutional racism.

The Life Course for Black Girls and Women

The black women in my family are not far ahead of the stats from 2010 that says we have zero or negative net worth and yet we come from an ancestral connection to middle class values. My grandmother was educated at the Mary McLeod Bethune Finishing School and almost went to the New England Conservatory of Music before she married my maternal grandfather, a Navy cook. My mother and her older and younger sisters had two parents at home. I was an only child but our lives were still touched by drugs, by gettin’ by cause the system didn’t seem to allow black folks after Desegregation to have a sovereign way of life or earn a real living that had comparable worth to white women or white men and their families.

So, for me to return to a stage where I’d had some of my worst moments of stage fright and give a talk that spoke to the self-worth and digital ‘net worth of African American girls who twerk!! It was a revolutionary moment for me and I hope for the 1300 people witnessing my shedding of skin and releasing of burdens. Mine and others. And not just black folk.

The view of the online adolescent black girls that I study in YouTube twerking videos are being shaped in ways I never was offline by interactions with people who don’t understand our history or the history of white superiority and hegemony in this country. They just adopt the stereotypical positions that black girls are ratchet, low-class, baby mamas or reckless and ignorant or that their parents don’t no know better. They are slut shamed and respectability shamed by whites and blacks online. Who will protect them from doing what all of us are doing online–playing with sharing our identities and trying on new things.

We were being introduced to one of the most precious of American freedoms, which is our freedom to broaden our personal culture by absorbing the cultures of others. — Ralph Ellison (1986, 186).

This past 7 days I’ve given my talk on The Bottomlines Project: On Black Girls’ Digital ‘Net Worth in Ann Arbor, at the Nassau Community College in Long Island, and at City College (CCNY) in an evening of work about hip-hop by  my dear brother media assassin Harry Allen and fellow ethnomusicologist Tim Mangin.    The TEDxUofM talk should be available online soon.

Confronting the Weight Not the Burden

I don’t feel tragically divided this week and with that feeling I realize that 2015 must be a line in the sand for me about my life goals and my ethics and my mission as a scholar and professor. It also must be the year I handle my biology and my health since black girls and women are the top demographic for obesity and I know now how absolutely essential to where I am heading that my well-being is to my success. I know but there I am still a bit tragically divided. I haven’t been to the gym for almost 2 weeks. I know what I ought to do but the gulf is there between what is.

So when my old American U collegemate Ken Brown tagged me on this video this morning, I knew I’d post it here. The world is listening, Kyra, and that world includes YOU! As India Arie sang, “The words that come from your mouth, you’re the first to hear!”  #towerk  #twerk

So today, I werk. I write. I write articles to publish. To get back in a tenure track job. I am here and I’m bringing new knowledge for a weary world. New insights that inspire and challenge us to grow with online black girls. #whywecantwait

H/T to Ari Gagne, a fellow ethnomusicologist who writes and studies the bounce scene in NOLA. He pointed me towards the Ellison quote and is educating me about bounce and its queens.

Chescaleigh of YouTube on #BlackOutDay

“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

 

#BlackOutDay

Wish I participated! Thanks for vlogging about it @chescaleigh!! If you don’t know her, she along with Issa Rae are among the most recognized YouTubers (and notice I didn’t say black YouTubers). Please subscriber to her channel!!

 

PS This was my 150th blog post! Small celebration! Woo-hoo!

Out of Place: Whether in Segregation or Integration

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Education, Liberation – I LOVE YOU!

Just got off the phone with my mom. She and I graduated–spent our last years of adolescent black girlhoodat the same predominately white public school, Richard Montgomery High. It’s located in Rockville, Maryland just outside the beltway in Washington, D.C. Mama was in the 2nd class after Segregation ended (pun not intended, but … take it as it comes). I believe she attended 1958 – 1961. I attended 20 years later from 1977-79. I graduated at the age of 16. With my birthday in September this sounds amazing but it was not. That’s an altogether different story for another time. It sure looked good in the eyes of others to graduate at 16 but the real circumstances were not cute. I might write about it in another postif folks are interested.

It’s early Saturday morning and I’m sharing about my upcoming TEDx talk I’m givingMarch 20th at my alma mater, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The talk will be about race, value and black girls’ self-worth so I can really talk about racialization, sexualization and structural racism on YouTube. I am planning on starting my talk with a story about stage fright at my first audition at UofM.

Somehow we got to talking about our different experiences with Integration across our life courses. I was recording it in case I said something good for my talk. I transcribed the exchange because it rich with meaning and relevance esp. as I finish up an article highlighting the re-segregation of black girls on YouTube. Wanted to find a way to talk about segregated spaces on and off line, the blurring of public/privacy, the meaning of publicity in what are essentially segregated bedrooms broadcast online, and the inherent racialization of adolescent black female body and image while valorizing their white female counterparts. Even though big butts are valued they are stigmatized on black bodies.  Kim Khardasian can “Break the Internet” but when black girls try in twerking videos…as Nicki Minaj put it when talking about black girls doing a black thing, “it ain’t that poppin’!”

My new friend and one of the newest TED Fellows (Rock the TED Stage girl!!), choreographer Camille A. Brown articulated the dilemma we black girls face today, young and old,

Your body has value, but not on you!

Un-gawa, Black Powa

My conversation with my Mama is always like a roller-coaster. We cover lots of emotional terrain — sometimes it’s not easy but this was one of the more precious moments I want to remember forever.

She mentions the store Zaire’s which was a local department store in Wheaton, MD that my mom went to most of my childhood. She paid for new school clothes put on law-a-way often working 2 jobs a day. I got my first brown cordoroy bell-bottoms at Zaire’s when they were the “in” thing. Wish I had a copy of my 7th grade picture sportin those pants as the cheerleading squad assistant. Ungawa, Black Power was one of the cheers we black girls brought to the white junior high squad.

TRANSCRIPT

23:47″

Me: Ye-ah!
I was an integration baby. So you were supposed to fit in. I was always– the only black student in classical music until I got to Michigan. [That’s a little exaggerated. Tony Scales and his friend Virgil were in the music department with me to Montgomery College but no one else for 10 years of my classical training from 1979 until Michigan in 1988].

What made Michigan great for me was that there were THIRTY OTHER BLACK STUDENTS there. It was AWESOME! But…we didn’t see each other, ya know.  Even when I was [back] at Julius West [Junior High I thought] all of the black students, I thought we were in different classes, because I never saw them at school [in the spaces of learning, in the classroom; I saw them everyday at lunch. We played Spades on the regular]. [I later learned]  They were [all] in another class [tracking them vocational ed and not college prep].

24:19″
Mama:  The bad part of that was, in order for you to get a half-way decent chance to go to higher learning [college], I had to be on [them]… making sure you were in the right courses. Because there was some courses where the kids just played in the class all day [ME: a function of curriculum design not student laziness]. And that mighta been fun but in the long run. I mean…

24:59″  I never thought that Integration was the best thing.
I wanted to have the experience of being… [of] graduating from Carver High School. George Washington Carver high school!!   I wanted to graduate from there!!

25:09″  But..but  they– said–[parents and school authorities brokering the transtion], I was a student that who would be successful in going to the white schools.
I didn’t like it!!
And when I started to have problems with the teachers, my father said “you oughta be glad you’re going to school with whites.” That’s what he said.

Me: Ye-ah! Our…our experiences are like mirrors ..

25:35″
Mama:  We all had things we had to go through, ya know?  and I had a few teachers at Richard Montgomery — my U.S. history teacher — probably if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t had — her and maybe Mr. Preston — I would have had just a TERRIBLE time at Rich’rd Montgomery all together. I mean 9…well…I had…well, less than 50% good experience there most of my time there, and I was just glad to get outta there! (she laughs at the irony)

26: 19″  And I had to work at Zaire’s behind the food counter! [It was] my first job after I got outta high school.

Me: Wow, I didn’t know that. [She’d never told me this before. And we continued shopping there for years.]

Mama: YE-AH!!! So what was the… ya know..
                                                               Me: ..the benefit…
Mama: Ye-ah!

Me: You got to go to a white school with white people but you didn’t get any better of a job.                                                                                                              Mama: Right!!!

Mama: … an’ COULDN’T SIT AT THE COUN’ER!

Me: WOW!!!!!! <pause>  Really??!?

Mama: YE-AH!!

     ————-

The Flawed System of Race

Notice how even as black woman’s own daughter, I respond in disbelief at racism. That my moms went to a predominately white school–we have arrived–to still deal with segregation in the rest of society, in her first workplace, after getting her degree.  This ish is a trip! And this trip around the sun for black folks has come with way too much ish.  Situations matter. There is not global solution to the racial ideology that still fools far too many of us into thinking what we do online or off is ok if I own my own body. No man, woman and child is an island.

We are all accomplices, co-creators — past and present — the shaping black girls’ social identity and their self-worth.  That’s it for now. But our conversation reminded me of a poem set to music in an African American art song by David Nathaniel Baker.  Thought the poem was by Langston Hughes. Delighted to learn and remember it was written by Mari Evans, whom I spoke to when writing my first book. She wrote a fabulous poem about black women and the poem “status symbol” [note the lower case spelling] is from her book I am a Black Woman (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1970).

 

status symbol

By Mari Evans

i

Have Arrived

I

am the

New Negro

I

      am the result of

           President Lincoln

  World War I

and Paris

the

          Red Ball Express

                   white drinking fountains

    sitdowns and

sit-ins

       Federal Troops

                     Marches on Washington

  And

       prayer meetings

today

   They hired me

  it

is a status

job . . .

along

      with my papers

They

    gave me my

       Status Symbol

the

key

to the

                 White . . . Locked . . .

John.

Publicity Means No More Locked Doors, Right?.

The Gap: What Media Teaches 7 Year Olds About Being Female

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.”
Shirley Chisholm

 

My intro anthro courses will be conducting video content analysis on the 1000 videos of black girls (13-17 and younger) twerking in my dataset. We will analyze the intersectionality of race, gender and age on YouTube.

They will work in pairs to analyze 15 videos each based on scholarly research on video coding and content analysis. I am working out the intersectional categories they will focus on together. With many teams we can analyze subcultural features at the same time. Each team will choose a code or two to analyze in their subset of videos. It might be focusing on sexualization of adolescent girls, YouTube personal vlogging, rap music videos and video vixens, or new media ecology, etc. They will find three scholarly articles to help them think like a social scientist about video content analysis and/or YouTube content creation.

Today I got this email from one of my 90 students. She is a non-black, twenty-something year old, undergrad. She wrote:

Hello professor,
I had an interesting experience today that I wanted to tell you about.

Today, I was babysitting a young girl, 7yo, and we were creating things out of clay. We decided to make a couple and she asked me to help her making the girl. She told me that the girl has to be tall and has to have a GAP BETWEEN HER TIGHTS! I asked her why and she said that that is how pretty and skinny girls look like. I told her that I don’t have gap between my tights and asked her if she things I am fat or ugly (believe me we have very honest and good relationship-we tell each other things). And she just froze and said no. And I could see how honestly she meant that and how she started thinking how come I am not ugly or fat when I don’t have gap between my tights. ( I messed up her mental map [of reality–a concept from our anthro textbook] I guess- can that be the case?)

And that make me think about twerking. If we communicate to a girl at tender age of seven this twisted image of how beautiful girl/woman looks like, couldn’t one of the reasons for black girls to twerk [sic] be that this is what cool/desirable/…. girls(women) do?

I am not sure if that has any value for our research, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you.”

I wrote her back with glee “YES!!!” This is one of those turning points in the learning process. It makes teaching and learning around vulnerable topics all the more worthwhile.

Our textbook introduced the concept of “zeros”

Zeros

Elements of a story or a picture that are not told or seen and yet offer key insights into issues that might be too sensitive to discuss or display publicly.

Most students would not think like me that mentioning a “thigh gap” likely tells me that the little girl is not black. Perhaps it’s biology–I rarely see black women with thigh gaps. Perhaps it’s because we tend to be thick versus thin in our hips. Surely there are black girls with and who desire a thigh gap. I did when Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince aired on commercial TV from 1975 to 1979. That was a year before Roots aired on ABC.

I was a true adolescent when I was watching actress Linda Carter twirl into her supernatural power. She was sexy and it was all about her body. Her thigh gap was real but I knew her powers were not. This was TV! After watching, I looked at my body in the mirror and thought…and this sounds crazy in hindsight only…but I thought “I don’t have a gap so how will I be able to have sex? There’s no room down there.” In other words, who will find me attractive? I didn’t see it in myself.  All I noticed was that I was missing that gap and from my adolescent point of view it signified what it meant to be a wonder, to be alluring, to be a woman.  That way of seeing still has me decades later.

That thought plagued my adolescent brain as my looking-glass self kept reminding me how I needed/wanted to be viewed by others. To be liked. I wanted to conform or contort my body to fit some hegemonic view imposed from merely watching television. No one told me you need a gap. My mother had no thigh gap. No boy said “Oh, I wish you had a gap!” I recall talking with other girls about it once. But none of my friends had thigh gaps. Well, Bernadette did! She was a neighborhood girl who tortured me later in high school. She was light-skinned-ed, skinny and tall compared to the rest of the girls in 8th grade. I was a loner. And I didn’t share my thoughts with other girls. I rarely do now. This is why voice is so important to the work I am doing. Finding your voice is key to empowering girls in my view to combat how prevalent the body is around the socialization of the female body in social and televised media.

Vids of Very Young Girls

My students, 90 in all in Spring 2015 semester, are just starting to learn how to conduct fieldwork and ethnography from Chapter 3 in the textbook titled Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age by my department colleague Ken Guest.

Since this is a new textbook I am using this term, I took a suggestion from a senior sociology colleague and friend at the CUNY Grad Center. He suggested I have my students participate in a research project around my data instead of having them write papers as I ordinarily do.

So far, I have only introduced my students this term to one twerking video. Two week ago I blogged about it.I recently changed the title to: “Privacy? (No!) Adversity? (You Bet!): Black Girls’ Bedroom Twerking”. It features an 8 year old twerking on YouTube. I’ve flagged this video on March 6th for child abuse because the girl is below the YouTube age minimum and the comments are “grooming” her to make another video in her “panties”.  In the past, flagging videos has not worked but it’s something I am hoping to publicize to protect very young girls from such harm.

The Vulnerable Classroom

Teaching around this ethnographic fieldwork is really, really complicated as danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated points to. It involves virtual impressions and moving images that are misread, misinterpreted and often stigmatized. It features underage girls whom far too many of us do not assign agency. We perceive their lack of agency as being complicit in some symbolic action of soliciting sexual attention and they they are giving consent to male viewers to slut-shame them.

It involves dance moves that are racialized and sexualized by generalized others. These moves in visual motion can awaken sensual reactions that are usually reserved for private encounters and are perceived and sensed differently by women and men, girls and boys, in ways that are blurred by the broadcast nature of the medium.  And watching twerking videos mirrors a reality, no more accurately, it mirrors a mental map of reality that for many role-takers (parents, teachers, older folk, strangers, moral high grounders, etc.) in public are highly agitated by. It’s particularly agitating when it comes to any association with stigmas about black girls or  sexual adolescent girls. Another thing, it’s all about the female realm in a domestic sphere — bedroom culture — which given the emphasis on race and gender, on black femaleness, it’s complicated by issues of culture, power, hegemony, and stratification. Topics most undergrads are not facile with understanding yet. Oh!! And if that isn’t complicated enough,  my students and I occasionally watch these videos in a disembodied academic setting, a college classroom at a public university known for its wide range of ethnicity diversity as well as religions. THIS. IS. COMPLICATED ETHNOGRAPHIC WORK AND PEDAGOGY.

This is vulnerable ethnography as well as vulnerable and critical teaching and learning in mixed company. I have to help these diverse emerging adults accept that there are risks affecting the youngest, darkest, and socially most vulnerable YouTube participants and convince them that this is academic work. I have to help them not get lost in the fascination with what’s viral–YouTube viral videos–and learn to critically analyze a rich and extremely educative site of study–digital media and new media ecologies. I, too, am constantly challenging my own mental maps of reality as a result.

More soon.

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.