Sara Baartman was a celebrity. Carried on a chair, she went to meet a duke. (73) Elites from out of town came to visit her. On Duke Street, two African children [freak show organizer Alexander] Dunlop had brought from Cape Town, probably in conditions of slavery, served her and the men. On Sundays, she went for rides in a carriage— much more like a woman of the elite than of the working class. Cartoonists represented her, songs were written, and poems were composed.(74)
Baartman was a celebrity who had to endure people poking her bottom and commenting on her figure. Her experience fit that of many performers of freak shows at the time, when freak meant wondrous or strange as much as it did awful and inferior.(75) — Scully and Crais (2008, 316-317) on the “Venus Hottentot”
LIKING TOO MUCH: BOTTOMS UP (the film)
Connection. Real connection. Everyone of us knows that social media is not giving us the biological connection we truly need to be authentically social. But we keep buying in. LIKING it all. Like. Like. Like. And more Like buttons. And top it off with a Share. What are we sharing for? This week I decided to stop using the LIKE button on Facebook in lieu of actually leaving comments if I liked something a friend or stranger posted on the walls of our daily exchange.
And what a week it’s been of entertainment info while #Ferguson freedom summer has been happening. Nicky Minaj released her Anaconda twerk-fest video and Taylor Swift has been criticized for what doesn’t even come close to twerking in my mind though she has one black woman doin the do. So much hate when what artists do is play with dominant scripts in our consciousness from the words of Kanye to the meme of twerking.
Presently, I’m writing a new article about “ways of seeing” the black bottom though the inherited media of popular music. While searching the web, I learned of a new documentary available that was featured by Madame Noire (August 6) in a CBS entertainment-information piece about butt augmentation. The film Bottoms Up was advertised there.
On the surface, “Bottoms Up” is a documentary film that examines the newest booming trend in aesthetic surgery – big butts. Placed under a microscope, the film explores the media’s impact and other societal pressures that have propelled big butts from a cult fetish to a mainstream phenomenon.
From Sir Mix-a-Lot, whose 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” sensationalized round posteriors – I like big butts and I cannot lie – to new artists like 2Chainz – She got a big booty so I call her big booty, it is men who actively pursue women with this new fetishized feature. So who is to blame – the media? Men? Women? – See more.
Baby Got Back is still gettin views, entertainment info traffic, distributing its messages to toddlers and adolescents across all nations who have little contact with black girls or women or recognize the objectification of their bodies they are being taught. A recent video of Sir Mix-A-Lot with the Seattle Symphony features a spectacle of mostly white woman shaking their asses like they just don’t care. Where is the counter cultural critique of this by white women? By conductors at symphonies or the black members? OH! They only have one black musician in the orchestra. That’s another conversation close to my heart as a classically-trained musician. But off-topic here. Twerking — Stay focused, Kyra!
WHY STUDY BLACK GIRLS WHO TWERK?
When I began exploring my interest in a practice on YouTube by black girls that most people I meet find repellent …if they even know what twerking is, I never imagined the richness of this study. I have begun to understand the pleasure and escape found in black girls’ who broadcast while they twerk. I still am learning how to represent it ethnographically in a way that honors the exploration of adolescence, the play and sensuality of black dance and sociality, and the complexity of twerking in online video. YouTube seems so liberatory and at the same time its a place of neoliberal exploitation of youth and their expressive cultural traditions and practices.
It’s been complicated by my own parallels as a black woman and formerly black girl adolescent struggling to discover my place in a world that denigrates blackness. Whether it was being called “pretty for a black girl” or being teased by white boys for what was then a small butt by comparison to the one I have grown into now. This is about me and not about me or my history at all. But what constantly comes up is the emotional injustice and subjective manipulation, dare I say the microaggressive assaults upon the ways others see my body and thereby how I perceive who I may be for others in the world. It dominates who I want to be at times. Worry for what others see and think and how I must overcome that to be free–and the struggle continues. But it’s personal that it’s not at all about me. It’s the sociology of being black and female if you have (or perhaps don’t have) the right big butt.
I often wonder what it would be like to be 13 today with Beyonce singing about surfboards and Kardashians implanting their bodies with what never shined on us.
So when I just discovered this new documentary Bottoms Up available on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon, I find myself trapped in a sort of damned if I do, damned if I don’t mentality. Buy it and contribute to the madness of our objectification in popular music media esp. online participatory video. Ignore it and shirk my objective research agenda. Contradictory #bottomlines if there ever was one.
CONSUMING AND BEING CONSUMED
This form of consumption is entangled with constantly sensing that the body you happen to possess is the object of derision and lascivious attention often masking any real attention to who I really am, the me within this body. And it’s entangled in that everybody is making a profit off it as long as they are not too dark or too black, too sexy or too cultural. Our bodies in some crazy neoliberal reality (not fantasy) is expropriated, extracted, take all the colonializing language of exploitation and globalization and it becomes a metaphor for the mountaintop (or bottom) removal of black women and girls from what’s profitable. We, it seems, are only viable as spectators of the sport or entertainment-info that uses our body for profit whether social or economic capital.
I find this work tiring. Hard. Difficult to parse out. I have to bite my tongue, the very last thing needed for a writer or scholar or for a black girl or woman. Shutting down breeds the bitterness. Better to take the bitter pill and dive in, I keep reminding myself time and time again.
I began to think of this work as being more about cognitive justice as well as emotional, ecological and sociobiological inquiry into violence vs. fitness for black girls (and women). Really for myself, too. This is inner warrior work and staying strong when the entertainment info machine and attention economy uses what houses your live and used to be part of your dance not the focus, takes deep and rigorous courage.
So with that, here is the trailer for the documentary Bottoms Up. If anyone has a way around buying this, I would definitely avoid doing so.