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.

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!

#DayOfTheGirl 2014

#dayofthegirl
October 11, 2014

All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.
Malala Yousafzai

How rare is it for twerking to be discussed…or actually anything involving what Black [girls] do, think, say, write, create, believe or are…without bigotry, and sloppy, one-dimensional bigoted ideas as the basis of the discussion or the “critique?”  Gradient Lair

quvenzhané-wallis-at-event-of-tarâmul-visurilor-(2012)

In English and Portuguese. For Español, click here.


For the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala. Congratulations!!

For black girls/women who twerk and those who don’t! Back that thing up but make sure you own your content fully! #MissKimari, #GetItIndy, and all the nameless teen and adolescent girls who don’t get a fair shake for their exploration of their self-identity on YouTube.

For breaking the silence of girls of color in NYC today!! Join us for the Town Hall at Columbia sponsored by Girls for Gender Equity, Inc. The event will be moderated by Columbia Law School Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw will be moderating the event.

She defined “intersectionality” for us:

The need to split one’s political energies between two sometimes opposing groups is a dimension of intersectional disempowerment that men of color and white women seldom confront. Indeed, their specific raced and gendered experiences, although intersectional, often define as well as confine the interests of the entire group. For example, racism as experienced by people of color who are of a particular gender – male – tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sexism as experienced by women who are of a particular race – white – tends to ground the women’s movements.

The problem is not simply that both discourses fail women [and girls] of color by not acknowledging the “additional” issue of race of patriarchy but, rather, that the discourses are often inadequate even to the discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism.

Because women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on their own terms.  ~ Kimberlé Crenshaw [quoted from the brilliant blog Gradient Lair. Please subscribe to Gradient Lair!!]

 

“Half the story has never been told.”
To Toni Blackman and her #rhymelikeagirl mission!!

RIP #LeftEye

#Freedom the rap version

My First Vlog: Upping My Content #bottomlines

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us…After years of much struggle and little recognition, many older women feel burned out; after years of taking its light for granted [feminist progress], many younger women show little interest in touching new fire to the torch.                           – Naomi Wolf, US writer, The Beauty Myth (1991).

Quotes: On Media’s Junk-in-the-Trunk

http://blogs.24.com/jeanihess/files/2012/06/c98523ba-cf31-4a25-af29-d27715ef6472.jpg
http://blogs.24.com/jeanihess/files/2012/06/c98523ba-cf31-4a25-af29-d27715ef6472.jpg

The cheapest way to manufacture audience is through a high sex, high violence, high conflict content. It doesn’t take talent or research or investigative journalism. Yet it stimulates the appetites, much the same way that a high salt, high sugar, and high fat junk food diet does.”

Dr. Michael Karlberg, Western Washington University
see “Portrayal or Betrayal? How the media depicts women and girls”

 

“Girls are not passive recipients of these cultural messages. Girls are active agents. We know from developmental cognitive psychology that young boys and girls, once they know what their gender is, are very motivated to be the best example of their gender. And if the examples of femininity around you are a sort of tarted up, pornographied sexuality, then that’s what you’re psyched to be.”

Tomi-Ann Roberts, On the Sexualization of Girls

YouTube Nation on #LikeaGirl & SmoothieFreak on Nicky Minaj Cups

In the last thirty years … there has been a remarkable change in the image and roles of children. Childhood as a protected and sheltered period of life has all but disappeared. Children today seems less “childlike.” Children speak more like adults, dress more like adults, and behave more like adults than they used to. In fact, the reverse is also true.

There are indications that many adults who have come of age within the last twenty years continue to speak, dress, and act much like overgrown children. Certainly, all children and adults do not and cannot behave exactly alike, but there are many more similarities in behavior than in the past. The traditional dividing lines are gone.

Joshua Meyrowitz (Author of No Sense of Place)   childhood | adulthood/adult development


YouTube Nation host Jacob Soboroff is a TEDster (TEDActive) and I’m proud to say he’s a former student of mine from NYU who took a jazz course with me that he told me changed his point of view about life.

Jacob is political and an improvisor in life. He and I reconnected about 18 months ago while he was running HuffPost Live. Now he’s featured as a host for YouTubeNation and I’ll be posting those videos here because it connects with my research on black girls who twerk on YouTube. Studying the YouTube community is essential to my work.

In the video above he talks about the viral phenomenon of my previous post about the Always #LikeaGirl Campaign by documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield that asked different demographic groups of girls and a few guys of varying ages to “run like a girl” and the cognitive bias of gender emerged very powerfully among them all.

Doin Nicky Minaj to the game-song Cups

The YouTube Nation review video also features black girl (ok woman) blogger Akilah Hughes better known as smoothiefreak on YouTube. Check out her video playing the cups game to the original twerk queen of pop rap Nicky Minaj’s lyricsBlack girls got game, baby! Also check out her YouTube channel and subscribe!

 

Learn how to make your own gifs on Jacob’s site this week.  Jacob also appears on TakePartLive and yesterday they had a great convo asking if America is becoming more racist than ever following a vote on Capital Hill regarding the Civil Rights Voting Act. The research I am studying with my summer anthro students suggest the answer is insidiously yes. More on that soon!

 

 

Girls at Play: Do We See Black Childhood Clearly?

 “Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”
― Dr. Seuss

Where Have All the Children Gone?

As I watch YouTube videos of black girls who twerk, as I invite and request my students to study their performance as both play and to examine how others’ views of black girls’ childhood are distorted and distorting how those girls see themselves, I have been remembering my earlier work on black girls’ games. I don’t want to lose that black girls are children at play while also critiquing what it means to play with self (sexual)-objectification. This video doesn’t have that objectification piece in it from the girl or the boys. Check it out. Perhaps introducing this music and dance to adolescents would be interesting. Having them analyze its difference from US twerking in videos.

PS What I love about this video also is that they are playing freely in the mud after a rain in their yard.

//

 “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
― C.S. Lewis

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
~ Fred Rogers (from the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)