Our Indifference to the Private Parts of Girls’ Twerking

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

Rosa Luxemburg

The Right to Protect Your Embodied Self-Expression

This talk on privacy from TEDGlobal in Rio last week is one of the first talks made public. As I shared about the Watching Black Girls Twerk on YouTube data about the ways girls images are essentially being “trafficked” by 44% of the 168 videos we collected, a woman said she wasn’t on social media but then added she made her first selfie the other day. If you carry a mobile phone, you are being surveilled with your phone itself, your calls, your photos and your microphone in ways you surely are just indifferent to.

As women and people of color, the lack of privacy could and probably will be much more harmful and detrimental to us when others perceive our actions of “bad” — whether that’s the state or fellow citizens who ability to flag or dislike your uploaded content, tweets and updates can perhaps lead you to lose your job these days. Factor in the discriminatory biases of race, gender and age, and you might see why I am studying the videos of black girls who twerk on YouTube. I am trying to understand the media ecology of surveillance by other consumers and by corporations like YouTube and VEVO and the possible implications all this has on black music culture, girls’ musical behavior and the social construction of our digital self-presentation. This work is bigger than black girls. It applies to us all.

Glenn Greenwald was one of the first reporters to write about the Edward Snowden files and the US governments surveillance of its citizens. His TED talk begins by talking about what I am most passionate about these days–digital self-presentation–and the indifference teens and adolescents (much less the rest of us) have when uploading images of ourselves made in private settings in front of a webcam. The moment initially leads to sense of “context collapse” or a sense that you don’t know who you really talking to out there in Internet land–you lose control of your image the moment you upload it. Greenwald begins:

0:00   There is an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to an experience which I am certain that everyone in this room has had. It entails an individual who, thinking they’re alone, engages in some expressive behavior wild singing, gyrating dancing, some mild sexual activity — only to discover that, in fact, they are not alone, that there is a person watching and lurking, the discovery of which causes them to immediately cease what they were doing in horror. The sense of shame and humiliation in their face is palpable. It’s the sense of, “This is something I’m willing to do only if no one else is watching.”

0:53  This is the crux of the work on which I have been singularly focused for the last 16 months, the question of why privacy matters

Educating Black Girls: Their Privacy Matters

I posted this comment after the video:

As a digital ethnographer studying how black girls’ images are being “trafficked” more or less to feed their adolescent desires to fit in through social media/online video or to feed the markets of objectifying female body parts, this talk speaks directly to an issue that I find most African American adults–parents, teachers and elders of any age–tend to be indifferent to. Our privacy…We give it away with YouTube in the name of some fake democracy or self-expression that will later be used as data to limit access to education, to jobs and more.

Thank you Glenn Greenwald for your passion, commitment and integrity to journalism’s core values in any society. Your work as a journalist reveals what is often hidden from us by others and by our own words that defy our lived realities. This is why my intention now is to help black girls learn what their elders are not equipped to teach yet.

 

Immersion & the Great Escape: Is Queen Bey a Surrogate Reality?

74% of young girls say they are under pressure to please someone.
― Eve Ensler, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls, 2010

Loneliness, Cacioppo points out, has nothing to do with how many people are physically around us, but has everything to do with our failure to get what we need from our relationships.”
David DiSalvo, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

Cherish your solitude. … Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. … Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.”
Eve Ensler

Screenshot 2014-08-07 11.35.56

I’ve been thankin’

This past weekend I attended an amazing training during which I discovered that I tend to misinterpret my assessments as results or reality. It’s not something I’ve ever noticed or understood about myself before. As a professor, this can be harmful to myself and to the people I train to think for themselves. It’s also costly in doing research on YouTube. I also learned that how I best learn is from thinking and reflecting. So what I have started to do as a habit is whenever I get upset, I go to reading something outside myself or getting out of my head (trapped in my ego) to learn something about what I am struggling with — alone.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
— Isaac Newton

Yesterday, after being in a tailspin about a decision I made, I went to my Kindle Reader and opened Chapter 5 of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by science writer David DiSalvo. The chapter is titled “Immersion and the Great Escape“.

DiSalvo discusses how our brains have the capacity to split and collapse two “existences” — or role-playing in immersive e-media like Twitter and Facebook  and our face-to-face interactions. Pre-digital era days we played with multiple existences such as in playing Dungeons and Dragons or for girls playing with dolls or putting ourselves in Diana Ross’s place while practicing the choreography of The Supremes with your female playmates. I remember playing with my two female cousins and one of their best friends. We played with heternormative roles. Who was married to which Jackson Five.  The most ambitious girl to yell first got Michael. Sometimes it was the oldest girl. Sometimes it was the girl who say “let’s play” whatever game that was invented from our imagination.

Does Musical Immersion = Identity in 21st Century?

DiSalvo suggests that this two existences we now contend with–online role-playing in immersive e-media like the interactions around the recent audio remix released by Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj and face-to-face connections off-line.

DiSalvo provides  scientific data from pscyhology and neuroscience that suggests loneliness (feeling lonely vs. being alone) is correlates to a strong desire to create social conflict. We then adapt to a need for this kind of engagement as dopamine is released in our brains. Then those of us who are lonely using online immersive media as a surrogate for real connections will often seek more of that kind of engagement. Engagement or social conflicts that are not good for us.

Online we seek the rewards of likes, our brain gets lit up when we check FB or other social media like our YouTube videos to see how many views we have. We get more value in such a context from our human-digital interface. Your favorite mobile device carried 24-7–always one is your BFF mediating conversations about stars like Beyoncé that seem really relevant to our reality.

What’s Real vs. Relevant?

In this context, our  brain suffers a kind of reward-distinction blindness–for our online connections that is increasingly indistinguishable to our brain from F2F contact and this is a problem. It can lead to compulsive/addictive behavior. Many of our brains may be seeking the wrong kinds of rewards (socializing online more and more and diminishing our F2F connections daily). This is happening with YouTube videos on FB and on YouTube itself as well as other networks where online video takes our focus and attention more than other kinds of interactions. Hypernetworked sharing is seduction because of its immersiveness in our daily lives today. Our brains are seeking the surrogate relationships online and preferring them over face-to-face according to a number of studies DiSalvo references. This got me thankin’.

What if you and I began to unhook from social media? Would you be willing to test out possibility of confronting this kind of compulsive blindness to digital interactions? How often are you immersing yourself, isolating yourself primarily to online surrogate relations an hour? There are only 24 hours in a day. That’s 1440 minutes. Most of us should be spending 7-8 of those hours (420 – 480 minutes) sleeping and about 3-5 hours (180 – 300 mins) preparing to eat and eating. That leaves about 600 minutes. If you work  8 hours a day + travel if you don’t work at home, that’s 600 minute more leaving only 60 minutes remaining IF you are doing one thing and one thing only at a time. I probably spend the rest and some checking Facebook and email daily.

Are Black Girls Online Actually Lonely?

I read in a study that I don’t have handy that black youth spend more time alone than any other demographic. Strange, isn’t it? And don’t forget that being online is still being alone. Could we be masking our feelings of being alone with our surrogacy of social media? I been thankin’. Can’t speak for you but i know this is something to think about and strategically change as a habit.

What would you be willing to do to insure face-to-face interactions have more time, are more compelling, in your life each day?

I remember in my childhood my mother and the black women in her network would meet at my aunt’s house on a Saturday night to play pokeno. Check out this video of an elder black women teaching a group od sistas how to play.

I think I need more face-to-face play like this. More house parties. More dinner invitations for others to come chat with me. But I’m gonna start slow. I’m trying one social gathering a month and one meetup with another person or two a month. I think I’ll also vlog about the experience too.

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
Terence McKenna (this is from the YouTube video below. WATCH IT!!)


KYRAOCITY ask:

What are you creating? Content is becoming your identity? Your bottomline. Don’t trip!  Create & Share! and Un-hook once a day!

Danah Boyd “It’s Complicated”

“Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other.”

– Danah Boyd, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

 

Grrrl, have I been busy! #sheworkshardforhermoney

This is the first week  in three weeks that I have not been in another country or state. Was in Toronto giving a distinguished lecture in the Children’s Studies Program at York University (second only to the one at Brooklyn College-CUNY which I didn’t know). Then was in Ohio for a job talk and interview. Last week it was #IASPM14 in Chapel Hill where I again showed a really rough cut of the iMovie documentary that is emerging from the digital ethnography with my students at Baruch last fall. Getting lots of feedback that it inspires people but there is so much more work to be done.

In the meantime, I ran across a book that relates to my research on black girls twerking and then found that it’s available for free online (probably for a limited time). If you’re interested in the digital lives of teens, this is the hot book of the presses by the remarkable ethnographer danah boyd.

FREE COPY OF DANAH BOYD’S “IT’S COMPLICATED – THE SOCIAL LIVES OF NETWORKED TEENS”

As a fellow at Harvard’s Center Berkman Center for Internet & Society, danah boyd, has produced research on social media, social networks and its users (e.g. teens) that was also referred on this blog in the past. She recently published a book titled “It’s complicated – The Social Lives of Networked Teens“. She explores a range of issues, research and trends related to teenager’s (and their parents use/role) utilization of new technology/social media. You can buy it but since she is interested in sharing her research with as many people as possible, the complete book can be downloaded as a PDF for free.

Reposted from http://blogs.iq.harvard.edu/netgov/ 

5 Digital Lessons Learned the Hard Way: On WSHH & YouTube, pt. 1

Quote 1: “My dad always said this to me. A hard head makes a soft ass, meaning being stubborn and not listening makes life harder for you than it has to be. At the fine age of 41, I’m learning to not make the same mistakes over and over.” –  A blogspot post from a black man

Quote 2:A hard head make a soft ass, but a hard dick make the sex last..” –  Ludacris on Missy Elliot’s “One Minute Man”quoted from RapGenius.com.

RapGenius.com, owned by three non-black men, is a site where members annotate rap lyrics in a vernacular way. It’s sort of rap lyrics “Wikipedia,” but unlike the crowd-sourced encyclopedia there isn’t a taskforce of volunteers  distinguishing what information is merely entertainment information vs. meaningful fact. Despite my point, I do like the annotation for the familiar black vernacular expression from my own childhood. Ludacris flips the former meaning to go where all things in patriarchal hip-hop goes these days…to sex but the user’s annotation explains the former meaning well:

“A hard head make a soft ass” is a phrase familiar to the Southern part of the U.S. It means that hard-headed children (children who don’t listen to authority) have a tender behind, in that, whippings will hurt more because they will get more of them.

Those corporal lessons makes may or may not lead to change. Negative reinforcement can kill the spirit of learning. Fear was planted in my psyche with only a few ass-whoopins or beatings which we never violent but adjusted to the circumstance accordingly – fear of getting avoiding getting caught was lesson number one. I didn’t learn to unravel what I had actually done wrong and prevent that.

The lessons I am learning online doing digital ethnmusicology are learned the hard way–from trial and error or loss of access whenever things are taken off a site or some info is no longer accessible.

Conducting ethnographic research on black girls on YouTube comes with pitfalls: the data you study that contains girls twerking, talking and creating content, can be deleted, removed or simply lost to if someone didn’t pay for their annual domain fees.

I NEED SCHOLARSHIP (JUICY J’S WSHH SITE)

Today I went to WSHH site that featured the Juicy J contest videos to continue previous study and analysis of  the top-rated and most popular videos ranked there. I posted an image of the site in a previous post after the winner of the $50K, Zaire Holmes, was announced. Her 15 minutes of fame has been reduced to the fact that she did not twerk by Juicy J himself rather than the fact that she as a single mom going to college wants to become a doctor. These are examples of the #patriarchalbargains we make according to Gloria Steinem who arguably justified Miley Cyrus’s twerking.

WorldStarHipHop Juicy J site for the contest (Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.08.06 PM)
WorldStarHipHop Juicy J site for the contest (Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.08.06 PM)

I’m writing this post instead of attending the annual celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday in Brooklyn, (and yes I heard the about an image of King being featured in a twerking event advert but that is a case of entertainment info vs meaningful fact to the work I am doing at the moment. #focus). I got sidetracked, stopped in my tracks, when I went to the WSHH site for the contest and found this:

Screenshot 2014-01-20 09.05.50
Screenshot 2014-01-20 09.05.50

I didn’t go to Brooklyn because of the possible implications of this for my online research.

It seems that WSHH took down the site (if I returns let me know) that had that brilliant “Juicy J is not grading your work” line.  And set of ranked videos I was planning of studying. It was a convenient way to create a sample of the videos online. (Bet WSHH won’t take down Sharkisha but that’s another story for another conversation.)

This lack of access is potentially meaningful though I can’t say how yet and it may turn out to be nothing more than entertaining news. But what if the NOT FOUND page suggests that Juicy J’s gettin’ “protection” from incrimination around the controversy?  So it was written. Now it is gone! I may never verify such a suspicion. 

But this thing has taught me a few lessons. Lessons I’m learning  from my participant-observation and ethnographic study of YouTube. I’d like to share these lessons with any other twerkologists or YouTube ethnographers, too. So here we go.

Screenshot 2014-01-20 11.43.27
Screenshot 2014-01-20 11.43.27

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

Videos can be made private or removed from YouTube  preventing further viewing. And if a distributor like WSHH or the media handlers behind rap mogul Juicy J with a net worth of $20 milliion thinks it best to “scrub” or remove a site despite their stand for a kind of radical openness they can and will.

Shock sites like WSHH may be concerned that about the backlash from black women especially after the Crunk Feminist Collective post by Dr. Brittney Cooper and after the more recent corrosive public debate between Dr. Cooper (a black feminist historian and media studies scholar)  and a Dr. Shayne Lee (a black male who is a sociologist, a bible scholar, and  head of his department at Tulane University). It was during a segment on HuffPost Live panel via a Google Plus Chat on the topic “Do ‘Hood Sites’ Normalize Black Stereotypes?“.

Since we still live in a democracy, limiting as it may seem, where Black women are increasingly wielding  considerable online power through social media to tackle images believed to do damage to their social group identity in the public sphere, WSHH’s concern would be valid. But once again, I may never verify such a suspicion.

Lesson #2: Capture everything that is meaningful while you work with online media.

Here’s some tech info that will be useful for anyone studying YouTube videos.

From now on I will capture screen shots of images and auto-add them to a DropBox folder. I will also download the videos and catalogue any as I watch from now on. I use WonderShareAllMyYouTube for that. I find it’s better than the Torrent Torch browser I also downloaded for that purpose. The Torch browser is not always effective in downloading videos.

I don’t know why the Juicy J Scholarship site is down, but studying those submissions that were voted on by the masses as the most popular and the most top-rated are now out of reach. Wondering how I might still access them? Anyone with any ideas please inbox me.

Would WSHH be loath to honor a request from a black feminist scholar or a digital ethnographer studying black girls and their online games? I wish I could learn the backstory. Not enough contacts in this world yet. I wish I had had the forethought to back that thang up (pun intended); to recover the valuable and meaningful data that I witnessed these last two months.

Later this week, I’ll share the other 3 lessons.

The other 3 of the 5 digital lessons spill over into the pedagogy (or androgagy for adults) I am designing for my political sociology course this Spring. If you recall, last Spring I focused on “political speech acts” in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Twerking will become a central piece in the new semester’s design.