JoJo “I’m Not A Princess!”: Audiences Deny Agency; Promote Patriarchy

“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

What would happen to the future of white supremacist patriarchy if [hegemonic] white [fe]males were choosing to form serious relationships with black females?

Clearly, this structure would be under mined.
Bell Hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations

 

So Mashable releases a video (Monday, September 14) of this adorable and sassy little white girl named JoJo. JoJo is having a logic and YouTube-adorable argument with her Dad explaining how she is NOT a princess.

JoJo: “No! Don’t ask me any questions, I just need <indistinguishable>.

Dad: I wanna call you my princess.

JoJo: NO! You cannot call me your princess, o-KAY DAD!?!

So you can see how from the viewers standpoint we must fix JoJo. She cannot be denied her “rightful” place in the habitus — the “trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them’ (Wacquant 2005: 316, cited in Navarro 2006: 16)” — of hegemonic femininity, fantasy and seduction, can we now?!?

Her dad tries to convince her otherwise. She IS a princess, he insists in one way or another. Here, her dad–used by his own habitus of hegemonic daddy-hood and masculinity — denies his daughter her sense of agency, unintentionally–we are all creatures of our habitus of the structures that keep the logic of hegemonic masculinity and femininity in place.

Agency
The capacity of individuals to act independently.
The idea that children can be seen as independent social actors is core to the development of the new paradigm for the study of children and young people that emerged in the social sciences in the 1970s. It underscores children and young people’s capacities to make choices about the things they do and to express their own ideas. Through this, it emphasizes children’s ability not only to have some control over the direction their own lives take but also, importantly, to play some part in the changes that take place in society more widely. As Mayall describes it, a focus on children’s agency enables exploration of the ways in which children’s interaction with others ‘makes a difference — to a relationship or to a decision, to the workings of a set of social assumptions or constraints’ (Mayall, 2002: 21 quoted in Allison James & Adrian James, Key Concepts in Childhood Studies, Sage Key Concepts, 2008: 9).

Then along comes Katy Perry using her millions of followers on Twitter to do the same. In the name of cuteness, Katy will usurp this little girl’s agency to insure she fits the norm and gets the bracelets JoJo argues distinguishes her from a real princess. All little girls should want to be a princess and get the diamond bracelet, right?!?!

Starting a Kickstarter to get this 👑Queen👑 her rightful bracelets! https://t.co/Gp9bo9tyJY

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The last thing girls need are more myths about having someone one else buy the jewels that make you whole or someone else who comes to save you from the fate of second class citizenship. Let’s just deny JoJo’s healthy agency and replace it with money and jewels. Patriarchy wins!

Let a Girl Be a Girl: On Her Own Terms

JoJo: I said don’t ask me anything OR don’t talk. You can talk AFTER.  [long pause as she looks at the TV and gathers her thoughts. Dad interjects]

Dad: OK, it’s my turn to talk. [what lesson is she and the audience of girls watching learning from the subtle cooptation of her request.]

JoJo is on to something! Don’t let them seduce you, oh great one, with jewels. Daddy, pay attention! Let your girl grow up to be her own definition of self. Let her be an assertive, independent, a social actor with her own voice and her own actions with your loving support and protection.

But Katy Perry has to go and start a Kickstarter campaign for her to get the bracelets. PU-LEEEZ!!  IT’S NOT ABOUT THE JEWELS, Katy! Stop messing around with the myths and mental maps of reality that seduce girls into subservience to body and beauty politics.

This girl gets it on some brilliant level as a child. Don’t mess with that!! Both the dad and Katy Perry feed into this enculturational process where girls are taught patriarchal femininity where girls should be selfless in order to have relationship. As Carol Gilligan notes in the video below, without a self you cannot be in relationship.

IT’S BIGGER THAN BRACELETS, KATY!

Having a female celebrity singer, a mega star, use her platform and privilege (and in this case white privilege) to help a girl whose intentions are very clear sends the wrong message in my book. I applaud Perry’s good intentions but the road to hell is already well-paved by such paternalistic moves in the name of male as well as female celebrities. How about helping raise millions for a cause in JoJo’s name that’s bigger than bracelets?? That could make her a princess of a whole different sort.

There are millions of girls right here in the US (let’s not go white savior on Africa or Southeast Asia for just a minute) who she could help; millions of marginalized girls of color and poor white girls would get more bang for those bucks. Let’s start thinking impact not celebrity diamonds for JoJo. Queens and princesses — the real ones — use their power to help the people who need it most.

This moment of lifecasting on YouTube by JoJo’s dad under the username Lomelino Kids could have been (and still may be) a stepping stone to a kind of feminist stance about being beautiful and ordinary in an extraordinary way that is NOT about the body or mere beauty. Carol Gilligan reminds us that feminism actually is a liberation movement to free democracy from patriarchy. Women and men, girls and boys are not free if patriarchy is the structure of our lives, the order and measure for our success.

If we situated the role of a “princess” from the historical GPS that dictionaries entries provide, the oldest definition is first,  we might see how the structure of a princess’s power has devolved over time.

Full Definition of PRINCESS

1  archaic :  a woman having sovereign power
2:  a female member of a royal family; especially :  a daughter or granddaughter of a sovereign
3:  the consort of a prince
4:  one likened to a princess; especially :  a woman of high rank or of high standing in her class or profession <a pop music princess>

Merriam Webster Online also positions first and foremost on its site before this chronological rendering:

a usually attractive girl or woman who is treated with special attention and kindness

JoJo has everything she already needs and learning about other notable princesses or queens other than the fictional Disney versions would be a real asset. Learning about Nefretiti, who was considered one of the most powerful women to ever rule, Marie Antoinette, who rose to the throne at 14, Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii or Queen Noor of Jordan would be more beneficial than bracelets from a Kickstarter campaign. But that is not what JoJo is being enculturated into. YouTube’s media ecology will amplify a totally different intention that JoJo asks — back to the seduction of the jewels.

Dad: I’m a king

JoJo: No, you’re not! You’re a dad

I skimmed the reactions to the video and most have little to do with JoJo’s agency and more to do with reasserting the normative expectations where we romantically seduce little girls into a focus on their bodies and how they adorn them. Read: Isn’t she cute trying to break the chains of patriarchy but it ain’t that serious. She’ll grow outta that with the help of Daddy, Katy, Kickstarter and the crown achievement of some jewels. This makes it all about the jewels and adornment not the substance and character of an independent or interdependent girl or woman.

Screen Shot of YouTube Comments 2015-09-14 at 9.50.06 AM
Screen Shot of YouTube Comments 2015-09-14 at 9.50.06 AM

 

Ok, I should be writing my article on Mirrors, Monsters and Webcams and marginalized girls on YouTube, but this got me. #feelingsnarkytoday #backtowork

Have a look out these two remarkable YouTube videos about feminism. They helped me resituate some of my own thinking.

Dr. Carol Gilligan Defines Feminism and Patriarchy

Black Folk Don’t: Do Feminism

 

 

Pit Bulls, Bitches or Rudolph: Is the “Dog” Wagging Her Tail? #twerktweens

I am realizing how all the research I’ve been focused on for the last 2 years is about one big idea: the unintended consequences of the “new digital divide” for marginalized groups across new media ecologies. With the ubiquity of the mobile web among African American tweens, unequal literacies about the persistence and searchability of girls’ music-related content on the Internet has become a “new digital divide.”  The consequences or #bottomlines I explore are the participation gaps and critical literacies found beyond mere access.

NOTE:  I’m still playing around with the title of my blog. The aim of my new title is to emphasize my role as an ethnomusicologist as well as the work I do as a social science researcher and digital media ethnographer. Thus: #Bottomlines in the New Digital Divide. The new subtitle plays with the notion of the digital seduction of music and media among marginalized groups in new media ecologies. I am toying with typography in the word “education.” The way it’s stylized–by inserting the “$” sign — signifying economic capital–before the word and inserting the “@” sign in the middle to replace the usual “a” in education–the word can be slyly read as both “seduction” and “education” in the context of “Music & the Media $Educ@tion of Marginalized Groups.”

Why “seduction”? Because seduction remains the dominant possibility without better digital media literacy or education. Participation gaps in editing and in privacy ethics are costing black girls the very power and agency that marginalized groups try to establish with their use of social media. Fan video-making related to rap and R&B videos on YouTube and other platforms helps them develop cultural and social capital within their own communities but it’s their social mobility to other networks that really matters in the long run.

What do you think about my wordplay? Let me know in the comments!! My blog format or structure will continue as usual: I start with quotes, then images and an intro, more or less while highlighting key terms, concepts or links in pink to signify the intersectionality of my interventions.  Let’s get to the point of this post, tween twerking videos and the question What ‘dog‘ is wagging these girls’ tail in kids dance videos of Red Nose? The breed known as a “red nose pit bull”? Hip-hop’s casual but persistent attribution of the word “bitch” to girls and women who are routinely referred to as “females”? Or do the kids here “Rudolph the red nose reindeer” even though it ain’t even Christmas time.

Red nose hook & Rudolph GIF
A GIF meme using an image of Rudolph with the popular hook from Sage the Gemini’s “Red Nose” rap song. Gemini’s video premiered on his SageTheGeminiVEVO YouTube channel on June 10, 2013, a week before “We Can’t Stop” on the MileyCyrusVEVO Channel

Italian scientists found that pups wag their tails to the right when they see something positive, and more toward the left when they see something negative. In their latest study, researchers found that other dogs also pick up on that difference, and their hearts beat faster when they see a pooch wagging its tail to the left. Associated Press, 2013

[The] asymmetry in sexual education maintains men’s power in the myth: They look at women’s bodies, evaluate, move on; their own bodies are not looked at, evaluated, and taken or passed over. But there is no “rock called gender” responsible for that; it can change so that real mutuality–an equal gaze, equal vulnerability, equal desire–brings heterosexual men and women together.”
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Tweenage Twerking to Red Nose 

The group I presently study — online tweenage Black girls — is marginalized by age, race, and gender. In this blog post, I examine a YouTube video of tweenage girls who are making a “yiking” video for the 2nd time. The first one was removed. I’ll write an upcoming post on the violation of Community Guidelines on YouTube and the unintended consequences of that for marginalized youth.

I found this video while searching for twerking videos on YouTube. Anything with a black girl or woman shaking her hips to music is often titled or tagged “twerking” although this video is actually a style known as “yiking” in the Bay area. The Red Nose dance has become a viral meme on YouTube and this particular video is a testament of its spreadability. The girls in the video talk to the camera with what seems to be a Bajan creole accent. So, I can reasonably argue they are not from the Bay area of Cali. Readers from Barbados or folk from the Bay, correct me if I’m wrong!

TITLE: Red nose children version(CLEAN)
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cfzs_9k5cE
13,090 views, 116 Likes, 14 Dislikes (as of Sat 23 May 2015 8:12pm)
Published on Jul 8, 2013
User Description: All about fun DO NOT PUT ON FACEBOOK
Music “Red Nose” by Sage The Gemini (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3)
Artist Sage the Gemini
Category: Entertainment
ALL COMMENTS (20)

The other day, I went searching for tweens dancing to “Red Nose” by Sage the Gemini because there are only 200 songs in my dataset of 800 videos. Red Nose appears multiple times. This summer, I intend to explore these copyrighted songs, the artists and their accompanying videos to get a sense of the relationships between them and the tweens’ dancing in user-generated videos.

The “Red nose” dance [Cue the video above at 1:29″] features an isolated, snake-like gesture of the female torso executed when the fluid motion of her knees from left to right and back again punctuated by syncing up a “tick tock” booty popping motion over 3-4 beats to the lyrics “like-like-like-like a red nose” which is the hook of Gemini’s song.

In the Bay area, where it’s known as “yiking“, the dance generally occurs between a female and male partner with most of the action and attention on the former’s booty moves. There are tons of exceptions In tweenage and teen videos on YouTube where is all girls. But you never see two guys doing the red nose dance together.

Four girls doing the red nose in a school bathroom.
Four tween girls doing the red nose in a school bathroom.

In the dance, generally a tween girl bends over at the hips and usually a guy, sometimes older but more often than not a younger brother stands with his hips right behind her squatting position from behind. The partner behind grabs the girl’s waist or shoulders and rides her moves, so to speak, as she were one of those coin-operated pony rides they used to have outside the supermarket.

The partner’s gaze is on the girls’ hip gestures or booty. From a viewer’s gaze, given the physical proximity of the partners–a boys’ private parts are up against a girls’ behind–it is difficult for the mind to avoid the suggestive “doggy style” sex position. When the mediated gender performance between the sexes is observed among children and tweens (ages 8-13) on YouTube, no doubt many viewers are left with a great deal of uneasiness. And, as one of my students suggested, this unease is often projected onto the imagined social identity of black girls–one of the unintended consequences of their online play.

Search Results

When typing a search of “Red nose” on my computer, the first autocorrect choice is “red nose kids dance.” It yields over 97,000 results one day and 100,000 the next (May 24 and 25, 2015). When I filter for 4 min or less videos only, the results increase to over 100,000. The YouTube search algorithm can be a mystery.

Tween YouTubers who upload these videos surely realize that “twerking” is a better tag for YouTube’s search algorithm to find. The factors shaping the algorithmic results include the video title, keywords in the description during the upload, view count and comments, and the trust and authority of the channel owner. The keyword “twerking” is certainly going to pull more results and have more relevance for a broader set of viewers than “yiking”. The cultural capital of getting views or gaming the system is known by even the youngest YouTubers–how can I get people to watch my videos and follow my channel?

The Art? of Rap

“The art of rap is deceptive. It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally, as raw testimony or autobiography. And sometimes the words we use, nigga, bitch, motherfucker, and the violence of the images overwhelms some listeners. It’s all white noise to them till they hear a bitch or a nigga and then they run off yelling “See!” and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about.”   Jay-Z, Decoded

LYRICS TO RED NOSE

CHORUS:
(Holy shit)
All this money on me
Come and take it from a G
All she tryna do is get naked (Naked)

Hook: And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Li-li-li-li-like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Like a, like a, like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Li-li-li-li-like a red nose
And she gon’ shake it, like a red nose
Like a, like a, like a red nose

VERSE 1:

That booty talkin’ to me, what that shit say?
Shake it for the dojo I’m the sensei
Once you wobble on my song, on replay
Almost got ‘er at house, up off Kingsway
I told her shake it like a red nose Pitbull
And I’mma keep throwin’ money ’til your bank full
Cake-cake-cake-cake birthday suit
Damn in a little I’mma forget your age soon
Whoa, OK, now let’s do it my way
If she don’t go crazy then she walkin’ on the highway
And if she don’t believe me tell that bitch just try me
Bet you she be shakin‘ from the club back to my place whoa

Read more: Sage The Gemini – Red Nose Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The hook of the song is about shaking it like a red nose and like a stripper. Word play is clear here when you read the rest of the lyrics. But a red nose pit bull appears in the VEVO video along with micro-celebrity India Haynes know as #GetItIndy or FunnSizeIndy for her yiking on YouTube.

Unintended Consequences

The question here: What are the unintended consequences of tween girls dancing to these lyrics whether they think they are about pitt bulls, bitches or Rudolph? Each symbolic meaning is there for the taking when sit down and think about the meaning of the lyrics. This cognitive shift from listening to dancing seems to be dichotomous but later it will come back home to roost as a form of misogyny for most older girls and women.

For ages, the passive stance that I like the beats and I don’t listen to the lyrics puts women in an even more passive stance about their involvement in hip-hop listening culture where males pay attention to the patriarchal lyrics and its narratives of black masculinity. There is a “dog” wagging the tail of online adolescent black girls’s dance in YouTube videos and it’s not man’s best friend or a woman or a girl’s. But the dancing is seductive! What has girls so mute in the face of such objectivity?

This video of the two Bajan tweens doing a 2nd video of Red Nose is linked in my mind to two of my students’ analysis in our research project this term. C. and J. coded instructional lyrics in 15 twerking videos of tween and teen girls. The applied the hashtag #poplockanddropit to their project. Watch their final vlog and analysis here: https://youtu.be/t3fVaTJD7vY.

C. and J’s presentation got me thinking about the affinity for pitbulls but not females among black males in urban settings. So I searched Google for something about why black men like pit bulls and found a 2008 law blog post about the racialization of pitbulls. It was tagged under “constitutional law”:

…the rhetoric that surrounds the proponents of Breed Specific Legislation sounds remarkably racial.  Consider the following common statements.  Biology and breed unwaveringly determine behavioral characteristics.  Reduced amounts of the aggressive ancestry decreases the chances for recidivism.  Pitbulls have large mouths and funny looking lips.  It is wise to cross the street when approached by a pitbull.   Pitbulls are lazy until you try to take something away from them.  Mixed breed pitbulls are more intelligent, kind, and gentle than full-breeds.  All pitbulls are from the ghetto.  You can take the dog out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of the dog.

These statements could be equally applied to most any racially marginalized group, but most specifically, it invokes racially charged images of African Americans and Native Americans. The determination of who legally belongs in a racial group has long been the study of my own scholarly work, as well as that of Rose Villazor (SMU), Carla Pratt (Penn State), and Adrienne Davis (WashU).  But could similar theories be extended to that of the animal kingdom? http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2008/02/are-pitbulls-th.html

I had mentioned to my students that in my experience in Brooklyn, it seems that black men often have pitbulls. I don’t dare call them pets. They’re more like guard dogs, an extension of their bravado in most cases.  I added that I’ve never seen a young black man or boy refer to their dogs as a “bitch” in public though the term is technically referring to a female dog, as most people know. In street talk and rap discourse, the term “bitch” is exclusively reserved referring to girls/women or as a way of stigmatizing frienemies and enemies to call into question their masculinity or hardness like some kind of imagined group test. Real men stick together!

I just want to point out to two cues in the Red Nose kids dance video above that I coded. In the video, there is a taller girl in blue jean shorts (about 10) and a shorter girl in fuscia shorts with white trim.

0:43 Girl in fuscia shorts: “Our first one…they deleted only cuz we’re doing it [the red nose dance]” She is interacting with the audience about “YouTube” taking down their first video “Red Nose.” They make a case even at their young age that their video was no more a violation of community guidelines than dozens of other videos by kids dancing to Red Nose. Then she makes an appeal. Shifting from actor to content creator in her speaking she asks the audience to essentially help them get cultural capital or “views” on YouTube, adding

0:59 Girl in fuscia shorts: “Anyways we’re going to do another one, so please do not delete it. Cuz the last one, the first one, it was 248 viewers and 27 subscribers. WE NEVER GET THAT BEFORE! It was our first time, so PLEASE!.” Girl in jean shorts adds “It’s for the children!”

These girls are being strategic in their appeal despite the fact that in over 800 videos I’ve collected with students only 5% feature girls talking to the camera. This isn’t all that strange since they are essentially dance videos. Nobody talks on the dance floor. But they are also vlogs. Vlogs are an opportunity to not only present your body to the YouTube public but also your voice.

The jean shorted girl is trying to appeal to a sympathy for kids from the people out in the audience with power (adults at YouTube or maybe viewers who might show support in their comments). It’s as if she is saying “let us have our cake and eat it, too!” or “let us play online like everybody else who’s doing the Red Nose!” Meanwhile, Sage the Gemini’s music not only gets advertised under their video and the views they accrue count towards his Billboard ranking, and the girls get nothing but a sense of attention and that they might have been on to something on YouTube–real social capital. But that is not possible without monetizing your channel and really preparing. Nine out of ten of the most viral videos on YouTube according to the Wall Street Journal are professionally made and 9 out of 10 of the most popular videos on YouTube are music videos. Girls today have the same impression I did as a teen or tween. One day I’ll be famous like Diana Ross! Today it’s internet famous like Beyoncé, Rihanna or Nicki MInaj!

Get It Indy: Extreme Twerking by India Haynes

I refuse to embed the original Sage the Gemini video here — I will not add to his coffers — but here’s the link if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I-YY5p0uq8.

For me, it’s India Haynes’ appearance in Gemini’s video that interests me. I first learned about yiking from India Haynes aka Get It Indy #getitindy on YouTube around the time she turned 18 according to her channel. Her 2013 video is a guide for understanding twerking vs. yiking vs. bounce. Check out these cues:

Yiking at 10:00″-12:05″
Then she talks about bounce at 12:05″-13:22″
Then the “Tick Tock” at 13:22″ – 14:09″

 

That’s it for now! Leave your comments!

YOUTUBE TIP OF THE WEEK:

Tell your tweens that back that thang up when twerking on YouTube should be about privacy not publicity!  Help them change their privacy settings on YouTube to UNLISTED!!  Unlisted allows them to share with their friends but it won’t be available in the YouTube search results.

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.

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).