“How Can I Have 1.9 Million Followers and Feel…This Alone?”

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

The intrinsic troublesome and uncertain quality of situations lies in the fact that they hold outcomes in suspense; they move to evil or to good fortune. The natural tendency of man is to do something at once ; there is impatience with suspense, and lust for immediate action.      – John Dewey,  “The Quest for Uncertainty” (1929)

Assata Shakur

The Lust and The Salary It May Depend On

A fellow black feminist scholar pointed this video of by a so-called professional twerker who appears to be “white,” and claims to the the “most famous booty shaker.” Why? Because she earns 6-figures making videos on Vine. When non-black women make this symbolic move and earn capital, I wonder if they ever consider that there are ethics involved in how their moves will impact those who came before them. It’s never necessary if those who came before are black and female.

While I am expanding my research to include videos by non-black teens and adolescents, I’ve chosen to limit my study to YouTube though I’d surely would have as much to figure out and analyze if I expanded the data set to video from WorldStarHipHop, Instagram and Vine. I want to thanksto Qiana Curtis for bringing this video/short film on the professional twerker to my attention on FB.

The line that strikes me most in the 4-minute short film I used as the title of the post. Does one have to make 6-figures to learn that money can’t buy you love or eliminate the animosities of race? Jessica says as her voice starts to crack as if performing on cue for the camera, “How can I have 1 point …. nine million followers and feel…this alone?” Generation Like meets the chicken that always comes home to roost in the old and new attention economy of the entertainment business.  (Check out the PBS documentary of the same name if you haven’t already. What are Teens Doing Online?).

 

This copy about the short film appeared below the original FB post:

Twerking 9-5: ‘Vine’s Most Famous Booty Shaker’ earns 6 figures

Jessica Vanessa is a professional twerker, who’s making big bucks by shaking her booty…in fact, she makes a 6-figure sum by shimmying her bum!

22-year-old social media superstar Jessica captivates audiences from around the world with her hypnotic assets. The former teaching assistant is now paid by companies to mention their products to her 2m online followers, who tune in to watch her twerk, jerk and crack jokes in comedy short videos on Vine.

Jessica now makes more money from a six-second Vine vid than she did working for four months at the nursery. It seems her bottom is taking her to the top!

Barcroft TV bring you a new short film every weekday – from the fascinating to the funny – plus two amazing full-length television shows every week.

#Twerking #Twerk #JessicaVanessa #JessiVanessa #Booty #Bum #Squats #Fitness #Dancing #Buns #VOTD #Video

Can Twerking Be Your Profession?

I don’t study adult twerkers and while Jessica Vanessa calls herself a “professional twerker” some critics/haters might consider the moniker an oxymoron. There are those who will liken it to “sex work” though there is no sexual touch or intercourse involved. The visual economy of twerking flips is like a free “peep show” that lures advertisers to solicit Vanessa’s “assets” to sell products.

In American culture and society associating earning money with having a profession is a common practice. If I earned a living off of making music, I too would call myself a professional. Google defines the term as:

pro·fes·sion
prəˈfeSHən/
noun
  1. a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
    synonyms: career, occupation, calling, vocation, métier, line (of work), walk of life,job, business, trade, craft;

    informalracket
    “his chosen profession of teaching”
  2. an open but often false declaration or claim.
    “a profession of allegiance”
    synonyms: declaration, affirmation, statement, announcement, proclamation,assertion, avowal, vow, claim, protestation;

    formalaverment
    “a profession of allegiance”

 

The Oxford English Dictionary, a definitive and professional arbiter of definitions in the English language, defines “profession” as:

A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification:
his chosen profession of teachinga lawyer by profession

This definition gets complicated when it comes to mixing work with anything sexual…outside of hollywood or any industrialized complex of music, TV or film. Then your profession is questioned….rappers, DJs and dancers esp. from hip-hop included.

For me, the question keeps coming back to who profits from the social or economic capital of the cultural performance known as twerking? A cultural practice that began with black dance behaviors outside the marketplace dating back to New Orleans in the late 1980s and linked culturally throughout the African and Afro-Latin and Caribbean diasporas for decades if not a century.

The fact that race is never mentioned in the short film seems curious to me. The following viral meme from 2012 suggests that race was attributed to the before Miley Cyrus took it to the top of Google searches. But such practices in dance and music have always been extracted from the rich bottom of black creativity in our culture for centuries. Erasing the contestation is troublesome but such practices go beyond the hood.

Meme - So this is what Negro Girls Do

Questioning Who Profits

I was chatting with Hannah Giorgis after inviting her to speak to my students yesterday and we both dwell in and pondered a few related questions. Most of the ideas of these questions I attribute to Hannah. I embellished on them. She’d probably say my previous blog post on who profits from the counterfeit culture of stereotypes about black girls inspired some of these ideas:

  1. How are people who do not identify, who are not socialized or perceived to be, black girls affected by black girlhood? Do other girls or transgender folk get to explore sexuality through its prism or as a way into and out of popular adolescent/ youth culture?
  2. What does it mean to put symbolic elements of black girlhood upon yourself (without the symbolic codes of skin color and its incumbent stigmatization)?
  3. What does it mean to adopt (as well as adapt to) “black femaleness” and at any moment back away from it, return it, shed it when no longer value-able?
  4. What does it mean to have black girlhood imposed upon you because you look the part because of skin color even though you didn’t necessarily sign up for the part (Cue music: “Mama’s always on stage“)?
  5. Can these tensions be in conversation with one another in our contemporary discourse or debates or must we always take sides (black or white, booty or not)? (Cue music: Which side are you on? #michaelbrown #ferguson)
  6. Ultimately, who is profiting from black girls twerking on YouTube (way back in its beginnings in 2006) as a performance?A performance that can “make it rain” in 6 figures for some and not others (particularly not adolescent/teen black girls themselves)?

The questions need to be lived with before we simply jump off on some conclusion or result. There’s research and study to do first. I’ll leave readers with this. Some  commentary about a bell hooks talk at the New School earlier this week. In a piece called “bell hooks Was Bored by ‘Anaconda'” featured in The Cut, writer Kat Steoffel wrote:

According to hooks, reducing female sexuality to “the pussy” raised questions about “who possesses and who has rights in the female body.”

the booty is a more visible, PG-13 stand-in for female sexuality, easier to represent (and sell) in pop culture, but freighted with more racial connotations.  A booty-centric vision of female sexuality, hooks explained, asks, “who has access to the female body?”

Broadcasting while your twerk has consequences and differential consequences for non-blacks than for black girls themselves. There’s a lot to unravel before or while shaking your butt in the webcam.

Thoughts Beyond the Body, Pt 2 of 2 (VIDEO)

This is Part 2 of 2 Beyond the Body in response to a short video clip from the dialogue between bell hooks and Even Ensler Tue Nov 5th.  Here is the video clip that was the basis of all three posts.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/79268730]

If you haven’t watched the documentaries Misrepresentation or Sut Jhally’s Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video, put it on your list!! It it easy to simply dismiss critiques of capitalism and patriarchy as some feminist rant. Non-dominant identities and the bodies used to represent them, that perform those positions, that are assigned and associated with those positions in various socially-mediated contexts are most at risk, and perhaps the most risky kinds of culture in the immaterial aka symbolic cultural warfare commodified by a supremacist patriarchal system of media even when its YouTube. The lyrics from the auto-tuned song, Bedroom Intruder, makes my point about the hyper-penetration of media that promotes the hyper-sexualization of girls by their own hands and content creation in twerking videos, as just one example:

He’s climbin in your windows
He’s snatchin your people up
Tryna rape em so y’all need to

Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
Hide your kids, Hide your wife
and hide your husband
Cuz they’re rapin errbody out here

Read more: Antoine Dodson – Bed Intruder Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Both bell hooks and Eve Ensler talked briefly during the dialogue about unplugging, about this other bedroom intruder for girls which bell hooks calls the “imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy”not, she asserted during the evening, because she likes to say it but because it “connects all the forms of domination enslaving us today.” I heard this as a call for an extreme self-care of protection against and armament from the explicit and hyper-sexualized media which we now share as participatory culture. This is the kind of self-care that Audre Lorde articulated as a political act of warfare.

We must begin to help teen girls or color in particular learn this kind of self-care especially now that the “bedroom intruder” out to rape your mind of its power lives in the mobile devices you carry 24-7. Devices whose media teached us all to be available 24-7, complicit in lyrical blow jobs as part liking and commenting on hip-hop music as videos an lyrics on YouTube, WorldStarHipHop.com, Rap Genius, and  through funny yet uncritical interpretations of patriarchal thinking that are created as provocative shareable looped miro-videos in the form of gifs on Tumblr or videos on Vine.

By unhooking ourselves, girls, women, boys and men, dislodging ourselves not completely but at least reccurently and regularly, we learn to dis-associate ourselves and more imporantly, our minds, from this sexist matrix of video sharing. The imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchy will always be there when you get back. Or you can back that thang up (download it and watch it later). It will still be there, promise. We must begin reclaim not just our bodies, but the real agent of our own change, our language, our embodiment and the center of all of it, our minds which is ultimately beyond the body.  The mind–our sociological imagination–not our physical body, our skin color or our othered shapes and sizes, our social body–it is the mind that is the actual house we human beings live in.

Time to build a new home for our self and what may seem contradictory is that YouTube as participatory culture, as a media with easy to use access, and self-reflection built into the content creative process, can serve the reconstructive role but that kind of self-mediation is least popular among youth of color. They remain consumers of the new culture primarily in a house of consumption not creation.

This is all a new realm of study for me. I was the consumer of such media and an influencer. Now I am learning to think critically and

Beyond the Body? bell hooks + Eve Ensler

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ― Alice Walker

IMG_8458

Tuesday, November 5, 5:00-6:30pm
Beyond the Body? 
A public dialogue between bell hooks + Eve Ensler 
Tishman Auditorium, The New School
66 W 12th St
New York, NY 10011
Free

I’ve not posted much this semester about our project and perhaps that has been good in that chaos lives in the beginning of anything new  and not everything needs to be broadcast I have learned (the hard way). This is particularly a concern I have been pondering relative to black girls on YouTube–girls and women. The limitless audiences who see our thoughts, feelings, actions and beliefs, those audiences are not always aware of any historical context of our lived experiences nor are they willing to do that work in the current pace of entertainment-as-news or the sharing of must-see-TV and tweets that serves as a constant distraction to the extreme self care everyday people need to be attending to. But that is another blog post.

[NOTE: This is the first of three parts about the event. The last will feature the video itself so stay tuned.]

Q&A on hyper-sexualization

This post about a  1-1/2 minute video clip recorded with my iPhone. It was in response to the first question from the audience after an amazing dialogue at the New School between cultural critic bell hooks [who always spells her name in lower case] and V-day founder and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. I am in the process of editing the video and preparing to share it with my research assistants in my Black Girl You Tube Project course (aka ANT4800 Anthropological Analysis).  The video will definitely be posted on YouTube so you can share. But first I transcribed the clip and wanted to share the text. Why? 1) Because I think that visual media has stolen or at least it’s dominating our critical thinking of late; and 2) Because it might serve as an experiment for you to notice and reclaim how reading is an equally engaging and transformative media of shared culture and visual culture to which I am returning. 

IMG_8449Mine was the first question in the Q&A. Stepping to the microphone I announced myself as Kyra Gaunt, professor at Baruch College-CUNY and  purposefully broadcast to the hundreds attending [see panorama view] that I was doing a project called the Black Girl YouTube project.  Then I succinctly asked bell and Eve, “Could you speak to the hyper-sexualization of teen girls in our media today?” 

The clip captures their amazing response which I have transcribed here:

0:00″  Eve Ensler:  [I’ve been traveling around the world] in the States and in Paris, and I’ve just been around a lot of teenage girls looking at this kind of insane pressure of over…of [the] incredible sexualization that is happening, that is making them feel as if somehow they are empowered.

:20″ Eve: It’s this weird flip but which is actually…it’s kind of like a… disempowerment within an empowerment…façade.

:30″  Eve: Watching girls who are not actually inhabiting their bodies but inhabiting a performance idea of themselves which has been projected onto them by the media and

:40″ Eve: I look at it with my granddaughter who is 17. I look at it with teenagers all the time and I see this…it’s almost like you have to become this girl in order to be somebody in the world.

:53″ Eve: This very sexual, this very performative, and somebody who is not actually in your body, but announcing your body, or demonstrating your body or…

           1:02″  bell hooks interjects: Or worse yet, Eve, offering your body…

Eve: [reiterates bell] offering your body

hooks [takes the stage and the proverbial mic]: … as a living sacrifice.

Eve [passes the space to bell; they swap positions with little tension]: Yes, that too.

1:06″  bell: I think that we are demanding of girls that they offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. And of course the sacrifice is to the institution of patriarchy. And the message to grown women is that if you won’t offer your body, we will take … the bodies…of daughters…and  [1:28″]  other people  who have the unclaimed bodies. I mean the 27,000 kids. [end of clip]

thx.

Dr. Gaunt aka @kyraocity on Twitter.