5 Digital Lessons Learned the Hard Way, pt. 2

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

In my previous post inspired by learning that the Juicy J Scholarship site on WSHH has gone down, I shared lessons 1 and 2:

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

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

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

These were more tech oriented lessons that a new digital ethnographer of YouTube must consider in collecting data online.  Here’s part 2 of the post. It was way too long to subject you to in one sitting.

This set of lessons speaks more to my upcoming political sociology course. I needed a thrust for the semester. Some way to make it both real and relevant. I call this the “going public” part of every course I teach. It usually involves 1) sharing whatever we learn with people outside the academy, 2) collaborative learning, and 3) often but not always a publication of work in the public sphere.

A Relevant Pedagogical Aside:
Check out my curated op-eds by Baruch students from 2011 released on MLK day that year, dedicated to James Baldwin, titled Could You Be the Bigger Nigger? on Scribd.com (View count: 7700+). Check it out and please rate it if you like it the idea and/or the project and share it with both teachers and students in high school and college!

On to the final three lessons I learned doing a digital ethnography of twerking on YouTube.

Lesson #3: Stop and Think! Find Other Solutions When Data Goes Missing

This past Saturday, I had just shared with a sister in Harlem about my aims for my political sociology course that starts next week. In the conversation, I convinced myself that studying the Juicy J site was a perfect plan for the semester. Stop and think. What could I do that would be equally engaging and how could I use it still to teach my political sociology course? What about involving all 36 students in the sociological analysis of the 67,000 videos results that are yielded by a search of “Juicy J scholarship contest” on YouTube’s massive archive?

OK 67,000 is too large, but we can choose a significant sample of say 200 contest videos. Maybe some other sociology or anthropology professor could do the same and we could compare and contrast our methods and results.

What fascinates me about the idea is that my students and I can collaborate to study and analyze the political sociology of the contestests’ submissions (where they all women? all cisgendered?) while we learn and study from a new textbook by Dobratz, Waldner and Buzzell titled Power, Politics and Society: An Introduction to Political Sociology (2012).

I may no longer have access to the top-rated and most-popular videos in Juicy J’s contest, but there still remains a huge pool of valuable and meaningful data on YouTube that will allow us to study on race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, socioeconomic class and social-class values, and age relative to adolescent black girlhood, youth dance culture and the exploration of emerging adulthood through embodied musical practices among black and non-black women. The top-rated videos would have added a real powerful dimenstion to the study that students might find fascinating but all’s well because of YouTube.

Here are some thoughts about how I intend to link the study of hip-hop music videos and twerking videos around the following chapter themes. Would love comments and other ideas if you’d care to share. Here’s what I am thinking:

Chapter 1  Power
C. Wright Mills wrote (1959: 181): “Power has to do with whatever decisions men make about the arrangments under which they live, and about the events which make up the history of their times…men are free to make history but some are much freer than others.” (Dobratz et. al, 3).

In the social settings of online always-on media, what kinds of power do black girls/women twerking have and what kind of power (economic, social and structural) do the owners in the recording industry who produce hip-hop videos via VEVO or  the owners of social media distribution sites like WSHH and YouTube have around these women’s user-generated content?

Chapter 2 Role of the State
In this chapter, democracy is discussed after distinguishing the nation from the state. “Markoff (2005) contends that there is a great deal of variation in ‘democratic’ nations, with some having widespread violations of civil liberties [my concern is about minors and black girls] despite holding free elections and others so ineffecient at providing basic government services that they are termed low quality democracies” (Dobratz et. al, 47).

From a class-based view of the state, the FCC once monitored public airwaves like radio and TV to protect minors from harm by advertisers and content creators. Since YouTube or WSHH  are privatized entities, they are not bound by any laws to protect minors from harm, and you cannot make a request based on the FOIA — Freedom of Information Act — for such a privatized company to share its data or the ‘user-generated’ data it used to promote the contest or to hide incriminating data affecting the politics of youth culture, gender, or patriarchal abuses in the corporate personhood of capitalism)

Chapter 3 Politics, Culture & Social Processes
This chapter includes a discussion of the “faces of ideology” Are black girls and other non-black girls the faces of ideology in hip-hop–with their asses?)

Chapter 4  Politics of Everyday Life: Political Economy
This chapter deals with the Welfare State: “all people in American society benefit from these programs” (Dobratz et. al, 130). Corporate welfare is called “wealthfare” or “phantom welfare”. How much money does the record industry make from hiphop and from YouTube’s music videos, which occupies 90% of its most-watched videos?  The other part of the welfare system “has been referred to as public assistance programs that are funded through general government revenues” (ibid.) from the income of the working classes of Americans often legislated through Congress or state-level government.

How are changes in public assistance programs for college student loans  and the feminization of poverty among college-age mothers apparent among the user-generated videos submitted for the Juicy J contest?  Check this submission video of a black woman sharing what it means to have to “pay outta pocket” (1:40″) for college.

The remaining chapters offer similar correspondences that we could make between the twerking videos and hte politics of power, people and the state in our society:

Chapter 5 Politics of Everyday Life: Social Institutions and Social Relations
Chapter 6 Political Participation
Chapter 7  Elections and Voting
Chapter 8 Social Movements
Chapter 9  Violence and Terrorism
Chapter 10 Globalization

I believe having students learn to how to make their own assessment and perhaps a powerful argument about the impact of music and hyperconnectivity on the Always On GenerationViolence Against Women and Girls Mattershow entertainment information overload and hyperstimulation of explicit mainstream hip-hop video content by distributors like the always-on VEVO and WSHH in tandem with viral twerking videos always available as user-generated content that girls and women upload themselves may (or may not) suggest, using various methods, a kind a sociologial warfare  being waged on girls and all youth via linguistic violence (Gay 1997). We will see.

Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive

In the past, perhaps a sign of naivête from my own feminine insecurity in a patriarchal world, I’ve wanted to get mad and turn off when things like this happen. I turn away. Jump on the bandwagon and fight! Or make snap judgments without assessing the problem at hand as if media is always evil even in the age of YouTube. Immersive ethnographic study requires staying power. So, I’m stickin’ and stayin’ but I am trying to catch my faux pas’s too. This digital ethnomusicological research on twerking has a robust potential to say some things that aren’t easy to find, say or see in our society around black popular music cultures.

Last year I had my snap judgements about Lil Wayne’s viral YouTube video released on Valentine’s Day titled “Love Me.” I have written about what I learned after some analysis in a forthcoming chapter of a book on Obama and Hip-hop edited by Travis Lars Goma and Erik Nielsen. I was amassed at the social impact this media may be having on girls.  The YouTube video had amassed over 63 million within four months, which seems big but is dwarfed by videos by white male rappers in the mainstream. Yet this traffic is not insignificant. To date, it has yielded over 100 million views in just under a year. What was noticable then based on YouTube statistics up through June 2013, when the format changed–another lesson in capturing things–was how they revealed that females ages 13-17 and 18-24 lead in its audience demographics not males 13-17.  Males 18-24 came after the two female demographics. Gives credence to the hook in the song: “Long as my bitches love me. I don’t give a f#ck about no haters, long as my bitches love me.” The music industry trades on this seduction of girls.

So “Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive” because the most damaging war of revolution is not being waged simply between “these thighs” as Sarah Jones once rapped (learn about how a recording of this poetry was banned by the FCC back in 2001). The actual war is being waged over our minds and our attention. A soft head in this sense will make for a tougher life esp. as the feminization of poverty widens.  The mental slavery of women continues in new ways on YouTube in my opinion.

NOTE: If you’re looking for a broader context on sex, gender and desire in commercial music videos, broadening the analysis beyond black artists or hip-hop, check out Sut Jhally’s DreamWorlds III. Here’s a clip. These issues are not limited to hip-hop not music and any rapper using tired old argument about sexism exists in the broader public needs to move on.

Please like or comment. Engagement is a pathway to higher learning. The views in my head require feedback to know whether it makes senses beyond my internal logic. 

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.

 

Juicy J’s $50K: Managing Self, Managing Privacy on YouTube

Now that the barriers are crumbling everywhere, the Negro in America must be ever vigilant lest his forces be marshaled behind wrong causes and undemocratic movements. – Mary McLeod Bethune, Last Will & Testament

In my previous post Class is (Not) in Session, I mentioned that one of the best submissions to the Juicy J contest was made private when the winner of the contest was announced. Since then YouTuber Miss Kimari has made the complex submission public once again and I hope you’ll not only take a look but you’ll take multiple looks at what a complicated representation of self is in an age where context collapse (having the context of who you are, where you came from, what you really mean to portray from your POV) denies viewers a complex understanding of black girlhood and black female agency and consciousness.

I want to thank  Dr. Treva B Lindsey, a professor at Ohio State University, who introduced me and the participants  at the December 2013 Gender, Sexuality and Hip-hop conference sponsored by the Anna Julia Cooper Project at Tulane backed by Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry.

I have begun interviewing Miss Kimari about a week ago and I’d like to share one thing she shared with me.  I asked her several questions that are helping me ethnographically understand what is happening inside being a practitioner of twerking. Kimari is an undergraduate student at a major university in the so-called Dirty South where twerking is common body language. She has had an online identity since about 2005 on MySpace as a ninth grader and has “shut down” a couple of her YouTube accounts to manage her public persona, which was something I was not expected to hear from her. My preconceptions of the women who might twerk for the contest was stereotypical until I started studying the phenomenon and remembering the dances I did at her age and beyond as part of the black expressive vernacular communities of music and dance.

She said one thing that struck me. I wasn’t surprised as much as I was struck by my own past identity as a college student, as a black female student, who had never learned that black people even went to college before Civil Rights until I went to a school, the University of Michigan, that had a significant black presence on faculty and among the graduate students. What she shared reminded me of both the empowerment that comes with learning about being black in America and the disempowerment that comes from learning more about patriarchy and sex oppression.  I am paraphrasing from my notes because I haven’t yet transcribed the recording.

Miss Kimari (paraphrasing): Last semester I was learning about black women’s struggles in the transnational state in all of my Africana classes and what I learned was who I am is a problem and that’s what I’ve seen my whole life. The way we talk about stereotypes. the way we reproduce them…it kills people living this reality.

In the video, Miss Kimari lets us see her black feminist textbooks and her twerking. She has video, the context of which gets collapsed, from when she danced professionally in a former iteration of her life, and video of her teaching classes at college. She consciously presents views of race, gender and sexuality which the generalized other on YouTube and other social media channels might consider challenging to their moral or societal values about young women and their freedom of expression in this day and age. But she has agency. She is exploring and quite consciously and, as her withdrawal of her video from YouTube suggests, she knows she is not completely in control of it all.

We live in a world of radical openness and we often, I can attest, learn our mistakes in highly public ways that can be emotionally traumatizing before we realize that we left the doors to our safety unlocked. While we think we see what we are doing when we create a video of twerking or even a personal vlog, we are totally unawares of the infinite ways that chunk of media could have not only now but in the infinite nows that will live as a result of our transmission.

It’s hard our here for a black girl. But this is the new context of our self-construction and it’s not just a adolescent age thing. Anyone on YouTube or social media is slowly learning the very old lessons once taught by Reconstruction era grandparents. This is why when I was a girl we had oratory lessons in our privatized spaces. Practicing how you present yourself to a general audience mattered and it still does. But YouTube is a mixed space where things that were once private and local and highly publicized, persistent (you may never get rid of it online) and no longer personal.

Would love your thoughts about how you manage your online identity but also invite you to consider HOW you online interactions are reshaping the construction of your SELF. Once online, always online. Be careful out there!

Be Curious and Question!
Kyra

Juicy J’s 50K “Scholarship”: “Class” Is (Not) In Session

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

Juicy J & WorldStarHipHop.com Presents the Scholarship Contest

“It is impossible to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding.”
― Upton Sinclair

Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina)
A moins ce que le lion ait son propre narrateur, le chasseur aura toujours la belle part de l’histoire. (French)
Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (English)

When I first heard about the Juicy J $50K scholarship back in September 2013, it was a black male student who brought it to my attention as part of the Black Girl YouTube Project. I remember discussing it with him and saying, “What happens when she goes off to college and everybody knows. ‘OH!!! She’s the one! She’s the one who twerked in the $50K video. Oh!!’ So, what happens when the business professor sees the video??” Ryan agreed and said he’d thought about the same thing. Managing one’s future identity is not always something late adolescents can see.  Many do not have the cognitive ability to do so yet.  I added, “And what happens when the football team learns about it?!?” The Steubenville rape case involving two high school boys dragging a girl like a jump rope from party to party raping her without consent was still fresh in my memory from months earlier. Consent has been on my mind a lot lately.

I also thought “there will be no privacy for the girl who wins that scholarship.”  Perplexed, I simply thought that young women entering the contest really just wanna get the money. It was all about “makin’ it rain” as the strip club “proverb” goes. That was my gut reaction and boy I was wrong. I had not way of seeing the issues of class that would come along with a twerking contest for college.

Since late November, I’ve seen many of the submissions by black and non-black college women. Some of the videos are brilliant, one in particular by Miss Kimari who I recently interviewed was made private [but is now again available, click the link] since the results were announced. She is concerned about her future identity and needs to stop, think and plan. She’s been quite cautious with her identity online. Like Miss Kimari’s video, some involved twerking, others didn’t.  One submission by a young, naive black woman from Illinois named Rashyra was extremely vulnerable–sharing her history of trouble with several times in lockup and attributing her problems to an absent dad. I thought that was not only costly relative to putting it out there in a YouTube video to persist on the Internet forever, but also costly relative to the kind of social negotiation that students take for granted when entering college. People are watching and judging you. I didn’t always think this way, but radical openness is a risk not everyone can afford to take.  The winner from Rashyra’s submission, and many others, was actually Juicy J who got a strong shout-out from her to any viewers: please, download his “Scholarship” single. It’s only $1.98 on iTunes. Free promotion on the backs of broke and recovering college girls. Yeah, stay trippy, alright.

The actual winner Juicy J selected, Zaire Holmes, posted a video that I thought was savvy in its execution and self-presentation. She rapped to open the video and rhymed “straight As” with with “I need more than just…financial aid.” It was cute, seemingly innocent and genuine. Zaire edited in appearances by her references including her boss and friends. She talked about being a single mom, and she was by far not the only single mom in the lot.  She made a bold appeal for wanting to become a doctor, citing that it would take her 11 years and she would use the funds to cover her lab fees. YES!  It was a great college interview. Still, I was convinced  Juicy J wouldn’t pick a woman who didn’t twerk. I thought even less about what would happen if he did and what the implications were for so many who occupy the position recognized as the feminization of poverty happening domestically and around the world.  This is a case for how complicated issues of male privilege and gender oppression have gotten in hip-hop despite certain dominant trends:

Sexual and gender relations inside and outside of the African American community are shifting in relation to three important discourses: (1) the mainstreaming of pornography culture, (2) black capitalism and consumption, and (3) post–Civil Rights colorblind racism.

Perhaps you’ve already read the brilliant post by @ProfessorCrunk aka Dr. Brittney Cooper for the Crunk Feminist Collective’s blog critiquing Juicy J’s reversal around the context (“It’s not always about shaking your ass”) as if he didn’t originally intend for girls to “make it rain” by twerking as the credit he’d use to sell his “Scholarship” single and make more profit. Yes, no twerking required…now, he claimed in the winner’s video.

Zaire says at the end of the video, “a lot of people thought you had to twerk but you just had to read the rules.” And Juicy J chimes right in, “See that’s what you get for shaking your ass and thinking you were gone get some money. It’s not always about shaking your ass.” (B. Cooper)

I’d been checking the special HipHopWorldStar website for the last 8-9 weeks waiting anxiously to see who would be the chosen one.  I first thought race was the issue that stood out with the submissions since a majority of the top-rated and most-watched videos found on that site where submitted by white women, mostly blondes with hundreds of thousands of views compared to the black women’s submissions that had less than 2,000. I speculated that this could be evidence of structural inequalities that were once called the digital divide as whites have better access to larger networks simply by privilege of their race and some non-blacks who would see liking the non-black videos as an opportunity to strike blow against at demoralization of American work ethics which most do not see in rap, among working-class blacks whose pants sag or who twerk, and even the products of Affirmative Action on the college level didn’t really earn the access they got. (Ask me about my alma mater University of Michigan and the anti-Affirmative Action cases that have set back admissions for minorities across the nation.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 10.37.52 AM

The thing that really stood out to me about this contest was the issue of class (SES) relative to the “baby mamas” who were predominately white. There were a number of submissions by white women who are mothers trying to finish college also working 1-2 jobs. In every one of these videos that I saw, the white woman always chose to twerk. Ironically, most of the black and latina women chose not to. Class was playing a bigger role than my racial lens  allowed me to see at first glance. But in any case, what most concerns me right now about twerking are  issues of sexualization. Whether the women in this contest were white or black, what impact is this having on younger and younger girls in the U.S. given that these videos will also be mediated and shared via YouTube.

Earlier today, while researching this subject, I read about the cognitive and emotional consequences of the sexualization of girls in an executive summary of a report by The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. It read:

“Cognitively, self-objectification has been repeatedly shown to detract from the ability to concentrate and focus one’s attention … While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. In the emotional domain, sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.”

Obviously, there is more to say but let me return to the contest and a specific video Juicy J released recently.

THE SEMI-FINALS

I wanted to post the “semi-finalists” video (above) released on Jan 8, 2014 to highlight the group of women that were selected to appear in and represent the deliberation of the contest. Juicy J’s objectifying, misogynist and patriarchal commentary is worth noticing.

Among the 10 women semi-finalists featured:

  • 7 were non-black; all of them twerked
  • 1 of the 10 seemed to be a woman of color (not black nor white); she twerked, too
  • and 3 were women of African descent or black women

Clearly,  post-racial “colorblind” politics were at work in both who submitted and who they chose to represent here but I don’t have it all worked out enough to respond about that but I can say that designations of class abounded among the women. They discussed how many jobs they held while going to college, and I would even consider identifying themselves publicly as parents in these videos was a particular salient aspect of class when it comes to college. Pregnant mothers or the appearance of being a single mom is just not talked about where I teach. Far too many colleges today don’t even offer childcare for professors much less students. And yet the women twerked. What’s more interesting is that none of the women included their kids in the video. It’s consistent with male rappers rarely saying anything about their family life in their rapped realities.

[CORRECTION: There are videos of mothers with their children. I had not seen those videos yet. A YouTube search for “Juicy J Scholarship Contest” produces about 66,700 results!!  Really considering doing a study of just these videos and thanks to a blog post by Monique John, another twerk-ologist writing on the same topic, for pointing this out for me. It appeared a few days after my post and featured a video of a mom and her son. Please read this millenial’s great post on the ladies of the contest.]

Before I close, let me share that I just can’t get Juicy J’s evaluation among the semi-finalists’ videos out of my head.

One of the semi-finalists, a black woman named LaDawn from the University of Miami shared that she currently had 2 jobs–one part-time, one full-time. Juicy interjected: “Work-work-work- work-work, and now she’s gonna twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk-twerk” and then he judges her twerking for the audience it’s “not that good” and “it’s kinda boring.”

Another black woman, Krysisha from a university in Milwaukee, uses “special efx” that catch Juicy J’s eye. She never mentions anything about twerking or not twerking. “I am really tryin’ to go to graduate school, y’all. I kinna wanna be an A&R, PR, or tour manager, or maybe all three!” she says. Juicy pensively responds: “She wants to be in the music business” and adds with sincerity, “I think that’s really inspirational.” O_o

A white woman named Emily who attends the University of Southern California painted a mural of Juicy J saying “I painted you, ratchet hoes, [and] dollar bills]” He interjects “I need to see more than you painting a picture, [and] smoking weed.” When hear her video continue “I signed my name on a stripper’s ass” pointing to her own work. Talk about intersectional oppression gone wild. #ijustcanttonight

Women from the West, the Midwest, and the Dirty South all vie for one $50K scholarship from one rapper. A rap mogul who has an estimated net worth of 20 million dollars.

WAITING FOR MY INTELLECTUAL BEAT TO DROP

I need some time to really think about this implications of this contest. From one perspective, this contest gave working-class women who twerk a reason to voice concerns that have rarely if ever been a part of hip-hop, not by male rappers or female with the exception of perhaps Lauryn Hill (can’t think of others at the moment). From another perspective, it was promoted by the Miley Cyrus mainstreaming of twerking and Juicy J’s capitalization on the exploitation of girls and young women in college.

The ongoing challenge for feminist researchers and researchers of color is to fully investigate the effects of commercial hip-hop, while avoiding the limiting nature of the “politics of respectability,” the historically black middle-class ideology of “proper” womanhood and “controlled” sexuality (Reid-Brinkley 2008; Rose 2008). The politics of respectability should not prevent black women, as rappers or video dancers, from exploring the full terrain of black women’s sexualities. However, the banner of “sexual freedom” also cannot be used to ignore the uniform and prob- lematic caricaturing of black women and girls’ sexuality (Ransby and Matthews 1993). [Quote from Margaret Hunter, “SHAKE IT, BABY, SHAKE IT: CONSUMPTION AND THE NEW GENDER RELATION IN HIP-HOP,” 2011]

CLASS IS (NOT) IN SESSION & THERE WILL BE A TEST

I titled this post “The Class is (not) in Session” because I was really thinking of how relevant issues of class were in the submissions. Issues including respectability politics, socioeconomic class, the feminization of poverty, the lack of available funding and loans for college that wouldn’t leave you in debt for life and much more.  I have to remind myself to not let my feminist investments blind me from the intersectional politics that I am just beginning to see which were not predictable before. They still require study and cannot be pulled up so quickly since the issue of azz everywhere still grabs the focus.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.53.05 PM$50K might go a long way for one woman and her child, but the fact that all these seemingly single woman–none self-identified as married–of all ethnic backgrounds were in some form of despair about their education such that twerking might become a way out of no way for them was telling. I can’t even wrap my head around the issues of gender identity that come up on these videos. I’ll leave that to the capable hands of folks like Bettina Love.

Whenever people look askew after I tell them I am studying twerking, it is moments like this one surrounding the Juicy J contest that remind me that this kind of scholarly and cultural work is worthwhile and truly justified. Black girls on YouTube need critical theory about the larger politics at work when they twerk. Someone who’s danced like them and who’s learning how to twerk but who someone who has some distance from its pleasure politics to explore its costs and pains.

OK. That’s more than enough for tonight. More blogging soon. I am deep in fit of writing finishing an article about the context collapse of self-presentation on YouTube and our collaborative documentary is coming soon, too.