5 Digital Lessons, pt. 3: Practicing Non-Violence (the real way)

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”
― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

I love how my work sits in the between spaces of girls’ musical expression in games and twerking and male expressions in commercial/mainstream hip-hop music. Doing this new work on twerking seems so relevant to my earlier research the deeper I get into it. I love to write about music between the sexes in ways that allows race, gender and generation to come across in my interests to show the socialization processes at work as an ethnomusicologist.

So here’s one final lesson, though it’s really an afterthought while writing the previous two posts (see 5 Digital Lessons part.1 and part. 2 for the larger discussion but here are the 4 previous lessons I outlined:

Lesson #1 Websites containing YouTube videos can disappear.

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

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

Lesson #4: Stay Calm and Keep Love Alive

And now #5 reserved for throwback Thursday. After hearing John Lewis speak on MLK day for the second time, the latter via a podcast, it’s led me to think about the ways non-violence, the actual study of what it was back in SNCC activist Ella Baker’s and Dr. King’s time, what it might mean for a scholar like me today doing work on gender and sexuality within black cultural studies. We black feminists studying hip-hop do this out of love. Love of community. Love of music. Love of blackness as a cultural signifier of our time and place in the world. But I never really got present to the root of nonviolence being love until John Lewis talked about it that way.

It helped that Sunday night I witnessed love as music by Toshi Reagon and a host of African American singers I love and adore as musicians and people at the Public Theater of Joe’s Pub. So the notion of what love means as active participation in struggles have been very real for me relative to music this week.

Lesson #5: Practicing (and Studying) Non-Violence Can’t Hurt

I heard John Lewis speaking yesterday in an On Being podcast from Krista Tippett that I regularly follow. He talked about what “Love” meant practicing non-violence in the face of viscious attacks by whites who claimed then to hate black folks. In an aside, he said the Dr. King used to jokingly tell them “Oh, just love the hell out of ’em anyway!”

Lewis talked about the discipline, practice and study required to learn to be “non-violent.” It wasn’t some romantic idea as some young generations seemed to believe. Doing this kind of work on twerking, black girlhood and hip-hop has required a similar same kind of love–discipline, study and practice–in the face of hearing popular male voices now broadcast 24-7, anywhere, anytime, and being able to access explicit video content the same way. It takes something to learn how to protect minors from the possible cognitive and emotional harm that is no longer protected by the FCC with these privatized platforms that seem to be free-sharing sites. Sites that now promote a different kind of “hyper-masculinity” via new media, in quantity not necessarily quality; where we are bombarded by visual and aural images naming “females” bitches 24-7 as well as emasculated men (if you need reminded watch Slaughterhouse defend such positions back in 2012).

Mainstream hip-hop’s gendered discourse seems designed to seduce girls and grown women into patriarchal bargains where our affection for their music content as fans may be making even emerging feminists complicit in a queer form of economic oppression that also has emotional and social consequences in gender relations, both romantic and non-romantic in nature. Gender is not simply a conversation about sexuality in hip-hop. It serves any number of unrelated ends aside from sexuality as Lewis Hyde once defined (1983).

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.