Introducing #TwerkTech2

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For about two years or more I’ve been toying with teens and technology and the implications and unintended consequences particularly for black girls or under-resourced girls from marginalized communities.  These communities are rarely represented in videos circulating around the web about social media and screen time.

Girls’ online interest-driven activities–those stepping stones to self-actualization and adulthood–are often stigmatized and stereotyped in networked spaces like YouTube or Facebook. It leads marginalized kids to seek out platforms like Snapchat thinking they are protected when their snaps actually were not deleted or disappearing. It also leads many black girls to seek Tumblr because there is not textual engagement with any uploaded content. Other users leave notes rather than comments providing an affirming space to self-present online.

The technology concerns I am interested in are more about humanizing a group of people who are socially alienated by networked publics. Black girls’s online content tends to be disliked in Generation Like more than their non-black and non-female counterparts.

Studying the misogyny and the sexploitation surrounding young girls’ twerking videos on YouTube has helped me think about the breakdown that can result from others’ judgments of their content and how that then affects their ecological fitness. I wrote about this is the chapter “YouTube, Bad Bitches, and a M.I.C.” in the Hip-hop and Obama Reader edited by Travis Gosa and Erik Nielsen:

Most girls, even the “smart” girls, simply do not yet have the biologically developed cognition needed to process and counter this commercial onslaught of distorted teenage relationships: their frontal lobes will not fully develop until after ages 20–23. Nor do most adolescents and teens have ample“fitness” to do so—defined here as an organism’s capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment. This includes emotional, mental, and conversational fitness in what are political exchanges for sex, love—and, yes, money—in local and global economies.
Many teens (and adults, for that matter) have not learned to resist the socio-biological pull of their libidos and hormones, which are too frequently directed by the flow of corporate-market music with its twisted myths of romantic seduction. (Gaunt 2015, 221)

 

My aim is to empower those black, brown and/or poor girls who are unlikely to learn to code or elect to study a STEM or STEAM in school or college. Their digital media literacy is perhaps even more important this the lesser number who will go into tech careers. They will be moms, sisters, caretakers, community leaders, health advocates, fitness seekers, and they need to learn how powerful the mobile apps they already have can be in empowering just about any aspect of their adulthood and ambition in their personal, professional,  and physical wellness.


[Ecological fitness is] defined here as an organism’s [or a girl’s] capacity to transmit, reproduce, and create a surplus of those things material and immaterial, biological, linguistic, and transactional (the exchange of goods, services, and funds) that it needs to thrive in a particular environment.


So I came up with an idea from studying thousands of twerking videos featuring tween and teen black girls’ bedroom culture. My mission is to get black, brown and poor girls who use YouTube and other SNSs in musical interactions that often involve their body or dance to extend their online interest-driven activities into tech applications and mobility, too. Thus, the idea of #TwerkTech2.

Join me this weekend at the Rutgers Digital Blackness conference on April 23 at 3:30pm as I present my latest ideas and thoughts about a project I dreamed of almost 4 years ago. Then I called it “Cookies in the Hood”. The reference here is about computer cookies and adulthood (as well as neighborhood, childhood, labiahood or sexuality and intimacy training, and more).

Fitness takes time and planning; seduction is easy and quick. Fitness takes healthy eating, movement, and education; seduction is cheap and fast. Seduction requires nothing of you to participate. In fact, it trades on a naïve notion that your future is far away and that what happens now will not matter later. Why can’t girls as content
creators shift that seduction? It seems so accessible with YouTube—why isn’t it happening? (Gaunt 2015, 221).

Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer. “They are designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.” What if we took this same concept and restored it to thinking about sovereignty of mind and body as well as the autonomy or learning to DIWO (do it with others) without threats or obligations to others? That’s another way of saying autonomy = wealth. A wealth of skills, capital, and human and non-human resources that all you to “do as you see fit.”

So, that’s what I am up to these days. That’s what I’m going to present about at the Rutgerts University DIgital Blackness Conference this weekend.

Here’s a couple of videos — one for parents and teachers and one for kids and teens — from a great organization Common Sense Media. There mission is to “improves the lives of kids and families by providing independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.”  These videos give us insights into the need for new digital media literacies and conversations about the unintended consequences so girls can grow up online free from harm AND free to express themselves and explore technical ways to twerk their user-generated content on any platform.

 

 

Bibliography:

Gaunt, Kyra D.YouTube, Bad Bitches, and an M.I.C. (Mom-in-Chief) ): On the Digital Seduction of Black Girls in Participatory Hip-Hop Spaces. The Hip Hop & Obama Reader, 2015a, 207-26. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199341801.003.0012.

“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.

Danah Boyd “It’s Complicated”

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

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

 

Grrrl, have I been busy! #sheworkshardforhermoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.