Re-appropriating Connections and Networks on YouTube

In a recent feature by KVUE ABC, it has been noted that a particular trend is emerging – the re-appropriation of YouTube into a physical appearance rating platform for adolescents. The question of “am I ugly?” seems to be one that teenagers are asking anonymous audiences. The focus of this article is on young girls, specifically, with no mention of boys; the raise for concern stems from the consideration that self-esteem levels are volatile at this age, as well as the consideration that these girls are soliciting “words of truth” from strangers.

Before dissecting the article, it must be noted that the author presents a quote that creates some discomfort for the analysis of this article. Although the title makes the insinuation that it is to target YouTube specifically, a statement from the interviewed professor, Stella Lopez of the University of Texas at San Antonio, says otherwise: “When they open themselves up to social media, such as YouTube or Facebook, you are going to get a wide variance of responses. And responses may be very positive and encouraging or it could be very nasty.” Hinting at the use of Facebook to create “anonymous” queries has not been otherwise outlined in the article, and considering that, I will continue my argument from the standpoint of these questions of appearance being posed solely on YouTube.

Academic Rebekah Willett offers her observations on adolescent user of social network sites in her article “As Soon As You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad: Young Consumers and the Discursive Construction of Teenagers Online.” She states that youth are able to express themselves and perform their identities through updating and customizing their profiles. On a similar thread, academic danah boyd offers the idea in her piece, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life,” that adolescents have moved into this particular space on account of the fact that they have “no where else.” It is to say that this particular online space that MySpace offers can be claimed as “their” own, much like how the mall was considered to be a hangout for adolescents in earlier years.

As opposed to using the Internet for the means of transitioning their offline social communities to online ones, these girls are in fact making use of the space afforded to them to disengage from offline communities. In effect, what is being observed is the mentality of creating one’s own space, as opposed to the group mentality of creating a collective space with individual elements. Granted, YouTube does allow articulate networks similar to Facebook of “friend/subscriber lists,” but the focus here is the articulation of adolescent females who primarily focus on receiving “feedback,” as opposed to the usual reciprocal behaviours found in network sites of both sending and receiving messages.

In some ways, it can be inferred that this particular behaviour of abandoning the communal public space in which one is easily recognized as, not necessarily an attempt, but rather, an echo to the notion of subculture and counter-hegemony (Hebdige 1979). It is to say that this action of creating another identity, one that is personal but at the same time anonymous, is one that is not considered the norm, and goes against the established cultural values now in place (of being identifiable, contacting only those you know, etc). That said, it should noted that subculture is neither inherently good nor bad; subculture simply goes against the norms in place.

To add, the use of YouTube (in opposition to Facebook) is a curious choice, but one that may be easily explained. Where Facebook concentrates solely on the articulated network, YouTube (as well as Pinterest and Tumblr) also disseminate the produced information to the larger network on hand, meaning that all users of the particular website have access despite not necessarily having a direct connection to the uploader. In effect, and in theory, there is an audience immediately available to “review” one’s body, whereas to create an anonymous or inauthentic account in Facebook would require an unrealistic amount of effort to garner an audience by friending random persons as a means of acquiring a sample group.

Coming back to boyd, where the allusion is made of MySpace to the mall, it could be considered that the “anonymous” account on YouTube is the teenage bedroom, and the YouTube audience merely acting as the mirror with its replies. Such an idea can easily find itself tying to Willett who considers the social network to permit for the construction of self, which in turn draws similarities to Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman’s notion of the “front stage.” In effect, the questions of “am I fat?” on YouTube are the backstage, where the real self is able to express his or herself.

Blog Post 3: “New Girl”

In the first season of the television series “New Girl,” the main character, Jessica Day, finds herself the butt of a YouTube joke. This occurs specifically in the 14th episode, entitled, “Bully.” The story line is this: Jess Day is an elementary school teacher who believes in the power of song as a teaching technique. One day, a young boy requests to stay behind and eat lunch in the classroom alone; Jess is concerned, and so he confides in her that he is being made fun of—the other kids in the cafeteria have started playing a game titled “Coin Slot,” which consists of putting pennies in this poor child’s butt crack. When the class returns from lunch, Jess and the troubled student stand in front of the class while she sings about why bullying should stop. Meanwhile, all of the students watching this phenomenon all have out their cell phones, video recording the show. Later that evening, her roommate shows her a YouTube video in which she is starring. Basically, Jess Day’s head has been put onto a sparrow’s body and the song is playing in the background. During the song, a bird continuously poops on her head. Although she sang the song only a couple hours before this, the video already has over 1000 views. The person who has posted this video is a girl in Jess’s class.

(Also in the same episode, a man in his late twenties takes a photo of his genitals and sends it to his partner, whom he asks later, “Did you receive my junk mail?” Although this man is not considered “youth,” it is interesting to note that even though this sexting scene is not one of the most important in the episode, it is still included.)

This incident is framed in a way that most social media site users are familiar with, although they may never have been the butt of a SNS joke.

The three readings which I will compare the “New Girl” YouTube incident I’ve found to are: “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of the Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life” by danah boyd, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” by Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, David Finkelhor, PhD, Lisa M. Jones, PhD, and Janis Wolak, JD, and ‘‘ ‘As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online” by Rebekah Willett.

First, “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of the Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life” by danah boyd explores the idea that youths are exploring another public when they are exposing themselves and their works on social media sites. She goes on to say that although their access to their sites is regularly restricted due to uneasy feelings stemming from adults (parents, teachers, etc.), it is the older population’s responsibility to learn from what the youth is experiencing on social media sites in order to help them navigate these sites more intelligently and effectively. Coming back to “New Girl,” Jess Day’s solution is to watch the video through, read the comments, and get a feel for why this video was posted. In class the next day, Jess Day calls up the girl responsible for posting the YouTube video to the front of the classroom and has the girl sing a duet with her in front of the entire class. She states, before the song begins, “Camera phones are encouraged!” This video also gets posted on YouTube for the world to see.

“Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” by Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, David Finkelhor, PhD, Lisa M. Jones, PhD, and Janis Wolak, JD confirms that sexting is not the norm when it comes to youth use of social media. However, as “New Girl” suggests, social media can be (and has been) used for other degrading tasks, such as bullying. Its layout is similar to a pamphlet, and it’s use of tables and diagrams really enhance the readers’ understandings of the argument; I feel that it’s just as accessible and “user-friendly” as the scene portraying the YouTube bullying.

Finally, the article, ‘‘ ‘As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online” by Rebekah Willett, considers that social media a way of creating a youth’s identity through reaching out to a variety of communities and audiences. This also rings true for the “New Girl” video as the girl who posted the video is solidifying her role and identity as a bully through reaching out to an almost infinite and ever expanding audience.

“I’m a creep. You’re a creep. We’re all a bunch of creeps.”

Jenna Marbles is a YouTube personality that creates and posts new videos weekly. Viewers usually determine the topics of these videos—she takes into account what her audience is requesting of her, and she complies. These topics range from “People That Piss Me Off At The Gym” and “What Girls Do In The Car,” to “How To Avoid Talking To People You Don’t Want To Talk To.” The first video has been viewed 6,701,617 times and the second video has been viewed 14,728,128 times. The third video has been viewed 18,828,074 times. (All as of Feb. 16, 2012).

I have chosen explores relationships through a social media lens as well as “creepers.” Aptly named, the video’s title is: “Creeps on the Internet.” It was published on YouTube on Jan. 4th, 2012.

The video begins with Jenna Marbles talking about the shirt that she’s wearing and goes on to make a pop culture reference (“War Horse.”) She introduces the topic by stating that she has been thinking about this subject for a while and that she has some thoughts regarding it.

First, she makes it clear that she “fully respect[s] and support[s] everyone’s right to stalk others via the internet.” She supports her opinion telling the reader to imagine all of their “friends” on FB, YouTube, Twittter, Tumblr, etc. and evaluate how many of those “friends” you’ve actually met in person. She then says that “If you’re watching this video, there’s a chance that some of you have never met me, because I haven’t met twelve million people.” After giving various other examples (ie. following celebs on Twitter), she raises a valid question: “Why do you do anything on the internet that doesn’t involve you… or your mom?”

She proposes that “the reason social media is so successful…is because people have this natural curiosity about what other people are like, whether you know them or not.” She then says that when you FB stalk someone, you get to know him or her, and they become your “friend that lives on…104 Internet Street.” She admits that she’s an internet stalker.

She is okay with random guys (whom she doesn’t know) posting inappropriate comments on her photos; she justifies this by stating that “maybe it’s just his way of telling you… ‘Hey girl…’” She then explains that “we’re all different,” and as such, all of our “line[s] of appropriate is a little different than yours.”

She then raises an interesting point: “If you had never internet stalked that person at some point or another, you wouldn’t know that they’re crazy! Zuckerberg did you a…favor! You almost dated that girl.” She furthermore proclaims, “We, the people of the Internet, just need to accept, and admit, that we’re all a bunch of f*cking creeps. We…love stalking each other’s sh*t…Endless hours of…entertainment.”

She ends the video by stating: “I’m a creep; you’re a creep; we’re all a bunch of creeps.”

Jenna Marbles’s weekly videos do two things: 1) Each video offers her opinion on the viewer, and 2) each video entertains the viewer. The setting in which her video takes place is a bedroom, so the viewer may feel like he or she is over at a friend’s house (Jenna Marbles’ house). This creates a friendly feeling between the viewer and Jenna Marbles. Bringing her dogs into the video at the end also reinforces this feeling of actually knowing Jenna Marbles. If her argument was stated in a more formal manner, and the setting was a conference, for example, some of the points that she makes may be taken differently or viewed in a different light.

Compared to the manner through which the stories in Life 2.0 were presented, the Jenna Marbles video was more personal and didn’t offer any bias. She went through her logic for coming to her conclusions well, and she did not. One thing that would have bolstered her argument would have been examples of her “creeping” on Facebook or of others “creeping” on her Facebook or YouTube channel and her reaction to those posts.

I personally don’t think that it should have been presented differently; the reasoning she uses is completely her own, and I think that by creating a comfortable atmosphere, her opinion lands more on the viewer as another way of looking at things, rather than the way you should be looking at things.