original
(courtesy of The Atlantic)

It’s been a real struggle for me to talk about Donald Trump.

No, not because he’s an extremely unpleasant subject. I mean, that, sure. Though to be honest I’ve been talking about him a lot in various places. I wish I could ignore him – and the whole damn election – entirely, but this is not how I cope. Or my coping mechanism of choice isn’t altogether a healthy one, and it is to become totally and utterly obsessed.

Don’t ask me what my curated news feed largely consists of. Don’t ask me how many political podcasts I currently follow. Don’t ask me how frequently I check FiveThirtyEight, and how much emotional weight I attach to numbers which are, after all, not objective but instead mediated through and interpreted by human beings. The point is that I’m obsessed, which means that I’m immersed in the way you and I and we all talk about Donald J. Trump.

‘scuse me a sec.

*MUFFLED SCREAMING*

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A substantial part of my graduate research work focused on the vernacular creativity of Chinese digital media users. In practical terms, this meant participating in various local social media platforms and collecting content that my contacts shared through chat applications and posted on their personal social media feeds. Given that most of my friends and acquaintances knew I was doing research about 网络文化 wangluo wenhua [Internet culture], it wasn’t uncommon to receive proactive updates about newly-minted slang terms or hot-button funny images of the week, often accompanied by detailed explanations and personal interpretations of the content in question. Sometime in 2014, right at the beginning of my actual fieldwork, a friend from Shanghai sent me a stylized image of a frog with teary eyes and pouty lips on the popular chat application QQ. “What is this?” I asked. “It’s 伤心青蛙 shangxin qingwa [sad frog],” he replied. “I see… but do you know where it comes from?” I continued. “Hahaha, no, I don’t… it’s just funny, it’s really popular now on the Baidu Tieba forums, I got it there. There’s many versions of it.”

“I’m so sad I mutated”, one of the Pepe images I collected on Chinese social media platforms.
“I’m so sad I mutated”, one of the Pepe images I collected on Chinese social media platforms.

In fact, I knew that the vaguely humanoid frog was Pepe, a character originally appearing in Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club comic series that had by that time already become an archetypal figure of American digital folklore, circulating from relatively unknown bodybuilding forums to massive discussion boards like 4chan and Reddit, and mutating from his trademark “feels good man” comic panel into an endless series of self-referential variations and meta-ironic phenomena such as rare pepes. The fortuitous and unpredictable popularity of Pepe, rising from one among many characters of an independent comic to paragon “Internet meme”, has been amply chronicled as one of the most evident examples of how the creative practices of digital media users can near-instantly put anyone or anything under the spotlight of “Internet fame”. Matt Furie himself, reflecting on the unexpected rise to fame of one of his artistic creations, describes the cultural dynamics evidenced by the circulation of Pepe in terms of “post-capitalist” vernacular creativity: “It’s like a decentralized folk art, with people taking it, doing their own thing with it, and then capitalizing on it using bumper stickers or t-shirts.” more...

md

Some time ago, I spoke with a reporter regarding the Internet virality of Michelle Dobyne of “ain’t nobody got time for that” fame. They intended to run a ‘where are they now’ follow-up piece on Dobyne’s life post ’15 minutes of fame’. In the end, the TV clip and its companion article condensed our 8-minute interview into these anonymous soundbites:

“We asked a noted social media expert what makes a video viral worthy. She said catch phrases and exoticism, something that takes us away from our routine lives.”

“Our expert said what Dobyne and other viral video stars are able to do long term with their 15 minutes of fame is anyone’s guess.”

Since much of what I had to say about eyewitness virality, racism, and journalistic responsibility did not make the final cut, I later transcribed my conversation with the reporter and wrote it up.

Eyewitness virality

In January 2016, Michelle Dobyne gave an eyewitness account after her apartment complex caught fire. In the original interview, her catchphrase “Nuh-uh, we ain’t gon be in no fire. Not today.” and her overall decorum caught the attention of the television crew, who then put the clip up on Facebook. And well, you know the formula. The clip went viral. Dobyne became a meme. Romantic and commercial offers were rumoured. Semi-officious merchandise became available.

Three months later, the news network decided to run a follow-up piece on Dobyne. As it turns out, not much of her material circumstances have changed despite her transient internet fame. Rinse and repeat. The saving grace? Kind strangers started a gofundme page for Dobyne. The backlash? Her neighbours feel “overshadowed” by her fame and are still struggling post-fire.

I am going to call this phenomenon “eyewitness virality”: The proliferation of television news interviewees, many of whom are themselves victims of the unfortunate event being covered, who attain overnight but transient fame through the news networks who curate and disseminate their eyewitness accounts on social media as humour and clickbait.

But Dobyne is just the latest addition to a string of eyewitness viral stars: more...

harambe

On May 28th, 2016 a three-year-old black boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  As a result a 17-year-old gorilla inside the pen, Harambe, was shot, as the zoo argued, for the boy’s protection. Nearly three months later, on August 22nd the director of the zoo, Thane Maynard, issued a plea for an end to the ‘memeification’ of Harambe, stating, “We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe…Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us.” By the end of October, however, despite turgid proclamations to the contrary, the use of Harambe seems to be waning.

The six-month interim marked a significant transition in the media presence of Harambe, from symbol of public uproar and cross-species sympathy to widely memed Internet joke. The death and affective trajectory of Harambe, therefore, represents a unique vector in analyzing intersections of animality, race, and the phenomenon of virality. Harambe, like Cecil the Lion before him, became a widely appropriated Internet cause, one with fraught ethical implications.

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rigged

Pundits across the political spectrum have expressed outrage at Trump’s continued insistence that the presidential election is rigged, and seem quite scandalized at his stated unwillingness to agree, apriori, to accept the final results.  Trump’s critics argue that his distrust of the election process threatens to destabilize U.S. democracy by undermining the ideology of citizen-driven governance. It is horrifying they say, and more than that, his claims are dangerous.

While a smooth transition of power is indeed a hallmark of democracy, there is a distinct disingenuousness about the breathless moralizing against Trump’s claims. It’s hard to ignore the sharp dissonance that emerges when broadcast journalists report on the economics of campaign finance, the political collusion and corruption revealed through an email leak, and then, without even the interruption of a commercial break, turn to Camera 2 and condemn Donald Trump for questioning the integrity of the democratic process.   more...

 

Tina 0631

[Caveat: The discourse around bodies with uteruses is most often framed in cis-sexist binaries of women and men. The essay below is an analysis of that discourse, and as such occasionally slips into this language to accurately present the arguments therein. Trans and non-binary people are notably missing from this discourse. I’ve tried to avoid cis-sexism where possible.  Comments and criticisms are welcome whether in the comment section or by writing to me/messaging me on Twitter: @bsummitgil. I hope I have done this conversation justice.]

You may have seen the recent hubbub about 19 year old self-proclaimed meninist Ryan Williams, who recently declared that women should just hold their menstrual blood in. Specifically, they should just keep that nasty stuff in their bladder until they get to a toilet. The argument was primarily an economic one: women do not deserve free tampons (though his response was actually in regards to the movement to end taxes on tampons, not to make them free). If women are so weak that they cannot hold in, they should see a doctor to have a “procedure” that will give them the “self control” they need to stop using menstrual products, as any demand to reduce the cost of these products makes them “cheapskates.”

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In March 2013, at Microsoft’s annual research and development event TechFest, a new project was introduced that aimed to let “users interactively explore the full chain of events whereby individual news stories, videos, images, and petitions spread from one user to the next over a social network.” The program, in effect, aims to understand how content spreads through a social network such as Twitter. By aggregating large amounts of data and tracking how users share things on their Twitter accounts, ViralSearch turns the transmission of content into a visually friendly genealogy of media, which Microsoft terms its “virality.” The more descendants a video has, for example, meaning those who have shared it (which is broken up into generations, or subsets of users that represent one wave of shares) the more viral it is according to ViralSearch’s virality percentage. More than this, it actively differentiates between virality and popularity, by looking precisely at how the information is shared. As researcher Jake Hofman says,

This is what people sort of typically have in their mind when they think about one of these viral videos, but nobody’s really been able to actually look at the structure of these things to date. And so what we’re able to do is going through these billions of events we reconstruct these trees by looking at all the followers of everyone who adopts the content and using a large cluster to reconstruct these things and then a novel scoring method to actually distinguish this tree as being viral from just being popular.

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Science from Tenor
source

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi at my synagogue gave a sermon about four themes, all of which he felt needed addressing when there was a larger crowd than usual (though, it should be noted, the sanctuary was sparsely filled, especially compared to the SRO crowd the day before): racism, sexism, anti-semitism, and “the war on science.” As he recited off his list, the first three items made perfect sense to me; I was even proud to hear him cover current events like the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump’s misogyny and how they are understood within Jewish tradition (hint: the first one’s good, the second one’s bad). That fourth item, though, piqued my curiosity a bit.

Since when did a war on science begin? Is it like the ill-fated War on Drugs? Or the ill-fated War on Terror? Or the ill-fated War on Poverty?

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Credit: /u/megapenguinx

When I first encountered the subreddit me_irl it was, in general, about two things: anxiety and communism. I hit the subscribe button so fast I sprained my finger. Since then, me_irl has changed a bit, though anxiety and communism are still central topics. But over the last year or so, the sub has become a bit more… meme-ey. Or may may-ey, depending on your dialect. Me_irl has increasingly consolidated around short-lived memes, and in June /u/thoompa noticed that memes had a shelf life of approximately one month. Thus was born the “meme of the month” idea, and all through September some great memes lived high on the hog, getting large numbers of upvotes and creating a self-referential circle jerk that gave new texture to the sub.

calendar

Credit: /u/thoompa

But then, tragedy struck. For the first six days in October, no memes rose to preeminence. It became known as the Great Meme Drought of October, when chaos reigned and dankness was few and far between. Some users tried to prop up The Bear In The Big Blue House as the new MotM, but others saw this as farce, for that meme was not fresh enough. Then, the skeletons arrived, thus sparking the Great Meme Civil War of 2016.

meme-civil-war

Credit: /u/Fyrus93

But out of this chaos, a curious thing happened. A deluge of memes flooded me_irl. One day, it was Goosebumps, the next The Crusade and trebuchets, then Bionicle and Ken Bone and on and on. A new meme came to power each day, mirroring the instability that has followed civil wars throughout history. Some found it frustrating—they couldn’t keep up, the memes were changing too rapidly. Some said they were low-quality Facebook memes. But others heralded it as The October Meme Renaissance of 2016. more...

psycho shower scene

On May 13, 2016 the Obama administration issued a letter of guidance concerning the protection of gender identity in school housing, restrooms, and locker room facilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter was largely seen as a reaction to a March 2016 law passed in North Carolina, HB 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which limited public restroom use to one’s assigned at birth gender. On August 21, 2016, however, a Texas U.S. District judge blocked the federal government from implementing that directive, instead arguing that Title IX aimed to “protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.” The district court applied a similar logic to HB 2 in arguing that gender identity was strictly “biological” (e.g., what one’s birth certificate says).

The district court ruling, in line with several others this year, relies on and perpetuates a number of transphobic beliefs which seem apropos to mention here, namely: a normalized definition of biological sex, the notion of trans bodies as illegible, impure, or incomplete, the forced hypervisibility of trans bodies through constant surveillance, the public fixation on genitalia as a ‘true’ indicator of gender identity, and the displacement/occlusion of responsibility for anti-trans violence. It is, in particular, the contemporary mobilization of a politics of shame, manifest through the aforementioned practices, however, that I would like to hone in on.

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