How Sexism Plays Out on YouTube

“I want to both have sex with her AND strangle her to death. But in which order…?”

That’s the disturbing question user menace8012 posed recently in the comment section of “I Gotta Feeling,” a Black Eyed Peas parody by YouTube star iJustine, posted originally in July 2009.

The response? A few joking replies and little else. Not a single person objects or scolds the users. No one even clicks the “dislike” button on menace8012’s comment.

The incident is evident of a larger trend on YouTube, where sexist attitudes towards women run unchecked. It’s not just the trolls or haters in the comments section of videos; YouTubers have cyberbullied women based off their appearance since the site’s inception.

Menace8012’s comment, and the community’s response (or lack thereof), may seem extreme to the casual YouTube community safarian, but it also perfectly portrays why so few women have found success on YouTube. Many women on YouTube try to avoid this negative sexist environment by cloistering themselves in the beauty section of YouTube, but that does little to combat the anti-women sentiments running rampant throughout the rest of the site.

Like rape apologist ideology, YouTubers who silently upvote, or in this case “like,” menace8012’s comment are implying iJustine deserves the threats and derogatory comments she gets, daily, because of the way she looks and dresses. Sometimes in her videos, the blonde, blue-eyed and pretty iJustine wears a tank top and lip gloss, and that little bit of sexuality occasionally sends both genders into a sexist frenzy. Read the rest of this entry »


When I was Late on September 11th

me with twin towers

Me at the Statue of Liberty trying to point at the plane flying over the WTC

The train had rocked most of us on this New Brunswick to Penn Station train to sleep but not me; My MP3 CD with 100+ songs burned from Napster had not yet lost its novelty. I was listening to the Cure as a good teen Catholic high school pseudo-goth when a man sitting by the window blurted out, “there’s a fire!”

We were about to go under the tunnel, still on the New Jersey side. When the buildings cleared again before we descended under the river the few people that had gathered peered out but the angle had changed, or the wind picked up. We didn’t see anything. “I saw smoke” said the man. “I really did.” We were unconvinced, and returned to our seats. I focused on the task at hand: filling out a yellow slip and forging the signature of my school’s lobby receptionist.

I was late, really late, and when you were late at my school, you had to check in at the front desk to collect a slip, which you then gave to your teacher. Once you collected three, you got detention. I was late a lot — my parents had moved out to New Brunswick for the birth of my step-brother and I was having trouble catching the 6:20 train every day to get to school on time– which is where the stolen packet of late slips came in. On September 11th, I was on the 8am so I was “missed first period” late.

Riding the 6 train and running the couple of blocks to my school felt odd but I attributed it to rush hour being over. A classmate let me in the side door and I bounded up the stairs, my teacher waving my late slip away not even bothering to sign it. Class was not in session, everyone was talking about the Twin Towers. That man on the train was telling the truth!!! My chemistry teacher burst into the room and ordered everyone into the basement. We were under attack. The Pentagon had just been hit. Read the rest of this entry »


I want to be part of the poetry comeback crew, please

I convinced VICE to publish a gossip column/industry & conference review as a poem yesterday. So yeah, I am serious about this.

Why poetry? Because when it comes to story-telling, it is the most efficient form. Least input, brain fills in the rest. Imagination hacking, if you will. I love making the reader unpack things, toying with words.

A resurgence of mass public interest in poetry coincides with Twitter’s 140 character limit, I have to mention this. There is a certain beauty in brevity when you consider the infinite space on the web… and data caps. (Vine too, if we want to go multimedia with this)

Poetry even looks like programming!

Given the following as precedent, poetry going mainstream is not far fetched: You have Weird Twitter poets, the alt lit crowd, teens writing poetry on Tumblr (more accepted than when I was doing it on deadjournal as a preppy goth, too). Dan Sinker’s expletive-filled Twitter parody of Rahm Emanuel (however unfunny) still got turned into a book deal. Twitter account Shit Girls Say becomes a live web series. And then you have Patricia Lockwood writing an incredibly well-received poem on a personal experience,  titled “Rape Joke” on The Awl. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m not the only one who sees Subbable’s impact on AdSense & the YouTube economy

I present you with a comment, from the  YouTube community, that I ran into the other day:

subbable defranco pls join


Why don’t more people care about Subbable’s arrival?

TL;DR ->  it makes AdSense obsolete. 

I tried to sell a story on Subbable earlier this week. Oh gods how I tried. ReadWrite, the Guardian’s tech section, even Variety… but I failed to generate interest, and/or communicate just how drastic of an impact Subbable can have on the YouTube space, business-wise.

To most of the press, Subbable appears as a gentle, crowd-sourced monthly pay-what-you-want subscription platform funding web shows that already exist.  Doesn’s seem that disruptive,  until you consider the allure of YouTube.  The heart of the indie YouTube dream is being free, or at least above, corporate influences. If successful, Subbable  could potentially do away with the advertising/hit-mining rat race on YouTube.  Hank Green doesn’t exactly say this in the video introducing the platform, but he might as well.

In a private chat, I got Green to elaborate:

“Advertising values all kinds of content the same, but different kinds of content delivers different amounts of value to users. We want there to be a system that rewards the creation of stuff people love, not stuff that people will spend three minutes watching when they’re bored.”

Subbable — which is unaffiliated with YouTube — changes the YouTube money-making game because it emphasizes community and a supportive fan base over viral hits with fleeting popularity & large monetary payoffs. It’s a slow, steady win as opposed to that big payday.  (It’ll be interesting to see how the addition of Minute Physics, Wheezy Waiter, and Andrew Huang  next week on Subbable will play out. )

Green never came  right out and said this during our chat but it got me thinking: if a content creator worked it out with his fans, he or she could essentially never bother monetizing their channel…EVER. There’s literally no reason now to go through Google corporate to make money. Their high ad cut and ad sales team are already  alienating users and businesses, so why bother with that hot mess? You don’t.

I, for one, still believe in that YouTube dream.


Thanks Rolling Stone and Tsarnaev, I guess, for legitimizing the cellphone selfie

My favorite time to take selfies is when I am drunk and alone in the bathroom. I tend to take the majority of them while inebriated, actually, and online evidence proves even middle-aged women do the inebriated selfie in the bathroom too.

Yes, even the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, when he wasn’t sober, whipped out his cellphone and took selfies. And one of these non-sober self-portraits (speculatively) is on the cover of Rolling Stone right now and making a name for itself as the most controversial selfie on our planet.

Media critics are calling Rolling Stone everything short of evil for using his selfie photo as cover art, never mind that Instagrammed self-portraiture is becoming a legitimate form of art and feminist self-expression. This universality is exactly why the self-portrait of the young and handsome (and murderous, don’t you forget) Tsarnaev as cover art choice is outrageous. How dare we relate to a killer! How dare a magazine make us feel this way! If I were the art director over at the Rolling Stone right now, I would be creaming my pants: this is the type of feedback creative types have wet dreams about.

Tsarnaev’s selfie effectively normalizes him, and as the three-day long controversy has shown, we just cannot deal with that. We would rather depart reality and delude ourselves into thinking national-headline-making killers are ugly and have nothing in common with us than see them engaging in everyday behavior. If we could somehow magically teleport to a place where we all believed Tsarnaev didn’t know how to operate a phone, we would.

In fact, to portray Tsarnaev as ordinary is dangerous, they imply, because in order to feel better about the bombings we need to see the differences, not the similarities, between ourselves and the cruel killer. It sounds absurd, but this is more or less what the critics are saying. The New York Times thinks this kind of madness is a result of the heatwave. Possibly. I think it might be a combination of Tsarnaev’s image making fresh the horror of the bombings, much like that just-healing summer scrape you accidentally pick at only to have it start oozing.

The selfies we share on the web are supposed to be the best reflection of ourselves. This skewed mirror is precisely why the Boston Globe in a Thursday post echoing the collective rage calls the use of the selfie “ill-advised” and “irresponsible.” While many of us cannot fathom Tsarnaev’s terrorist intentions, we can all relate to photographing ourselves and dare-I-say-it, creating a typically blemish-free personal brand online. The self-portrait via cellphone is a “language we all understand,” but …we don’t want to understand a bomber. Please don’t make us understand one.

This now infamous selfie, originally displayed on Tsarnaev’s twitter profile, was the “mask” he chose to portray to the world and glorifying it by featuring it on a rock-and-roll magazine is akin to “collaborat[ing] with Tsarnaev in the creation of his own celebrity,” continued the Boston Globe.

Need I remind everyone, Tsarnaev was already a “celebrity” before his Rolling Stone cover, having graced the front pages of newspapers the world over with some even featuring that same image. Rolling Stone is not responsible for this mass media interest, the spread of the photo, or for Tsarnaev’s fanbase of young girls cooing over the soft locks in his approachable selfies. To suggest Rolling Stone is appealing to Tsarnaev’s misguided female fans by choosing this already-widely circulated photo when this same criticism was not levied against the New York Times, is logic I’d only be able to process if my head was in the sand.

CVS banning the sale of the magazine in its shops (and now Walgreens too), and folks celebrating this decision, is akin to saying “monsters must be clearly portrayed as monsters, or else.” Who wants to live in that black-and-white society, presumably filled with bad art? Not me. (Not to imply Tsarnaev’s selfie as cover photo of a magazine is good art — it is in fact the opposite for a variety of reasons and not just because of the bad captions.)

The disconnect between the villain within and the exterior shell of Tsarnaev as a potential sweetheart through his selfies is precisely why the self-portrait should be used for feature-length pieces about his descent into terrorism. But don’t just take my word for it.

Cover Think points out Rolling Stone’s cover is “doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.” The Washington Post writes “the photo in question jibes with the impression of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that has emerged from countless interviews with friends and schoolmates” before calling the cover art choice “an accurate and journalistically responsible portrayal of this young man.”

To not use the photo as cover art because it humanizes, then, reveals a willful ignorance on the modern human condition. It is not only “irresponsible,” but bad journalism too. Art that elicits strong emotions is powerful, but banning it only increases its strength.

We can’t will away Tsarnaev’s cellphone, his looks or his seemingly normalness, just like how we can’t will back the lives and limbs his actions stole. And maybe that’s okay, because sometimes we need to see the similarities between ourselves and the villain in order to help us understand the differences. Cellphone selfie and all.

As for the cellphone selfie as legit art form, well, this controversy took care of that.


Guide to this year’s Techweek in Chicago, as a non-dev/programmer/entrepreneur

This is a guide for people who are more interested in the cultural and societal implications of technology from a non-technical background. (I’d recommend attending all the “future of TV/media”  talks as a  beginners guide to video distribution and social media use.)

Thursday, June 27th:

The US  First Robotics Challenge, from 12pm – 4pm.

“US First’s mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

KIM DOTCOM WILL BE SPEAKING at “The Downloaded Era: Battle for Internet Rights“, 4pm – 4:30pm,

“The debate around how we should view the concept of intellectual property and copyright in the digital age has continued since the launch of Napster in the ’90’s until today. Why is file-sharing still so limited and how has it affected the world at large?”

Friday, June 28th: 

Funny or Die‘s “When Humor is Serious Business,” from 11:00am – 11:30am, featuring Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover. (I have an inkling what Glover will discuss, but being as I have never heard him speak, he might surprise me.)

“Funny or Die is now synonymous with Internet humor…What makes their business model so successful? How do they acquire high quality content with a low budget? What does the future of Funny or Die—and Internet entertainment in general—look like?”

Digital Art; From Easels to Pixels, 12:00pm – 12:30pm

“Art infilitrates everyday life, and every surface, object, or open space is fair game for medium. See how artists are incorporating technology into their work, whether as a means to an end or as the finished product itself. These people are innovating on what it means to be a traditional artist and the burgeoning interest in creating art meant to be consumed in digital form.”

The very ambitiously titled “How the Second City Can Become the First in Fashion,” 5:00pm – 6:00pm

“Take the tech from the West and the high-end fashion from the East and meet somewhere in the middle. Where do you end up? Chicago, of course. Combining the best of both coasts, a slew of Chicago startups are leading the pack in terms of the merging of high-tech and high-fashion.”

Saturday, June 29

In the wake of Hasting’s mysterious death and the conspiracy theories suggesting his car was hacked I feel compelled to attend “Driverless Cars: Speeding to the Future,” 12:30pm – 1:00pm

“While flying cars are still just a figment of our collective imagination, self-driving vehicles—such as the Google Car—are on the imminent horizon. Not only does this technology have the potential to prevent millions of injuries and save countless lives, it also has the power to disrupt the flow of trillions of dollars in industry revenue. Nearly everyone will be affected: suppliers, automakers, service-and-repair shops, insurers, energy companies, hospitals, and car rental companies, to name a few. Undoubtedly, there will be huge implications for all transportation and logistics—the backbone of every company’s supply and distribution chains.”

Entrepreneurship in Eastern Europe, 1:30pm – 2:00pm

“Eastern Europe’s tech scene is small but growing. Find out what Google is doing to facilitate the growth of the tech sector in Poland and beyond, what ideas are brewing in that corner of the world, and how they plan to impact the future.”

 “Is the Internet Destroying the Middle Class?,”  2:00pm – 2:30pm


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