Saturday, February 20, 2010

Appropriating Attire

In the first part of two panels on "How Race, Ethnicity and Class Shape Digital Media Practices and Activism" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, session chair danah boyd encouraged a range of scholars to speak about research about Internet practices that constitute a form of racial profiling online.

The session began with Alexandrina Agloro's analysis of how the website Stardoll was used by working class girls of color in a youth center with a computer lab. Agloro argued that white defaults and racial coding of attractiveness shape behavior in ways that might be familiar to those who have seen Kiri Davis's A Girl Like Me in which the young filmmaker restages the famous pre-Brown v. Board of Education white doll/black doll study and gets similar results decades later.

Since I've had a lively exchange with Henry Jenkins about "Multiculturalism, Appropriation, and the New Media Literacies" and what I call the "Vanilla Ice Problem," I was particularly interested to hear Heather Horst's presentation about YouTube responses to Jamaican dance hall music by white participants. Horst focused her analysis on ways that the "Dutty Wine" dance had been redone by non-Jamaicans in videos like this and this and how Jamaicans viewing these videos might react very negatively to forms of appropriation that might be celebrated by others. Her reading of "culture, class, and race" in terms of "phenotype" and "inscriptions on the body" suggested a number of interesting avenues for YouTube research.

Next Katynka Martinez looked at how "home in where the humor is" when it comes to a young boy creating a game called "El Imigrante" that satirizes the realities of Latin American life in Southern California. (As a college student, he later went on to suggest a PacMan game in which the UC Regents serve as ghosts.)

Lisa Nakamura closed the session with a great presentation about racialized trash talking among professional videogame players, whether they be elite competitors with corporate sponsorships or Chinese gold farmers toiling in industrialized gaming.

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