The American Academy of Children & Adolescent Psychiatry expects the multiracial children population to be one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. Individuals who identify as “raceless” and who have offspring are increasing the population and the likelihood of having more progressive children. Although the number of mixed-race-families are increasing, the label of whether a child is black or white will be tougher than ever. In my presentation I explore many popular offspring of blended families still face the struggles of what box to check.
After reading Racist Visual Rhetoric and Images of Trayvon Martin by Lisa Lebduska, I can see clearly how scopic regime is the difference between the way our culture constructs fiction and fact. To every story, there are some elements that trigger a reaction in us and determine specific ways of seeing. In order to make sense of the things we see, we visualize an image that takes place in the scopic regime. Why is it that images and videos have such an impact on us? I would have to say that it’s because imagery and visual mediation is such powerful tool that it can both alleviate pain and stress and cause pain.
In today’s society, imagery plays such an important role and sadly, many of what we see in social media can often be damaging and volatile. A rumor posted on social media can rapidly and extensively spread and in the case of Trayvon Martin, the media has conflated images and texts collaboratively tell the story of such a tragic case. The question can be asked, why does some videos go viral while others do not? On both sides of the Martin and Zimmerman’s case, there has been a deliberately “engineered” action to use viralty to spread content and mobilize support. As Jones and Hafner stated “One important though sometimes neglected aspect of digital literacy in the ability to use digital tools to manage, distribute and focus attention.”
Clearly, it is the rhetorical influence that viral videos have upon the public to control how we exchange information and related to each other. As participants in online discourse communities and social networks, it has become very easy to share mutual interests, help one another with questions, voice complaints and share experiences and information.
As many of you know or may not know, I was born in Jamaica— an island with an ancestry of both Taino and Africans. Before I migrated to America, I never labeled myself as black, non-white, non-hispanic because those terms did not exist in my vocabulary or culture– I was Jamaican and then I came here. For many immigrants there is a unwritten language that you have to know here without being directly told that the language even exist which is to categorize yourself. One of those subtle languages you are expected to know is the language and the history of race in America. Race in America is extremely sensitive, there is almost no way to desensitize the terrible implications of slavery.
First, I must say that as an outsider, it is unique paradigm to see, you are a part of it but in many ways your are not. There is the white world and the black world– no mater what country you are from you are forced to choose a category. I don’t make the rules, that just how it is in America. We are encouraged to create a three fold color scheme where white, black and shades of grey exist but the reality is the predispose and reinforced dichotomy only exist with two shades and the American media reinforces it every single second they have. And for any second you think that it does not exist then you are too naive or you have been privileged to have not seen the murky waters.
There are people who are forced to categorize, label or identify, whatever they are calling it now, as one or the other and then there are those who identify as raceless individuals. Not to discount their reasoning on identifying as a “raceless individual” because it’s quite a utopian view, however let me remind you that this is America we are talking about. You cannot afford to choose because the choosing has already been done for you, the choice has been made. In Lisa Lebduska article “Racist Visual Rhetoric and Images of Trayvon Martin” she toys with the idea “Whether we see, what we see, and how we see it is determined by tacit cultural conventions and regulations.” (1) The truth is or at least my truth is, you can’t change it because you can’t undo slavery, you can’t undo racial tension, the eyes can’t unsee it, you can’t rewrite the past and you can’t change the past. You can’t prevail in America as a raceless individual because it won’t allow you to, you have to choose black or white or by some chance you may be both but nonetheless you still have to choose. You are not afforded the luxury of not seeing color or any features that expose someones’ ancestry because the American conventional views does not allow it. The ways in which we see a person, and how we see them are influenced and will continue to be influenced by the traditional ways of thinking of the already established, non-changing paradigm of America.
So where do we go from here you may be asking and my answer is I don’t know.
“Allocca explains there are three characteristics of the viral video that cause a spontaneous and rapid growth in views and cultural experience: tastemakers, creative participating communities, and complete unexpectedness (Cohen & Kenny 123) .”
Social networks are large communities of there own with videos that come and go everyday. The most recent video is of the Drake Hotline Bling music video.Drake’s video became an internet sensation for those three reasons listed in the quote. Viral videos have become such a large part of American because the element of surprise and the creativity that comes out of different discourse communities brings out a mixture of entertainment with internet success.
On the more serious side of viral media is the racial debates that come out of viral images. In the article Racist Visual Rhetoric and Images of Trayvon Martin, Lisa Lebduska explores the impact visual performances have on society. In the Trayvon Martin case the most direct influence on the views of the public came from the many ways the media and both sides portrayed Martin and Zimmerman.
“President Obama framed the event’s visual significance when he observed, “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,”directly challenging the racist scopic regime he has confronted throughout his political career (Lebduska 2).”
Discourse communities can no longer argue that an image presented does not change and fuel racial debates. In Zimmerman’s trial the racial fuel that was allowed because of the uncensored distribution of images that show the same two people in multiple different lights.
The issue that I feel is most relevant in this matter is whether the image with ever stay true to its context. A common issue in racially fueled discourse is that a single image can change the course of a trial and erode the justice system as the meme does with politics.
My final thought on the viral video/image is this:
If an image has so much power, why can it not be used for the building up of a more sound culture?
According to Haffner and Jones, “attention is distributed not only across screen space and virtual space, but also across physical spaces” (86). This rings true in the horrific event of the death of Trayvon Martin which gave rise to the ongoing discourse of racism.
In the simultaneous productions of discourse communities geared towards the tragedy, these discourse communities structured their attention first by interacting with each other via visual images of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Photos surfacing onto the internet depicted Trayvon Martin as one of three different characters: “a true the black child, a menacing black criminal, and an average teenager” (Lebduska 1). Discourse communities surrounded the ongoing case by distributing their attention in a particular communicative situation by understanding cultural conventions and regulations surrounding the case. Ultimately, that is determined by what each individual discourse community sees and how they see it.
Discourse communities that arose to advocate for or against both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, were influenced by three characteristics described by the linguist Ron Scollon as :
1. As persons with all of their memories and experiences to the social relationship they have with other people
2. The relationship they have with other people.
3. The kinds of communication tools that they have to help organize attention in specific areas.
“Digital media are having an effect on the kinds of attention structures that people adopt in a whole range of different situations” (Jones & Haffner 88). The distribution throughout the internet also brought about the social action of physically commit together outside the realm of the web to advocate for justice for Trayvon Martin. Attention is distributed amongst mental structures, social relationships and communication tools and in the case of the George Zimmerman trial; mental structures formed discourse communities within the web, social relationships emerged due to the discourse communities within the web, and through the communication of technological tools, both the discourse community and social relationshipswere able to thrive.
At the same time, “digital media and the internet facilitate participate in this economy, by creating new channels for distributing attention” (Jones & Haffner 90). Because there were multiple photos circulating the internet, people were able to focus their attention on their perspective of Trayvon Martin. Was he just an innocent victim who was killed because of the color of his skin? Or was he a ruthless thug that had it coming to him? Variations of his photos convey a different interpretation for a lot of different people. The only two people who truly knew him was his parents and people only speculate and force their opinions onto society because digital media grants the affordance of letting anyone say how they think and feel about situations.
Every day when you log onto any social media platform you’ll see whats currently in the news, the weather and you’ll also see the current viral sensation. In some cases these are memes in others they’re videos. Take for instance the viral parodies of Drake’s song Hotline Bling over the course of a week these videos have been remixed with all sorts of intent, other dances, pizza making and more. They’re widely known now and every discourse community has had their hand in making a unique one.
So how do these things take off? Why do they take off? In the case of the Drake videos its because they’re funny and people loved to remix them, in other cases like the UC Davis incident of Lt. Pike pepper spraying peacefully protesting students for no reason, the videos go viral out of anger and support for those wronged. Very often on social media we see viral videos of excessive police force, animal abusers and other social justice issues. By sharing the video we show support, solidarity or complete opposition adding our two cents in with the share.
This is the case surrounding the visual component of the Trayvon Martin case. Lisa Lebduska goes through the viral web of images used to play the case out in the media in Racist Visual Rhetoric and Images of Trayvon Martin. “Power and inequality themselves have long been mediated by visual practices across and array of media” (page 1) she introduces the idea that racism, like many other global issues, is amplified and reinforced with the use of social media. When the Martin case hit the media it was met with a firestorm of circulation, prosecution and outrage. Battle lines were drawn and some virally reposted images of Martin as a wholesome family kid who was judged because of what he looked like, while others, including Zimmerman’s defense team, took typical teenage myspace images and blew them out of context in an attempt to make Martin a villain.
One of the most circulated images was the one of Martin and Zimmerman juxtaposed. It shows Martin smiling at the camera, the image of Zimmerman was a 2005 mug shot (page 2). This image was created to push public cry for the indictment of Zimmerman painting Trayvon as cherubic (page 3) and honest, using an image of him in a Hollister brand shirt which is often associated with middle class (page 2). Carefully choosing the image was everything as Lubduska points out it was “a martyred child is easier to convey than the nuanced complexity of a human teen…..” (page 4).
That then ties in to the statement made by Trayvon’s mother Sybrina “People want to make this a black and white issue, but i believe that this is about right and wrong. No one should be shot just because someone else thinks they’e suspicious” (page 3). In the media the story was pitched from as racial standpoint which is why the media in favor of indicting Zimmerman chose images of Martin smiling, with family and doing things like snowboarding over “human teen” behavior photos because doing so would only amplify the stereotypical images also circulating.
Whenever we see an image it is often always accompanied by a story, that story however does not always accurately depict the picture and vice versa. “…Images are not things. They are relationships that we create.” (page 6), this powerful closing is everything. Images are what we propagate them to be, when made viral they can have a lasting and dangerous effect.
When smart phones came into play so too did the affordance to make and capture video anytime and any where. When social media sites arose so too did the affordance to share those videos instantly. Take for example, in recent updates on Facebook viral videos of the same category can be aggregated together making it easier for Facebookers to watch videos relating to the same topic or theme. This curation generates more viewers and allows for more participation.
Facebook is a multimodal platform. It allows for the sharing of text, image and videos unlike websites such as WorldstarHipHop. Worldstar is a video sharing website essentially like YouTube. It shares videos ranging from talent exposure to criminal and sexual content. However, Worldstar has become the platform for posting violent videos that have been purposely captured. It has become an epidemic in a way; a fight breaks out, the cell phone goes up, and someone yells, “WOORLDDDD STARRR” which indicates that someone is recording with the intention of posting the video on that site. Worldstar unlike YouTube does not censors their content and for this reason it has made them a powerhouse platform. So what is it essentially that has allowed Worldstar to become such a major viral video hosting sensation?
One, the platform hosts some of the rawest, raunchiest, stupidest, and coolest videos to surface on the internet. Secondly, it is the epitome of controversy. The videos posted are ethically and morally provoking and for this reason it has become a platform that people flock to in order to view the latest most provocative video. As mentioned in, Lebduska’s article on Racist Visual Rhetoric, pathos and ethos allows us to attach ourselves to the medium. We feel ethically responsible and even though we become morally currupted from viewing the posts we somehow need to watch them in order to be a part of the conversation and to contribute to the debate against such acts. As in Cohen and Kenny, ” You have to somehow feel that, if you don’t share it, you may be doing someone a disservice by leaving them out of the loop” (117). We take upon ourselves to actively participate and add to the circulation because we feel as though we owe it to other people to see these acts. We share, tag, like, and comment these videos into a viral sensation without truly understanding what in fact they are promoting.
Thirdly, it is a platform that promotes the type of videos it hosts. Violent and sexual content is posted daily and mostly by a younger generation. Those who post these videos are trying to raise eyebrows. They want and crave the attention and will go to far extremes to achieve it. “While digital media have undoubtedly given people the tools with which to attract attention, some are concerned that this is leading people to do ‘anything; as long as it generates attention.’ (Jones and Hanfer, 92). Even in the example of America’s Funniest Home Videos, viewers purposely sent in videos of sometimes violent accidents all in the hopes of winning the titles of funniest home video.
Platforms like Worldstar promote the violent video it hosts and in a way beg for the participation. Sites such as this allow and urge users to not only to view the video but also create them. You have to ask yourself how far will we go in order to become viral sensation?