[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3

Kelly Norris Martin kellynmartin at gmail.com
Sat Dec 12 07:52:21 AEDT 2015

Maybe not a discipline – but an aspect of visual culture specifically
located and enacted most powerfully within social media. In my opinion,
selfies and their relation to rebellion and agency is one of the most
interesting threads through this discussion.  Mehita’s discussion of the
black women celebrities and non-celebrities related well to Derek’s
discussion of how many subjects in selfies are alienated or subjected to
misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. I was struck by his mention that
“Perhaps the persistence of these social/cultural/ideological degradations
is the real terror.” This reminded me of a study by  Murthy, Gross and
Pensavalle (2015) in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication where
they found that although there was “a core of influential, young Black
Twitter users… their influence did not necessarily translate into
traditional media, government, business, or other sectors.” This idea of
translation seems key to how we study selfies in their historic place as
how they may play out as a phenomenon.

On Fri, Dec 11, 2015 at 9:36 AM, Jonathan Schroeder <jesgla at rit.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thanks, Mehita.
> I am wondering how the focus on the selfie phenomenon will develop -- if
> it will become just another aspect of visual culture or media studies (one
> of the things about current interest in the selfie is the wide ranging
> research perspectives, from internet studies to psychology to art history,
> of people who are writing about them.  In other words, how will the selfie
> as a disciplinary topic play out. I think of Africana philosopher Lewis
> Gordon's book on Disciplinary Decadence, which critiques disciplinary
> knowledge from a critical and postcolonial perspective, what he calls a 'as
> a teleological suspension of disciplinarity.'
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <
> empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Mehita Iqani <
> Mehita.Iqani at wits.ac.za>
> Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2015 4:17 AM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear All,
> I've been following the conversation with interest, thank you all for your
> contributions and Jonathan for adding me.
> As I'm about to go on annual leave (it's our long summer break here, in
> South Africa), so I'm going to have to limit myself to this one email, and
> then try to catch up on what I miss once I get back online in the new year.
> I have two contributions to make.
> 1. The boom of recent scholarship on the selfie is really fascinating. I'm
> really looking forward to the Kern conference next year where I'm certain
> we will see even more original perspectives on this empirical object. I
> think that one area where more research is required is into the ways in
> which selfie-taking and sharing is a kind of identity work. That is, a move
> from the aesthetic of the selfie (where I position my own interests) and
> towards the ethics of selfie-taking. What do people mean by this kind of
> image-work, and what does it mean to their own ideas of self? One of my
> graduate students, Jess Pereira, is currently researching this question in
> relation to middle class young women in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has
> undertaken extensive in-depth interviews with her participants, including
> tours of their Instagram profiles, in order to understand not only how they
> self-present in social media spaces, but what that self-presentation means
> to them in terms of their c
>  onfidence, ideas of beauty standards, and accusations of narcissism. I
> think we need more studies like this, as types of selfies proliferate and
> new technologies emerge that facilitate new ways of "selfie-ing". Jess is
> still working through her data, but we have found that her participants
> (all relatively well-off, educated young women from a variety of ethnic
> backgrounds) are acutely aware of the ways in which their selfies produce
> particular narratives of themselves (for example, as professional, or as
> someone who doesn't "care" about looking good), yet at the same time who
> have internalised practices of self-management and work on the self so
> deeply that they insist that they are "doing it for themselves". I think we
> need more studies like this, which explore in detail what people say they
> do with selfies, and why, and what work they believe selfies doe for them
> in their everyday lives. Although I have worked on celebrity selfies
> myself, I think need a move towards the ev
>  eryday, the less spectacular selfie, in order to develop a vocabulary and
> theory for how selfies have become normalised as an everyday activity. This
> is a project relevant to all genders, but I think it will have particular
> resonance for feminist media scholars.
> 2. As well as the paper Jonathan and I wrote together, which he has
> already mentioned, which aimed to position the selfie as both a commodity
> form and consumption practice embedded in relations of power, I have
> written a bit about how celebrities use selfies not only to promote their
> own brands, but to make powerful statements about aspiration, consumption,
> sexiness and race. In  my recent book, 'Consumption, Media and the Global
> South: Aspiration Contested', I devoted a chapter to looking at the
> aesthetics of  the selfies of six black African celebrities, each of whom
> has received public attention for something to do with skin tone (they are
> either "bleached and proud" or "dark and proud"). In that chapter, '
> Celebrity skin: Race, gender and the politics of feminine beauty in
> celebrity selfies', I argue selfies are an important empirical site through
> which discourse about femininity, sexiness and different narratives of
> "black beauty" are at once reinforced and challenged.
> Here is a short extract from the chapter, which elaborates on these themes
> a little:
> "How does the politics of post-feminine sexiness coalesce in the visual
> forms of communication of digital self-portraiture? It is clear that
> post-colonial female subjects and their images do often "enter global
> realms of representation and discourse", and by so doing they "can, and
> sometimes do, assert agency and resistance" that defy simplistic renditions
> (Shome, 2006: 258). Selfies by black women celebrities are most certainly
> evidence of agency. But to what extent could they be theorized also as acts
> of resistance? Arguably, the image of a strong, sexy, proud, beautiful,
> talented, successful and wealthy black woman stands as a powerful statement
> of presence and pride. In the context of the racist histories of South
> Africa, the United Sates, Brazil and the damaging legacies of colonialism
> in other African contexts, it cannot be denied that white supremacist
> values have shaped media and cultural representations for decades. As such,
> it is extremely significant that elite bla
>  ck women are entering global media spaces in order to promote their own
> profiles, businesses, and brands. Arguably, the advent of mobile phone
> photography, social media and digital sharing have made it possible for
> women of colour to insert themselves into the public realm in ways that
> they were previously denied. As such, they are able to provide a new visual
> repertoire about beauty: this can be read as an act of resistance against a
> perpetually racist mainstream global media culture.
> Selfies from young, sexy, relatively wealthy and successful young back
> women can also be read as a direct challenge to the patriarchy. In dialogue
> with work by Rachel Spronk (Spronk 2012) on yuppie sexuality in Nairobi,
> Dina Ligaga argues that in the context of African patriarchal cultures,
> single, independent women are often considered a threat to the status quo,
> and that their displays of independence are therefore ridiculed and derided
> in popular culture as a form of discipline against "new" cultures seen as
> disruptive of the social order (Ligaga, 2014: 252). Although in Kenyan
> media "good time girls" (university women who use their youth, sexiness and
> beauty to trade for material benefits from older men) are derided and
> condemned, they are also treated with fascination (Ligaga, 2014: 252):
> "This woman is a source of great moral anxiety because of her apparent
> freedom, living as she does away from the normalizing structures of family,
> church and school" (Ligaga, 2014: 252)
>  . Similarly, black female celebrities represent an acute form of
> independence and agency. Through whichever avenues, they have reached their
> goals of recognition and a certain level of income: they are free to do as
> they wish, say what they wish, and present themselves as they wish. Their
> selfies to some extent threaten the power structure of the patriarchy by
> virtue of their mere existence. On the other hand, however, the wholesale
> buy-in to a very narrow repertoire of beauty and sexiness (framed, yet
> again through the lens of heterosexist desire) could be read as a betrayal
> of the myriad other forms of femininity that are still excluded from the
> public stage of the media.  In the genre of celebrity selfies, the female
> body enters a new context in which it functions both as "a sign of a
> cosmopolitan imagery through which neoliberal consumerist logics are
> circulating" (Shome, 2006: 259) and as a new, exotic inscription of
> post-feminist sexiness. The exotic is tamed and disci
>  plined by the post-feminist commercial ethic, which welcomes racial
> difference only to the extent that it intersects with a version of gender
> acceptable to the neoliberal patriarchy. Yes, these women have achieved
> public recognition and have "voices" that are listened to, and faces and
> bodies that are looked at. Would they have received the same amount of
> adulation, attention and respect if they did not fit certain prescribed
> boundaries of feminine beauty?" (from pages 192-3 of my book).
> I'll leave it there for now. Again, I offer my apologies for not being
> able to follow the rest of this conversation too closely in the next weeks,
> but I look very much forward to catching up on it in the new year.
> All the best
> Mehita
> Mehita Iqani
> Associate Professor in Media Studies
> School of Literature, Languages and Media (SLLM)
> University of the Witwatersrand
> Room 3064, Senate House
> Private Bag X3
> 2050 Wits
> Tel: +27 (0)11 717 4123
> Email: mehita.iqani at wits.ac.za
> www.mediastudies.co.za
> My books: "Consumption, Media and the Global South: Aspiration Contested"
> (2015); "Consumer Culture and the Media: Magazines in the Public Eye" (2012)
> Critical Research in Consumer Culture Network:
> http://consumerculturenetwork.wordpress.com/
> The Newsstand Project: http://www.thenewsstandproject.org
> ITCH Magazine: www.itch.co.za
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jonathan Schroeder [mailto:jesgla at rit.edu]
> Sent: 10 December 2015 03:32 AM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space---------------------- In a recent
> paper, Henry Giroux excoriates much of selfie culture, particular in terms
> of how selfies are implicated in state surveillance and capitalist uses of
> selfies as data. However, he does leave room for potentially constructive
> uses of the selfie.
> He writes "The good news is that selfie culture can also be used to
> rewrite the relationship between the personal and the political, and in
> doing so expand the vibrancy of public discourse and work to prevent the
> collapse of public life. In this case, selfie culture moves away from the
> isolation and privatisation of neoliberal culture and further enables those
> individuals and groups working to create a formative critical culture that
> better enables the translation of private troubles into public issues and a
> further understanding of how public life affects private experiences. In
> contrast to the mainstream appropriation of selfie culture, this more
> empowering use of selfies becomes part of what might be called an emergent
> public dedicated to undermining what Alex Honneth has called 'an abyss of
> failed sociality'. Selfie culture is not all of one piece and is emblematic
> of such a struggle. And at its best it becomes an act of empowerment and a
> vehicle for social change.
> Giroux, Henry A.  (2015) "Selfie Culture in the Age of Corporate and State
> Surveillance," Third Text, 29:3, 155-164, DOI: 10.1080/09528822.2015.1082339
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <
> empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Murat
> Nemet-Nejat <muratnn at gmail.com>
> Sent: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 5:29 PM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 132, Issue 3
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
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