Some videos you might find useful (or not!)


I'm answering questions for Leandra Preston's class on Digital Girls at the University of Central Florida this week via video. Just posting the links here in case people are interested, or want to make video comments of their own (I'm always happy to check those out. Enjoy!

1. Are people more honest offline or online?

2. Can you have sustainable friendships online?

3. What should be the role of the net in "real" activism offline?

4. How well do you think your viewers know you?

5. Why are all the camgirl sites devoted to porn now?

6. What about pre-teens and young teens who want to become camgirls?

7. Can you speak about creating "safe spaces" for women and others?

Next week I play the Old Spice guy, so if you have a question...

A few weeks ago,  super smart Women's Studies professor Leandra Peston asked if I would answer some questions from students in her class called "Virtual Girls: Girls and Digital Media" at the University of Central Florida.

I told her I would be happy to answer student questions, as long as I could record video answers. She thought that was cool, so I'm doing that next week.  But then I thought, why limit questions to her class? That's when I decided to open what is sure to be nonsense to the general public.

So: if you have some burning question for me, feel free to post it here, to my account on Twitter (I am @terrisenft) or email me at Next week, I will sit on my videocamera and answer anything that isn't clearly obscene or nasty. I'll also post the responses as Quicktime files and let you know where to see them, if you are burning to watch.


TERRI’S TIPS FOR CLOSE READING (Especially for "hard" theory pieces)


What is a close reading?

Close reading is a method for

• comprehending
• analyzing and
• appreciating the context of a given piece of writing

As a written document, a close reading looks like an “amped up” version of personal reading notes, designed to help you gain the best understanding of the text you can. In general, close readings are meant for personal use only. If you desired to make your notes more formal (say, for teaching purposes) you would call them Reading Notes.

By the end of a close reading, you should be able to:

• Understand by whom and for whom the text was written
• Understand when the text was written (with an eye toward politics)
• Re-state the text in your own words
• Provide examples for theories
• Map the structure of the piece
• Understand key vocabulary and catch phrases
• Put the piece in dialogue with other texts

What is NOT included in a close reading?

A close reading is not a summary (that’s a précis); nor is it a series of bullet pointed sentences (that’s an outline.)

Steps for doing a close reading

1. Consider the context. Teachers put writers on a syllabus for one reason: to help you think about the class. So what IS the focus of the class for which you are reading this writer? What is the focus of the WEEK for which this writer has been assigned?

2. Read the text out loud. No, really. Try for two or three sentences at a time at first, and work up to whole paragraphs later. Listen for words you don't know how to pronounce, because there's a strong chance you don't know what they mean, either. Circle them to look up in a minute. As you read aloud, think to yourself, "Are these the words I would use to make this point to a friend?" If the answer is "no" (and it generally is), then

3. Re-phrase what you just read in your own words. Ideally, type these words into your word processor for later use as your reading notes. Remember those words you couldn't say? Look them up (I generally use because I'm almost always online.) Translate EVERY sentence in the piece into your own language for at least the first few pages.

4. Provide examples for everything. As a critical reader, the two strongest words you have at your disposal are: FOR INSTANCE. If you can provide an example for every major point the essay is trying to make, you will have understood the essay. A bonus is that many times, examples COMPLICATE an author's argument, which will give you great material to bring in class or in a paper.

5. Recognize and defend yourself against front-loaded essays. It is common for editors of journals to demand that writers "front load" their essays, compacting all the findings and deep thoughts into three or four beginning paragraphs that get unpacked later in the body of the essay. This is done for the speed of advanced researchers, not the ease of beginning students. If you find yourself saying WHAAAAT? over and over again, don't panic. You are probably reading a front-loaded essay. Instead, gloss (for now) the dense paragraphs and go right to the first heading in the essay. That's the beginning of explanation. Read that through to the end and then the beginning may make much more sense.

6. Think about structure. Theorists make their living with language, and to understand theory, you need to understand that it is as carefully crafted as literature. To this end, note how the piece is structured, and organize your own notes that way. The easiest way to do this is to write down all the headings and sub-headings in an essay, leaving lots of space in between. Then, as you organize your notes, you will be following the author’s structural logic.

7. Think about language, and make a list of KEY WORDS. Are there any new words or phrases the writer comes up with? These matter, because they signal new thoughts that couldn't be put in old words. Are there any phrases or words that come up over and over? This repetition is a way of trying to hammer home a point. Compile definitions for KEY WORDS used by the author, which is a fancy way of saying vocabularly list. What about the examples the writer uses? How do they differ from the ones you came up with? Make a note of that, too, and you'll be working on a potential paper topic while you read, killing two birds with one stone.

8.Think about argument, and make a list of BULLET POINTS. It's sometimes hard to find it, but even the most "creative" theorist is expected to make an argument. To tease the elements of that argument out difficult prose, ask yourself, "If I had to summarize this entire essay in five bullet points, what would they be?" Somewhere in those bullet points reside both the main and the secondary arguments of the piece. I will write more about this later because it is actually one of the hardest part of reading theory, I think.

9. Think about tone. Think about the voice of the writer in this piece. Is it funny, sad, austere? Does the author talk about him/herself, or is the whole thing delivered in the third person? If you had to cast this writer as a character in a movie, how would you dress him/her? Where would s/he live, who would be in his/her audience?

That's all the advice I have for close reading. The next advice isn't technically about close reading, but can be INVALUABLE for people reading theory. You need to know that it is possible for you to read someone's work, put it into your own words, analyze the language for rhetorical effect, and STILL not quite get what the writer is saying, simply because you lack the background and historical knowledge necessary to "get" the essay in question. Like everyone else, theorists have their own soap operas, and sometimes you need to know who is delivering an insult to whom or nothing makes sense. Besides, all gossip is fun, even gossip about people who have been dead a zillion years, which is why I recommend:

10. Do some cursory research on the author. Go to Google or Wikipedia and take a general look around. In about fifteen minutes, you should be able to answer these questions: Who is this person you are reading, and what was life like in the time they wrote the text in front of you? What is their discipline (anthropology, sociology, etc. etc.)? Who were they mad at in the academic world? Who was mad at them? Did they have any love affairs or duels or suicide attempts worth noting? Also: Were they affiliated with a trend or a school of thought? Can you summarize that school of thought in a few sentences? If not, look up the school of thought and read a bit about that.

11. If you are assigned multiple pieces in a week, put the piece you are reading in some sort of dialogue with other pieces assigned for the week. Because a juicy subject always has multiple viewpoints, your professor has probably assigned more than one writer for the week. How does the piece you are reading "fit" with the other pieces assigned for the week? Why do you think the professor put them together the way she did? Again, Google can sometimes help with this. Try typing two or three of the authors assigned for a week into Google and see what comes up.


12. Stop consuming, start thinking. A good theory class should function through a dialectic, with students turning ideas over and over again, rather than absorbing The Truth from on high. This is why teachers think less highly of students who give "loved it" or "hated it" responses to readings than they do those who take a generative stance, asking "What can we learn from this reading?" even if that learning is not at all pleasant, agreeable or even morally defensible in your view. One way to ask "what can we learn" is to hold the theory up to your mirror of the world to see what reflections and refractions emerge. From there, you may feel the need to either reconsider what you call reality, or alter the theory at hand, or a bit of both. Either way, you are thinking rather than buying, and that's what makes school different from the mall, even when the topic is cultural studies.

Research Methods syllabus and student materials for you

I often find myself teaching  Research Methods to graduate and undergraduate students . Because I have a cultural studies focus, I tend to emphasize  so-called 'qualitative methods': semiotics, discourse analysis, visual analysis, performance work, interviewing, surveys, ethnographic work, user experience testing, and so forth. 

I think my students generally enjoy my methods  class because I think of methods as tools, not ends in themselves. Students come to me asking how to develop a survey, do user testing or embark on an ethnographic project. I tell them I first I want to know why they picked that methodological tool for their research job. Those conversations can actually be quite fun, and often save the students loads of time on the back end of their projects.

Quick note: I'm not much of a quantitative girl, so you won't find any standard deviation discussions here...

I'm a fairly obsessive documenter, and the other day I was talking on Twitter about the fact that I have a forty-five page syllabus for my Master's level methods class. Some students and teachers  started messaging me asking to see it.

Then someone asked me to post it here, so I have.  You can  download the syllabus as a PDF from this link.

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Essay question options for first year media students

So, it is November, which means that some of you teaching Media classes will be cooking up questions for students, and some of you will be trying to think up ideas for papers. I'm doing neither this semester (phew) but in the interest of knowledge-sharing, here are the class essay options for my first year Media Meanings students. Feel free to steal, riff, and otherwise work with this stuff. Let me know how it goes!

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Fame to Fifteen: My talk for TED

Terri at TED

On Tuesday, November 2, I had the privilege of speaking at a TED Salon in London.  The theme of the evening was 're-framing,' and my speech was called "Famous to Fifteen People: Re-framing Celebrity."  Here is a nice blog post by Sam Martin that summarizes the evening and the speakers.  Personally, I can't believe Sam was fresh enough to even describe my talk: there were fourteen people in the lineup, and I was second-to-last to speak.  And there was a Tube strike that night. Amazingly, though, people stayed, they were deeply engaged, and then a bunch of us had a super-fun dinner afterwards. So in general:  thumbs up on the TED thing, in case you wondered.

The way TED works means 'only the best' talks are released to their main website, and it can be up to a year before that actually happens. And who is that patient? Not my friends, that's who.

So, as a work-around, I'm attaching the transcript of the talk below, with the slide images embedded.

Also, I'm going to record video of myself doing the talk to post up here.

If the talk later goes up on the TED site, I'll let you know, and if it doesn't (there were *many* great speakers that night, so I have no idea if I'll be considered in the 'best of' category), you'll have the home-made video to use for teaching or whatever purposes.

Sound good?

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Theresa M. Senft

andy wharhol picture

In 1968, Andy Warhol pronounced that in the future, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Today, I want to give you a different pronouncement: right now, thanks to the Internet, each of us already is famous to at least fifteen people.

The term “fame to fifteen people” comes from the Scottish musician Momus, who one day woke up to realize more people were reading his blog than would probably ever hear his music. He also noticed that those people were behaving less like traditional fans than like conversants, gadflies, enemies…and friends. What kind of fame was this?

Fame is an old idea, and for the last two hundred years, it’s been linked to the press. For a very long time, to be famous, you needed press, and to get press, you needed to have accomplished something of note. Or so the story went.

In truth, there have always been individuals who are famous not so much for what they did, as who they were. We call these people celebrities. Media theorists argue celebrity marks the intersection of two contradictory belief systems. The first is democracy, or the notion that everyone matters. The second is capitalism: the belief that everyone deserves a chance, but that in the end, some of us will matter more than others.

Paris Hilton pic

People use celebrity to reconcile the contradiction between democracy and capitalism in a range of ways. Some turn celebrities into people we love to hate. Others look at how arbitrarily fame works and think: “Why not me?”

Enter micro-celebrity, the development of the self as a super-public entity over the internet; a sort of ‘brand me.’ When people ask me for examples of micro-celebrity, I ask them: Have you ever agonized over whether something belongs on a work on home web site? Worried about your privacy settings on Facebook? Deleted unflattering photos online? Micro-celebrity: you’re soaking in it.

Researchers tell us that people engage in micro-celebrity for a variety of reasons. For some, it is economic: they want to stand out in a tough marketplace. For some, it is creative. Right now, over 7% of the population of England creates content online, and many of them want to be credited for what they do, even if they never get paid.

For teens, micro-celebrity often works as a way to deal with surveillance from bosses, schools, government and family. The idea of going super-public to survive surveillance might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it: A teen celebrity like Justin Bieber has more legal control over his image than you or me, and it’s because he’s not just a person—he’s a product.

At this point, some of you will be thinking that none of what I have said applies to you. You are wrong. I’m going to show you why you are wrong by telling you about my youngest brother T.J. Now by all accounts TJ was a gregarious guy, but he hated social meda, thought it was completely stupid, and often said he wouldn’t be caught dead with a Facebook page.

Six weeks ago, though, T.J. fell down the stairs. And died. And his relationship to social media changed—or rather, it was changed for him.

TJ obituary in Buffalo Evening News

This is my brother's obituary in the online version of our hometown newspaper. Now, when I looked for this online, I knew what it would say—I wrote it, after all. What I didn’t know was that online obituaries now include a public ‘comments’ section, where anyone in the world can say anything they want about a person who isn't alive to respond.

Amigone funeral home

And there’s more. Here’s the online guest book on T.J.’s page at the Amigone Funeral Home. Now, funeral guest books have always been social affairs, but in the past, they were limited to the folks who were actually at the event. This online guest book allows people write comments, link to photos and even click to reach my brother’s preferred charity to make donations. And yes, there really is a funeral parlor named Am-I-Gone.

TJ Facebook page

T.J. was a young man when he died and he left a wife and two small children to support. His friends and co-workers have been arranging a benefit on his behalf, and—in what I’ve come to think of the ultimate revenge of social networks—they have put up a posthumous Facebook site to help with arrangements.  Again, nobody asked our family for permission to launch the site, but now we sort of like it. It’s become a place for testimonies, stories, and most interestingly to me, links to 333 others who cared for my brother.

I hope you are starting to see how  fame to fifteen (or 133, in his case case) is something that can happen without your consent, compliance or physical existence. Now, I've just shared a deeply personal story, but micro-celebrity is a phenomenon with deeply political undertones, and potentially global reach.

I want to spend the remainder of this talk telling you about  two women: both Iranian, both students, and both named Neda. The first woman is named Neda Agha Soltan. You may remember her name from June of 2009--she was the student gunned down by Iranian militia on her way to a protest in Tehran.

I am Neda poster

What the militia didn't know was that the events were being camera-phoned, and were later uploaded to YouTube, where they sparked international outrage. This was woman who sparked the "I am Neda campaign" you may remember from last year.

Two Nedas

The woman on the left in this slide is Neda Agha Soltan. The woman on the right is named Neda Soltani.  Who is she?

When the original murder video was first posted to YouTube, people were desperate to put a face and a story to the death they were seeing on their screens in the safety of their homes. An American woman did some research and turned up the face on the right, and an email address of a Neda Soltani, a student living in Tehran. The American wrote Soltani, who immediately responded that she was very much alive, and that this was a case of mistaken identity.

Soltani posted her response that she was alive to the American's Facebook page. As every Facebook response does, Soltani's  repsonse included her icon: the photo on the right. This, we think, was where the real trouble began.

(UPDATE: I have recently been speaking with reporter Kathy Riordan, who disagrees with the above assessment of how Neda Soltani's image came into public circulation. Please see the note marked "update" at the end of this transcript...)


Photos have a way of traveling.  Soltani's went through Facebook, Twitter, and finally wound up in mainstream press outlets. The entire time,  Soltani was working hard trying to convince her local media outlets that her image was the wrong one, but nobody seemed interested.

Well, that's not entirely true: the Iranian police were very interested in Soltani. Shortly after her picture appeared in the press, the came to Soltani's home and asked her to go on television and call the murder video a hoax. This, she refused to do (she knew someone had died, even if it was not her.) Understandably frightened for her own life now, Soltani fled to Germany. She remains there to this day, unable to speak the language, and getting by on the subsistence living of a migrant.

To this day, Neda Soltani’s image circulates in mass media, even though Salon broke the story of the mistake days after it first occurred. Why? For an answer, we could consider the staffs of mainstream news outlets (who has manpower to fact check, these days?) We could note the racism that makes Iranian women in scarves interchangeable to Western media. We could talk about the difficulty of Soltani waging so many lawsuits on so many levels in so many countries with so many different rules about privacy and publicity. Or we can acknowledge that what happened to Neda Soltani could happen to anyone in this room.

I hope by now you see that even if you don’t believe in micro-celebrity, it believes in you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because for most people in the world, obscurity is no picnic. I teach low-income college students in East London, and I routinely tell them that the Net is probably the only place their going to be able to connect with people outside their geographical boundaries. I’m not against micro-celebrity, but I am in favor of teaching people how to navigate it.

Fame to fifteen means that  the privacy we’ve been clinging to so tightly—it’s officially gone. And I understand why that is frightening, I really do. Still, it seems to me that if we want to call ourselves politically progressive citizens, the time has come to take a deep breath, calm that fear a bit, and instead put our energies into thinking through what it means to behave ethically toward others around the world in a time of micro-celebrity. 

Because if everyone is truly famous to fifteen people, no one gets to dismiss anyone as as obscure enough to be expendable. 

Thank you.


I have recently consulted Kathy Riordan, a remarkable writer and citizen journalist who fits into the Neda story in two ways.  First, she was critical in assisting the individual in the Netherlands who first received the video after it was sent out of Iran in getting it seen in the wider mainstream media.  Second, she was one of the first people to note that an incorrect image of "Neda" was being used online and in the press (quickly becoming iconic and misidentified as the Neda in the video) and campaign to have it corrected and removed.

Riordan's articles on Iran and Neda were initially posted to Open Salon (indexed here: )

Because of her involvement with various principals and her view of the events as the story was unfolding, Riordan has knowledge of the first time the name "Neda" appeared on Twitter and can trace the provenance of how the name came to be known online.  She believes the incorrect "Neda" image likely first came into use when someone did a search on the wrong name ("Neda Soltani" instead of "Neda Agha-Soltan") and grabbed an image from the search result, which turned out to be from the Facebook page of a living person and not the woman pictured in the now famous video). 

In discussing the inherent problems with circulating breaking news online through social media, Riordan argues that mainstream media needs to do a better job of vetting and including disclaimers.  Once a correction has been brought to the attention of the media, she believes they should be quick to respond.  Despite that, however, some continue to use the image of a living person, and not Neda Agha-Soltan, as "Neda."  "It's particularly disconcerting if it's brought to their attention as incorrect and they don't correct it," Riordan notes, citing as an example an article in Mashable which appeared in late June 2009 and has yet to be corrected.

R.I.P. Thomas Joseph (T.J.) Senft (1969-2010)

On September 8, 2010, my youngest brother T.J. died after falling down the basement stairs of his home, which resulted in a fatal brain hemorrhage one week later. He was forty-one years old, and leaves behind a wife and two children, aged ten and four. Some time ago, T.J. made a decision to become an organ donor, and as this is being written, over fifty parts of his body are saving the lives of others.

T.J. was a truly great man: generous, inspiring, infuriating, hilarious, passionate. He was committed to speaking from the mind, but also the heart and the gut, and he believed that personal shame and social niceties were a sucker’s game. His love for his family was unconditional, his support for us was boundless, and he taught everyone who cared to learn a rare trick: the ability to stare reality in the face with such ferocity that in time, it blinked back. As a sister, I was moved by his commitment to tell the truth, no matter the cost; as a writer, I was awed by it.

T.J.’s death has come as a huge and incomprehensible shock to my family. He was always so much larger than life that I suppose we all thought he would figure out a way to avoid something as mundane as death. When T.J. was ‘on’ (and that was nearly always), his presence could have the force of a tsunami, and many people needed days to recover from a long talk with him. I feel quite sorry for those who didn’t get the opportunity to know him: his personality was extra large, his sense of the absurd was legendary, and I assure you, you couldn’t out-drink him at a party.

Like all of us, my brother was flawed, and he could be challenging. But he was also the sort of man who makes life worth living. There are certain people you seek out when you don’t know if you can get through another month, or week, or moment. My brother Mike is one of those, and I turn to Mike for gentleness, acceptance, maturity and patience. But sometimes what is needed is energy, clarity, focus, and raw animal force. For this I turned to T.J., whom I could always count on to school me that joy matters, love matters, faith matters, I matter, and that everything else is pure bullshit.

Goodbye, my beloved baby brother. I have no idea how I am supposed to make sense of life’s nonsense without you, but I’m going to try. Just promise you’ll visit in my sleep to school me on how it’s done. I'm not sure I can figure it out on my own.

From Mad Men to Black Maids: Desire, Position and Cultural Critique

Television theorist Jason Mittell has just written a very thoughtful essay about Why he's not a fan of the show Mad Men. I have little patience for writers who spend their time hating, but he's doing negative critique the right way, I think, by inserting himself and his identity position front and center. Jason also posted the essay on his blog for comments, which I think is one of the best ways to do cultural studies today: write up your thoughts in whatever shape they are in, get them in front of others online, and be sure that you state up front your ambivalence about the process before it's 'show time' and the demands of scholarly print freeze thoughts forever...

Jason makes a good point of noting that fandom and anti-fandom are both sort of juvenille positions for a cultural critic to take up. Let's face it, if "why does this suck?", is judgment masquerading as a question, so too is "why does x rule so hard?" Entire anthologies consisting of "Ten Ways in Which Buffy Constitutes the Overthrow of All that is Problematic with the World" is well, a problem, so it's good that Jason's essay is going to appear in an otherwise celebratory text on Mad Maen. Ian Bogost (who has some issues with Jason's essay) agrees.

As I re-read Jasons's piece, though, I was struck by how he remained almost entirely 'in his own head' (fascinating though that head is), especially in light of this line:

“Hopefully we can… try to understand how someone might see the same cultural object so differently from ourselves, rather than looking down on those who disagree.”

How does one learn to actively understand (rather than passively 'appreciate' or even worse 'tolerate') views that differ from our own? In my own work, I've tended toward online ethnography, or in its lasiest form, reading stuff online written by folks who just aren't me. With this in mind, I remembered something I came across recently that applies to Mad Men viewership beyond the space of white maledom:

A few months ago (I think) there was a contest in which people could compete for the prize of a walk-on role in Mad Men. Online, I read lots of “I’m totally doing this” posts, some of which came from women of color who were wrestling with three realities that I will call 'identity positions'. The first identity position was of fans of the show. The second was a position based on historical inheritance: many of these were the daughters and granddaughters of women who once worked as maids/wash room attendants/house cleaners/ nannies for the sort the folks who dominate the landscape of Mad Men. The third identity position was fantasy-based, and involved them imagining themselves getting the opportunity to have a walk-on role on Mad Men. There are probably other positions I haven't thought of that we could easily add (women who identified as not just fans but teachers of this material, women who want a career in Hollywood and would happily take anything film-related as a job, etc.)

One woman, my friend Cathy, wrote a little FaceBook status update in which she confessed that though she would love to be on the show, she couldn’t face her “grandmother in Heaven” if she entered the contest. Cathy noted that her grandmother had worked her whole life to help Cathy's family get past a history of manual labor, and let's be honest, if you are Black and female and cast on Mad Men for thirty seconds (as long as a walk-on lasts), what role would you get *besides* being a washroom attendant or maid? We know how people of color function on Mad Men: they are tokens placed there to ‘remind us’ (and it bears asking who is 'us' here) what it used to be like back in the day.

Cathy is a smart woman; she's also pretty deep in fan cultures of different sorts. As she wrote her post, I was stuck by all the desires at play in this one status update. There was the desire to be on tv, surely. There might have also been desire to somehow re-write the historical imagination in some way, just by having the opportunity to show up as a 2010 self in a 1960's period show. There was probably also a desire to shield oneself from the knowledge that this attempt at re-write by walk-on is wishful thinking at best. Ultimately, Cathy felt that tall these desires were trumped by the desire to 'do right' by her grandmother's history.

Here is what is important: This decision not to try for a walk-on doesn't mean Cathy doesn't watch the show anymore, or that she doesn't identify as a fan (she has done the Mad Men icon thing on Facebook.) It means that although she remains a fannish viewer, she doesn't feel okay inserting her actual 2010 body within Mad Men's production of 1960's whiteness. It's one thing for a Black woman to enjoy a cultural object that waxes sexy about white capitalism. It's another to do so with the knowledge that historically, Black women have served as a ghost in the machine of that enterprise. It's still another thing to volunteer to offer one's current body up to that ghosting-- to play (even if for thirty seconds) at a past that didn't just fade away, but was fought against by people like Cathy's grandmother. That's the stuff that probably won't make it to later seasons of the show. But maybe I'm wrong, here.

Cathy's posting is the sort of material that 'aca-fandom' (Henry Jenkins's term) should be focusing on, and would go a long way in explaining why fan studies ought to matter in today's political climate. Let's face it: at its base, Mad Men is ironic Nostalgia TV: cool, but not a particularly new development in American television programming. Neither is it particularly new to note that people of color have ambivalence about reenacting parts of their troubled past as historical drama, even 'ironically.' *

What is new is that today, people of color who are also fans of nostalgia tv are increasingly articulating their ambivalence about their viewership online, and exploring their feelings within their social networks. If we (and by we I certainly include me) are really are serious about exploring the views of others, we need to search out fans and anti-fans who are unlike ourselves, and we need to listen to them as they attempt to grapple with their own reasons for why they do what they do. And for me, one of the easiest places to locate those voices in online.

*Of course, it’s not only nostalgia television where these kinds of dilemmas occur for people of color: every year there are debates in the Black communities in New Orleans over the ‘status’ of being chosen to be a flambeau during Mardi Gras (a practice that dates back to when slaves used to hold torches for owners to light the streets.)

Trafficking Policies: UR Doing Them Wrong

One day, the world will grow up and stop dividing women into trafficked madonnas and sex worker whores. In the meantime, abuses continue in the name of saving the ladies. The always on-point Melissa Ditmore explains the current situation as it is playing out in Cambodia:

Report: Police Abuse of Sex Workers in Cambodia Made Worse by US Policies:
A Human Rights Watch report documents abuses of sex workers by law enforcement in Cambodia, including rape, beatings, unlawful detention and deprivation of medical care. US policy is making the situation worse.

Camgirls and the politics of camp

A student asked me to discuss my thoughts on camgirls and camp performance. Here is my answer:

In my work on camgirls, I was interested in a thinking through (some) camgirl performances through what Patricia Mellencamp calls' feminist camp.' Like 'swishy' men and 'hyper-femme' women in gay camp , feminst camp performers are deliberately excessive in their performances of gender, going 'over the top' in a way that causes a certain type of viewer to think, "No way is she completely serious about this. It's all too much. What does this excess signal about the constructed nature of all femininity?"

The subtitle of Mellencamp's book o("from Mae West to Madonna") sort of sums up both the sort of performer involved in feminist camp: white, western, young, conventionally attractive, media savvy and generally bisexual. The audiences for such performers vary and include anyone with interested in watching, I suppose, but the desired readers of feminist performers (and remember, no performance 'means' anything outside of reading) would be someone who identifies as both a feminist and an ironist, with a 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' approach to gender.

Seduction tends to be a big theme in feminist camp, as does sending up the notion that men are 'emotional slaves' to women, which feminists see as a lame fantasy covering the real social inequities between genders, such as the fact that even today, men own ninety percent of available land on the planet (so much for male slavery to women.) Feminist camp tends to overplay the seduction/emotional slavery thing as way to comment on it and hopefully, show it for the damaging fantasy it is. It's a strategy that has plenty of criticisms that I won't go into here.

When I was researching young women webcammers, I noted that a fair amount seemed influenced by idea female camp aesthetics . For instance, many seemed to know 'post-porn' performer Annie Sprinkle (you can Google her) who deploys her hyper-femininity to make feminist counter-public critiques. Please note: no camgirls I spoke to used the words 'female camp' or even 'counter-public' to describe themselves, but many did talk about using their own images to 'speak back, in a funny way' to mainstream media messages about women.

Though I was originally intrigued (and perhaps even seduced) by the idea of that women webcam performers might change the political landscape through female camp, after looking at the evidence, I had step away from that hope. In my book, I discuss the fact that both historically, both camp and counter-public politics have operated on the premise of known spatial constraints and audiences. When we speak of something as 'mainstream' or 'underground,' we display how we think of public life as geographically distributed. The problem was, for camgirls, public and counter-public audiences routinely overlapped: not only was it difficult to say whether something was becoming mainstreamed; we couldn't even locate where the 'streams' originated, or where they were heading!

Perhaps if there had been some discrete spaces where feminists gathered to discuss camgirl performances this wouldn't have been the case, but it certainly was at the time.