Monday, March 20, 2017

Why No One Benefits from the Censorship of LGBTQ+ YouTube

If you're not tuned in to media news, you probably haven't heard of the harm being caused by YouTube's "restricted mode," designed to give kids and tweens a safer, more age-appropriate viewing experience. This, in theory, is a smart idea as these younger demographics are turning more and more to web video and streamed entertainment. Restricted mode aims to block content that is sexually suggestive, profane, or otherwise mature in nature. This means popular personalities like Tana Mongeau (who's most popular videos contain the 18-year-old sharing stories of getting blackout drunk and borderline glamorizing unprotected sex) and certain BuzzFeed videos surrounding topics of sexual abuse and assault. That, in my opinion, is fair game. Those are mature topics that, in addition to being entertaining and informative, aren't "rated PG," if you will. However, where YouTube crosses the line is the unfair censorship of LGBTQ+ content creators.

Just for a little experiment, I turned on my restricted viewing mode recently and began browsing videos posted from popular content creators such as Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, and Gigi Gorgeous. Turn on this seemingly innocent, good-natured feature and the video libraries offered by these creators are dashed. But not for reasons I mentioned earlier. Videos where Tyler praises 8 Black LGBTQ+ creators for their activism: gone. Hannah recalls the difficulty she felt coming out as a lesbian in a conservative Christian environment: incognito. Gigi gives a genuine, heart-wrenching recount of her experience transitioning to female: not accessible. Bear in mind, none of these videos include images or language that is universally deemed offensive or vulgar by any means. These videos are banned when browsing in restricted mode just by virtue of the creators not being straight. What about this is so sinister?

While there's no clear answer as to when these videos became restricted, the news came to light on Friday, March 17th. Oakley was quick to retweet the article breaking the story, asking YouTube directly: "Got answers?" In response, a rep for the premier web video host tweeted the following message, the usual vague PR-laden non-answer:

Essentially what this means is you can still access content created by LGBTQ+ YouTube creators, but any video that in any way references their sexuality or gender identity is off-limits. You can see Tyler interview One Direction, but not discuss attending a Pride parade. You can watch Hannah cook, but not thoughtfully unpack serious issues she experienced in her formative years. You can watch Gigi apply makeup, but not discuss the loving, monogamous relationship she is in with another woman. This doesn't sound like the appropriate solution from a company that values "an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community."

Various creators have put out official statements regarding the issue, and viewers and fans have taken to Twitter to trend the topics #ProudToBeRestricted and #YoutubeIsDeadParty. The fact of the matter is there remains a very small subset of the population that believes the mere existence of the LGBTQ+ community is in someway wrong or offensive, but catering to an archaic, exclusive group is exactly the wrong way to go. And since you're catering to that small group, YouTube, I'd love to know: what about LGBTQ+ people existing is harmful? Forget them displaying PDA or getting married (which are also valid human experiences these individuals are entitled to, by the way) but literally just existing? Speaking as a young woman who spent her formative years on YouTube, I believe the biggest strength of this interface to be the diverse community. When YouTube was formed, it was formed on the expectation of an inclusive experience where anyone could broadcast themselves. If traditional media, after all this time, refuses to be diverse in the stories it tells, what business do you have to follow in its footsteps? I thought the goal was to stray from those tired standards for entertainment.

In short, Oakley puts it best when he says "Blocking LGBTQ+ creators and content is harmful, plain and simple."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Snap Decisions

Hello, everybody and happy Valentine's Day! For the 21st year in a row, I'll be spending the holiday with the love of my life. Granted, the love of my life often changes (because I'm fickle and there's just too many suitors to choose from) but this year I think I've chosen Gin to be my valentine. Mom, if you're reading this: I'm so sorry.

On a more serious note though, being single on Valentine's Day isn't a huge misfortune in my life, but I won't lie and say I didn't make a point to take myself to Wal-Mart earlier to buy a container of miniature cupcakes. To be fair, they are to share with friends I'm seeing later tonight, but regardless there is an inherent sadness that comes with buying $4 cupcakes packaged God knows how long ago. As I was using the self-checkout, I came to the realization that this was the kind of pathetic and unfortunate scenario I'd be inclined to post on my Snapchat story. This got me thinking: When I experience misfortunate, why is posting it on social media my first instinct?

Yesterday I locked my keys in my car. I called AAA, then I posted it to my Snapchat story.

In October, I got rear-ended and had my car thoroughly damaged in the process. While waiting for police to arrive, I posted it to my Snapchat story.

I drop a full plate of food on the floor: Snapchat story.

I find myself single on Valentine's Day. I post a photo of my Dunkin Donuts coffee to my Snapchat story, pretending the styrofoam cup is my S.O.


I'm not the only person who does this. At least once a day, I see an acquaintance has posted about their misfortunes on social media in some form or another. I receive texts from friends telling me that they've done something stupid or they've tripped and fallen in public, offering up the embarrassing information willingly and without prompting. We as millennials are big on letting the world know when we're in a bind. I have some theories as to why we do this.

We as humans are social creatures. Whether you're an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in-between, we all crave connection in some way or another. We want to know that other people care about us, know things about us, have things in common with us. When I talk to my 82-year-old grandmother on the phone, she tells me about mistakes she's recently made or problems she's had. When I go to work, my supervisor will tell me if something has happened to mess up her day. Sharing our downfalls is just a way to connect to some degree, so for those of us who learned to socialize while holding a smartphone, posting it online is just an extension of that.

But I think there's more to it. At its core, yes, when I post about bad things that have happened to me I do it because I want people to relate or ask me if I'm okay. But I also do it because it helps me see the humor in the situation. Waiting for a locksmith or swapping auto insurance with a stranger objectively sucks, so maybe if I can make a joke about it for my friends I can lighten the mood for myself a little. But I mean, that's also potentially too optimistic. In reality it's a cocktail that's 1 part wanting to laugh, 3 parts wanting attention.

It's a befuddling phenomenon, either way you look at it. I'm not too sure what this says about us, but the media analyst in me could go on and on about how the ways we socialize and exist on the 'net is a more edited, idealized extension of who we are in real life. So then why point out the shitty stuff? I think it boils down to this: We want to be the most likable versions of ourselves online, and sometimes indirectly asking for pity is likable, especially if we can ham it up or crack a joke while we're at it. I'm not saying this is the most redeeming quality social media has to offer, but I think it's a pretty universal thing to do. I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter: Have you ever posted about your shortcomings online, and if so, why do you think you did it?

Talk soon,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I'm a Lady

On New Year's Eve, I went to a friend's house party. This is a house I'd been in plenty of times before, a house I could navigate blindfolded should the need ever present itself. Between the ages of eleven and twenty-one, I'd been in this house countless times, accompanied by a diverse crowd of friends and acquaintances.

It was around 9:30 when I walked into the house for the first time that night, dressed in a sparkly frock and high-heels, as is only appropriate for the most glitzy holiday of the year. After exchanging pleasantries with the few people who were just starting to gather, the first words out of my mouth were, "Who wants a tequila shot?" This was followed by another tequila shot (and then maybe another tequila shot?), two heavy-handed vodka cranberries I mixed myself, and a cheap beer shotgunned on the porch in lieu of a new year's kiss. I was, admittedly, drunk. I was also of legal drinking age, within walking distance of my house, among friends, and celebrating the end to a year universally acknowledged to be pretty lackluster.

I was talking and laughing and being the giddy, funny, slightly ditzy girl I turn into when alcohol enters my system. When I start to drink, I turn into everyone's best friend. I talk at a decibel that is objectively annoying, but I think every joke is funny and my dance moves are magically much better than usual. I think he probably noticed the happy-go-lucky girl kissing her friends on the cheek and screaming the lyrics to the Beyonce song playing through the speakers.

The first time he came up to me, I was alone. I was sitting on the kitchen counter (a habit of drunk me), taking a personal minute to drink water and fade into the background for a moment. He struck up a conversation, I couldn't tell you about what, but I know I found it dull. It must've been some generic calling-card question about the weather or my resolutions, but what I do remember was an unwelcome touch on my thigh. But I'm a lady and my parents always tell me that I'm too much of an "ice queen" around boys, so I brushed it off and tried to make do with the fragmented bits of indigestible conversation. I tried to smile and nod along to his boring commentary until I saw one of my friends in the distance. I waited until there was a natural lull in the conversation to excuse myself --again, I'm a lady, so I wouldn't just dart away-- jump down from the counter, and go talk to someone who could hold my attention. This continued throughout the night: he'd come up to me, make some painful conversation, I'd nod or laugh or give a non-committal answer, then flee the scene when given the chance. It's not that he was creeping me out, but he wasn't holding my attention. And it was a party after all: I came to have a good time.

Around 1 a.m., one of my best friends was growing tired. She needed a minute to be away from the natural chaos of a suburban house party, and I was more than happy to oblige her desire to slip away into the basement for a bit. She, like me, knew the house well. We knew the way downstairs, we knew how to escape for a bit. I told her about the guy I didn't know who wouldn't stop trying to flirt with me, and how I was growing more and more uncomfortable with it. She told me I looked "hot" and flirting was inevitable, even when I told her I was putting out what were, in my opinion, pretty clear "I'm not interested" vibes.

Then the song came on: "Sugar, We're Going Down" by Fall Out Boy. One of my favorite songs from my angsty youth, a song that you can't help but acknowledge. I begged her to go upstairs and dance with me, she said she was too tired. But I was drunk and, as I said earlier, convinced that my moves were perfection, so I went by myself, getting a rug burn on my knee from eagerly pawing up the stairs.

It didn't take more than ten seconds of dancing on my own for him to appear right in front of me. He took my waist in his hands; he wanted to dance with me. I immediately longed for my own space, but I'm a lady and it's just dancing, so I figured no harm no foul. I kept my hands to myself, because I needed them to emphatically fist bump and vaguely point while screaming the lyrics. He insisted on spinning me around and looking at me like I was an art exhibit, and I tried to convince myself to be flattered. Then in the final chorus of the song, while he was laughing at how loudly I was singing, he looked me in the eye and declared "Ooooookay....I'm gonna kiss you now!"

The kiss was, admittedly, not the best I've had (kisses fueled by tequila are never great) but it was the entitlement that made me run. First downstairs to tell my friend how grossed out I was, then to collect my belongings and slip out quietly. On the five-minute walk back to my house I kept telling myself that it was no big deal; girls get dressed up, go out, and get kissed all the time. I was acting like a baby, when I should be acting like a lady. But I wasn't even convincing myself.

The next morning, I felt gross, but that felt unjustified. I told myself I hadn't been assaulted (or anything close) but it was maybe, maybe, something along the lines of assault. I was an inactive party in something this random guy decided to do. Even if it's just a kiss: if it's not wanted, it's not wanted.

That's really what it boils down to: I'm tired of guys assuming they're allowed to act on us. Even if it's not technically assault or harassment or rape, it's some dude's decision to do things to us, without our go-ahead. It's the amount of entitlement in the phrasing of "I'm gonna kiss you now" as if I had no say in the matter; because he's a man and I'm a lady, it's his call. Maybe if I was sober and aware or at least reciprocating it'd be a different story, but even then it's not your call. Trust me, I'll make it obvious if I want to kiss you. I didn't.

I'm tired of guys deciding they're going to kiss us. Guys deciding they're going to come up behind us at a club. They're going to buy us dinner so we can repay them. I've had men I don't know grab at my waist when I'm leaving a bar, I've had boys I just met put their hand in my pants on the dance floor of an Irish pub. And because I'm a lady, I'm supposed to just laugh it off, say my "no!" with a smile and a glimmer in my eye. Because otherwise, what am I? Oh yeah, that's right: a bitch, a slut, a cunt...whatever vocab term is popular in the misogyny circle that particular evening.

And here's the thing: he wasn't a bad guy. He didn't attack me. Not the boy in the pub, not the man in the bar, not the guy at the house party. But they are guys that I wasn't attracted to. Guys I wasn't saying yes to. Guys who decided my say-so wasn't part of the equation.

Because I'm a lady, and when's the last time we asked a lady how she felt?