After 4 years of off-again, on-again writing, my paper about my Jeopardy experiences is finally out! Check out “How to survive a public faming: Understanding “The Spiciest Memelord” via the temporal dynamics of involuntary celebrification” here on First Monday.
I also highly recommend checking out the other articles in this Special Issue of Shame, Shaming and Online Image Sharing. In particular, I really recommend Signe Uldbjerg’s piece on “The rhythms of shame in digital sexual assault: Rythmic resistance and the repeated assault“. Although my Jeopardy experience is not even comparable to the trauma faced by the survivors in her piece, the descriptions of facing harassment that decreases in intensity but does not stop and the struggle to find agency against the shamers really resonates with me.
My paper is fairly technical so if you’re looking for just the tl;dr summary:
- We think of public shaming as purely punishment of social transgressions, but there’s no reason that the dynamics of this shaming should only be relegated to negative transgressions. What about celebrations of social transgressions — a “public faming”?
- Case in point: There’s a weird class of internet celebrities that are famous for a very brief amount of time through non-consensual sharing of their image. Think Star Wars Kid, Antoine Dodson / Bed Intruder, Alex From Target, or Ken Bone. Depending on how online you are, you’ve probably never heard of any of these people, but for very brief moments, they were catapulted to a very intense fame and public scrutiny before going back to obscurity. Traditional celebrity studies has ignored these cases as “not real celebrity” but what is the actual effect of this faming on the people themselves?
- This is where I come in with my self-examination (auto-ethnography) of my own experiences as the Spiciest Memelord. I lean heavily on Anne Jerslev’s theory of “celebrity temporalities” to describe how I get caught in the middle between slow yet powerful traditional institutions vs. the fast distributed interactions of strangers on social media. Think broadcast television and press releases vs. tweets and Facebook posts. The crash of these two forms squeezes me in the middle and I suffer a lot of internet harassment while large corporations take control of my image to serve their own narratives
- I describe how it feels to be caught in this situation and how I try to take back agency by reversing the spotlight onto my harassers. (I call this “radical reciprocity”, but Uldbjerg’s work has introduced me to the term “counter-shaming”). I do this by using my (tiny) fame platform as the Spiciest Memelord to call out MIT on its inequities or by using social media search against a sexual harasser to contact his friends and family.
You might be saying to yourself “wow, that tl;dr really felt like it should be a Twitter thread capping off the research”. And honestly, it probably should! But after a lot of angsting back and forth, I think I’ve finally settled that I’m not going to get onto Academic Twitter — for actually a lot of reasons related to my experiences on Jeopardy.
As I start to begin the process of thesis writing and recognizing my stance as a senior grad student, I’ve been wondering a lot whether I should join Academic Twitter. Although it’s not as common for roboticists to have one, it’s becoming increasingly more popular in computer science and seems almost mandatory in humanities and social science fields. A lot of people talk about how it’s great to connect with people in a casual environment and actually put a face to the research. This level of casual familiarity is pretty critical for a burgeoning scholar to get into — and even more critical for someone like me, who is trying to take a weird interdisciplinary path. Four years into my robotics PhD, I’m confident in my ability to meet other engineers as a peer, much less so in my ability to know and be known by CMS/STS scholars who i want to engage with. Twitter could be a great resource for me.
And yet, I feel extremely uncomfortable with how all of these humanities scholars — many of whom deride how social media platforms encourage toxic harassing behaviors — themselves get stuck in the same traps. It’s really boring to see people use Twitter as a place to just pub friends and their own papers; the ones that get traction are the ones that have funny jokes or witty commentary alongside the retweets of research papers. However, this is exactly the kind of context collapse between personal and professional that makes it difficult once tense issues start to come up. I joke to my friends that “I would like to use Twitter without knowing who Bean Dad is”, and they warn me that that’s literally impossible. “Twitter’s product is selling you FOMO”, they say, “and it’s doing a damn good job at doing that“
But if I’m really honest with why I don’t want to be on Twitter? I’m really just scared. Through Jeopardy aftermath, I know firsthand what it’s like to hail an amorphous group of strangers and have them respond back to you in strange and terrifying ways. Even though I’m not on Twitter, I still get pulled into drama by linked tweets. Multiple times, I’ve seen a friend reach great acclaim and then later see that same friend get dragged for something. It’s a cycle of violence that I’ve already been non-consensually pushed through, and the thought of intentionally signing up for that again in the service of “becoming better known in the academic community” puts my hairs on end.
And so here I am, trying to decide between the rewards of being loved vs. the mortifying ordeal of being known. There’s still a niggling feeling that I’m letting the harassers win by limiting what social media platforms I’m on. And I really hate that I feel like I’m directly hurting my chances of academic career progression just because my identity makes it harder for me to be on social media than others (as well as progress academically in the first place). It also feels like I’m being weak considering how many prominent scholars with significantly more disadvantages than mine are out there, “winning” the game of academic renown. At some point though, I guess I need to draw my own line. And for me, that’s not giving people who go on /r/HappyEndingMassage or /r/AsiansGoneWild another platform to subscribe to all of my posts (as a Reddit follower just did literally yesterday)
For now, at least, I’m going to try to preserve the separate contexts that I’ve established in my digital life and keep them from collapsing. I’ve described my digital life in this blog post a bit, but essentially, I use
- Discord for very off-the-cuff personal takes and meme sharing
- Facebook as a broadcast platform for pubbing my research and political calls to action
- Twitch + Youtube streaming to make me feel less alone playing video games
- Reddit as an account permanently associated with my Jeopardy experience
- Facebook Messenger as a consolidated resource to poke friends, especially those I don’t regularly keep in contact with
- Google Hangouts, Signal, etc. as assorted messaging platforms that my other friends refuse to leave 😛
Twitter seems like it wants me to combine most of these elements into one account — where I’m expected to be funny and engaging while I publicize my professional work while also considering it a consolidated resource of people I would also be interested in. I’m just… very not interested in having to juggle all of these things in one space, knowing that the system is not working in my favor. As I describe in my paper, unlike corporations, if things get bad, I can’t fire parts of myself in order to save the brand of “Lilly Chin” as a whole. Once a narrative gets set for me, it becomes very difficult to divorce, say, the memelord side of myself from the roboticist side or the media scholar side, and present the face that I actually want to show to the world.
So I guess all the random people looking for my Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn will just have to keep searching a little longer: