JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Like the female performer for Lollipop, this 15-year-old boy has clearly thought through his character’s look and mannerisms and practiced his performance. Unlike the male duos, he is uninhibited by his gender performance with no sign of visible discomfort or shame, staying in his doll like, hyper-female performance of the “Barbie Girl”/doll, and the last time I had checked, he didn’t seem to apologize for or agonize over his female impersonation. The performance seems sophisticated in making the viewer aware of the constructed-ness of the Barbie Girl/doll and her sexual availability in the song, but the singer also seems empowered by and enjoying the female role. At the time that I recorded my impression and the information attached to the video, while he hadn’t created as extensive a community as other adolescents, his network was still pretty impressive. He had over 350 subscribers and offered links to other adolescent sites, including sites in Germany and Zimbabwe. His particular video had been viewed almost 20,000 times and had been marked as favorite 99 times. In his descriptive tag for the video, he describes himself as a “weird” kid—never using gay, queer or drag.

However, this video also illustrates both the support that adolescents receive for their work and how queer performance might subject them to ridicule or a questioning of their sexuality. While many viewers praised his interpretation and performance, one viewer asked, “R U Gay?” I do not know how this might have affected this 15-year-old producer/performer except to note that I never read any response to this comment (although the adjective “weird” might have been his way of explaining). Nonetheless, his site is no longer listed on YouTube.

Successful YouTube producer GayGod performs an erotic dance to Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back.”

More than the performance of Barbie Girl, many adolescent producers engage in erotic dances, striptease, and sexually provocative performances. Often, these performances are directly influenced by pop performers associated with erotic dance videos, such as Fergie’s London Bridge and the work of Brittany Spears, Madonna, Ricky Martin, and Shakira. In these videos, young producers and performers enthusiastically move and shake their bodies without inhibition, provocatively dancing and posing, often suggesting sexual acts, much like the pop stars. Many turn it into a striptease, disrobing down to their underwear as the dance progresses. Some of these seem unconscious of the erotic implications, while others knowingly, boldly challenge YouTube’s “inappropriate” content standards (which includes a ban on obscene or pornographic material). Others have ignored YouTube’s standards altogether, disrobing completely and found themselves flagged as inappropriate and taken down. But for a brief moment, they entertain and prompt similar behavior from other adolescents, while “shocking” and drawing flags for “inappropriate” behavior from other YouTube viewers.

Chris Crocker “defeats depression” by excercising/dancing to Madonna.

The hit dance and song The Macarena inspired a number of young producers and their friends to cut loose and dance for the YouTube community. One 2006 collaboration between two boys drew particular attention for its uninhibited, but seemingly innocent performance. This video also illustrates the problems that many of these adolescents encounter with their queer performances and sexually uninhibited dances. With no edits and a stationary camera set up to record the boys in long shot, the two boys jump on a pool table and when the music kicks into high gear, rapidly pull off their T-shirts and begin to dance in all positions—facing each other, back to back, and in the spooning Macarena position.

Two teenage boys dancing in their bedroom.

They often follow the formal Macarena dance steps, but just as often, exuberantly give themselves over to their own subjective interpretation of the dance. Less than a minute into the dance, they take off their pants and dance the rest of the dance in their boxer shorts. There are a few moments when it is clear that they have choreographed and practiced certain movements and interactions, but for the most part, they give themselves over to the pleasure of their bodies moving to the music without inhibitions. The two boys seem completely comfortable dancing, interacting and stripping down with each other —unlike many other videos where two male adolescents might step out of the performance and make a gesture that would telegraph their masculinity and heterosexuality. One aspect that makes this video stand out is the idea of a stage—performing on the pool table, again suggesting that this was not spontaneous play, but put together with an audience in mind.

In early 2007, the video had been viewed over 80,000 times and marked as a favorite by over 600 viewers. Judging from the comments and responses, this video drew a diverse audience (male and female viewers of different ages). These two encountered both a gay reading and the gaze of older viewers who read their performance as erotic striptease. One “male” viewer wrote:

“that was really hott. You should do a completely naked version ‘wink.’ Lol.”

However, the queer readings and inappropriate come-ons didn’t seem to bother them as much as other adolescents. In a later video, one of the two boys again dances to the Macarena in drag. However, like the video of Barbie Girl by the15-year-old, this video is no longer available. After being up for nearly a year, when I recently linked to the video through an old bookmark, I found that YouTube had removed it “due to terms of use violation.”

Two teenage girls dancing together in their bedroom.

This type of performance illustrates the controversial nature of YouTube and similar sites. Some of these videos are appropriated and shared as erotica for adults. Making this type of performance even more difficult to control is the mix of youth and adult material on YouTube and the lack of truth in many biographical profiles, including age. However, as YouTube continues down the road to profit, these videos will more than likely appear less or those who make sexually suggestive comments will be flagged more often and kicked off. Not surprisingly, these encounters upset some young producers. As mentioned earlier, some producers remove or retool their work as a response to these encounters. However, a few directly respond either through a written response on the comment section or by producing a video blog that either denies that they are gay or alternatively confronts the adult voyeur or homophobe, telling her/him (the evidence points to mostly male) to leave them alone and stay away from their work.

Teenage girl videoblogs her “coming out” story.

For many late adolescents, as they begin to contemplate their gay sexuality, blogging becomes a popular genre where they directly address the webcam offering humorous and/or serious insights on their life, culture and even gay politics. Some young producers make the transition from lip-syncing and dancing to blogging; some blog, but continue to lip-sync and dance; and other young producers begin their YouTube career solely as bloggers. Most of these bloggers seem to be coming to terms with their gay or lesbian sexuality, articulating their interior feelings and struggles. Many of these gay bloggers develop a broad following either through their outspoken viewpoints on gay subjectivity and culture, their camp humor, or erotic performances (for example, see Chris Crocker and GayGod). Other young gay bloggers express very moving, personal experiences and feelings.

GayGod offers advice about coming out in his videoblog.

While many easily embrace gay desire, sexuality, and politics, others find that blogging allows them to express their frustrations and fears and receive advice and support from responders who often become web friends. For example, a self-identified 18-year-old man living in Ireland started to blog in 2006. Over a short time, he shifted from humorous comments on his life, dreams and dating to moving, painful coming out stories, developing an ever expanding transnational, YouTube community. For instance, in an early blog, he wryly pretended to live a double life with a wife and hidden affair with the family gardener. In the same blog, he offered to commit humiliating acts, if someone would help him escape from Ireland to Australia. However, in his later blogs, he turned to more serious matters, discussing his coming out process and the harsh response he received from his parents and the surrounding community. In one blog, he talks about growing up in a small Catholic community in Ireland, and feeling the conflict in his mid-teens between desiring men and being told by his community that these were abnormal feelings.

When he discovered the Internet, he explains that he saw it as a place where to be gay was not wrong, but the normal thing. However, after finding him on a gay website, his father forced him into therapy to cure him of his queer feelings. His blog is moving, self-reflexive and demonstrates the global importance of the web to his generation of gay and lesbian identified youth. As in the case of this Irish young man, gay youth possibly find confidence through blogging, particularly when they find a community that listens, responds and supports them through whatever is going on in their lives. And again, the conversation is global—this particular blogger has developed friends throughout the United Kingdom and from Australia, Canada, the United States, and other nations.

The Internet has been full of playful, experimental approaches to subjectivity and desire, including among youth who have discovered a larger community beyond their few friends who “play” in a private sphere — usually the bedroom — or those who discover that they are not completely isolated in their queer thoughts and actions. In addition, YouTube and other sites have given us a window into the queer play in the private spheres of a larger youth culture — it is incredible to see how the web has allowed this to surface into the public sphere and what many youth would do without supervision. And I suspect that there will still be room for queer youth and video blogging and the non-normative play of dance and lip syncing on YouTube. The millions of views that Chris Crocker and GayGod have received suggest as much.

YouTube’s explanation for a video that is no longer available.

But the drive for profit will lead to some of this material being flagged as inappropriate or a violation of copyright laws and being removed, as has happened with many of the videos that I studied. More likely, this material will be buried as it is on the larger web. Corporations and those YouTube celebrities who pull in advertising dollars will be featured and promoted and dominate home pages, sidebars, and searches. Many queer performances will change to appeal to a larger audience or almost disappear from view, buried by the more professional and commercially driven producers. As Time Magazine stated when it identified YouTube as the invention of the year 2006,

“With that kind of money behind it, YouTube has to start conducting itself with a little more legal and financial gravitas.”

Many YouTube producers have either submitted or moved on to other things. Others continue to submit, appear for a brief moment and disappear, if flagged for various reasons. However, a new generation of queer youth will work within the possibilities or find other sites. At this moment, I’m hopeful and think that there are other possibilities and it will be hard to force youth back to the privacy of their bedrooms. This might be changing subjectivity, allowing a more rebellious, queer spirit to flourish and continue into adulthood. And for those in more oppressive worlds, the web offers queer visions and community for dealing with abjection.

Barbieboy: lip syncing to Aqua’s Barbie Girl.

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