Tag Archives: Twitter

Why You Should Care about the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Feud

Hint: It’s not just about Bad Blood.

Obligatory song pun aside, a lot is at stake in the issues raised by Nicki Minaj on Twitter last night after Taylor Swift felt personally attacked by the rapper’s tweets.

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TL;DR: Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video was snubbed for the VMA Video of the Year award, which shattered previous YouTube and Vevo records. She was the record holder for the majority of the VMA judging period (7/31/14 to 7/1/2015) until Swift came along and released the “Bad Blood” music video at the end of May 2015.

Minaj was eloquent in her social commentary on the music industry. First, rap has always been considered as lesser than white pop, and nothing demonstrates this more than when Macklemore won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys in 2014. Second, female rappers occupy an even lower music strata. Black women’s bodies are privileged in the music industry (see Miley Cyrus’s cringe-worthy VMA performance with Robin Thicke), but their minds and words are dismissed with a flagrant disregard for their lived experiences.

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And Minaj was then quick to point out the double standard of a music artist’s rights.

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I don’t think I need to provide any further examples of how the music industry, including the VMAs and the Grammys, are racist.

So now let’s chat about feminism, since Taylor Swift seemed so keen to bring it up last night. This isn’t the first time she’s thrown the female solidarity red card out when she feels like she’s being attacked (see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler). This seems to be her go-to response. Not to mention, it’s incredibly ironic that a woman who earned her way into the nominations for Video of the Year got there with a song and video that’s all about tearing another woman down.

Clearly, Taylor missed the complete point of 2013’s viral hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

Feminism is about so much more than all women co-existing in peace and harmony, Taylor. Nicki was speaking her mind about the racism that’s rampant in the music industry. She was making completely valid point about how black women’s bodies are only used for specific purposes and not celebrated. What white women do with black women’s bodies dance moves, however, are always celebrated – once again, see Miley’s VMA performance or the horrific twerking in T.Swift’s own “Shake it Off.” Taylor responded to Minaj’s macro-criticisms by interpreting them on a micro-scale – something white people in general are prone to do when racism enters the conversation. “It’s not me! I love everyone! It’s everybody else!” Or, in Taylor’s case, she adds, “It’s the men!” Swift essentially epitomizes White Girl Feminism.

She swung at the ball and completely missed. White people – and I include myself in this, because years ago, before Women’s Studies classes and being in Mass Media Studies graduate program, I was this way too – go on the defensive when racism is brought up. Why? We are taught racism is bad, and some people feel by acknowledging our white privilege, that makes us bad. On the contrary. Acknowledging white privilege makes you a better, strong ally, as long as you are willing to listen and understand the issues. You’re only “bad” (and that’s such an oversimplication) if you don’t recognize the inequality that persists in the world and still live with colorblinders on.

So if Taylor really wanted to participate in “solidarity,” she could have used the moment as a platform to support Nicki’s points and recognize the problematic industry she is a part of. The fact is, we’re all living in a problematic world. In the case of Taylor, it’s okay to live in a problematic world, like what you do, and still be a supportive ally. Look at the great work Matt McGorry is doing to check his privilege, critique the media industry he is a part of, and use it for the better.

Personally, as a digital culture scholar, my research intersects at the corner of visual culture and feminist theory. So today, in the fallout of the Twitter War, I’ve been intrigued  by the way Nicki and Taylor have been visually represented by the mass media.

A couple of notable examples:

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They proceed to get even more disturbing.

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This particular frame is disconcerting, to say the least. Nicki’s chest-shoulder-head/taken straight-on approach is indicative of a mug shot, while white Taylor gloats and prances on, free.

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This may be the most disturbing one of all. The juxtaposition of Taylor mimicking a gun next to Nicki, who is holding her side like one would keep pressure on a wound is perplexing, to say the least. In the wake of the murders of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and many, many others, this set up is racist and horrific.

Overall, Nicki is blamed, attributed with crazy eyes, “resting bitch face,” and in a way that is generally concomitant to the stereotypical “angry black woman” archetype. Meanwhile, Taylor emerges as the innocent little doe, the angel of White Girl Feminism. How dare Nicki attack Taylor, who is largely viewed as America’s sweetheart? “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a cliché, but it’s also a very powerful statement.

There is an image, and then there is what it represents. The quickest way I can explain this is through a powerful quote by a scholar I immensely respect, W.J.T Mitchell. He states, when summing up work done by Roland Barthes, “When people scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them to take a photograph of their mother and cut out the eyes” (What do Pictures Want? 2005, p. 9). Essentially, there is a belief that whatever is done to an image is somehow also done to what it stands for.

So by representing Nicki as the “angry black woman,” mass media attempt to re-present her and repackage her as an angry black woman. By representing her with crazy eyes, she is dismissed as crazy. By belittling her through an image, she herself is belittled. By having Taylor Swift point a gun at her…well, you get it.

Gender, race, class, religion, able-bodiedness, etc. etc. coalesce at interstices of media systems. Through today’s portrayal of Nicki Minaj, the mass media continue to Other her and make her less of a person, all because she is female. Furthermore, she is less of a female because she is a black female. This is exactly why intersectionality is crucial when being a critical consumer of media and in understanding systems of oppression.

Personally, I’m just hoping to see Kanye West steal the stage again if Taylor wins.

courtesy of top-img.com
courtesy of top-img.com

Nicki, we see what you were going for. Stay strong, and your fans love you.

courtesy of The Honesty Hour
courtesy of The Honesty Hour
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Black and Blue, White, and Gold – Real or Digital?

We could easily continue to beat the dead horse – is The Dress blue and black, or white and gold? (Personally, I saw white and gold, but that’s the last I’ll touch on that here).

I’m more concerned with what happened after the question infiltrated our lives, taking on a soul of its own and “breaking” the internet.

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If you’reliving under a rock and somehow have no idea what I’m talking about, a band was playing a wedding in Scotland last weekend, and this member of the band was perplexed by the mother of the bride’s dress. Some called it blue and black, others, white and gold. The unsuspecting band member posted it to her personal Tumblr account, asking her followers for their sage inputs, and like what frequently happens with the most surprising things on the internet, it took on a life of its own and The Great Dress Debate was born.

Everyone from Taylor Swift, Kimye, and Mindy Kaling weighed in, and the following day, The New York Times published this article as a comprehensive summary and subsequent analysis. But what made me throw my pen across my cubicle wasn’t the fact we were still arguing about this dress (and still are – thanks, advertising of America for perpetuating this). It was what Buzzfeed editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, said:

 “This definitely felt like a special thing,” said Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. “It sort of erased the line between web culture and real culture.” (New York Times, February 27, 2015)

And if The Dress “erased the line between web culture and real culture,” that implies there was a boundary there in the first place. And what do lines do? They section off. They divide. They privilege.

Like it or not, we’re living in a post-modernist world (well, really, we’re in post-post-modernism, but I digress). Post-modernism has frequently grappled with the fact people still cling to the idea of high brow versus low brown culture (i.e.: opera, ballet, theater, vs. reality TV). Yet, now, for some reason, people, like Ben Smith, still assume that there are (at least) two cultures – digital, and “real.”

What happens on the internet is just as real as something that happens in our physical reality. Just because you can’t physically hold the computer code in your hands doesn’t mean it’s any less legitimate than something you can reach out and touch. We, as a Western society, have real trouble wrapping our brains around that concept.

It’s a digital world, and we’re just living in it. What happens online has very real consequences and reactions to things offline. Twitter sparked revolutions in Egypt. One asinine tweet got a woman (understandably) fired from her job and made her personal life an international mockery.

By differentiating web culture and “real” culture, we enter the messy realm of dichotomies and hierarchies. When you have a duality, one is automatically privileged and valued more than the other (Male/female. White/Black). And based off of Smith’s comments, it’s clear that “real” culture (i.e.: what happens in physical reality) is more privileged than the digital world (ironic, isn’t it, especially since Mr. Smith has earned his fortune managing one of the most popular digital journalism pieces in the world?)

I’m snarky by nature, so don’t let my words fool you. I don’t fault Mr. Smith or mean to maliciously attack him. His comment is just perplexing. In a world where so much occurs online, we as a Western society still feel uncomfortable to attributing legitimacy to our digital actions.

I don’t think The Dress erased the boundary between our “real” world and our digital world. I think it finally showed there was never a line there in the first place.