The Internet is a weird place. On it you can find any recipe, piece of clothing or D-list actor you could ever wish for. But, with the emergence of apps and more social networks than you can shake an iPad at, the face of fame is becoming a different one. No longer are the teen heartthrobs simply faces of singers and actors you can pull out posters of in Tiger Beat. They’re normal everyday kids that just happen to be attractive, funny, talented or lucky enough to get noticed on a smartphone screen.
One of the biggest culprits of this is Vine. Teenagers tune in by the millions to watch short 6-second clips on this application which is basically only formatted for mobile. Stars have loyal fan bases much like those of One Direction, and they even go to conferences where they perform and meet up with their fans. Girls make fan videos and tributes for them and even change their names on social networks to try and gain their attention.
This all might seems harmless and remind you of the days of yore obsessing over the Backstreet Boys, but these new stars have unparalleled access to their hoard of obsessive followers who are often underage and often have a cult-like mentality.
Now, a few prefaces, I don’t mean to belittle young women who love these boys. I’ve read way too many articles that over-sexualize and dumb down teenage girls to take that. I also don’t mean to speak out of turn because I am a white, straight, college-aged female. All these opinions are my own. OK let’s go.
This app is simple, but has created amazing access to ordinary people. They are able to craft these 6-second clips and make their lives look glamorous and exciting, and for many, that’s a really cool thing. It’s kind of awesome to think that any person could reach this level of fame and have access to a platform that gets creative work out there. But this fame has created an almost cult-like mentality among fans. They fight and shame others and see these people as theirs. They find potential girlfriends or those who have become their friends and stalk and humiliate them via social network. These are young people who have way too much time on their hands that they use to create an online community hell-bent on making a person notice them.
And a lot of times, the artists embrace it. They make Youtube channels, name their fan bases and ask for support from them, oftentimes at the expense of other people. Obviously, they can’t be held responsible for everything that happens, but I think this is growing into something a little bigger than a simple joke said into a selfie camera.
Because these Viners many times do not have publicists or big projects to protect, they’re free to act mostly without restraint and recently that has come back to bite them in the ass. The most famous example seems to be the Curtis Lepore and Jessi Smiles rape case. You can learn more about that here. Following the allegations and subsequent hearings, each took to Vine to express how they felt, as did their friends and as did their legions of fans, most of whom were strangers.
Suddenly, this woman’s sexual assault and its validity was being debated by children as well as baby boomers, most of whom have never met her. Lepore took to Twitter to retweet many young (underage) women and their comments of support, many of whom attacked Smiles. When we teach young women (since that seems to be the bulk of the users of Vine) that it is OK to defame another women and speak about things they know nothing about, we perpetuate rape culture and even worse, victim blaming.
There are a ton of other incidents of community backlash and being just stupidly offensive.
If you’re anything like me, you use Vine to look up videos of puppies dancing around or clips of little girls imitating Kourtney Kardashian. But, one thing that is clear on Vine is it pays to be a male making fun of women. With all of the talk about people debating how women are portrayed in media, I’m shocked to see that almost nothing has been written about this media that is so racist and sexist and being consumed by millions of young people daily.
These are not isolated incidents, these are extremely popular videos that go viral on the app that point out the differences between races and sexes. Many create characters based on stereotypes that I thought to be long gone (are we really still pretending that all African-Americans love watermelon and fried chicken?). It’s easy to say it’s a joke, and maybe I’m being too sensitive (I can’t speak much about it being racist because, again, I’m white) but what I can say is if I were an impressionable woman and saw how women were portrayed in these Vine videos or how men spoke about them, I would think it was lame and horrible to be a feminist.
The app and its users have also done their fair share of presenting a view of LGBT people, low-income people, and even a view of masculinity that I would expect from a 12-year old boy, but maybe it’s just pandering to the age of those who consume it.
I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me. I’m sure that most people would wish that I would lighten up, but I just don’t really want to live in a world where this kind of crap is not only accepted, but encouraged. I guess I’m just more surprised that in a world where everyone debates the legitimacy of nearly every issue, this has slipped through the cracks.
I think Lamarr and Hank said it best (about Nash Grier but could go for anyone). People deserve better than this.
Photo by Jason A. Howie
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