Chris Johnson-Roberson

Brown University

May 2012

 

"The Lesson's Beef with Women": Misogyny in Online Hip-Hop Discourse

 

Hip-hop has faced considerable criticism for its denigration and exclusion of women and LGBTQ artists and fans, although it is perhaps no more misogynist or homophobic than other aspects of contemporary popular culture (hooks 2004:55). Okayplayer, one of the largest online hip-hop communities, has seen considerable debates over questions of gender and sexuality; its members have noted that female artists are subject to unfortunate fates within discourse, such as being objectified, critiqued for ostensibly objectifying themselves, and finally excluded from discussion altogether. Employing discourse-centered online ethnography (Androutsopolous 2008) and the Bourdieusian notion of doxa (Bourdieu 1977), I analyze board members' interactions with the artist Erykah Badu on the forum and their assessment of her controversial music video "Window Seat," as well as internal debates over the causes and effects of misogyny on- and off-line. The evolving "gender wars" on OKP serve as a barometer of changes in discourse surrounding hip-hop and society as a whole.


Bibliography

 

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            This article outlines a provisional methodology for analysis of computer-mediated communicatio, based in sociolinguistic approaches, called discourse-centered online ethnography (DCOE). DCOE entails the elicitation of responses from participants in online conversations, to reveal that which is not immediately apparent from the "log data," or publicly accessible record. Androutsopoulos notes that the "field" of an online ethnography, although it may appear limitless, is in fact often delimited by a group of mutually acquainted participants, or at least people with a relatively shared set of cultural touchstones. He provides useful suggestions for how to approach people, for instance, by making reference to their own words on personal websites or in the logs of the forum. His substantive work here focuses on online German hip-hop communities, and how differential levels of adherence to "standard German" and the ability to codeswitch between German and an argot including English hip-hop slang, mark participants as having varying degrees of social status and serve as a means to judge their character in the eyes of those he interviewed.

 

Antaki, Charles, et al. "'for She Who Knows Who She Is:' Managing Accountability in Online Forum Messages." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 1 (2005): 114-32. Print.

            Antaki et al. employ "conversation analysis" to examine how online forum messages constitute a social context in which, for example, a confession of love from one member to another can be understood without being explicit about the addressee. Here, forum posts are seen to have (potentially) concrete effects in the world.

 

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            Baym examines the Usenet group "rec.arts.tv.soaps" (r.a.t.s.), which she began recreationally and then decided to research. She asserts that women watch soaps in order to build community, and that the resulting online community serves as a space to discuss women's issues more broadly (16). As she writes: "I am seeking to show how a collection of previously disconnected individuals took their shared interest in a pop culture text and transformed it into a rich and meaningful interpersonal social world" (21).

 

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            This book addresses the ethical issues entailed by virtual research, with suggestions for keeping subjects anonymous, and the particular concerns relevant to different approaches (e-mail, so-called "synchronous CMC" or the various chat services, etc.).

 

Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. Youtube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008. Print.

            The authors seek to define the character of YouTube, its "YouTubeness," mainly via content analysis rather than through extended ethnography or semiotic analysis. They look at how different groups -- the media industries, amateur producers, and communities of interest -- operate in the same space.

 

Burkhalter, Byron. "Reading Race Online: Discovering Racial Identity in Usenet Discussions." Communities in Cyberspace. Eds. Smith, Mark A. and Peter Kollock, 1999. 60-75. Print.

            Burkhalter observes that, while physical markers of race may be absent in online interactions, racial identity is often marked online. He examines Usenet newsgroups focused on racial issues, wherein race forms an integral part of the narrative. Curiously, he asserts that "racial identity is no more ambiguous online than offline" (61); this conclusion is based on the haste with which people in these newsgroups directly assert their racial identity. Burkhalter speculates that online, rather than perceived race being the basis for inferred attitudes and perspectives, the expressed attitudes and perspectives of authors are used to infer race. The major issue with this work is that it takes the statements of interlocutors at face value, and does not attempt to garner reflections from them about the role of race in their discourse.

 

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            Byrne makes the point that there are few studies in computer-mediated communication that focus specifically on black social networking sites, and her article is thus an attempt to deal with the issues particular to such communities. One such site, BlackPlanet.com, has been running since 1999, and began primarily as a community site and message forum before becoming a more MySpace-like service; still, the forums have remained a popular part of the site, and constitute an online public sphere. Byrne's primary concern is with civic engagement, and whether forum participants discussing political and social issues will call upon their social networking contacts and attempt to organize offline. She finds, somewhat dishearteningly, that most attempts to suggest civic engagement beyond the level of writing letters to state representatives are met with pessimistic dismissal. Her methodology focused on issues identified by Tavis Smiley's "The Covenant with Black America," which, while comprised of the ideas of many black leaders and thinkers, may not necessarily reflect concerns on the ground; a more ethnographic approach might have revealed what concerns were most important to the forum participants.

 

Herring, Susan, Deborah A. Johnson, and Tamra DiBenedetto. ""This Discussion Is Going Too Far!": Male Resistance to Female Participation on the Internet." Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. Eds. Hall, Kira and Mary Bucholtz, 2001. 67. Print.

            Herring et al. analyze two cases in which women's concerns on listservs were derailed and silenced by men through a variety of means. These particular exchanges took place within the context of the academy; participants were (mostly) interacting with their real names and with their gender identities and institutional affiliations known to each other. In both instances, participants' comportment was shaped by hegemonic masculinity.

 

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            Hills looks at several fan cultures with relation to dichotomies of "resistance"/consumerism, community/hierarchy, and others. Useful for thinking about the contradictory role of a corporate-sponsored fan community.

 

Hine, Christine. Virtual Ethnography. Sage Publications Ltd, 2000. Print.

            This text appears to be a foundational one for several later authors, covering both methods and theory of ethnography over the internet. A list of principles on 64-66 is helpful for conceiving the notion of field site, the bounds of the ethnography, and so forth.

 

hooks, bell. We real cool: Black men and masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2004.

hooks describes the construction of Black masculinity and the. She notes that hip-hop's misogyny is not unique in American culture, but that it serves as a convenient scapegoat along with the general vilification of Black men.

 

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            Howard proposes "network ethnography" as a means of capturing "hypermedia organizations," which manifest across numerous media and have many participants, by first analyzing social networks (in the traditional sense) and then conducting focused ethnography along the axes such analysis suggests. This approach is more difficult to apply for communities that are primarily online, rather than thoroughly blended between face-to-face and online contact.

 

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            Kibby describes a chat room begun for fans of musician John Prine; as she notes, people felt like they "knew" him and were hopeful that he would make an appearance. The chat room was closed down by the record label due to anonymous people posting abusive comments.

 

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            Lange writes of the often-antagonistic responses of "haters" to YouTube videos, examining how they differ from constructive criticism and how participants have considered their moderation. She emphasizes heavily that earlier research often espoused the belief that the sight and sound of speakers' embodied presence would reduce the antagonism directed toward them, but this has not turned out to be the case. Some of her informants claim that just one positive comment suffices to make them feel appreciated, even amidst a sea of "haters," but others feel that the comments of these haters are the most damaging part of the community and that they must be stopped. One user proposes a new moderation system as a means of reducing the issue, but Lange finds that other users are not convinced that this method would be effective or even desirable, as it might have a chilling effect on discourse. Ambiguity over what is or is not "hating" seems quite salient to the Okayplayer message boards and the often sharply-critical conversations that take place there.

 

Lee, Steve S., and Richard A. Peterson. "Internet-Based Virtual Music Scenes: The Case of P2 in Alt. Country Music." Music Scenes: Local Translocal and Virtual. Eds. Bennett, Andy and Richard A. Peterson, 2004. 187-204. Print.

            Lee and Peterson demonstrate how a genre of music ("alt.country") can be constituted around the tastes of consumers, rather than of producers. Individuals classed as alt.country have widely divergent musical styles, but the label is one applied by fans via the P2 listserv. This category has since been taken up by the industry and defined as a marketing niche, so this may represent a phase in genre formation rather than an enduring reflection of fan influence.

 

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            Lysloff discusses the nature of online ethnography in a somewhat mythologized fashion, refering to a "dreamlike metropolis" devoid of people. Substantively, he addresses the MOD community, creating and exchanging sequenced tracks in MOD format. The conclusion is perhaps most relevant for my project, as it reviews ideas about virtual communities and online relationships (54-57).

 

McLelland, M. J. "Virtual Ethnography: Using the Internet to Study Gay Culture in Japan." Sexualities 5 4 (2002): 387-406. Print.

            This article looks at the way in which Japanese gay men use the internet to relate their experiences of coming out and to dsicuss their concerns without those who are close to them knowing. An analogy can be drawn to hip-hop fans who are geographically or socially isolated from each other, some of whom are in areas where hip-hop (or blackness in general) occupy a particularly marginalized position.

 

Miller, Daniel, and Don Slater. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg, 2000. Print.

            This text reviews the growing body of research on internet ethnography, seeking to look at how "specific cultures [...] find themselves in the online environment and try to mould it in their own image."

 

O'Brien, Jodi. "Writing in the Body: Gender (Re)Production in Online Interaction." Communities in Cyberspace. Eds. Smith, Mark A. and Peter Kollock. London: Routledge, 1999. 77-104. Print.

            This article begins with a review of gender performativity and gender as a social production. O'Brien notes that treating gender as social construction rather than a fixed variable radically changes the analysis of online discourse; although this is not entirely novel, it is a break from Herring's work which seemed to reify the gender binary. O'Brien describes mostly earlier predominantly text-based environments, such as MUDs, BBSs, and chatrooms; from studies of these, she observes that gender is heavily policed, and that some people will try to force gender-ambiguous individuals to adhere to a binary in order to use the "correct" set of social mores with them. She asserts that gender may in fact be the primary means through which online interactions are structured; it seems that, despite the real-world examples she gives of how gender and sexuality intertwine with race and class, she has not given full consideration to these other factors as they manifest online. This may partly be explained by her focus on cybersex, wherein profound anxieties about sexual orientation mean that the revelation that interactants are of the "wrong" gender can provoke strong reactions (where the revelation of a different race or class identity would not be).

 

Watson, Nessim. "Why We Argue About Virtual Community: A Case Study of the Phish. Net Fan Community." Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety. 1997. 102-32. Print.

            This chapter examines why there was such resistance to treating virtual communities as communities; the creation of group-specific meanings and norms of interaction seem to suggest this metaphor above others. Watson also provides specific instances of Phish responding as a band to fan requests on Phish.net, suggesting that the forums were seen as representative of fans more broadly (127-128).

 

Yang, Guobin. "The Internet and the Rise of a Transnational Chinese Cultural Sphere." Media, Culture & Society 25 4 (2003): 469. Print.

            This article promotes "guerrilla ethnography," encouraging involvement in and movement between sites, as a way of gaining a broader perspective on the way that people are using sites (as they will often be part of more than one such community).