Shit People Say. Applied Meme-Genealogy

This meme inevitably went viral and with its endless iterations proved to be a dangerously mutable one. The epidemic of “funny” videos titled “Shit …… say” (and later “Shit X people say to Y people”) spreads fast, but it’s fairly easy to guess the trajectory of its development. Why? Because its driving force is stereotypes. Let’s track them:

1. The root: Sexism

The first one I saw was “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” and I have to admit, I found it hilarious and witty. Then I realized it was a parody of “Shit Girls Say“, that has now over 11 million views. Created by Kyle Humphrey & Graydon Sheppard the video shows a guy in drag who performs a helpless (especially with technology) , needy, and kind of dumb “girlish” girl. I find this representation not only very annoying, but also extremely sexist. As Samhita noted: Why the hell do you call adult women “girls”?! That’s just another good old misogynist tactic —  making women seem stupid by representing them as infantile. It’s like creating a stick-figure woman — a stereotypical and essentialized representation of many different women’s behaviours observed by two men.

That’s an important question: who is representing who? Notice: two white guys make use of their undeniably privileged position. This is how they responded to the criticism in an interview:

You can’t really respond to it, other than positively. We respect women; we love women; we grew up around women; the people who helped us on the project were women. Obviously we can’t critique anyone for critiquing us in this way. Everyone has the right to critique it. It’s a really interesting dialogue that has come up because of the people criticizing it. It’s tricky territory. It’s sensitive territory. But people have the right to be offended. It’s par for the course, especially if something goes this big, which we never thought it would.

But I’m gay, and Kyle’s gay, and people put things out there about gay people. There are television shows about gay people, and I think we try to not let that define us. We know they don’t necessarily speak for us. I think it’s a really interesting topic. We’ve been learning a lot.

No worries Graydon, the wave of gay-related videos is coming. Anyway, their response is a classic one in many ways:

  • “I know many women/ I love my mother/I respect women, therefore I am not sexist when I mock women’s behaviour.”
  • “A woman said she’s not offended by it, therefore it’s not sexist.”
  • “I’m gay, therefore I cannot be sexist.”

All the above: WRONG! One might think that being part of a marginalized group, makes you understand the oppression of others better, but unfortunately this seemingly insignificant example of a “joke” shows it doesn’t really work this way. Sexism is a pervasive problem in the gay community, and often different levels of discrimination and oppression gain a hierarchical structure.

2. Second iteration: Racism 

When some people noticed that the video that started the madness does not represent all women, the epidemic took another predictable turn, a racist one. Probably one of the first ones in that category was the parody by a comedian Billy Sorrells “Shit Black Girls Say“. It’s actually not so much different from the original video — it still shows a character called Peaches, that is as helpless, silly and needy as her prototype (megaproblematic relation being drawn between the two, by the way). However, she’s more exaggerated and even more confused with technology. Naima Ramos-Chapman notes:

When the meme got a racialized twist with Billy Sorrell’s “Shit Black Girls Say” version, I choked mid-chuckle. Both videos refer to adult women as “girls,” and portray them as weak, stupid, silly, bad with technology, and helpless.  And in Sorrell’s version, a part about black women being stuck in abusive relationships is too disturbing given that they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than white women.

This started an new avalanche of videos perpetuating racist stereotypes, but still mostly about women. So the internet was flooded by extremely problematic “Shit Asian Girls Say“, “Shit Spanish Girls Say“, “Shit Latina Girls Say” performed by Asian and Latino guys accordingly. This is again not surprising at all the racist iterations of the meme sticks to a female body (or rather a male body in drag). Latoya Peterson comments on that on Racialicious:

But while there are some interesting interpretations of racial stereotypes (white girls eat chips, black girls eat Cheetos, Asian girls eat Pocky, and I couldn’t quite make out what was on the bag in the Spanish video) and some annoyingly persistent gender stereotypes (CAN NO ONE USE A COMPUTER WITHOUT ASSISTANCE?!?! Oh wait, Spanish girls can.) I’m a bit more interested in the aftermath when people started using the meme for social commentary. While there were definitely people using the meme to advance their racist opinions of certain groups of people say, without the wink-nudge insider cred that the above videos rely on to be funny, the meme started mutating, turning the stereotypes in on themselves.

3. The Backlash Effect vol. 1

The time for revenge has come. Many women were seriously pissed off by these idiotic videos, so that another version of the meme emerged. This time the idea was to reverse the roles and mock the stereotypes (or those who perpetuate them). So there’s “Shit Guys Say“, “Shit Black Guys Say“, etc.

4. The Backlash Effect vol. 2

This way the meme started transforming itself into a social critique that is supposed to be subversive. In this version people X say shit to people Y. The most popular video from this category is the already mentioned “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” by Franchesca Ramsey, a comedian/actress/blogger/overall renaissance woman. The video is revealing the everyday-racism, that many have to deal with and pass along another “omg, can I touch your hair” comment. For me the only problem with this video is that although it is a legitimate response to the “Shit Girls Say” video, it targets women again. Why the blade of critique is turned to women, instead of blowing up in the faces of those who started the whole stereotype-vicious-wheel — guys, who think they’re funny? Anyway the path has been trodden to give us: “Shit White Girls Say To Arab Girls“, “… to Asian Girls“, “…To Brown Girls“, etc.

Meanwhile, Ramsey has been inundated with hundreds of emails and messages since her video’s release, and thinks that the little changes do matter. A day after her video went viral, she posted a letter on her blog from a white woman who was moved by the video and asked herself, “Have I ever said anything like that?”

“That’s exactly what I wanted,” Ramsey said of the woman’s response. “There’s tons of people who don’t get it and are never gonna get it. But even if just one person thinks twice when they say something—and not just to a black person, but to anyone—then I think I did my job.”

From:http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/01/sht_white_girls_say_to_black_girls_viral_video.html

5. “Queering” It Up?

When almost everybody expressed their feelings (or rather poured their frustrations) about all the little things that annoy them in their interactions with friends, the time has come for long awaited sexuality issues to step in! This meme mutated into two lines again: the first one mocking what all the colours of the LGBT rainbow people say (“Shit Gay Guys Says“, “Shit Black Gay Guys Say“, “Shit Southern Gay Guys Say“, “Shit Gay Girls Say“, “Shit Lesbians Say“), and the second one supposedly exposing the prejudice of the first one by again adding another interlocutor of the conversation (“Shit Cis People Say To Trans People“, “Shit Straight Girls Say to Gay Guys“, “Shit Guys Say To Lesbians“, “Shit Girls Say to Lesbians“, “Shit Gay Guys Say To Lesbians“). The LGBTQIA boggle in all possible combinations and configurations. Despite their claim to being ironic, these “subversive” massages function in a similar way the obviously problematic ones do — they still reinforce the stereotypes.

Even though people wearing bad wigs and make-up wink to us with every sentence, the whole “situational” humor of it is based on a shared acknowledgement of some truth of their statements. I understand the parody of it and the idea of irony, but there is something utterly annoying and problematic in all those clumsy attempts of drag performativity. Although I tried to draw a timeline and trace how the meme mutated, this element was present throughout the whole process, even when people where making fun of their own identity. But especially when it was targeting some other gender/racial/sexuality category it turned out to be problematic. Similarly to cross-dressing in classic (and reactionary) movies like Tootsie (1984) or Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), it functions as a symptom of backlash against feminism. That is how it works in the first iteration of sexist videos for sure. However, I think that the “subversive” line of the meme is not that subversive after all. Consider this latest video “Shit (Young, White, Class-privileged, City-based) “Radical Queers” Say to Each Other”

At first I thought I will find this one somewhat more engaged and that I will welcome this kind of irony. Watching it after a meeting of my radical queer group I laughed a lot. Until I talked to someone about it and that person told me that the video makes her feel uncomfortable. I didn’t notice that in the beginning, but now that I think about it, I couldn’t have noticed that. My lack of knowledge about the context and my own privilege blinded me to welcome that friendly fire with open arms. The creators of this video write:

We turned the lens toward ourselves as a way to exhibit how rampant transmasculine-centrism, radical queer snobbery/jargon and extreme anti-lesbian sentiment show up in young white ‘radical queer’ communities. Let’s continue to build inclusive communities of resistance while remembering our many herstories!

The transphobia of this piece remained transparent to me. This just shows how careful one has to be with posting another funny video, or repeating a joke (“you know I’m not racist, you get it”). Although completely unintentionally, people who made this video helped me understand my own position and prejudice.

Memebola?

I honestly hope that this madness will end soon. The template started to get boring, repetitive, not really creative and just tiring. Now there are video about yogis, vegans, new age girls/guys, New Yorkers, or even nobody! There’s even one about feminists:

And again it’s problematic. The idea is that all the shit people say to feminists is wrong. Following this logic the video tries to show false stereotypes about feminists. In that sense unfortunately it falls into a “mainstream feminist” rant about how people confuse the movement with lesbians, women who refuse to conform oppressive norms that bound their bodies to ridiculous social standards of beauty, or just in general radical feminists. Guess what, there are feminists lesbians, feminists who don’t shave their legs, as well as radical feminists. It’s all part of the feminist struggle, so that “funny intervention” ends up shooting yourself in the foot.

Just to conclude:

Outside of “Shit Black Girls Say to White Girls,” none of the other videos got anywhere near the amount of play that “Shit Girls Say” and “Shit Black Girls Say” enjoyed. Maybe that’s because, as a culture, we are accustomed to laughing at stereotypes, but we aren’t prepared to unpack how we perpetuate them.

I think that the fact that this meme’s mutation went through very predictable phases makes it a perfect “trolling meme”. It’s easy and even lazy to use stereotypes in comedy without any effort of twisting them, unfolding, or crushing.

Q? zine | Issue 1.1 | November 2011

A new issue of an absolutely amazing queer zine is out!

 

 

The whole idea of creating this zine is sparked as a process of becoming.  Of becoming what? We do not seek to limit the “what”. It all depends on you. Becoming means transformation: conforming and opposing it, running away and staying right here, constantly questioning the self and being ok with it, constructing identity and deconstructing it playfully. We invite you to open yourself to new possibilities and interpretations, and to have a doubt that can eventually be liberating. But the idea of becoming is also much broader. We want to start thinking of becoming with. Becoming as creating alliances and crushing privileges. It cannot exist without tackling the problems of racism, classism, sexism and a couple of other ‘–isms’ that form a web of power relations existent in our everyday lives.

The zine is titled “Q?”, because we would like to open a discussion of what it means to be queer, to queer something and what are the consequences of these actions. The Q word has become so fashionable recently that we aspire to create an alternative to the western monopolization of this word and elitist/academic interpretation of it.

For an online version go to: issue1-1-web

A printable version is available here.

For more info go to http://rqac.wordpress.com/. You can also find the previous issue there.

If you’re interested in submitting articles, comic stories, artworks, photographs, poems, fiction stories, commentaries, etc., write to fork@riseup.net!