Feminist social media tactics that use humor as a form of resistance to misogyny, rewiring the dynamics of shame, shaming, and shamelessness.
Online sexism, hate, and harassment aim to silence women through shaming and fear. In Who’s Laughing Now? Jenny Sundén and Susanna Paasonen examine a somewhat counterintuitive form of resistance: humor. Sundén and Paasonen argue that feminist social media tactics that use humor, laughter, and a sense of the absurd to answer name-calling, offensive language, and unsolicited dick pics can rewire the affective circuits of sexual shame and acts of shaming.
Using laughter as both a theme and a methodological tool, Sundén and Paasonen explore examples of the subversive deployment of humor that range from @assholesonline to the Tumblr “Congrats, you have an all-male panel!” They consider the distribution and redistribution of shame, discuss Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, and describe tactical retweeting and commenting (as practiced by Stormy Daniels, among others). They explore the appropriation of terms meant to hurt and insult—for example, self-proclaimed Finnish “tolerance whores”—and what effect this rerouting of labels may have. They are interested not in lulz (amusement at another’s expense)—not in what laughter pins down, limits, or suppresses but rather in what grows with and in it. The contagiousness of laughter drives the emergence of networked forms of feminism, bringing people together (although it may also create rifts). Sundén and Paasonen break new ground in exploring the intersection of networked feminism, humor, and affect, arguing for the political necessity of inappropriate laughter.
Edited by Allison McCracken, Alexander Cho, Louisa Stein and Indira Neill Hoch, the 404 pages of A Tumblr Book: Platform and Cultures are out with University of Michigan Press, on open access. This monumental work also includes a conversation on Tumblr porn we did with Alex Cho and Noah Tsika, titled “Walled Gardens, NSFW Niches, and Horizontality,” before the platform introduced the NSFW ban late in 2018. How soon things become history, and oh how sorely the old Tumblr is missed!
Join us for a Zoom spectacle on the intimacies of data on October 23 with Deborah Lupton, Minna Ruckenstein and Irina Shklovski! Organized by the Strategic research Council consortium, Intimacy in Data-Driven Culture and open for all: follow the link here. Talks will also be recorded and uploaded on our site for later viewing.
Our NSFW: Sex, Humor and Risk in Social Media, has just been chosen for the 2020 Association of Internet researchers’ Nancy Baym book award. Kylie Jarrett, Ben Light and I are deeply honored as the recognition means much coming from an association that we’ve all been involved with for a long time. This is what the jury had to say:
“NSFW is a wonderful, original and surprising book that deeply and critically interrogates issues around sex, porn, safety, and labor, be that the labor of producing online porn or keeping Facebook “safe”. The book weaves together its various threads (dick pics, algorithmically-produced art, misogynistic online harassment, and much more) to produce a compelling account of aspects of digital culture that – whether we like it or not – touch us all. Drawing on a variety of empirical materials and theoretical insights, NSFW is, in many ways, the consummate AoIR book: the very collaboration between Paasonen, Jarrett and Light was conceived at AoIR conferences, work in progress was presented at AoIR conferences, and the book is in constant dialogue with work produced by the AoIR community. Read more: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/nsfw.”
Very glad that our Affective Body Politics special issue, coedited with Kaisu Hynnä-Granberg and Mari Lehto, is now out with Social media + society, on open access. The eight articles are based on presentations at the Affective Politics of Social Media symposium that we organized at University of Turku in 2017, and they explore all kinds of things from Reddit tributing to debates on public breastfeeding, Chaturbate, #MeToo, Netflix bingeing, fat activism and the online platforms of Transgender Nation.
The theme of the conference, “Digital Transformations: Polarization, media manipulation, and resistance”, seeks to discuss political polarization and media manipulation, focusing on their effects on young democracies of Latin American and Brazil in the context of digital transformations. Most Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, have a history of several years of violent dictatorships. Much of these periods were marked by censorship and mass media manipulation. In recent years, social media brought the opportunity for people to organize themselves around political participation, offered them more information and the tools to make public demands directly to congressmen and congresswomen. However, social media have also played an important role in the crisis these young democracies face today, as it also provides a space for hate speech, intolerance, and extremization. At the same time, a myriad of social media practices that revolve around digital transformations and expressions promote different, positive agendas, covering a broad range of everyday activities, sociabilities and subjectivities in various platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
An interview on our new book and what the whole thing is about is freshly out in the MIT Press Reader. And this is the editors’ intro:
The hashtag #NSFW (not safe for work) acts as both a warning and an invitation. NSFW tells users, “We dare you to click on this link! And by the way, don’t do it until after work!” Unlike the specificity of movie and television advisories (“suggestive dialogue,” “sexual content”), NSFW signals, nonspecifically, sexually explicit content that ranges from nude selfies to pornography. But Susanna Paasonen, Kylie Jarrett, and Ben Light, the authors of “NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media,” argue that when applied across the board to all kinds of sexual images and formations, “the tag NSFW flattens crucial differences between them under the opaque blanket of offensiveness, riskiness, and unsafety that it connotes.” They maintain that if we are to envision social media ecologies capable of accommodating sexuality as a field of pleasure, communication, occupation, and world-making, it is crucial to resist categorical effacement of sexually suggestive and explicit content.
We asked Paasonen, Jarrett, and Light about how subjectivity and politics contribute to the nuances of what is designated “not safe for work,” how the hashtag reinforces our culture of heterosexism, and about its effects on the careers of sex workers across social media platforms.
This article investigates the affective and ambiguous dynamics of feminist humor as an unexpected strategy of resistance in connection with #MeToo, asking what laughter may do to the sharpness of negative affect of shame and anger driving the movement. Our inquiry comes in three vignettes. First, we deploy Nanette—Hannah Gadsby’s 2018 Netflix success heralded as the comedy of the #MeToo era—arguing that the uniform viral warmth surrounding the show drives the emergence of networked feminisms through “affective homophily,” or a love of feeling the same. With Nanette, the contagious qualities of laughter are tamed by a networked logic of homophily, allowing for intensity while resisting dissent. Our second vignette zooms in on a less known feminist comedian, Lauren Maul, and her online #MeToo musical comedy riffing off on apologies made by male celebrities accused of sexual harassment, rendering the apologies and the men performing them objects of ridicule. Our third example opens up the door to the ambivalence of irony. In considering the unexpected pockets of humor within the #MeToo scandal that ripped apart the prestigious institution of the Swedish Academy, we explore the emergence of carnivalesque comedy and feminist uses of irony in the appropriation of the pussy-bow blouse as an ambiguous feminist symbol. Our examples allow us to argue for the political importance of affective ambiguity, difference, and dissent in contemporary social media feminisms, and to highlight the risk when a movement like #MeToo closes ranks around homogeneous feelings of not only shame and rage, but also love.
An excerpt from our new book with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light, NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media, is up at Literary Hub, just here. With the title, “What does ‘NSFW’ Mean in the Age of Social Media?”, it’s actually the first part of our chapter on dick pics and looks at the different roles that humor and gendered naked bodies play in the viral logics of social media.