In the three days since Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video went online, it’s received over 3 million views and prompted discussion about inner beauty and self-esteem issues for women. Many viewers have called it “beautiful” and “eye-opening.”
“You are more beautiful than you think,” the video attests.
But if Dove’s entire point seems borrowed from One Direction; the viral video, in which a forensic artist illustrates the way women downplay their own appearances, is cloaking something more serious than the idea that women don’t know-oh-oh what makes them beautiful.
In the video, the forensic artist, who can’t see the women he’s drawing, asks them to describe their physical appearances. The adjectives the women use to describe themselves are pejorative: big, freckled. When they describe each other, however, the words change from negatives to positives: “protruding chin” becomes “nice thin chin.” Bystanders comment on how “nice” and “pretty” the women’s eyes are. One woman, looking at the two portraits of herself, comments that the self-described portrait is “closed off and fatter…sadder, too.” The other one is “more open, friendly, happy.”
After they see the two photos, the women stop describing themselves in purely physical terms. One of them states that her “natural beauty” impacts everything else in her life, from her profession to how she treats her children. “It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
Some viewers, however, aren’t convinced that what Dove is offering up as “natural beauty” in this instance is what they should be buying. On Tumblr, jazzylittledrops has eloquently argued for a different reading of the video, as less a deconstruction of healthy self-esteem and more an insidious reminder that even when being told they are beautiful, women are still being valued by their physical attributes above all else—and that those attributes have alarmingly racist connotations.
For as long as the Internet has been commonplace, law enforcement agents have found it helpful in catching criminals (and not just the stupid ones who post video evidence of their crimes on YouTube, either). Extremist groups—such as the various American white-supremacist organizations—also find the Internet useful for connecting with like-minded people.
But it’s intensely time-consuming for police to personally wade through the web’s ever-growing number of white supremacist tweets and other social media postings in search of the relative handful of extremist posts indicating a possible threat.
Maybe there’s an easier way. Two researchers, J. M. Berger and Bill Strathearn, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) in London, have developed an algorithm with a high rate of success in identifying extremists on Twitter, by analyzing the relationships between Twitter account holders (as opposed to analyzing the actual posted content).
“I should really just make that the tagline for the website: ‘Fun and Depressing,’” laughed Ti, a 32-year-old Chinese-American, forced to stare deep into the Internet’s ugly, discriminatory depths several times daily for his material. “Totally out of nowhere, fun, and depressing.”
“I’ve stopped hoping of answering them all; it’s not even in the ballpark of possible,” he said. “I did not think anyone was going to look at the blog, honestly. I thought maybe 20 of my friends would check it out and it would be fun for a couple of weeks, and that would be it. I had no, and even still currently have no, real concrete plans for it. There’s no road map for it.
And it’s kind of mildly depressing that there’s enough material to keep it going.”
But it’s a credit to Ti that Yo, Is This Racist? is rarely actually dispiriting to read. In lesser hands, a Tumblr with its premise might be a soul-sucking slog—or an overly dry, academic take on race relations. But Yo, Is This Racist? is blunt, profane, and endlessly hilarious.
The comedy springs from Ti’s unruffled dismissiveness of race-baiting trolls, the Tumblr’s excursions into absurdism, and his casually frank responses. (“Q: Yo, why can’t we all just get along?” “A: One reason is how racist a lot of people are, but I’m sure there are others as well.”)
“I do wanna stress that I’m not at all an expert in this stuff,” Ti explained. “I’m just a guy with a slightly different perspective than a lot of people, and maybe a more succinct way of putting it. But there’s a lot of very educated people that have way more actual formal knowledge about race relations or social justice. That’s not my background.
“But also, I never say anything I don’t believe. I answer things in my own dumb goofy way sometimes, but it’s still an honest reaction, and I hope it’s helpful in some way.”
The Yo, Is This Racist? podcast has a similar modus operandi. Listeners call in—to an actual landline answering machine—with questions, and Ti tackles them, with help from a rotating cast of guest hosts that has thus far included the Sklarbro brothers and Howard Kremer of Who Charted? Ti’s answered questions ranging from whether white musicians covering hip-hop ironically is racist to whether Fruit Ninja fetishizes feudal Japan. Earwolf initially approached Ti with the idea of starting a podcast, and Ti responded by planning a show significantly more ambitious than the format he ultimately went with.
“My first idea was this concept that was horribly impossible to produce,” Ti recalled. “I wanted to this radio play-kind of thing that would be sort of a sketch show, with characters. And logistically as soon as it started to come into focus I was like ‘This is a bad idea that’s going to be impossible to do.’ The format we went with has been right for me. There’s always a new question to keep it moving, which is good for me because I can’t do that freeform talk-for-45-minutes thing that some podcast hosts can do.”
Part of why Ti struggles with that is that, well, he’s not a professional, and he’s well aware of it. Prior to starting the podcast, he’d had no real performing experience, and it’s an intimidating experience to go from never hearing your own voice to attempting to be funny alongside a crew of standup comedians. So far, though, Ti’s acquitting himself well.
Cosplay—the art and of dressing up and performing as a fictional character—is all about attention to detail. In cosplay contests around the world, participants are judged by how meticulously they can recreate a character’s appearance.
It doesn’t stop at clothing either. Since many fictional characters, especially those from Japanese anime, have a prismatic range of hair and eye colors, cosplayers don brilliant wigs and contact lenses to better mimic a look. Fans may even paint their skin in unnatural colors, most prominently red or gray, for a role.
But is there an unspoken line cosplayers shouldn’t cross? What happens, for example, when a fan attempts to look like a character of a different ethnicity?
Brownface or brownfacing is the practice of cosplayers darkening their skin, and it has embroiled the cosplay community on Tumblr in recent weeks.
The argument came to a head when illustrator and Tumblr celebrity Yamino weighed in with an open letter, “Dear White Cosplayers”:
“I’ve seen some popular cosplayers I admire put on ‘brownface’ to cosplay characters like Korra, Katara, and other people of color. That is not ok. What seems like innocent dress-up to you is a tradition rooted in racism which dehumanises real people of color. Skintone is not a costume.”
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show that stresses the importance of treating everyone with love and tolerance. However, many bronies—adult fans of the show—have come forward to say they felt neither loved nor tolerated at a national brony gathering this weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, tens of thousands of bronies attended Everfree Northwest, a Seattle convention for fans. Mere days after the event ended, stories are trickling onto Tumblr and Reddit about less than positive experiences involving sexism, racial slurs, and even assault.
It was fuel to the fire already sparked by purpletinker on DeviantArt, a transgender former volunteer at Everfree who said she was forced to leave because of an environment where other volunteers referred to her as a “tranny.”
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Tumblr curated by Fernando Alfonso III (@fernalfonso), Aja Romano (@ajaromano) Gaby Dunn (@gabydunn), and Logan Youree (@loganwtf).