By: Gabie Allain, Evan Smith, Garrett Lockhart, Fiona Schlumberger and Danica Pinteric.
Theresa Senft’s chapter “Keeping it Real on the Web: Authenticity, Celebrity, Branding” offers an introductory exploration of all things camgirl. Senft begins by describing the shutdown of The JenniCam (operated by and starring Jennifer Ringley). The JenniCam (live 1996-2004) was a website centered around digital images captured by a webcam set up in Ringley’s home which were uploaded to the web periodically. Senft recognizes this as the beginnings of online celebrity as a concept, citing the public’s fascination with ‘reality as entertainment’ as a reason for this phenomenon (16).
Senft first explores the concept of ‘reality’ in relation to camming. Senft quotes Ringley saying she wanted to “show people that what we see on TV—people with perfect hair, perfect friends, perfect lives—is not reality. I’m reality.”(16). Senft agrees that “homecamming” is in fact quite a candid and unedited practice. However, Senft also critiques Ringley’s statement- reminding readers that Ringley herself was a young, white, “conventionally attractive” (16) woman while The JenniCam was live (16). This critique relates to themes of previous classes: particularly Gill Valentine’s discussion about the reality of who is really represented/excluded in “public” settings. Ringley presents herself as a “real” girl, but we must consider if this identity was but socially produced through what offline society had deemed real, or, “acceptable.”
Senft also describes the technologies/services required for camgirls to run their websites, demonstrating how quickly costs accumulate. Camgirls running their own websites do not necessarily generate large profits. Senft explains that paid memberships with added features reduce the costs of producing camgirl content (20). Rather, camgirls sell ‘memberships’ to reduce costs and continue running their sites (Senft 20). This relates to our discussions in class about certain public assumptions that female sexworkers (in physical or digital worlds) do not enjoy their work and only do this kind of work for a profit. Towards the midpoint of the chapter, Senft explores LiveJournal as a platform for expressing individuality through a number of techniques including posting academic work, personal photos and ‘screenshot writing’. Senft also introduces the concept of the “Friends List” as a way of attracting attention online.
In the second half of the text, Senft addresses popularity, the ‘micro-celebrity’, branding, and provides a case study of LonelyGirl15. She explains that quantifying popularity on the web is difficult to measure, given there are three different ways to do so: either by hits, page views, or unique visitors (Senft 24). Senft also argues, through personal experience, that media attention can translate into popularity on the web. The term ‘micro-celebrity’ is introduced in the text; Senft uses it to describe an internet celebrity, and how their popularity depends on the connections they make to their audience. She is also quite clear when explaining the importance of self-branding—either you brand, or you die (Senft 26). Senft uses the concept of post-modern branding to explain how camgirls are able to brand themselves in different ways (see ‘Suicide Girls’) (27-28). At the end of her chapter, Senft introduces readers to a case study of LonelyGirl15, a twenty-something posing as a fifteen year old girl named Bree who made bedroom videos. The videos were a project that was later supposed to become a Hollywood film.
A link from an interview with Jennifer Ringley (Letterman)
“Girl Geeks Discuss Their Place on the Web” is a back and forth dialog between Mara Johnston and Christine Castro, two women who have found voices in feminist discourse through online blogging. Maura is the head of Maura.com, an independent culture publication and Christine the creator of Maganda.org, her blog featuring her personal chronicles. “Girl Geeks Discuss Their Place on the Web” features successive emails between Christine and Maura, in which they discuss the consequences and conflicts they experience through their internet personas.
Christine admits that she was always introverted, far from the “prom queen” she has become online. The internet gave her a new space to voice her opinions and thrive, sometimes too much to her liking. Maura accords, and adds in that she is constantly surprised by her avid viewers. Who are they, where do they come from, and why do they care? Both Christine and Maura’s online voices provide safe spaces for women to define themselves in non conforming ways.
Christine explains that her web audience is predominantly teenage girls and young women, so she feels as though she is a big sister figure for many. Though she embraces this, it is also troubling to her at times because it creates feelings of pressure. She created an incredible outlet for young women to express themselves, but with boundaries. Knowing that she has loyal readers, some of whom could be people who she knows personally, causes her to censor her material. She feels self conscious of the people it is reaching, the feelings she could hurt, secrets she could give up, and so on. Her blog, which is meant to be personal, becomes a place where she can’t disclose real, genuine feelings and truths: “heaven forbid i come across as slutty, bitchy, or whiny.” Maura agrees with this, adding that her work is also dictated by the people who might be viewing it.
“how empowering is it when you censor yourself because you don’t want to give off the wrong impression? how strong a woman am i if i can’t even be honest in my own expression?” In the end of the dialog both women find meaning in their work in that it has spread love and acceptance to many young women. Christine and Maura also acknowledge the significance of their friendship which they established online and allows them to open-up on a personal, non-censored level.
Jillian Mayer & Ana Voog
The work of multimedia artist Jillian Mayer examines the lived experiences of participants of internet and digital culture through their interactions and existences in these respective realms. Mayer’s most recent series, 400 Nudes, is a compilation of 400 nude female selfies (obtained via online sources like girlfriend revenge websites) in which she has re-photographed her own face and applied it to the bodies of each woman, whose ages, races and bodies vary. 400 Nudes aims to deconstruct and examine sexual image consumption and photographic authenticity in our contemporary age.
Ana Voog broadcasted her home life through 24/7 webcams for 12 years, for a project entitled anacam and is credited as the second of its kind. It deals with issues of “female sexuality and sensuality” in the public/online sphere, as well as examining gender performativity through a feminist lens. Voog received criticism for her openness to share her everyday life, especially for uncensored sexual activity.
Question 1: In her chapter, Senft explores the realities we create for ourselves via the personal content we produce and share (example: via blogging, homecamming) How much of the content that you display online do you think is a ‘true’ or ‘real’ depiction of your day-to-day self? Do you think that in 2015 we are more candid online than in 2008? Why/why not.
Question 2: How do we strike a balance between honesty and responsibility in our actions online?