Racial Vine Comedy
Hey guys! In this video we’re going to focus on the internet linguistics of vines and the way in which vines can be utilized to express racial humor. We’re actually going to build this entire discussion off a thesis called, “What, a Black man can’t have a TV?”: Vine Racial Comedy as a Sociopolitical Discourse Genre”. This piece was written by Dr. Kendra Calhoun as her thesis at UC Santa Barbara in 2016. And one of the reasons
we’re going to build our knowledge of Vines from this article is that Dr. Calhoun used discourse analysis in her study of vines, and so we can use our exploration of her work to learn more about how discourse analysis is conducted on internet languages. I also think it’s great to reference someone’s thesis work because while Dr. Calhoun has many other publications since her thesis, if any of you are watching this video who may be interested in one day pursuing a master’s degree, you can see how in-depth a thesis is, as well as how fun and interesting writing a thesis can be.
We’re not going to learn everything about discourse analysis from this review of her thesis, but once we get to her methodology and review how she handled her data, you’ll see a glimpse of discourse analysis that we haven’t addressed in any of our videos thus far. Again, to clarify real quick, I’m presenting to you a lot of Dr. Calhoun’s thesis research, not all of it, but a bit of it, so I want to stress giving her the credit for her work and analysis on this particular topic. I also want to acknowledge that she quotes a lot of amazing scholars in her work, especially in her literature review, so I’m going to provide you a link to Dr. Calhoun's thesis below in the description of this video, and I encourage you to take a look at it when you have time. Ok, let’s get on with our investigation of racial humor in Vines. Some of you may be asking yourself what are “vines”, and that’s a fair question, because the term actually comes from the name of a social media platform that only existed between 2012-2017, and towards the end of its existence was replaced by competing apps such as Snap Chat.
So “Vine” was a video sharing social media platform that allowed you to share 6 second video clips. It is a form of microblogging, and microblogging is posting short, frequent posts to a site, which is different from a blog which involves posting really long posts. Like Vine - Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like are all microblogging platforms. So Vine, again, was a video sharing platform, and while it wasn’t identical to
Snapchat and TikTok, those are probably the most similar apps we have to it this day. So “internet famous” probably a phrase you’ve heard before, is a person who has acquired their fame through the internet. So this would be different than someone who became famous in Hollywood for films they’ve made, who then decide to join Twitter. “Internet famous” people are those who got the start
of their fame from their social media use. Social media platforms like Vine tend to favor people who don’t come from the traditional celebrity system, that system including Hollywood. On Vine especially, people preferred to follow the “grass root ‘microcelebrities’”, so in other words, people that were just regular people like you and me. People who were relatable. And some of those “relatable people” have gone on to become “internet famous”, in Vine and beyond, such as Zach King who used Vine to create really awesome illusion tricks, such as these vines and Thomas Sanders, famous for his “story time” narrations, such as these vines. Vine was a
platform that allowed regular people like you and me to express ideas and share information. So Vine was unique because it brought to the table what wasn’t yet available on platforms like Twitter, which was the use of video. To put it more simply, the video feature of Vine allowed for Zach King to present his illusions and magic in a way that couldn’t be expressed on platforms that only allowed for stilled images or text. What we’re highlight here is referred to as “Technological affordances”. The shortest simplest definition of this term I can offer is that these are the way a “platform allows and restricts content production”, such as their allowances and restrictions on text, images, and audio. For example, Twitter has a text character limit,
so every post has to fit within that affordance, within that parameter, and the person tweeting has to think carefully and intentionally about this affordance and make narrative decisions that allow them to communicate their message while staying within this character parameter. The searchable hashtag feature found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, which we just covered in the prior video, is also an example of a technological affordance, and we saw in our prior video that people can use hashtags to promote causes, also known as “hashtag activism”, so we know that if we’re going to raise our voices for a cause that platforms that allow for hashtagging, platforms that have the technological affordance of hashtagging, are going to be more suited for helping spread discourse on social causes, because we also know that people can click on them and be taken to the discourse surrounding the cause. Emojis and typological tone of voice features, which we’ve covered in other videos, are also examples of affordances in e-languages.
Also, hyperlinks are another example of a technological affordance, so whether or not the platform even allows you to share links, and then whether or not those platforms allow you to hyperlink those links to text or if you have to just copy and paste the whole link. It is actually affordances like these, and the fact that a lot of these are shared features across social media platforms, that has paved the way for patterns of discourse that are distinct to e-languages. Such as [gIfs] or [ʤɪfs], however you want to pronounce them, which stands for “graphics interchange format”. These are 1-5 second video clips that look more like images that loop,
or play repeatedly. There is no audio to them, only the image, and since there is no audio, the speech for the GIF is superimposed as text like subtitling around the image. We can see GIFS used primarily as reaction responses. Such as, “my reaction or how I feel when X happens”,
like this stilled image of a GIF that reads, “my reaction when I hear KPOP”. However, since the use of GIFs have become so widespread, people now no longer need to include the textual explanation or textual disclaimer for the GIF to make sense, for it to achieve the intended message and purpose. Now we can just post the looping image and the expression or body language in the GIF does all the communicating for us without the text. GIFs have a “unique ability to capture and isolate
bodily gesture…bringing…the meanings [otherwise] carried so powerfully and elegantly through bodily actions” in face-to-face communication back into what is otherwise a text-based mode of communication.” Put shortly, GIFS bring body language to e-language! So, the ability to isolate video clips and loop them is a technological affordance of GIFS. But back to Vine. Vine had the affordance of video, which is what, at the time, made it different than other social media platforms. Video clips could be 6 seconds long,
and the affordance of video meant that creators has choices to make in terms of special effects, like filters that they could apply, or had to make choices with things like costumes and setting. Since the platform had the affordance of audio, people had to make choices about music and narration, and scripts. Another affordance was text, so here people had to make choices about the title of their piece and if they wanted subtitling or a description for their video, and alongside their text, they had to make choices about what was going to be text versus what was going to be audio, such as something in their audio script versus something in their video text description. Vine also had the affordance of emojis which as you know can influence the tone of a message. People could also use hashtags, such as #tbt meaning “throwback Thursday” to index their posting and give it context. So, all in all, there were a lot of technological affordances to
consider, and these ultimately set the boundaries and the rules of discourse in this media space. In fact, “viners” had to know how to navigate these affordances, they had to have production knowledge unique to vine in order to compress a message into 6 seconds, which of course is going to follow different production rules then having an unlimited amount of video time and textual space, or the production rules of other social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. So, having a better understanding of these technological affordances and the discourse of Vines, we can jump into our main person of interest today and that is Andrew Bachelor, known better as King Bach. Now at the time that Dr. Calhoun completed her thesis,
King Bach was the most followed Viner on Vine. His vines were particularly interesting because he had the ability to share sociopolitical ideologies alongside comedy and humor, what is formally known as “sociopolitical humor”, and he did all of this, quite successfully, within the constraints of Vine’s technological affordances. We’ll jump into a definition of “sociopolitical humor” in just a second, but first, let’s take a quick look at a few examples of King Bach’s work. So let’s now look at what we mean by “sociopolitical humor”. Sociopolitical ideologies include historical, social, and political ideas that surround sociocultural differences, such as gender, religion, nationality, and race. So “sociopolitical humor” is humor that makes fun of these ideas and ideologies. And there are two types. First, there is hegemonic sociopolitical
comedy. And this is humor that favors the status quo, so this type of humor promotes stereotypes of marginalized people groups. This doesn’t only have to do with race, but we’ll focus on that as part of our investigation in this video, so an example of hegemonic sociopolitical comedy would be the presentation of the Latina housekeeper on the show Family Guy, who is always portrayed as having a limited English proficiency. So this type of sociopolitical comedy reinforces the stereotype of Hispanics not being competent in the English language, this humor favors the status quo, meaning it favors ideas in our society about this particular minority group. Conversely, we have anti-hegemonic sociopolitical comedy, which “contradicts or complicates hegemonic stereotypes by constructing alternative narratives...” Basically, they’re calling out the majority by highlighting the other side of the conversation, all under the mask of comedy.
And, again, we’re focusing on race, so in regards to race, we’ve traditionally seen this type of humor in black stand-up comedians, and on shows like the Chappelle show and Key & Peele, people who use anti-hegemonic sociopolitical comedy to represent minority groups and challenge the misled ideologies in our society. And what our author, Dr. Calhoun, wants to investigate is how this is the type of comedy is used in King Bach’s work on Vine. So Dr. Calhoun wanted to explore King Bach’s use of sociopolitical comedy on Vine, which is referred to as “vine racial comedy” - a unique genre of racial humor that had emerged on Vine. To do this, she collected a dataset of 30 of King Bach’s vines, all of which engaged in humor around race and ethnicity. Dr. Calhoun wanted to explore how King Bach was
able to use Vine as a medium for expressing and challenging sociopolitical ideologies, because given the affordances of Vine, the technological affordances, King Bach’s methods would be quite different than the methods that could be used by stand-up comedians, or skit shows like Key & Peele. So in order to be able to see these complexities and to understand how King Bach was able to achieve his messages inside the context of Vine, part of Dr. Calhoun’s work involved performing a discourse analysis. So we’ve eluded to discourse analysis in other videos, and we even practiced a little discourse analysis in an assignment on #blacklivesmatter, but now we’re going to see a little more of the methodology that goes into analyzing language in context. A discourse analysis is a through exploration of language, context, and practice. So Calhoun began by taking detail notes of key features following her own framework which consisted of indexing first, the metadata, so the captions/titles of the vine, any hashtags included after the title, and the date the video was posted. Secondly, summarizing the main idea, or point of the joke.
Thirdly, noting the linguistic features, such as the speakers’ dialects, use of slang, etc. and fourthly, looking at relevant effects or editing, such as background music or costume changes. She also noted the characters and their roles in each Vine, taking note of the demographic information, the roles they played (such as a cop, or a friend), and whether or not characters were based on racial or social stereotypes. Now because the study included audio-visual data rather than just audio data, which would be like listening to an audio recording only, she also had to note and transcribe non-speech features, which included non-linguistic features, such as body movement, facial expressions, and hand gestures, and features that were unique to the “story telling” or context, such as costumes, background scenery, and scene changes. In addition to all the aforementioned items, she then had to transcribe the oral data, so the speech. Now transcribing speech for a discourse analysis, doesn’t mean we just write out what someone has said. So for example, a transcription of a line from one of King Bach’s
videos wouldn't simply be, “What a black man can’t have a TV?” That’s only the start because there is so much more to speech than just WHAT is said. HOW it is said it also important. So we want to be able to transcribe the tone, stress, and pitch, for example. To do this, she utilized some pretty standard transcription conventions in linguistics by Du Bois and company, and these transcription conventions allowed her to really investigate the oral speech. So in using these transcription methods, we now have “What=<rising pitch> a ^Black man can't have a TV?</>” which is much different than “What a black man can’t have a TV?” So let’s take a look at an example of one of her transcriptions following all the data handling methodology we just reviewed. So we’re going to look at the vine, “Getting out of situations using the race card”, and we can see that she has taken note of the metadata at the top, and proceeds to breakdown the initial frames of the clip following her framework. She notes the speakers’ initials in the second column and in the
third column she explore the scene’s context. She notes that there are “two white police officers standing in a parking lot outside of a building” and also “two Black men carrying a television out of building into parking lot, wearing Tshirts and shorts”. She then notes that one of the characters points to two other characters and says “Wha:t're you do:in.” And notice specifically that she transcribes the speech to say, “What're you doin’.” and not “What are you doing?” And this distinction is important for those that really want to explore language in context because the creator of this clip, King Bach, intentionally scripted this line to read a certain way.
The two characters then “stop walking” and the camera does a “close-up on angry faces”. Ok, so let’s now refer to the actual clip and see how this transcription matches up. Ok we’re going to watch it again but this time I’m only going to let you watch the part that aligns with this first part of the transcription. It is interesting to see how much transcription has to go into analyzing just one second of an eight second clip in order to serve Dr. Calhoun in her research objective. I also want to highlight her transcription of the actor saying “What're you doin’.” because you can see that she worked to accurately reflect the dialect that the actor chose to use, because in a discourse analysis, these type of details cannot be overlooked, so you’re going to see us talk about that point again a little later on.
We then get to the latter half of her transcription and see just as much detail in her analysis of this particular vine clip, and Dr. Calhoun actually had to do a detailed transcription like this one for each of the 30 vines that she reviewed. So I’m going to let the vine clip play on a repeat three times so you can see the Vine alongside Dr. Calhoun’s detailed transcription of the data. What does a discourse analysis tell us about how King Bach’s comedy aligns with sociopolitical humor? Well, actually a lot, but for the sake of time, I’m just going to highlight a few features here, but I encourage you to read her more in depth summary in her thesis of this particular vine because she talks about a lot more features than I can cover in this video. But let’s highlight some interesting ones. So again Dr. Calhoun's goal was to investigate how King Bach’s vine racial comedy reflected sociopolitical humor, and how he used this unique discourse space to accomplish that. From the video we’ve reviewed
together, we can see that King Bach is addressing several key social issues in this short clip, the primary themes being the racial profiling and targeting of black men by police. As viewers, we can identify this issue immediately in the set-up where the police officer immediately questions the black men on what they are doing with the T.V. The officers seemingly hold a position of authority in this exchange, both in that they are white and in uniform. It is interesting though to know that some of this “authority” is challenged or stripped away as the officer utters, “What're you doin” in a southern dialect. Recall how the white cop said “What're you doin’.” in
a twangy southern voice? This is actually a crucial element of that character’s portrayal of a white, southern cop, because it plays into the ideologies of first, cops being white, and secondly, the ideologies of southern speakers of English sounding “slower” or “dumb”. So while the cops are in positions of authority, that authority is mocked by the way these cops speak. King Bach titled this video as, “Getting out of situations using the race card”. The title of this piece immediately adds context to the black man’s reaction, “What a black man can’t have a tv?” which performs the speech act of questioning and challenging the cop’s implied accusations. The cops react to this “challenge” in a way that reflects society's
sociocultural discomfort with racial conversations and racial topics. In addition to the cops feeling foolish, the cops then attempt to play it cool and distance themselves from perceptions of racial profiling as reflected in their speech and agreeability in the rest of the clip. So the way the cops are positioned in this story is what reflects this piece as anti-hegemonic humor, in that the cops and their actions portray under-questioned ideologies on majority groups (in this case white people). We also see in this same piece how King Bach incorporates hegemonic humor in the same video. So on the one hand the video explicitly make funs of the authority of cops and white people, which is anti-hegemonic humor, but at the same time plays into hegemonic humor that reflects ideologies in society about minorities playing the race card to get ahead in life, and the fact that in the end, the two men were actually stealing the TV.
This intensive study of King Bach’s work highlighted a few important takeaways. One of which is that the his work demonstrates the ability to use online spaces as a way to highlight social issues that are not necessarily accurately and adequately covered in mainstream media. And we saw this also in our video on hashtag activism, which served a similar purpose. Also compared to hashtag activism, we know that social media is a platform that hears all voices, and that represents marginalized groups of people that are not often equally represented in mainstream media. So, social media provides that platform for these topics to be addressed. An analysis of King Bach’s comedy also show that “technology’s role in “reiterating tropes of Blackness in the cultural arena” (Catanese 2005: 701) is now being critiqued by Black people themselves, who are using social media to destabilize these tropes and insert their own narratives, very often through humor.” Vine
racial comedy utilizes performance to give voices to ongoing racial issues and creates an easily accessible cultural forum for initiating dialogue. Again, I want to ensure that the credit regarding this presentation is given to Dr. Kendra Calhoun. This presentation was really just a simplified review of her thesis, so again, if you are interested in learning more, be sure to check out her thesis by going to the link below in the video. Until next time!