“Those rules aren’t real.”
(from Regina George, in sweatpants on a Monday, commenting on the Plastics’ rule that you can’t wear sweatpants on Monday. She was not allowed to sit with the Plastics.)
Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls. And Regina George’s comment about rules is right on. “Rules” are often social constructions, agreed-upon guidelines, used to help people make decisions and belong to a community with shared values and clear expectations. Yada yada yada.
And then, on days when the rules don’t work because the sweatpants are the only things that fit, you say, “Those rules aren’t real.” Because they aren’t real. They’re made up.
But then the other members of the community won’t let you sit at the lunch table with them, and you wonder: “Are the rules real after all?”
The other day, I was talking with a science teacher friend of mine and he was talking about race not being real. It’s a construction, and we pretend that there are these hard and fast lines between one race and another, but really any particular trait (skin color, hair texture, and so forth) exists on a continuum. We just go along placing people in categories as if the categories are real, even though they’re not.
And that’s how places work, too. I travel from Pennsylvania to New York to Connecticut, and it’s arbitrary where one state is divided from another. Sometimes a river or other landmark is used as the dividing point, but often the highway moves from one state to the next, and the only way I know I’ve changed states is by the sign on the side of the road. It’s an artificial division, not a real one.
But, of course, all of these divisions are real. They are real in the sense that they have real effects. Divisions and rules that are more-or-less agreed upon in a community may sometimes be overlooked, may sometimes be negligible in their effects, may sometimes be blurred so regularly as to be meaningless.
More often, however, divisions and rules affect us. And they often come to seem natural rather than artificial because we are so used to the divisions and rules and their effects.
It only makes sense that we don’t wear sweatpants on Monday! And we wear pink on Wednesdays. That’s how it has always been!
I’ve been trying to find recent stats about the ages of audiences on YouTube. I found that 80% of YouTube traffic is from outside the U.S. I found that 18-34 year olds spend more time on YouTube than on any cable channel.
Aaargh, I thought. What am I doing playing on YouTube??? And why won’t my students or kids take on the job when it would be so much easier for them to build an audience?? Why am I trying to show them what’s possible?? I am TOO OLD.
And then I stumbled upon this site. Well, actually I googled “YouTube age demographics” and found it. And it shows that YouTube is also for older people. Like me!
Okay, so that solves one age problem. YouTube viewers are people of all ages, so people who are my age may like seeing someone from their generation act like a goofball online.
The next problem? My behavior may not seem appropriate for a 45-year old. Especially when I’m pretending to be a young girl like Katniss Everdeen or Ophelia from Hamlet (that latter vid will be released soon!).
In the scripts for these vids, we added lines that directly acknowledge age issues. Katniss has had a hard life. And Ophelia has done a lot of drugs. Forgive them for looking 45!
But I’m sure it will still annoy people. In my How To channel, I sometimes dressed in ways that matched the theme. When I danced like Peanuts characters, I dressed sorta like a Peanuts character. When I did a bubble-gum bubble-blowing lesson, I dressed like a kid. I did kid-like things with my hair for both of those videos. And those choices annoyed several people enough that they decided to comment on it. (Sometimes in the past I deleted mean comments that were posted to my vids, so you may have to trust me that several people made such comments. I wouldn’t make it up. Really. I promise.)
My point? My point is that many of us regularly go around saying that age doesn’t matter. But we act like age matters on a regular basis, whether by making choices about what we will or will not do because it’s easier to follow the “rules,” or by judging people who don’t follow the “rules”—even if the rules are stupid and tell us that we can’t wear sweat pants on Monday.
The unspoken rules about YouTube and age that are regularly policed through viewer comments?
1) You have less right to be on YouTube if you are a female older than iJustine. (I’m less familiar with the male guidelines, but John Green may be the cut-off.)
2) If you are going to be on YouTube, you’d better behave in age-appropriate ways. (And somehow we are all supposed to agree about what is age-appropriate, right?)
But somehow, I’m channeling my Regina George—the Regina George who is too fat to wear anything but sweatpants. Because that is my favorite Regina George! And I’m not acting my age, and I’m risking rude comments, and I’m probably embarrassing my kids.
But I’m hoping that in defying the rules, we reveal their artificiality. And maybe we stretch the rules in ways that include and open instead of excluding and closing. And maybe we end the day with Captain Jack Sparrow who insists that the Pirates’ Code is more of a guideline, really.
So, today was our second day of filming for WinkyFace. It was my turn in front of the camera, and yes, I was nervous. I thought I would be most nervous about the acting (and I was pretty nervous about that; I’m type-A and self-conscious to boot!).
But as the process continued, I realized that the part that freaked me out even more than being on camera was not having control over what was happening. I couldn’t see the shots through the camera view finder. I didn’t know if things were level, framed properly, conforming to “my vision.” (Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I am a control freak. Yes. Yes, I am.) It was hard to cede control of the situation to Laurie, Brig & Mac. But, I learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process.
1) I need to be learn to be more trusting of my partners. They can handle things.
2) It’s OK to be a little un-trusting, too. It means your head is in the game and that you’re thinking about all that’s happening around you in a critical way.
3) We all needed to be a little more prepared. Day 1 we were really on top of things. Day 2 got a little lax, it seemed. I didn’t have key props ready. There was a LOT happening in my small office space. And, there were too many distractions (people, phones, equipment, etc.)
I spent the last few nights looking back over the footage we’ve accumulated so far. We’ve done some really neat, creative things. But, it’s clear that we’re novices at this. That’s OK. This is a learning process, and I honestly can’t believe how much I’ve already learned in such a short time. There’s stuff we’ll need to re-do, re-think, re-imagine. But, that’s where the good #learningcurving happens. I’m excited about Day 3.
Until then, I’ll leave you with some of the outtakes of our first two days of filming. If nothing else, we had some fun.
So, yesterday, Laurie and I decided to do a little bit of experimentation with cameras, tripods, and acting abilities. We knew we weren’t quite ready to make our first official WinkyFace video, but we get that practice is essential to success.
We met in my office at about 9 a.m. We set up our tripods (that was pretty easy), powered up the cameras (also manageable), and began “rehearsing” (another story!) with the cameras rolling.
If having fun = success, we hit it out of the park. We had a great time, and we laughed … a lot. But we also learned a lot, too. Here’s a short list of some of the things we learned while practicing.
1. We need to practice.
2. Our camera skills could use some work.
3. We probably need an assistant (or two).
4. We’ve got to find a way to improve the quality of our videos (lighting, sound, etc.).
5. We’ve got to have a more solid plan for filming so as not to waste precious time.
So, we’re going to work on all of those things. We’ve already conned (OK, they agreed willingly) two awesome students into being our production assistants in the spring, so we can check #3 off the list.
I had so much fun working on editing this video. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the process. I stayed up until 2 a.m. last night working. Then, I dreamt about video editing in the short five hours of sleep I did get. And, I even woke up before my alarm wondering if my video had finished exporting! I’m a nut. But, I’m a storyteller at heart. Web video is just another cool medium for telling stories, and I’m excited to experiment more with it.
Until then, check out our video and let us know what you think by either commenting here or on YouTube. We’re not gonna lie. We’re a bit anxious about how this and any other videos we produce will be received and about the types of comments we’ll get. Laurie’s working on a post with more on that, so stay tuned.
Last spring, Laurie and I were sitting together at an Honor’s Program reception, and we got to talking with other faculty members about our research on Jenna Marbles, who is one of the most successful women on YouTube. Suddenly, Laurie turned to me with That Look in her eyes. Having worked with Laurie on projects now for the past three years, I knew That Look.
“I have a crazy idea.”
That’s what That Look said. What came out of her mouth was, “We should start our own YouTube channel!”
After thinking about it for a solid 10 seconds, I said, “OK.”
And so, WinkyFace was set in motion. We met several times over the summer to begin brainstorming what kind of channel we wanted to have, what kind of videos could we make, and whether pursuing this project was even a good idea.
After several cups of Zummo’s coffee on a not-too-warm early summer day, we had in front of us a list of video ideas and a timeline. Our channel would include vids that served as parodies on prof and college life, as well as parodies of interviews with literary characters. In both cases, we agreed that playing with stereotypes using parody and humor could be both fun and thought-provoking, even if goofy.
Our channel still didn’t have a name, so we went our separate ways with a singular task: brainstorm as many names as possible, share the ideas, and see if something stuck.
Until Laurie suggested WinkyFace.
Rewind. A few semesters earlier, I was telling Laurie a story about a conversation I had with students in my Communication Theory class. We were discussing Social Information Processing Theory–a theory that deals with the way people develop relationships both on and offline.The students and I got to talking, tangentially, about communicating via text messages. We were talking specifically about the use of emoticons. One of the students said, “Well, it’s never appropriate to use The WinkyFace. That’s way too suggestive.”
“Really??” I thought to myself? Standing there in front of the class, I started to sweat as I almost immediately rethought every text message I’d ever sent, no doubt the 100s that included The Winky Face. Was it possible that people were mistaking my sarcastic or jokingly-intended Winky Faces for flirting? Could the students be right??
I did what any academic would do. I decided to research it. I turned to one of the most trusted and credible sources on the Internets–The Urban Dictionary. Here’s just a sampling of the “definitions” I found there:
1. The secret code that means a girl wants your BLANK inside her, used mainly in text messages and Facebook chat.
2. Dirty dirty things.
3. Specific flirting mechanism never to be used by: family, old people, clergy members, uggos, etc. (Uggos?? I need a definition for my definition!)
Holy crap! Was this thing written by my students?
I needed a second, more credible source.
She agreed that when used in a rhetorical context, including texting, The Winky Face didn’t necessarily mean flirting, though it could.
That’s what I thought.
Clearly, The Winky Face is polysemic. But, the nature of this simple emoticon, the semi-colon + close parens, remained both intriguing and concerning.
Fast forward a couple of years, to our search for a YouTube channel name. What better way to sum up our goal–provoking thought about “professor life” and popular literature using humor, sarcasm, and parody–than the very polysemic Winky Face. Like Monty Python’s “Nudge nudge, wink wink,” you know? We’re winking at you, the readers and viewers, giving you that elbow nudge and hoping that you’re in on the joke with us.
And, the name really sums us up as a duo. We’re doing this project to learn more about what it takes to launch a successful YouTube channel, but we intend to have a good time while doing it. So, The Winky Face is as much about our content as it is about us. The “X2” that we’ve added on our various addresses has made us distinct from other WinkyFace labels, and it reflects the collaboration that has been part of our project from the start.
Tell us what you think about The Winky Face in the comments below. How do you use it? Has it ever gotten you in trouble? Keep it clean, please!