This paper will attempt to explain the thought process around the creation of the blog, throwinshade.wordpress.com, and its use of memes, both of which will be examined through the lens of various critical theories that were explored within the Internet cultures module.
“Throwin’ Shade (TS) is an opportunity to engage with critical analysis in a way that anyone can access. I wanted to create a place that examines what I consume and critique what I see. Praxis is not just me. Praxis is a persona that anyone can embody. Praxis has something to say and isn’t afraid to say it.” (About section from ThrowinShade)
This was the second thing I ever wrote for my blog. The original about section was never posted because while I was writing it I accidentally deleted it. I did not discover the undo button until my second blog post. Some might see this as a lack in digital literacy, but in all actuality using the full site of wordpress via an iPad comes equipped with its fair share of technical glitches. Luckily, there’s an app for that. Melodramatic anecdote aside this about section was the ethos and driving force of my blog throwinshade.wordpress.com; it was the guide and criteria for all the decisions that were made during the construction and content creation.
Why Throwin Shade?
Merchant (2006:242) writes “[blogs] provide us with the opportunity to author the self.” When presented with the task of “authoring the self” I asked myself, “How could I do something that was me, without writing about me, in a way that could be personalized and or accessed by anyone who read my blog?” I did not have an answer to that question. The next question I asked myself was, “What could I stand writing about for the next 10 weeks that I would not be bored with by week 5?” At that very moment a friend texted me about how I’m always throwing shade–definition: to insult or judge someone discreetly or indirectly; to throw attitude. “EUREKA! That’s what I’ll write about, throwing shade.” I dropped the “g” in order to get the free url link.
I discussed my idea with one of my group members, and she was immediately apprehensive. Merchant (2006: 237) writes, “each one of us has many different possibilities of being and that, although we imagine some sort of unity, we are actually different in each different social situation.” My colleague’s apprehension echoed this same sentiment described by Guy Merchant. She warned me about the potential backlash I could receive by combining my academic world with my social world. Her statement immediately reminded me of the importance of code switching within my own life and the rhetoric found in the politics of black respectability.
Poet and journalist Judy Dothard Simmons described the importance of code switching when she stated, “To be black and marginally comfortable, I have to accept a gradual change of the oppressive status quo: act dumb enough not to threaten white people, but appear intelligent enough to be useful and worthy of their liberal investment” (The Root 2013). With this blog concept, I was removing this veil provided by code switching and exposing myself in a way that I had never done before within an academic setting. I was completely going against the concept of black respectability politics that subliminally informs the decisions of identity formation for a large number of black people. Pickens (2015:42) defines black respectability politics when she states,
To be respectable is to be policed by oneself and a larger black community so that one is deemed worthy of equal treatment. Implicit in the ideology of respectability lingers the idea that it is not possible to remain individualized as a black person: one’s individual will and desires must be subordinated to the political and social uplift of the collective…Such mandates restrict the behavior of black women and attempt to force them into conformity based on the regulating norms of whiteness as standard.
Although my choice of blog concept did not fit within the polite and tame middle class values of black respectability politics, I did not see this choice as prioritizing the individual over the collective. Rather I saw this as an opportunity to highlight the critical analysis and intellect within black colloquial conversation. It was time for the boardroom and the barbershop to be in conversation with one another, and to not see the conversations that happen in those places as lacking in similarities. I decided to challenge this notion that my two worlds could not and should not be displayed with a certain level of hybridity. Thus throwinshade.wordpress.com was created.
The Name: Throwin Shade
The phrase “shade” was first brought to the popular culture forefront by the film Paris is Burning (Conger 2013). In the film Dorian Corey describes what “shade” is. He states, “Shade is, ‘I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.’ And that’s shade” (Conger 2013). The popularity of this film and the show RuPaul’s Drag Race has caused the term “shade” and the phrase “throwin shade” to now be used widely by people outside of the gay community (Conger 2013). The term “shade” has been most widely reappropriated by black women. By choosing to name my blog ThrowinShade, I hoped to articulate the similarities between forging a snarky retort and critical analysis. Retort, critical analysis, and humor would be the driving force behind each post.
Additionally, I wanted ThrowinShade to have a double meaning because I wanted the blog to be a commentary on how race (shade) was used (thrown) within our society on a daily basis. I wanted to create a conversation around how race operates without it being attached to this can we all just get along, hold hands and sing We are the World, politically correct and palatable message. Or to state it more academically, I wanted to re-“position” (Holland and Leander 2004: 128) a conversation about race outside the veils of code switching and black respectability politics. Holland and Leander (2004: 130) describe positioning when they state, “Positioning, then, involves socially producing particular individuals and groups as culturally imagined types such that others and, even the person herself, at least temporarily, treat her as though she were such a person.” With this re-positioning, I wanted to move the conversation about race away from the socially produced mindset of “it is there but let’s not talk about it directly.”
ThrowinShade was not meant to be palatable; it was designed to be real, hence the chosen tag line– only the real may enter. The word “real” is definitely a term that is used frequently without any form of measurability. My use of the term “real” is tied to the concept of speaking “unwelcome truths” (Kemmis 2006: 461). Kemmis (2006: 461) defines unwelcomed truths as saying truths that most people tend to ignore because it makes them uncomfortable or because it would require them to recognize their own participation within marginalization and or oppression. This blog by no means was a political platform to bemoan inequality and marginalization. Rather, it was an opportunity to create a space for “real” dialogue to occur. A space that recognized, language is never neutral (Freire 1972).
Design Choices: Theme and Artwork
Merchant (2006: 241) states, “ The blog format allows for identity to be produced in a variety of different ways…blogger profiles, and template choice or modification, as well as the style and content of postings all provide these social affordances.” When choosing a theme for the blog I was not concerned with my own identity. Rather, I wanted to create an identity for the blog that extended beyond my own. This extension first started with my choice of theme. I wanted a theme that prioritized both the visual and the text. Additionally, I knew I wanted the header image and blog name to be the focal point of the design. After over 24 hours of searching through the free templates I choose the theme, argent. This is wordpress’ description of the theme:
With its simple homepage template featuring portfolio projects, Argent aims to draw viewers to what matters most: your work. The responsive layout allows for a seamless user experience and ensures your portfolio looks stunning no matter the device or screen size.
Beyond wanting to prioritize both the visual and text, it was important to me that the blog did not look like a tabloid, gossip site, or any other hyperbolic platforms that come to mind when someone thinks of the phrase “throwin shade.” The design needed to be minimalistic in order for the content to take center stage, and that is what argent was designed to do.
After selecting the theme I chose two pieces of artwork as the site’s key image identifiers. Kehinde Wiley’s “Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha” was selected for the site thumbnail image and Fred Wilson’s “Grey Area (Brown Version) as the header image.
“Grey Areas (Brown Version)” (photo credit: Phyllis Dugan)
Description taken from the Brooklyn Museum: The otherwise identical plaster effigies, which he purchased and painted, illustrate a value scale ranging in color from oatmeal to dark chocolate…Wilson encourages viewers to recognize how changes in context create changes in meaning.
I saw this artwork as a reinterpretation of throwin shade. Shade (literally) was being used (thrown) to articulate the complexities around our notion or rather image of Egypt. This type of juxtaposition and humor is something I wanted to be seen throughout the blog and articulated by the convergence between my academic and social/colloquial voice.
Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from An Economy of Grace by Kehinde Wiley (photo credit: Phyllis Dugan)
Description of taken from Kehinde Wiley studio: The models for the paintings were cast on the streets of New York City…The resulting paintings to be shown in An Economy of Grace are a celebration of black women, creating a rightful place for them within art history, which has to date been an almost exclusively white domain.
No other artist captures the convergence of the academic and the colloquial better than the work of Kehinde Wiley. He inserts black bodies, style, and culture into an art form where they were specifically excluded from. His large and ostentatious canvases are an illustrated example of what I hoped to achieve with the creation of this blog, and for that reason I needed to use one of his pieces within the formation of the blog’s identity.
Willem van Heythuysen 2005 by Kehinde Wiley (photo credit: Phyllis Dugan)
The Persona: Praxis
Another important aspect of ThrowinShade was the persona, praxis. Holland and Leander (2004: 128) describe a persona as “a culturally elaborated social identity that may be taken up by some as a personal identity.” The praxis, resident thrower of shade, persona was created because I wanted the blog to be conversational so it needed someone to start the conversation. The words and thoughts needed to have a source, but I did not want that source to be my name. I wanted the source to be a reminder or rather a call to action within itself. This is why the name praxis was chosen. Freire (1972: 66) states, “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men upon their world in order to transform it.” I wanted this action and reflection to be articulated through the content of the blog and further called upon through the name of the author. In addition, I hoped that the anonymity of praxis would cause the reader to feel that praxis was a persona he or she could embody and access as well. One comment left by a reader on the post “Once Upon a Time” comes close to embodiment.
By going and comprising ClapBacks of her own the commentator is taking on the persona of praxis and inserting it into her own world. The other comments left by readers do show that they were able to relate to praxis and or the arguments raised by praxis. Most comments asked questions and tried to engage and continue the dialogue that was started in the post, so praxis was indeed an effective conversation starter.
Source of Inspiration: The Meme-Literacy
Controversial concept and a developed design: all that was needed was cool and critical content. I had no idea where to start. The template design for each post asked for a feature image so I scrolled through my phone’s photo library for a photo to use and came across the Cinderella meme.
I often send memes to my friends, and we have witty commentary about them. This gave me the idea to use memes as the kickstarters for my critiques.
Knobel and Lankshear (2007:201) describe “ memes as recognizable, bounded phenomena that have material effects in the world and that can be scrutinized.” Memes are a succinct combination of humor and critique, yet leave space for the meme itself to be critiqued in order to insight further distribution. Knobel and Lankshear (2007: 221) describe this when they state, “The Literacy practices of meming also involve people deciding how they will choose to read or interpret a meme and the ‘spin’ they will give it as they pass it along to others.” Unpacking language and choice of voice were key elements within the thoughts around the creation of the blog, and memes themselves are an articulation of a juxtaposition of the literary practices and intertextuality. The intersectionality of the academic and colloquial are in direct parallel to the memes’ own intertextuality. Knobel and Lankshear (2007: 219) describe this intertextuality as big L, Literacy. They state,
For us, Literacy, with a ‘big L’ refers to making meaning in ways that are tied directly to life and to being in the world (cf. Freire 1972, Street 1984). That is, whenever we use language we are making some sort of significant or socially recognizable ‘move’ that is inextricably tied to someone bringing into being or realizing some element or aspect of their world.
This Literacy is in direct correlation with my desire to bridge the gap between academic and colloquial voice. Inserting elements of your own world in a way that is critical and insightful within literacy is important because it challenges the hegemonic structures within education and academia. Knobel and Lankshear (2007: 221) go on to state that, “The phenomenon of online memes challenges the growing dominance of ‘digital literacy’ conceptions of what it means to be a competent user of new technologies and networks.” Digital literacy should go beyond a basic knowledge of digital tools, and it must include being able to use those tools to express the everyday world. The narrow views around understanding Literacy and the homogeneous nature of academic voice are an articulation of the marginalization that occurs within education. The individual must lose her/himself and willingly be victimized by indoctrination and assimilation. I hoped ThrowinShade could show that there is a way to work against this systematic marginalization from within the system.
Conclusion: Humor, the convergence of the academic and colloquial voice
Overall, I found this entire blog process to be truly rewarding and discovered the importance of humor within my own criticality and world. Lynch (2002: 428) writes, “Humor is an act of disguised aggression and sanctioned resistance.” For me, I would use Lynch’s definition of humor as my definition of throwin shade. Throwin shade is defiant, snarky, political, and empowering. For me, it is much more than a basic retort, it is “the action and reflection of men upon their world in order to transform it” (Freire 1972: 66). In my first blog entry I answered the question, “What will you find here?” I wrote, “A space of resistance.” So with the end of this class I guess I am led back to where it all began. PRAXIS.
Conger, C. (2013, January 17). How to Throw Shade. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/blog/how-to-throw-shade/
Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London, UK: Penguin Group. Chapter 2, pages 45-60.
Grey Area (Brown version). (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/5046/Grey_Area_Brown_version
Holland, D., & Leander, Kevin. (2004). Ethnographic Studies of Positioning and Subjectivity: An Introduction. Ethos, 32: 2, 127-139
Jr., H. L. (2013, September 12). Best Black History Quotes: Judy Simmons on Code-Switching. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2013/09/best_black_history_quotes_judy_simmons_on_codeswitching.html
KEHINDE WILEY STUDIO KW STUDIO. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2016, from http://kehindewiley.com/works/an-economy-of-grace/
Kemmis, S. (2006) Participatory Action Research and the Public Sphere. Educational Action Research,14:4, 459-476.
Knobel, M., & Lankshear, Colin. (2007). A new literacies sampler (New literacies anddigital epistemologies ; vol. 29 ^A181540). New York ; Oxford: Peter Lang.
Lynch, O. (2002). Humorous Communication: Finding a Place for Humor inCommunication Research. Communication Theory, 12(4), 423-445.
Merchant, G. (2006). Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication. E–Learning, 3:2, 235-244.
Pickens, T. (2015). Shoving aside the politics of respectability: Black women, reality TV, and the ratchet performance. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 25(1), 41-58.
Wiggins, B., & Bowers, G. (2015). Memes as genre: A structurational analysis of the memescape. 17(11), 1886-1906.