Monday, December 12, 2016

“Facebook Celebrities” from An Anthropologist Point of View

An anthropologist goes into Facebook and uncovers the rules for becoming a “Facebook celebrity.” 
by Hilda Lloréns

I am the kind of person who likes to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. In this era of on-line “personas,” social networking, and “branding” it is not fashionable to confess that I consider myself a digital foreigner to sites like Facebook. In fact, I have had an on and off again relationship with the site, often spending years without logging in which has afforded me the kind of non-native view that we anthropologists refer to as etic. So, I logged on to Facebook recently after an absence of several years and began to spot a pattern. What I noticed is that some people posted “selfies” and/or updated their “status” everyday, often several times a day. They did this from places as varied as work, home, their cars, wearing make-up, wearing no makeup, hanging out with their families, working out at the gym, eating their breakfast, and so on. Often, these same people posted albums with photographs of their travels, the events they attended, and the people they were with. They also used the location application on their phones to pinpoint the restaurants where they had dinner or the hotels where they stayed.

The fact is that on-line communities, like any community has well-established social rules and expectations and I suppose that part and parcel of taking part of an on-line community is the expectation that individuals share the happenings of their lives. In part, sites such as Facebook fill a void in a world in which friends and family are often dispersed across continents and in which social isolation is a reality for many. While I admire the courage of those who are able to pose for the camera while doing downward dog in their yoga class and so on, this kind of sharing and self-disclosure is simply unimaginable to me. Much has already been said about the ways in which social networking sites thrive and even prey on people’s narcissistic tendencies. But I think there is still more going on Facebook than just self-centered and narcissistic displays. I think there is a group of individuals who use the site to build a persona and a status that is akin to those of reality television celebrities. I’ll call these folks “Facebook celebrities.”  We all know who they are. They are those friends in our “friend’s circle” whose lives, and not just the fantastic parts of live, but their full lives, with the ups and downs included, are put on display for the entire community.

“LIKES” as Measure of Facebook Celebrity Status

So, how would an anthropologist go about determining who is a Facebook celebrity? Well, there are several obvious markers of celebrity status. One telltale sign is the number of friends a person has, another is the frequency of posts, and by far the most significant is the number of likes a person receives each time they post something. Recently, a friend jokingly mentioned that when he post photographs on Facebook he only gets about 40 “Likes,” whereas when another friend posts she receives upwards of 100 “Likes.” He then declared, “I guess I am not very popular.” Of course, the number of possible “Likes” is also linked to the number of friends in your circle. In other words, a person with 156 friends cannot expect to receive the same number of “Likes” as a person with 998 friends. As I reflected on my friend’s comment I decided to run my own experiment on Facebook. My simple hypothesis was that by posting increasingly personal photographs and details of everyday life people are able to turn into celebrities within their social network. The “Like” button serving as the “mark” of acknowledgement by the on-line community to which a person belongs. And “Likes” also serve as measure or proof of a person’s popularity or “likeability.”

I total around 250 friends on Facebook. For the most part, my posting activity is limited to content related to current events, mainly news and art. Seldom, do I post personal pictures. My posts related to current events receive a tiny number of “Likes” (averaging 11 Likes) usually from the same small group of like-minded friends.  For the experiment, I decided to post more personal photographs and compare the reaction using the number of “Likes” as the meter. I began by posting a photograph of my son at his seventh birthday this drew 27 “Likes.” Next, I posted photographs of an event I attended wherein I met Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and this one received 67 “Likes” (no doubt the number of “Likes” in this instance was linked to Sotomayor’s popularity). A tribute to my husband on Father’s day, in which I posted various photographs of him with our son, alone, and with me, received 64 “Likes.” The outcome of this modest experiment leads me to believe that my hunch is correct: that on Facebook friends want to see personal photographs no withstanding how repetitive a person’s “selfie” might become. What we want to see when we log on to Facebook, even when we roll our eyes or sigh at seeing a friend touring Cairo or Singaraja while we are sitting at our desks, is people’s depiction of their lives. We want personal “views” and details even when those views are arranged for the camera (i.e. hold the phone up in an angle above your face when taking a “selfie,” offer a wide and natural looking smile when hanging by the pool with friends, offer close-up shots of delicious looking food before you dig in and know what it actually tastes like, etc.).

I was having coffee with friends when the conversation turned to a Facebook argument we had witnessed, privately on our own computers, in our own time, between two “Facebook celebrities” in our friend’s circle. The argument, over a trivial misunderstanding, publicly showed difference of opinions in a nascent activist group. I took the opportunity to share my hypothesis about “Facebook celebrities” and my observation that “Likes” are more likely to be given when people share personal feelings and/or images, rather than impersonal news stories. One friend recounted that he had a similar conversation with another friend, a renowned writer, who told him that whenever she shared a piece of interesting news, she received an anemic number of “Likes.” But each time she shared steamy personal stories about her love life or a recent breakup or her frustrations with writer’s block or her failing health or images of herself at Yoga class she would received hundreds of “Likes.” This, my friend recounted, had let the famous writer to conclude that what friends want to see and know is the personal details. I believe that even in digital spaces we predictably act all too human. When witnessing the lives of others we are simultaneously validating theirs and our own humanity.  

The lives of “Facebook celebrities” are a real cultural phenomenon playing on our computer screens. Even when a person has not always been popular in their everyday lives, the good news is that by learning and applying the cultural rules of sharing on Facebook individuals have the opportunity to build and experience digital popularity. As I have already noted, a way to achieve this is in one’s willingness to share personal photographs and details (i.e. moods and opinions). The operative word is “sharing.” To achieve this “digital celebrity” status, friends must “share” the events of their lives as much as possible, as often as possible. The more personal the events, such as pictures of weddings, births, children, dinner dates, birthdays, hospital visits, reports on weight loss, and so on, the greater the likelihood of receiving acknowledgements in the form of “Likes.”

In other words, what “friends” want to see on Facebook is their friends’ full narrative construction—the heroic, the fantastic, the vulnerable moments—that makeup everyday life. The “Likes” work as validation that we do indeed exists that someone other than ourselves get to witness these “constructed” or “framed” snapshots of our lives. My previous insight into the workings of reality-television suggests that the tautology “reality-life” signals similarities in the mechanisms by which everyday people have learned to create their on-line personas, and indeed their on-line lives. That is, the successful reception of on-screen personas depend greatly on a willingness to share “real views,” the more snapshots the better and nothing is too personal for sharing with on-line friends. After all, isn’t it true that friendships are built on sharing?  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Una breve reflexión sobre la práctica blanca de pintarse el rostro de negro/negra (o “rostro-negro”/blackface) en Puerto Rico.

Hilda Lloréns, PhD

Publicado en el blog de la autora:

Chanita Gobernadora Fuente: El Nuevo Día
 Me parece increíble que la gente blanca, históricamente y hoy en día, piense que es aceptable, correcto o digno pintarse el rostro de negro para crear SU versión de lo que es ser una persona Afro-descendiente. Que quede claro: NO es aceptable, NO es correcto, NO es digno, y su representación o idea de lo que es ser negro/negra NO es real. Esta práctica es sólo una representación, una versión del imaginario del blanco y de la blanca de lo que es ser una persona negra/negro. Esta práctica es un ejemplo más de como trabaja el poder y la supremacía blanca. Dicho sea de paso, la supremacía blanca es la base de la realidad cultural en donde se pretende que se acepte la práctica tan terrible del “rostro negro.” Hay cantidad de actores/actrices negros/negras buscando trabajo y papeles dignos de sus talentos. Sin embargo, no importa su edad, a ellxs se les hace difícil, y aveces imposible, encontrar trabajo y papeles dignos de sus talentos. El uso del “rostro negro” se ha caracterizado, de hecho, como una manera de poder representar negrxs en obras de teatro y en televisión sin tener que emplear a gente negra en los gremios. Igualmente, la práctica de usar hombres vestidos de mujer para representar mujeres tiene una larga historia de excluir mujeres del empleo actoral.  (Vease la larga trayectoria de este debate en el trabajo importante y critico sobre “rostro negro” en la TV Puertorriqueña de la Dra. Yeidy Rivero en su libro Tuning Out Blackness (2005)).

Este importante y fructífero debate sobre la práctica de “rostro negro” en Puerto Rico, ha traído a la superficie la “fragilidad blanca”, que es otra de las características en culturas donde se ha naturalizado la supremacía blanca. Según lo explica DiAngelo (2011), la fragilidad blanca se refiere a que para lxs blancxs “la más mínima incomodidad o estrés racial se hace intolerable y desata un número de comportamientos defensivos” (54). Claro, los comportamientos característicos de la “fragilidad blanca” (i.e. enojo, miedo, culpabilidad, argumentación, negación, etc.) funcionan como estrategias de “re-establecer el equilibrio racial blanco” (54). Sin duda la fragilidad blanca está en evidencia en este debate.[1]

Hay que aclarar también que el grupo de activistxs, academicxs, abogadxs, escritores, artistas, maestrxs, padres, madres, abuelxs, hijxs, hermanxs, etc., que se dieron a la difícil (y dolorosa!) tarea de enfrentar el racismo contra la gente Afro-descendiente en Puerto Rico y de enterrar a Chanita y a otrxs personajes racistas de la televisión Puertorriqueña, son personas trabajadoras, pensantes, valientes y compromentidas con promover una sociedad justa. Una sociedad en donde se puedan debatir públicamente temas difíciles tal y como lo es el racismo sin tener miedo de ser ridiculizado y desprestigiado. Pero nosotrxs los Afro-descendientes sabemos que en las Américas hay una larga y documentada tradición de ridiculizar y estigmatizar a lxs activistas antirracistas con etiquetas tales como: “acomplejados,” “terroristas,” “vagos,” “bambalanes,” “colonizados,” “brutos,” “inconsecuentes,” y “parejeros,” entre otras.

Es importante, de una vez y por todas, enterrar junto con Chanita al cargo de que la idea del racismo contra las personas negras en Puerto Rico es uno importado desde los Estados Unidos. Como bien lo dijo José Luis González en el 1980, “…las experiencias de racismo que han sufrido los Puertorriqueños negros no han sido a mano de los Americanos, sino de la sociedad Puertorriqueña. En otras palabras, los que han discriminado contra los negros en Puerto Rico no han sido los Americanos, sino los Puertorriqueños blancos…” (24). El racismo en Puerto Rico, con sus particularidades Puertorriqueñas (de hecho, una de ellas es la negación), ha sido documentado y discutido por diversas personas tales como Ramón Emeterio Betaces, José Celso Barbosa, Isabelo Zenón Cruz, Mayra Santos-Febres, Marie Ramos Rosado, Juan Flores, Carmen Milagros Concepción, Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, Palmira Ríos, Miriam Jiménez Román, Arlene Torres, Kelvin Santiago-Valles, Isar P. Godreau, Eileen Findlay, Mariluz Franco-Ortiz, Zaira Rivera Casellas, Jocelyn A. Géliga Vargas, Raquel Rivera, Yolanda Arroyo-Pizarro, Zaire Dinzey-Flores, Rosa Carrasquillo, Milagros Denis, Carlos Vargas Ramos, Yvonne Denis, Maria Reinat Pumarejo, Raúl Quiñones-Rosado, Maria Elba Torres Muñoz, Edwin Velázquez Collazo, Ileana Rodriguez-Silva,Solsiree del Moral, Alaí Reyes-Santos, Welmo E. Romero Joseph, Bárbara Idalissee Abadía-Rexach, y esta servidora, entre muchxs otros/otras[2]. ¿O es que acaso todxs los mencionados sufrimos de “complejo,” de haber internalizado el “colonialismo Americano,” o tal vez somos todxs unxs “vagos,”  “terroristas,” “bambalanes,” y/o “parejeros”?

Entiendo que el respeto es indispensable para una conversación pública a nivel nacional sobre el racismo, como lo es también el entendimiento de que la realidad de ser una mujer negra y un hombre negro en Puerto Rico es una experiencia particular y única a ese grupo social. Es hora de escuchar, de respetar, y sobretodo de cuestionar la supremacía blanca que tan naturalizada está en nuestro país. Voy a terminar haciendo las preguntas que cierran el capítulo siete de mi libro Imaging the Great Puerto Rican Family: “¿Porqué, cuando la gente negra en Puerto Rico dice que sufre experiencias de racismo, no se les cree?, ¿Porqué los blancos y la gente de piel clara continúan silenciando tan categóricamente las experiencias de las personas negras? ¿Acaso ya no es hora de que, cuando la gente negra-Puertorriqueña hable y represente su realidad, se les tome en serio, se les respete, y se trate de entender en sus propios términos y en relación a sus experiencias particulares de ser negros y negras en Puerto Rico?” (2014:225).

Tal parece que el entierro de Chanita Gobernadora, en vez de enterrar el racismo, ha cumplido con la gloriosa labor de revivir el “muerto” que es el racismo como un tema y problema social que aunque doloroso para muchxs merece ser trabajado y sobrepasado en Puerto Rico. !Los felicito!

Hilda Lloréns, PhD

Afro-descendiente. Arroyana. Antropóloga. Profesora Universitaria.

Autora de Imaging the Great Puerto Rican Family: Framing Nation, Race, and Gender during the American Century (Ediciones: 2014, 2016).

Co-Autora de Arracando Mitos de Raíz: Guía para una Enseñanza Antirracista de la Herencia Africana en Puerto Rico (Ediciones: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)

[2]Mis sinceras disculpa a lxs que deje fuera. Su trabajo es importante, necesario y aclaro que esta lista no pretende ser exhaustiva.   

[3] El nombre del personaje de A. Meyer aparece de dos maneras: 1. Chanina Gobernadora; y 2. Chianita Goberbadora.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Un mensaje importante/An important Message

Edificio de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad de Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, Fall 2016.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Vegan Rice and Beans - Still cooking!

I am still cooking! In my efforts to make and eat increasingly vegan food (mainly for reasons of compassion towards animals), I made this delicious rice and beans (again). Rice and beans is one of my very favorites foods in the world. Even when I was a picky eater as a kid, my mom tells me that I never passed up on rice and beans! As usual, I used basmati rice and fresh ingredients: that's because I like to "deconstruct" criollo foods and do away with things like pre-made sofrito altogether. Instead, I make sofrito on the spot (or my version of it anyway) every time I need it for a dish. Using fresh herbs and veggies really makes rice and beans pop! ¡Buen provecho!