@BufferFestival 2016, #womenofyoutube , Visibility, and “Authenticity”

This week was diagnosed with a sincere sense of confusion when it comes to the definition of what it means to be “original” and most prominently: authentic.  What does it mean to feel authenticity?  My good friend and peer Tony mentioned that authenticity is felt only in relation to something that is not authentic, to which I agree, but that doesn’t pinpoint the actual definition.

Which we all know. We know that feeling when something feels real.  Of course I am thinking about these definitions in the context of my PhD coursework, so we are thinking about this academically, in terms of social construction of the authentic, and when I had a conversation over a beer earlier this week I mentioned that if I were to hand one of my gender-based theory (Butler-if you’re interested) to my mom for example, she probably wouldn’t understand it (no offense mom it takes us a million years to work through Butler you don’t want to read her anyway she’s tucked in the basement boxes somewhere no worries promise I’ll go through those at Christmas, too!) and what is the point of defining authenticity and other things if they are not to inform the culture we exist in?

I attended BufferFestival this weekend, I had intended to go again on Sunday but a cold had kept me in bed longer than anticipated and duty (readings and marking) calls.  Buffer Festival is the only Youtube/Digital culture festival in the world that premieres Creators’ work on the big screen in a community-based structure, and this year introduced partnerships with CBC, Chris Hadfield, and so many more meaningful contributions to a community that was beneficial for everyone involved (learning, on both sides, even in the Creator’s Hall where I hope panelists learned from the audiences, as well).  It is a great example of people priveledged to be popular on the internet meeting their communities and hearing feedback.

Saturday afternoon I sat in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in a “real” theatre, watching twelve (ish I think) women speak about feminism on youtube, digital culture for women, and topics that they believe should be talked about more.  The conversation was flooded with personal frustrations and anecdotes about online culture that cultivates hate, but also cultivates authentic representations of woman-hood (“ladylike” videos).

Ah, authenticity, you never escaped me even when I thought you might have.

What does it mean to be authentic?  When becoming an activist, advocate, talking about issues, is authenticity important?

I would argue there’s something missing from authenticity, which doesn’t always just come with feeling “real” but as Tony said, you know it when you feel it beside something that isn’t authentic.

The women on the panel were authentic because I’ve been watching Youtube videos since my first eye surgery ten years ago, and I’ve watched a plethora, from many many many different, diverse, strange, and powerful/popular influencers, and there is a sincere aesthetic quality defining authentic and pulling them apart from the inauthentic—could it be the more curated/”fake” video?  No, because all videos are edited, curated, polished for the viewer, but there is an authenticity that isn’t the “raw” edit. (this can be explored even in blog form, which are supposedly uncut/raw pieces of influencers’ lives and strung together, but even that is curate.  They do not show their entire day, therefore lacking the “raw” and “real”-ness, most women on the panel mentioned regret that they do not turn the camera on when they are having down or mental illness days, in fear of showing their “raw” selves).

I would love to suggest that, coming back to activism, visibility is the only thing that is needed here.  The Women of Youtube panel talked a lot about disaibility and consent and how there are not enough videos being created or circulated on the internet about often forgotten/avoided topics, which is totally true, but there is a distinct and powerful shift from visibility and authenticity, in my opinion.

Many conversations with fellow activists and passionate people had over beers or ramen or seminar room tables all know what it means to “feel authentic” and know when authentiticty hits them it is the most powerful.

My argument here is empty for me, however, because I have no solution.  I have no “Five Steps To Creating An Authentic And Powerful Video For Feminism” (but that would be fabulous clickbait) but I can ask for a call to action.  Let us all think on this together.  This panel has ignited a wave of constant thought from me to engage with the online discourse that I love, and I want to start sharing these constantly with my networks.  More than I already do.  Vides of women making videos that are “authentic” and powerful and about the issues that need to be authentic and powerful, because at the end of the day and this week what I’ve come to know is that despite it being an elusive and silly word, authenticity creates change when combined with action.

In order to find authenticity, that feeling when you trust, that makes you believe, that empowers you to contribute to the conversation, to share, to do, and most importantly to think, we must try and identify the things that aren’t authentic, identify why, and try again.

So let’s think about it. Let’s write more blog posts, facebook statuses, papers, books, and let’s make videos and hashtags and let’s engage with the idea that being lady like is a sense of authenticity too, and the dynamics of being a woman are impotant to flesh out, to speak about, to interrogate, outside of a classroom, on the internet, in our lives, and the way to do that is to try.

xx Jess

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