This blog post has two parts. The first is a very brief observation about “Engaging to Preserve: Building a Preservation-Minded Community through Twitter,” and the second is a sort of meditation on Suey Park and social media’s relationship to cultural capital (which is brought up in Danah Boyd’s “White Flight in Networked Publics?”).
Part 1) In her October 2015 Public History Commons post, “Engaging to Preserve: Building a Preservation-Minded Community through Twitter,” Caroline Nye Stevens has outlined a successful model of a public history project that built its community, and a significant amount of the substance of the project itself, through engagement with ordinary citizens, or “citizen scholars.” What struck me most about the Providence Preservation Society’s Most Endangered Properties program is that it actively solicited “opinions, questions, photographs, and research” from citizens, in large part through social media, and that the resulting community involvement helped solve “the mysteries behind the Phenix Building and nineteen other Providence structures”; that, through the central initiative of the PPS’s MEP20 project, members of the community at large, along with more standard professionals, “became treasure hunters, storytellers, and preservationists.” In terms of our forthcoming digital public humanities project proposals, this active asking of questions to the community at large seems like a valuable ingredient to consider. Maybe this is a basic idea, but it was neat to read about a super-successful model of a project that engaged its online community so thoroughly.
Part 2) Danah Boyd’s association in “White Flight in Networked Publics?” of the use of online forums (mainly MySpace and Facebook) to users’ (sub)cultural capital, I think, is in discussion, in an indirect way, with Suey Park’s Twitter escapades. In her January 2014 article, “The Viral Success of #NotYourAsianSidekick Wasn’t About Me, But All of Us,” Park theorizes about the reasons the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag was so unprecedentedly successful, and, as the title denotes, she places emphasis on the immediate community (her friends helping her during the days the hashtag trended) and the larger global community as the defining reasons for the hashtag’s success — this as opposed to her individual initiation of the hashtag and discussion. It seems that she became a sort of internet activist celebrity, and the article serves in part to take the spotlight off of her and put it onto the community involved in the discussion that trended.
As I read her article, I recalled seeing her interviewed in a YouTube video (if I’m remembering correctly, it was called a “cringe compilation”) in which she and the interviewer, Josh Zepp of the Huffington Post, got into an argument about his position as a white male interviewing her (an Asian woman) in the context of the interview’s subject matter. (Click this link for the interview in its entirety.) The interview was supposed to be about a tweet Park had made (circa late March 2014), in the wake of the success of #NotYourAsianSidekick, that included the hashtag #CancelColbert. This tweet was made in response to what she considered a racially insensitive tweet made by someone working for Colbert’s show at the time (details available in interview hyperlinked above). After the inclusion of the #CancelColbert hashtag, her tweet read: “Trend it.” So, Park was, at least in some measure, using her notoriety to start a movement calling for the cancelation of Colbert’s TV show. Whether the tweet made by Colbert’s show was racist or not, or whether Park’s reading of the tweet was accurate or somehow skewed or obtuse, are factors that I’m not sure we need to get into here. But what strikes me about the exaltation of Park as a wise and productive Twitter activist after her #NotYourAsianSidekick tweet, and her subsequent fall from glory in the wake of the #CancelColbert tweet (she seems to have become somewhat of a Twitter villain or something in the eyes of many), is that she has, one imagines, been profoundly affected as an individual. There are myriad articles and YouTube videos that question her political-racial agenda and, essentially, her personality. (Here’s one short example.) One thing that one notices about Suey Park is that she’s very young (early twenties, I think), and she notes in her article that she has health issues. These characteristics make the likely effects of this whole thing on her that much more disturbing. One of the articles I read noted that Park had to make use of safe houses during the #CancelColbert backlash due to threats made against her. So, the use of one hashtag gave Park a certain celebrity, and the subsequent use of another caused her vilification. (Colbert, of course, went on to replace David Letterman as host of The Late Show.) Park now tends to be, it seems, inexorably associated with both tweets by the general public. One thing this tells us is that, despite Park’s emphasis on community in her article, an individual’s cultural capital can be at stake depending on the nature of their social media posts and the number of people who see them.
I won’t pretend to be able to qualify the nature of Suey Park’s current reputation as an individual, and I suppose this whole thing brings up the question of who/what is doling out, as it were, cultural capital, but I think it’s clear from surveying online content about her that there was a significant shift in the court of public opinion in terms of said court’s assessment of her as an individual. She seems to have gained an immense amout of cultural capital with one tweet/hashtag, and lost an immense amount with another. Suey Park’s trajectory here is obviously in discussion with larger cultural phenomena having to do with what’s been termed “call-out culture,” political correctness, racial tension, racial politics, and celebrity. It’s a lot to wrap one’s mind around, but the fact that a tweet of 140 characters or less can provoke so much discussion and affect an individual and his/her reputation so drastically is both astounding and somewhat frightening.
In other news, I took the opportunity to follow the Two Headlines (@TwoHeadlines) bot on Twitter.