Formation

Dear Sherina,

You know as well as I do that I’m not really a sports person. I did, however, tune into the Superbowl halftime show last week. I thought that Beyonce’s performance was pretty standard for what you can usually expect from her. It seems some people thought otherwise. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as being anti-law enforcement. While I did notice the definite black empowerment theme of her performance, I certainly didn’t find it to be anti-police.

I was intrigued by his comments and by the comments of others who thought Beyonce took things too far, so I decided to watch the music video for the song behind the controversy, ‘Formation’. As a Beyonce fan I may be a little biased, but I thought the video was phenomenal. At first glance, the viewer definitely takes note of the subtle themes being explored while she sings “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. After watching it several times, I had a page full of notes on what I took from the video. She managed to get several themes across; let me explore a few.

The video opens with her standing atop a New Orleans police cruiser sinking in a flood of water, while a voice says “what happened after New Orleans?” The video further explores treatment of African-Americans, black culture and police brutality. Beyonce’s own southern ancestry is explored through an African-American lens – something we don’t often see. Afros are celebrated as well; the vast majority of the women shown have one.

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At the end of the video we see a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of police officers. This could be interpreted as a reference to the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. If there were any doubts about one of the themes of the video, a shot of a graffitied wall which reads “STOP SHOOTING US” pretty much clears them up. The video ends with a shot of Beyonce drowning on top of the same New Orleans police cruiser shown at the beginning.

A lot of folks were upset that Beyonce chose the Superbowl, which is a “family show” to share her message. Many are upset that she even released the video at all. “Why does everything have to be so political?” They ask. I urge those people to keep this in mind; according to The Guardian, unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement as unarmed white people in the U.S.

No one is saying that all law enforcement officials are bad, because they aren’t. They are the ones who put their lives on the line to keep us safe and we are eternally grateful for it. However, the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality still needs to be addressed and an event that was watched by an average of 111.9 million people seems to be a good place to start.

There were many who felt uncomfortable after hearing this song and watching the video. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Change is never comfortable.

What were your thoughts after watching ‘Formation’?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

I am also not a sports person. In fact, a day after the Superbowl, one of my friends mentioned the Denver Broncos and I said that they weren’t in the superbowl at all (when they actually won it). I digress… I did not watch the Superbowl, nor the halftime performances. I did, however, hear quite a bit about the show – specifically, Beyonce’s performance.

Many people praised her performance, pulling out the crown emoji because she is #QueenBey; but many others, as you said, thought she took things too far. People who believed her performance was racist protested outside the NFL headquarters, and took to social media to share their disdain for Beyonce. Was their disdain justified? I, like you, don’t believe it was.

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I watched Beyonce’s performance on YouTube and read through the lyrics of Formation, and I couldn’t see what came across as “racist” or “anti-police”. The song is about a serious issue, and that many people choose to remain ignorant of that issue is frightening. There are, as you mention, a disproportionate number of black people killed by police officers. I don’t know how anyone could look at the statistics and evidence and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too often people equate fighting for black rights to being against white people. Some people try to change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that’s not the point of the hashtag. The point is that black people have been seriously oppressed throughout history and still face inequities today.

I completely agree with you: change is not comfortable. People are entitled to their opinions – and when the topic is Beyonce, there are lots. However, I believe it is important to look not at what is a comfortable, convenient opinion but what is actually a truthful reflection of the dire needs of a marginalized group in society.

I applaud Beyonce for using the platform of the Superbowl (and her signature dance moves) to speak out about police brutality and black culture. On behalf of Beyonce fans everywhere, let’s get in formation and take a stand.

Sherina

Youtubers and Their Influence

Dear Ceanray,

To begin my letter, I wanted to thank you for a lot of things: for always being there for me, for fueling my interest in politics and feminism… and for introducing me to Zoella, AKA my favourite YouTuber ever. I don’t think you meant to introduce me to her, in a formal sense. I just remember you texted me saying to check out one of her videos, so I did. And then I became obsessed with her channel.

As of this month, Zoella has over 9 million subscribers. She also has one book published, another set to come out next month, and a line of bath and beauty products; both of which debuted to record-breaking sales. Zoella’s success is a testament to her own talent and character; and it is also a testament to the platform that led to her success: YouTube.

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The website has over 1 billion users, and 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. According to an article on Variety.com, a survey found that “YouTube stars scored significantly higher than traditional celebrities across a range of characteristics considered to have the highest correlation to influencing purchasing among teens.”

Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit, behaviors often curbed by Hollywood handlers.

I know that I find YouTube stars, like Zoella, more candid and genuine than celebrities. Many YouTubers post blogs – video blogs about their everyday lives – so viewers feel like they really get to know the stars. Variety’s survey findings are significant to me not because of purchasing influence, but because it demonstrates that young people can find good role models in YouTubers.

Many YouTube stars are open about their struggles; Zoella vlogs often about her anxiety, and fans flock to the comments to share their own stories of living with anxiety. YouTube stars are real people showing us their real lives and real struggles, and I think this is amazing.

Who are your favourite people to watch online? And what do you think about the influence YouTubers have on our generation?

Sherina

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Dear Sherina,

In junior high, one of my friends at the time introduced me to a channel called ‘danisnotonfire’ run by a young British man by the name of Dan Howell. I was going through a tough time when his channel was shown to me, and his humorous videos provided a welcome reprieve. I began exploring other British youtubers like Louise Pentland, Marcus Butler,Tanya Burr and Zoe Sugg (zoella!) – to name a few.

When it comes to things like makeup tutorials, people are perhaps more inclined to listen to the advice of a person who they can see and interact with – someone who is just like you and me. This can be a more preferable way of consuming, say, information on the best foundation brands to use rather than a faceless article on a magazine website or blog.

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As you mentioned, Youtubers have huge fan followings and widespread influence as a result of their online popularity. Companies have started to take notice; Tanya Burr has her own cosmetics range available online and Louise Pentland has just announced the release of her new plus-size clothing line for women. These are all remarkable feats considering the fact that few of these Youtubers started out intending to have books published and cosmetics and clothing lines released.

It’s so great to see that books like Zoe Sugg’s ‘Girl Online’ have surged in sales, encouraging young people to pick up a book and read! It should also be noted that the majority of Youtubers are relatively young, and have created lucrative online careers for themselves. In a day and age where young people are constantly told that they have no hope of ever getting a job unless they attend university, an ‘online career’ provides an interesting alternative to the message that we are constantly being fed.

Ceanray

Fabletters on Beauty

Dear Ceanray,

We live in a society where our own personal definitions of beauty are constantly challenged. Sadly, they are also constantly changed. Commercials tell us that we need certain products to be beautiful, and we see recurring images in media that show us “ideals” of beauty. This is damaging for so many reasons.

We are all born with our individual thoughts, opinions, and reasons that we are beautiful. As we grow older and are exposed to more forms of media, our definitions of beauty slowly start to change. If we don’t see ourselves represented, be it on advertisements or on our favourite TV show, then we are sent the message that we are not important. And, because we see other people represented, we start to value their traits more than our own.

Norman Cousins once said, “the true tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live.” I really like the way this quote is worded, because it says “what we let die.” It can be really difficult to not let the media influence our definitions of beauty, but if we can accomplish it it is ultimately worth it.

What did the word ‘beautiful’ mean to you – before anyone tried to change your definition?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

I thought I would begin my response to your letter with one of my favourite Audrey Hepburn quotes; “the beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”

Before anyone tried to change my definition of beauty, I had an abstract concept of what the word meant. It meant very little to me until society began to shape my definition of the word “beauty” not as a word in itself, but as a set of ideals as to how we must look in order to be pleasing to the eye.

It is my firm belief that beauty is how you feel about yourself on the inside, which is subsequently reflected on the outside – not vice versa. We must teach ourselves that our uniqueness and what we have to offer is what makes us beautiful, not our ability or inability to fit into the mold that society has created.

Ceanray