Session 2.3: MySpace
Kristin Arola (Washington State University), Stephanie Vie (University of Arizona), Jonathan Alexander (University of Cincinnati) and Jackie Rhodes (California State San Bernardino)
Review Note: As I spent the majority of the third presentation in this session hoping to fix the laptop and projector, I shall have to leave that review to someone else. Here are the first two:
Kristin Arola, Washington State University: “From Pocahotass to Bezhgiizhig: Redefining Native American Identity Through MySpace.”
Kristin began her presentation with a discussion of regalia—what it means to Native Americans, how it has changed over the years to incorporate more “modern” elements, and what it might have to do with online representation. Regalia are the outfits worn for the circle during a Powwow. They are often made up of gifts from friends, elders, and special items that have meaning to the dancer and the dancer alone.
She connected this idea of regalia to a perceived gap in online identity research—that identity studies often fail to acknowledge the social and cultural meanings of web design (Helen Kennedy, “Beyond Anonymity”). By connecting online identity with regalia rather than a costume (or an identity that can be taken on or off at will), she described online identity as “as an embodied visible act that evolves and changes, the represents one's history, one's community, and one's present.” She gave us several interesting examples of people with native blood on MySpace that sometimes identified as Native, sometimes not, and played with Native identity (one poster had art up with the words “I tan to look more native” written on her back—it appeared to have been written by selectively tanning her skin). She demonstrated how many of these profiles either tried to play with, in, or against common stereotypes of Native-ness as well. One poster described meeting his father in a prison, finding out that the man had been an alcoholic, and described the entire process as “How Indian is that?”
Arola also noted that she believes that MySpace profiles might be one way to study racial identities and definition in the classroom. Parts of Arola’s presentation may be read online at http://www.wsu.edu/~arola/cw2007/.
Stephanie Vie, University of Arizona: “Nowhere to Go but Online: MySpace and Facebook as Spaces for Youth Identity.”
Stephanie likened MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking software to the mall—that ultimate gathering place for disaffected youth. Because malls are increasingly enforcing curfews (a mall local to the Detroit area does not allow anyone under 18 except workers to be in the mall without a parent or guardian after 6 in the evening), high school age students must find somewhere else to congregate. Stephanie believes that online social networking is filling in one of the holes that malls have left behind.
Social networking allows for the identity play and interaction with peers that malls once provided. They create a space where users can share interests, group affiliations, and so on. She noted that these spaces allow people to play with their identities—much like trying on different outfits—and invites them both to watch each other but also to form communities.
She spoke briefly, also, about the possibilities for using Facebook and MySpace in the classroom. Several attendees of this session noted that they have accounts, but have met mixed reactions from students that either appreciate their being on these systems or don’t want their privacy violated. Stephanie briefly discussed her own students’ reactions to using these spaces in the classroom, and also noted that students’ “privacy” online is a bit of a myth in a public system.