“Now you can tell the truth and stop playing a part in my being exploited by a whole ass APP worldwide without my permission,” Jahkara Smith wrote.
"If the men find out we can shapeshift, they're going to tell the church."
That's one of Jahkara Smith's most memorable lines from her most well-known YouTube video titled "Contouring 101," which today has over 4.4 million views. "I don't know if you put your contouring on before the rest of your makeup or after the rest of your makeup, but it doesn't matter; because men are stupid," she quips in a mid-Atlantic accent. Her popularity defied expectations, The Mary Sue noted, "because three of the worst things you can be online are: a woman, brown, and loud." Similar features in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Allure, and Refinery29 praised her cutting commentary on the patriarchy, sexism, and racism, given while mocking the very forum she was using: beauty tutorials, which by their nature prop up an industry that's mostly run by white women and neglects women of color (despite the fact that black women spend up to nine times more on beauty and haircare than white women).
In 2018, she told The Mary Sue, "For whatever reason, I feel like I'm running out of time, or people will forget about me, and I won't have the same opportunities again. That kind of stuff." But at 21 years old, Smith, AKA Sailor J on YouTube, felt that she'd captured a moment to bring attention to society's ethnocentric beauty standards and the patriarchal implications that a woman only cares about beauty products in order to attract a man. "Men cannot know that we wear makeup. It will all be over for all of us. The universe will stop. Reproduction will cease," Smith says at the opening of her first makeup tutorial, titled "Getting a Man 101," which has accrued over 2.2 million views. The point, she says while beating her face aggressively with a beauty blender: "If you don't look like a white beauty blogger, it's over for you." To date, she maintains nearly 500,000 subscribers despite the fact that she no longer posts on her channel.
On TikTok, however, her videos have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, with her online persona "sailorj" being used over 4.3 million times as a hashtag. The mostly Gen-Z–but increasingly millennial–platform is a hybrid of SnapChat and Vine, between video diary and sketch comedy, with users posting dance trends, challenges, tirades, or political commentary. At some point, the audio clips from several of Smith's videos were uploaded to the platform, where millions of users have lip synced to her satire–and to Smith, they're all "f*cking thieves."
YouTube “Sailor J"
In January 2020, Smith made it clear that she doesn't approve of any of her content being appropriated by TikTok users. "Absolutely no one on TikTok or any other platform has my permission to strip this video for any audio or visual purposes," she posted. When responses ranged from solidarity and promises to inform TikTokers of her wishes to criticism that she should be thankful for the publicity, she added, "And no, I'm not grateful that people are stealing because I don't make videos for the sake of having other people like them/me."
TikTok is, as Wired described, "a copyright law nightmare." In many ways, the platform is designed for plagiarizing. With its participatory nature allowing users to respond to other videos or re-use the audio, it exists in a murky space of fair use and monetization. "TikTok isn't offering a new service and then scrambling to monetize it, it's cashing in on a culture other platforms frown upon," writes Wired. "The appeal (sometimes problematically) is in appropriating something that doesn't belong to you and tweaking it until it's your own—an infinite cycle of remixes of remixes, just like a meme." As a musically-driven platform (TikTok acquired the short-lived app musical.ly, after all), the company has partnered with record companies to license existing music, as well as new music from debuting artists for a low fee.
But while lip syncing to the app's library of licensed music avoids (for the most part) dicey copyright problems, millions of videos use sound from other creators. The problem with using Sailor J's material is that, as she pointed out to one commenter, she never uploaded her content onto TikTok–which means her material is completely outside of the company's terms and services. One reason TikTok gets away with encouraging lip syncing and monetizing meme culture is the way it sets out its terms, from protecting TikTok's own branded material to establishing 23 rules for "Your Access to and Use of Our Services," as well as extensive descriptions of User-Generated Content. Namely, if a creator has a TikTok account, then their material is free to use by other TikTok creators: "Users of the Services may also extract all or any portion of User Content created by another user to produce additional User Content, including collaborative User Content with other users, that combine and intersperse User Content generated by more than one user."
So what can Smith do about her unwitting and exploitative TikTok popularity? She can send TikTok a take-down request due to copyright infringement; in 2019, the company apparently received 3,345 such notices, according to their first ever Transparency Report. They say they complied with 85% of requests to remove content. "Now you can tell the truth and stop playing a part in my being exploited by a whole ass APP worldwide without my permission," Smith says in the comments to her contouring video. The YouTuber-turned-actress (and former Air Force servicewoman) has joined the cast of AMC's horror drama NOS4A2 and starred in season two of Hulu's Into the Dark. She doesn't have time to create content for her YouTube channel anymore, but the problems with being an influencer have only intensified with social media crossover.
"Makeup is a form of appropriation as well," she told The New York Times in 2018. Playing with identity and changing one's form is a fundamental aspect of the beauty industry, one that's often manipulated to exploit people's vanity, insecurities, and desire to slip into someone else's skin, if only under a chemical layer. Speaking on the intense backlash she'd received from her social critiques in her parodies, she said, "I don't want those kinds of people watching me anyway. The problem with YouTube is you almost can't be yourself if you want to make it career-wise." Now, with over 500 million users and 1.5 billion downloads, TikTok's estimated worth crossed $75 billion in 2018, making its owner, ByteDance, the most valuable privately held company in the world. With more than 1 billion videos viewed every day, hardly anyone online is really being themselves. But therein lies the appeal of lip syncing: someone pretending to be someone they're not, but in such a kitschy way that it's not inauthentic–it's mocking inauthenticity. Quartz calls this a delicious form of "cognitive dissonance" that's "unapologetically cheesy" while showcasing that "identity can be unapologetically fluid." Most pointedly, in an age when we're still fumbling our attempts to be inclusive but not overly corrective, reigning in cancel culture while still policing instances of cultural appropriation, lip syncing content "strikes an upbeat, nearly utopian chord of free lending and borrowing."
While that opens the terrain of creative property to play with while we're home on a sick day (just as Smith was when she filmed her first video in under an hour on a whim), content based on fluid play-acting means that original creators are more of an afterthought than ever, as users confuse content that's public to mean it's copyright-free. But, appropriately, TikTok's Terms and Services also includes this warning: "You acknowledge and agree that when you view content provided by others on the Services, you are doing so at your own risk."
- Jahkara J Smith (@SlaylerJ) | Twitter ›
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After a week of silence, Kanye's actions speak louder than words.
After remaining silent for several days, Kanye West has donated $2 million to organizations associated with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
He'll also be supporting Black-owned businesses in Chicago and will cover legal expenses for the Arbery and Taylor families. Additionally, he's started a college fund for Floyd's daughter, Gianna.
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Actual humans are being subjected to assh*le inspection by what is almost certainly a fascist regime of cartoon bears.
While the footballs at the 2020 Super Bowl were certainly nice, every mindless consumer knows that commercials are where the fun and excitement really lie.
But as nice as it would be to just sit back and enjoy all of the brands paying famous actors millions of dollars to tell us what to buy, as a professional Doctor of Commercial Studies (D.CS), it's important to me to dig deeper into the trends currently permeating the ad space. Why? Because I paid a lot of money for this fake degree, so I might as well put it to good use. More importantly though, there's a storm brewing in the world of mass media advertisements.
Of all the commercial-related dissertations I've written, none have brought me closer to the maw of insanity than "The Assh*le Inspection Hellscape of the Charmin Bears Commercials." A deep dive into the history of Procter & Gamble's Charmin toilet paper commercials revealed a humanoid bear-populated dystopian America wherein the entire system and culture––social, political, and sexual––revolved around inspecting assh*les for little chunks of toilet paper. Ultimately, I posited that through their attempts to normalize the nonexistent concept of "assh*le inspection," the psychopaths at Charmin were attempting to turn their sick fantasy into a reality, most likely in order to sell more Charmin brand toilet paper. Now I fear that the 2020 Super Bowl commercials have proven the truth to be worse than I could even have imagined. One might even call it...the Ad-pocalypse.
Before we can discuss the looming Ad-pocalypse though, we must first travel back to May 25, 1988, the air date of the final episode of the NBC medical drama St. Elsewhere. An otherwise standard medical drama throughout its six season run, the series finale baffled viewers with the reveal that all of the show's events took place within the mind of a young autistic boy named Tommy Westphall. Such an out-of-left-field reveal would be disturbing on its own, but St. Elsewhere did not exist in a bubble.
Rather, a number of characters on St. Elsewhere had made guest appearances on other TV shows whose characters, in turn, had appeared on even more TV shows. Thus spawned the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis. First proposed by comic book/TV writer Dwayne McDuffy, the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis suggests that if St. Elsewhere existed solely in the mind of an autistic boy and the St. Elsewhere characters had appeared on other TV shows, then that would imply that all of these TV shows exist in a single connected universe made up by the same autistic boy. When fully worked out, this connected universe encompassed roughly 90% of all TV shows at the time.
This establishes precedent. If we accept the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis, then we also accept that when two characters appear within a canonical crossover, those characters must exist within the same universe––henceforth known as the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis Theorem. Which brings us back to the 2020 Super Bowl commercials.
Brand crossovers seemed to be the name of the game for commercial marketers this year. A bizarre commercial for Sabra hummus featured WWE superstar Ric Flair, drag queens Kim Chi and Miz Cracker, Megan Thee Stallion, a bevy of TikTok stars, and most importantly, Chester Cheetah from the Cheetos commercial. Considering the fact that Ric Flair seemed to be appearing as his wrestling persona, this means that Chester Cheetah exists within the same universe as the WWE.
Similarly, the Walmart spot featured aliens and space-farers from fun franchises including Star Wars, Men and Black, Toy Story, The Lego Movie, and also Arrival––a movie about linguistics and coming to terms with the loss of a child. It stands to reason, then, that the Walmart commercial most likely does not fall within any sort of official canon, and therefore the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis Theorem does not apply. The same cannot be said for the horrors that follow.
Procter & Gamble
In "Planters: Baby Nut," a commercial spot for Planters peanuts, the ongoing narrative of Planters mascot Mr Peanut's death is continued at his funeral, thereby establishing canon. Mourned by Mr. Clean and the Kool-Aid Man, this ad sees Mr. Peanut revived as Baby Nut through the powers of Kool-Aid Man's tears; but more importantly, it establishes the fact that Mr. Clean, Kool-Aid Man, and Mr. Peanut exist within the same canonical universe.
But Mr. Clean appeared in another 2020 Super Bowl commercial, too––a spot titled "P&G Presents: When We Come Together, an Interactive Super Bowl Party, America's Choice."
The ad, intended as an interactive endorsement of Procter & Gamble cleaning products, plays out as follows:
Actress Sophia Vergara is hosting a Super Bowl party that is nearly ruined by a guest disastrously covering the entire house in spilled chili. Luckily, Procter & Gamble mascots are there to help. Mr. Clean is there with his trusty mop. Bounty Man, a buff superhero who shoots rolls of Bounty paper towels from his crotch and looks alarmingly like character actor Rob Riggle, swoops in. Football player Troy Palomalu makes an appearance in his capacity as the former Head & Shoulders shampoo spokesman. Even the Old Spice guy, Isaiah Mustafa, is there on his horse. And then Bounty Man enters the bathroom to find...
Procter & Gamble
Actress Busy Philipps witnessing the young Charmin bear mid-asshole inspection. As the bear bares his assh*le, dancing and singing about his Charmin clean heinie, we come to the terrifying realization that all of these characters must exist within the same assh*le inspection hellscape as the Charmin Bears. In fact, the lack of surprise with which Busy Phillips, a presumably real person, approaches Junior's assh*le inspection suggests that for her, assh*le inspection is also boilerplate.
Moreover, thanks to the prior connection amongst Mr. Clean, Kool-Aid Man, and Mr. Peanut, we can assume that these mascots are subject to constant assh*le inspection, too. Remember, in order to travel in the Charmin Bear America, TSA must first inspect your assh*le. This likely doesn't present a huge issue for Mr. Clean, but Mr. Peanut and Kool-Aid Man might be in trouble. Peanut tends to complicate stool, and Kool-Aid Man's entire body is prone to leakage, so it's exceedingly likely that neither of them have particularly clean assh*les. Unfortunately, both mascots are likely subject to hatred and disenfranchisement within the assh*le inspection dystopia of Procter & Gamble's ideal America.
Procter & Gamble
Scarier, the inclusion of Sophia Vergara and Busy Philipps brings all of this dangerously close to home. If real human actresses Sophia Vergara and Busy Philipps have analogues in the Charmin Bears' universe, this means that actual humans are being subjected to assh*le inspection by what is almost certainly a fascist regime of cartoon bears. And if Troy Palomalu exists within this world, that might also mean that there's an NFL. Are the players forced to go through assh*le inspection before every game?
The alternative reading is that the Sophia Vergara and Busy Philipps in the Charmin Bears' universe are not analogues, but rather the real Sophia Vergara and Busy Philipps. This reading might even hold more weight, considering the fact that Sophia Vergara's son, Manolo, makes an appearance in the commercial, too. This further muddles the line between fiction and reality, as the Sophia Vergara in Charmin world can no longer be viewed as just a celebrity face, but rather as a full human with a rich inner life. In the worst case scenario, Procter & Gamble might be attempting to establish a real world canon, meaning that, per the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis Theorem, their sick Charmin Bear assh*le inspection hellscape would actually be our reality. Which would mean: The Charmin Bears are out there, waiting, plotting to inspect your assh*le.
I pray I am wrong. I pray this is not the case. But I fear that the Ad-pocalypse is already upon us. I said we needed to stop the Charmin Bears. I begged the consumers to listen. They did not. Now it might be too late. So when the Charmin Bears come to inspect your assh*le, please remember: As consumers, this is our fault.
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