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Exploring the Problematic and Subversive ‘Sh*t People Say’ [The Throwback]

Since we took a look at Jenny Yang’s “If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say” yesterday, let’s revisit January 2012, when Latoya examined a similar vein of internet-based comedy that took on stereotypes from various communities.

By Latoya Peterson

So all this started with “Shit Girls Say,” which now has over 11 million views:

Created by Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey (and boosted by the star power of Juliette Lewis), “Shit Girls Say” went viral by taking a male perspective on common things “women” do and presenting it as humor. Internet forums filled with comments like “Omigod, all my friends do that” or “that is so me.” The sketch proved to be so popular, there are now three episodes, probably with more in the pipeline.

However, everyone wasn’t laughing at “Shit Girls Say.” Quite a few people noticed that the “girls” referred to in the top video were a certain type of woman, an experience that was not shared by all. Others noted that the humor that made the video funny was actually rooted in sexist stereotypes. Over at Feministing, Samhita explains:

While, I usually applaud men in drag, I can’t help but be critical of these characterizations of women. Are some of these stereotypes uncannily true? I’m sure they can be. But that’s the problem with stereotypes, it’s not about whether they are true or not, it’s that they are used to disempower people or deny them certain privileges. And I get that it is comedy, but it’s like the most boring and lazy comedy possible. You know, let’s make fun of girls cuz we already know everyone thinks they are dumb and annoying tee hee. These videos might as well be beer ads.

And Lynn Crosbie, writing for the Globe and Mail, notes:

Girls, or young women, who already speak largely in the interrogative and treat the world of men as another, completely inscrutable species, have enough on their minds already. They are already sexualized to the maximum. Must their every word be a potential joke?

Girls speak casually about inane things. Girls speak, too, about sexual violence and quantum physics. They talk about fear and art, children, murder and opera; philosophy, blood, sex and mathematics.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing is also some stuff a girl said.

In an interview with the Onion A/V Club, the two creators explain their reasoning:

AVC: Formally, the videos are great because they work like the Twitter feed—they’re just little one-liners stitched together. The obvious precedent would be something like Shit My Dad Says, and the TV show, which spins these sayings into 22-minute episodes. Were you trying to keep things a bit more rapid-fire, in the spirit of the Twitter feed?

GS: I think we were aware of Shit My Dad Says, and we wanted something that would live in the same Internet world as the Twitter feed. In a way, with Shit My Dad Says, it makes sense to do something longer and more anecdotal, because that was Justin [Halpern]’s story: his life with his dad. It was biographical, and there was a lot more material. But [our] tweets aren’t necessarily a single character. They’re not one woman. They’re a specific kind of woman. We don’t in any way purport to represent all women, and I think people understand that. I think our next video goes a little further than the tweets. It’s not a narrative, necessarily, but it’s a little more abstract.

AVC: Some of the criticism your project has received seems to miss this “certain kind of woman” concept that you mention. Something that refers to “girls” as an idea is essentializing, but it doesn’t seem like the concept would work if it were called Shit A Certain Kind Of Woman Who Has Been Socialized To Behave A Certain Way Says. How are you responding to criticism suggesting that the project is sexist or misogynist?

GS: You can’t really respond to it, other than positively. We respect women; we love women; we grew up around women; the people who helped us on the project were women. Obviously we can’t critique anyone for critiquing us in this way. Everyone has the right to critique it. It’s a really interesting dialogue that has come up because of the people criticizing it. It’s tricky territory. It’s sensitive territory. But people have the right to be offended. It’s par for the course, especially if something goes this big, which we never thought it would.

But I’m gay, and Kyle’s gay, and people put things out there about gay people. There are television shows about gay people, and I think we try to not let that define us. We know they don’t necessarily speak for us. I think it’s a really interesting topic. We’ve been learning a lot.

So while there was critique, there was also quite a bit of creation. The next sensation to hit YouTube was a racialized version of the first, “Shit Black Girls Say” clocking in at close to 5 million views.

Comedian Billy Sorrells portrays a character named Peaches, which also proved to be a sensation, though for more puzzling reasons. Naima Ramos-Chapman flinched at some of the humor, noting:

When the meme got a racialized twist with Billy Sorrell’s “Shit Black Girls Say” version, I choked mid-chuckle. Both videos refer to adult women as “girls,” and portray them as weak, stupid, silly, bad with technology, and helpless. And in Sorrell’s version, a part about black women being stuck in abusive relationships is too disturbing given that they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than white women.

Then came “Shit Asian Girls Say,” which surprisingly saw very little in terms of critique:

Some of these videos sparked heavy internal debates, like “Shit Spanish Girls Say:”

The comments on the YouTube video ranged from “This video = all my Spanish friends” and “I am puertorrican and I found this video extremely hilarious and right on! :0 OH MAA GAAD MAAAAAAAA! I do it all the time!” to “BTW all this shit is Nuyorican and Dominican shit. Don’t disgrace my island.” Many commenters tried to distance themselves from the video:

@mymailbox4404 Yeah, I agree. It’s super embarrassing for Latinos. Caribbeans in particular. Now with that title, they get to attach some ghetto to my people too, lol. No biggie though. Most people on here know these are not Spanish people. But even to classy Puerto Ricans, this must be embarrassing. Did you see all the comments saying “This is sooo my family” or “I talk and act just like that”, like they are proud of this trashy lifestyle. It’s embarrassing.

IslenoGutierrez

And some good old ethnicity and nationality based prejudice:

@mymailbox4404 You are right. It’s taking the title of my people (Spaniards) and attaching ghetto trash to it for the world to see on youtube. All I can say is wow. que vamos hacer? Lol.

But while there are some interesting interpretations of racial stereotypes (white girls eat chips, black girls eat Cheetos, Asian girls eat Pocky, and I couldn’t quite make out what was on the bag in the Spanish video) and some annoyingly persistent gender stereotypes (CAN NO ONE USE A COMPUTER WITHOUT ASSISTANCE?!?! Oh wait, Spanish girls can.) I’m a bit more interested in the aftermath when people started using the meme for social commentary. While there were definitely people using the meme to advance their racist opinions of certain groups of people say, without the wink-nudge insider cred that the above videos rely on to be funny, the meme started mutating, turning the stereotypes in on themselves.

First, the original videos sparked some rebuttals, from women parodying men. Reminiscent of battle (of the sexes) rap popular in the 1990s, the videos featured women performing in drag giving commentary on the men in they know (accompanied by the inevitable “women just aren’t funny” comments).

There’s “Shit Guys Say” – which I have to admit feels like a quicker version of Jersey Shore:

And then there’s “Shit Black Guys Say:”

(Notice the commentary on how often men comment on women’s bodies in both of the videos.)

There are also challenges to the ideas of a unified experience for any group. Look at all the variations on “Shit Gay Guys Say”.

There’s this one:

There’s “Shit Black Gays Say:”

And a part 2:

And “Shit Southern Gay Guys Say:”

It’s notable that these videos are the principals representing themselves (as opposed to someone else’s interpretation of them) – perhaps since these groups are still so invisible in the public eye that no one else but them could speak to their experience.

With a slight tweak, the meme becomes social critique. Just by adding “to” and a second group, the meme found new life.

There’s the hit “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls, ” which we’ve pointed out before:

and the follow up:

There’s also “Shit White Girls Say to Arab Girls:”

“Shit White Girls Say to Asian Girls:”

“Shit White Girls Say to Brown Girls:”

And “Shit White Guys Say to Asian Girls:”

As our own Thea Lim recently explained in The Guardian:

[T]hings took a turn when Franchesca Ramsey released Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls, which quickly inspired Nicola Foti’s Shit Girls Say to Gay Guys, and Sameer Asad Gardezi and Kosha Patel then unleashed Shit White Girls Say … to Brown Girls”. Each video showcases a bewigged Ramsey, Foti and Patel reeling off a list of the most awful things your best white girlfriend has ever said. These videos skewer that verbal equivalent of friendly fire: friendly prejudice, if you will.

What’s friendly prejudice? The most common defence of racism is: “But I didn’t intend to be racist.” This response relies on the idea that if we didn’t intend to offend someone, then their feelings can’t possibly be hurt. The Shit X Says to Y videos are delightfully validating because they show that those with the genuinely lovely intentions of being your friend and seeking commonality with you can still be rude and hurtful.

Unsurprisingly, the Shit X Says to Y meme has itself been called offensive. As a commenter on the NPR blog says, “if the roles were reversed … Jesse [Jackson] & [Al] Sharpton, would be involved, lawsuits filed, perhaps riots …” But the roles can’t be reversed. The reason why relationships between white and non-white people, or straight people and gay people are fraught, is because of our history – long gone, recent or ongoing. Racist, homophobic or simply thoughtless comments are insulting not just in and of themselves, but because they are a bilious reminder of the times when straight, white people have dehumanised and denied other groups their human rights. Of course, non-white and gay people can say nasty or even prejudicial things to white and straight people, but those things don’t deliver the sting that comes from decades of being on the wrong end of an unequal relationship (and could I recommend further viewing on this topic: comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s “Racists”).

What bothers some viewers about the Shit X Says to Y meme is that it targets only white women. Critics have said of Foti in particular that it is always sexist when men use women as the brunt of any joke. But privilege does not work in debits and credits, whereby your lack of cultural power as a gay person is paid back by your stores of cultural power as a man. A white woman can be racist to an Asian man, just as a straight black woman can be homophobic to a gay white man. These videos are important because they ask all viewers – regardless of what power they have and what power they lack – to reconsider if their best friendship with non-white and gay people grants them licence to cross the line.

Due to the popularity of the meme, people are reconsidering the impact of their words to their friends, which is the point of this next batch of takes. Exploring the dynamics of relationships between friends can be painful, but what these users created basically amount to humorous public service announcements.

“Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People:”

“Shit Girls Say to Gay Guys:”

And, finally, the ultimate activist mutation of the meme, Shit Everybody Says to Rape Victims:

Outside of “Shit Black Girls Say to White Girls,” none of the other videos got anywhere near the amount of play that “Shit Girls Say” and “Shit Black Girls Say enjoyed.” Maybe that’s because, as a culture, we are accustomed to laughing at stereotypes, but we aren’t prepared to unpack how we perpetuate them.