PrudeTube: Violence Up, Boobs Down

When the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, and subsequently repaid the kindness of local tribes with wholesale slaughter, they bequeathed upon America the birthright of double standards. And lest you think that nearly 400 years later we’ve figured out that when given the choice between sex and violence, sex would generally seem the preferable option, take a look at YouTube and other popular video sharing services.

To illustrate my case, a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine came over and clued me into the All Hip Hop Rumors blog, which is a great source of hilarious YouTube clips. One clip in particular was footage of a rap battle that turns violent. In it, MC Nyckz spits a line that has become an instant classic and has inspired a trend: “Oh you mad ’cause I’m stylin on you.”

(Warning: This and other YouTube clips referenced may not be safe for work.)

The clip is behind YouTube’s ‘may offend’ warning wall, which seems practical. Other, vastly more violent clips associated with a “narco trafficante” blood feud, were pulled only after a media firestorm last week. While network execs whine about YouTube being able to filter out boobs but not clips from the boobtube, what I wonder is why they’ve put age and content controls in place to allow violence, but not sexuality? But first, let’s take a look at the rap-battle clip and the meme it started in order to give it some context.

Originally from a Long Island public access shoot, it ended up on DVD video mix “Real Talk TV: We Still in the Streets.” Then the clip hit YouTube on Dec. 11. The first mention I could find was in the Rap World forums, and the next day listed as both the top punch line and best YouTube clip by XXL Magazine blogger and music maven sickamore. Then Questlove dropped it on his vlog (yes, The Roots‘ genius and Chappelle’s Show regular has a vlog).

Rumors flew and the beef continued in interviews, with EnJ accusing Nyckz of brandishing a pistol, which Nyckz denied. Later in January, the entire segment from the DVD was posted in two parts, but it only added fuel to the fire. Meanwhile, the phrase took on a life of it’s own, and started spawning remixes. I especially love the kitty battle remix.

There is a long tradition of competitive, confrontational verbal gymnastics that’s probably older then history. Within that tradition, actual physical contact is considered taboo — hence the introductory title card, “Not ya typical rap battle.” That Nyckz goaded EnJ into throwing a punch is a testament to his ability, and stands as proof that EnJ lost the battle. The community which congregated around the clip (or anyone who’s seen Eminem’s 8 Mile) understands this.

I’m certainly not arguing that the clip should be taken down. What I’m arguing is that in allowing the thousands and thousands of other clips with violent content but working feverishly to keep explicitly erotic content unavailable, YouTube isn’t content-neutral at all, but a powerful force working to perpetuate and even spread certain values regarding what is and what isn’t acceptable content and behavior.

My friend Violet Blue has pointed out that YouTube turned away from an early history of allowing erotic content, and that in the run up to and completion of their sale to Google, the pace and accuracy of YouTube’s censorship of explicit sexuality picked up. If you’re a Google investor, you might be wondering why they would completely cede an entire market to the competition instead of taking steps to preserve the profit potential there.

An analogy for the reasoning that seems to be at work can once again be made with the history of the motion picture industry. Mainstream studios voluntarily censor themselves in order to avoid legal liability and government censorship. Agreements like the Production Code and, more recently, the secretive, incredibly arbitrary example set by the MPAA ratings board — which was so exquisitely exposed in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated.

YouTube is actually hosting a clip from the film (for now) that illustrates my point. The MPAA’s motivations become clear when you begin to pile up examples of just what is and isn’t allowed. Now read Section C of YouTube’s Terms of Use and then compare that statement to the content enforcement on the site — rinse and repeat for the other top video services. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

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