“Fala ‘You Tube’, Sonia”

Analysis of an INTERNET video


Discourse 2

Prof.Dr.Marisa Grigoletto.


It is difficult not to laugh. The muscles in your face seem to get freewill and determine the outcome of such moment. At a first moment you don’t even try to fight against that growing feeling inside you. After a minute or so of excruciating mockery, the video ends with a fading image. As a matter of fact, from that moment on you start recommending the video to your friends; you send them the link and ask what they think of it. Many of them reply all of them reassure your opinion: “it’s a crack”; “the woman is a dull”; “how can anyone be so stupid?” By this moment you, as an undergraduate student, should have a strange feeling about it; you don’t get it though. If such feeling exists, it is hidden somewhere in your super-ego, waiting for something to wake it up, if it is to be waken up somehow. The alarm sounds from one of your friend’s reply. “It is indeed fun! Apart for the poor woman who was mercilessly humiliated by an insensitive teenager and thousands of even more insensitive viewers. You included among them!” You are finally brought down to earth and start thinking again, leaving the mob’s thoughts which led you to see only fun in a cybernetic-massive humiliation of a single woman. And now you are ready to deal with it as corpus for a college paper.


The sequence of events above described could be easily cited as reality or pure fiction. Whatever it is, that video in particular is a fertile ground for analysis especially because it, as almost any joke, depends on someone to have its objectives fulfilled. The 'creator' of the video (if we may call him this way) thought of its contents as something so funny that he wished to have it shared with everybody else. Next step would be record and broadcast it. From that moment on, the spreading of the video would depend on the creator's ability to sell it and to the 'quality' of the joke itself. As a matter of fact, the videos related to Sonia (the woman's name and the one we will be using from now) have had more than 500.000 hits only at www.youtube.com. In face of such audience, there can be no doubt that the 'quality' of the joke was very high. The many viewers of the video complete the environment needed to analyze it.


Following the concepts studied at our course of Discourse, especially those of Fairclough, every and each discourse should be observed through the prism of social action. If we assume it as a truth, the video acquires a much broader meaning because of its dual nature. The video itself is very simple and amateur-like. The elaboration is in its details. Sonia is a very simple person, probably the maid of that house, probably illiterate and with serious phonological difficulties. She does not seem to be obliged to repeat those words and even seems to have some fun out of it, unaware of the mockery that was being done out of her. The teenager behind the camera is the next element to be considered. He only reinforces an old social practice of exposing people's weaknesses, no matter what the 'subjects' think of it. In contemporary times like the ones we have been living, insensitivity may be very harmful to people because their fragility may reach proportions never thought before. With a cell phone and a computer, Sonia's embarrassment could be shared with everyone. What was a private issue suddenly became something public, turning the limits between the two spheres into something blurred, if not inexistent.


Starting with the 'Faircloughian' idea that every discourse has three dimensions, the text  itself, the Discursive Practice and the Social Practice into which the text is inserted in, Sonia's part in the text is almost everything about it, and the youngster's participation only consists on giving her the lines to repeat. This first area does not make the video. Only when we go for the second area, the Discursive Practice, is that the text acquires its true colors.


Such attempt to turn the other's discourse into mockery is extremely common in multicultural societies, especially the ones which display an acute inequality among their members. Brazilian society is one of those examples. Marked by a slavery process which officially lasted for centuries, its outcomes still endure in our day-by-day lives and many times it bursts out in fashions that are not the most common ones. Jokes about Japanese, Portuguese, blond women, and in our case, a black woman, are common places. In order to make those jokes work, an ongoing process of estrangement and prejudice must be carried on. Stereotypes as the stupid Portuguese, the sexually underprivileged Japanese, the dull blond and the non-capable Blacks are reinforced and thus justify the existence of jokes. Even in the advertising world, where some ethnical slips may mean a decrease in sales and mandatory demands for excuses, such stereotypes are constantly fed and even amplified. Sonia perfectly fits the bill for a joke: she is gullible, black, illiterate, and does not seem to be able to perceive her own weaknesses by herself. It would be interesting to find a Black woman who graduated at Harvard and submit her to the same hardships Sonia has undergone. The final outcome would certainly be different.


Following the pattern established by Fairclough, the next dimension of the discourse analysis to be taken would be the one of Social Practice.


As to reinforce the same process done when analyzing the Discursive Practice, when we look at Sonia's video placing it into a much broader universe of practices, it is possible to notice that in present Brazilian society slanderous and charged of prejudice practices are constant and widespread. From the policeman who stops a Black man driving a fancy car only because he is Black, going to someone who, without even starting, gives up explaining something to a beautiful woman just because he or she thinks that beautiful women are too stupid to understand complex reasoning; or people who look at an oriental descendant young man and take him as a hopeless nerd; the hectic driver who swears bad words to female drivers accusing them of not being able to drive because of their gender; shop clerks who despise potential buyers based on their outfit... I could go on over and over again listing situations that somehow depict the same kind of moving force that encouraged the young man to first record Sonia's video, force that is very similar to the one that encouraged people to laugh at her shameful situation without taking into account that Sonia is a real person who was reduced to a gag, a living joke, bullied by thousands and thousands of invisible and insensitive tugs.


Once this analysis has been completed, it may have become clear that a complex process is always ongoing underneath apparently simple phenomena. In fact, every single discourse, be it textual, footage, painting, picture, photograph or even new media that certainly will come, always bring a powerful background with them, and such elements are very often disguised deep inside their contents. It seems to be also obvious that while being produced, those works suffer the action of being enclosed with background information that was not intended to be part of the final outcome, however, such elements penetrate the work and not just have strong influence on it but also tend to assume preponderant role. The teenager who recorded the video probably just wanted to make some fun out of someone who speaks in a funny way. Despite of that, by broadcasting the footage he unintentionally counted on thousands of Brazilian’s prejudice towards black illiterate people. Cutting a long way short: the joke would not have worked without the acceptance of the viewers.

Watch now “Fala ‘You Tube’, Sonia”: