Social Justice, Pretty Pictures: Adventures on Tumblr

By Michelle

Tumblr is a great, endless timesuck; an infinite stream of pretty “alternative” girls, Ron Swanson, Doctor Who, fancy French New Wave film stills, Nicki Minaj gifs, cats, and nineties nostalgia. I tried to give up tumblr sometime last fall because the constant flow of imagery was addicting and overwhelming and I realized that my patterns of endless scrolling and reblogging were not conducive to looking at things critically. I’d look through my blog archive and not remember certain images that must have, at some point, compelled me enough to bother reblogging ( I’d notice certain colors and textures and compositions that would make me automatically reblog something). This was interesting in that it gave me a sort of record of my aesthetics and, in theory, a collection of inspiration for my work, but I was spending more time mindlessly scrolling through images on the internet than actually making my own images.

I returned to tumblr last term, but tried to approach what I saw in a more critical way. This time, I was surprised to realize how much I was learning while scrolling through my dash. Tumblr creates a community-based, personal and interactive approach to education and politics that is particularly useful if one aims to include and listen to the experiences of those who are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream media. I’ve learned so much about intersectionality (which refers to the way different aspects of one’s identity overlap and influences one’s experiences; for example, women of color don’t just experience racism and sexism but racialized sexism and sexualized racism) from reading about other people’s experiences and interpretations of the world. Right now I’m taking a class on psychology and gender, which is useful in many ways (this is my first psych class so I’m still learning a lot of the basic concepts) but really limited (and sometimes misrepresentative) in discussing those who are queer, trans, and/or non-binary-identified. Tumblr is, in many ways, an ideal place to learn more about people who identify in ways that are different from you, or to connect with people who also belong to identities that aren’t often represented in mass media. There certainly are the same drama and nasty comments that spring up everywhere on the internet, but also the opportunity to form communities and connect with others.

Tumblr of course has its limitations; the endless content that appears on one’s dashboard often encourages skimming or outright ignoring of more in-depth posts. Also, what messages one is exposed to are limited to the blogs one follows, which makes it easy for one to remain ignorant about topics one doesn’t care about or doesn’t know exist (for example, when I first started using tumblr, I mainly followed and reblogged fashion blogs, which shaped how I viewed the site). The wonderful Julia Caron points out in this blog post how only certain political messages receive attention on tumblr. Some posts about feminism get tens of thousands of notes, but these messages tend to only reflect the experiences of white, privileged feminists and may also be less complex and less challenging to the status quo compared to others. Perhaps political discourse does not best coexist with cute animal gifs and Simpsons screencaps, and blogging on tumblr probably isn’t the most impactful form of activism. But tumblr is a useful resource for finding new ways of looking at the world and integrating politics and activism with everyday life and pop culture.

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