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Cultural Analysis, Volume 15.2, 2017

“Sweeping the Globe”: Appropriating Global Media Content Through Camera Phone Videos in Everyday Life

Christian Ritter
Collegium Helveticum of ETH Zurich/University of Zurich/Zurich University of the Arts

Klaus Schönberger
Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt/Celovec

Abstract: The paper discusses the intertwining of the global (popular culture) and the local (youth culture) contexts through the production, distribution, and reception of everyday camera phone videos. It shows how the appropriation of popular media content in digitalized everyday life can be analyzed considering the coincidence of both, the blurring of technical and media boundaries as well as the aestheticization of societies. For this purpose, the authors present a model focusing on the relationship between the persistence and recombination of practices, topics and aesthetics in today’s media culture. Based on the reenactment and filming of popular gender roles, different modes of appropriating global media content will be discussed concerning both the local and global dimension of today’s “convergence culture”. Arguing from a cultural media and technology studies approach, the paper reveals how the development of “agency” through the joint performance, production, and consumption of (media) knowledge takes place “offline” on a local level – while hegemonic images such as gender stereotypes are preserved and persist when they access the public sphere of the World Wide Web.


Introduction: Technological Convergence and the Aestheticization of Societies
With the development and dissemination of digital information and communication technology (ICT) and in particular the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s, the possibilities for translocal communication in everyday life have greatly expanded. In 2000, the first commercial mobile phones with integrated cameras emerged on the market in Japan. Since then, camera phones have ‒ together with other mobile cameras and webcam technology ‒ enabled the simple and mobile production of audio-visual media. Even if the “digital divide” indicates that access to as well as use and impact of ICT must be evaluated differently in different countries and regions, camera phone videos have established themselves beyond industrialized countries as an everyday means of communication. This development can be seen, for example, in the connection between the rise of the “Arab Spring” and the appearance of “witness videos” (cf. Snowdon 2014) on video sharing platforms such as YouTube.

This technical and medial intertwining of communication goes hand in hand with altered references between practices, symbols and narratives of a global popular culture and local everyday cultures that the American media scholar Henry Jenkins describes as characteristic of today’s “convergence culture.” Jenkins stresses the coexistence of different contexts as a key feature of this socio-cultural change:

Convergence: A word that describes technological, industrial, cultural and social changes in the ways media circulates within our culture. [...] Perhaps most broadly, media convergence refers to a situation in which multiple media systems coexist and where media content flows fluidly across them (Jenkins 2005, 282).

Since the early days of the WWW, the communication options of digital ICT technology, in particular the possibility of translocal networking, has been associated with the idea that shared creativity and the collective development of (aesthetic) knowledge make new forms of social enabling possible. However, from an empirical point of view, such technical utopias have rarely been realized on an everyday level.

It is undisputed that in the course of the social-cultural changes that German sociologist Andreas Reckwitz has called “aesthetic capitalism” (Reckwitz 2012), and which have been promoted through the development and dissemination of digital cameras, more and more social actors have started to use the WWW to distribute their own photographs and videos. Empirical studies in Switzerland (Willemse et al. 2014, 34) and Germany (Busemann 2013, 395) point out, however, that not all such artefacts are shared via the infrastructure of the WWW. Our study on youth culture’s use of camera phone videos in Switzerland, upon which this paper is based, shows similar results: the teenagers and young adults interviewed used distribution platforms such as YouTube only in exceptional cases to distribute their videos (Holfelder/Ritter 2013, 18; Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 31-33). This is not surprising if one considers that the simple possibility to produce and disseminate media content through the use of ICT does not necessarily mean that all young people (as suggested by the term “digital natives”) actually act in a sociocultural or socioeconomic context, which promotes the self-confidence or the habitus to do so—or suddenly acquire it when the technology becomes available. Moreover, it also does not necessarily mean a lower level of digital literacy if young people do not automatically upload their films to the WWW. On the contrary, the opposite is in fact the case. Our interviews showed that youngsters are acutely aware of the fact that once videos have been put online it is almost impossible to remove them from the WWW. In this context, young men and women also take into consideration the people who feature in the films they record. This attitude is reflected in the following statement made by a 21-year-old trainee polytechnician:

Normally this is generally not so good for the colleague. One should actually coordinate with him if he gives permission to publish something. But the problem today is that everything stays in the net as soon as it is uploaded. [...] You cannot delete it definitively. 1

This digital literacy is, however, closely connected to knowledge and qualifications previously acquired by young people in their respective social contexts. This also applies to shared knowledge about which things should be filmed, how they should be filmed, and which aesthetic and formal qualities play an important role. Following this argument, an assumed persistence of social structures and practices—what we call the “long arm of ‘real life’” (Schönberger 2000)—appears to be an appropriable approach for the analysis of ICT communications. As will be shown in this paper, the relationship of persistence and recombination in the process of socio-cultural change is of interest on two levels: in terms of the social structuring of communication and in the practices through which everyday communication is realized (cf. Schönberger 2015). Following Michel de Certeau (1984) as well as Henry Jenkinsʼ concepts of “textual poaching,” (1992) the study focused on the intermedial practices by which teenagers and young adults appropriate popular cultural symbols and narratives, but also the ICT and camera technology, for the construction and negotiation of identity.2

Vital in this process is the idea of the socio-technological “enabling potential”3 of digital ICT technology for realizing media combinations (i.e. of image and sound) and intermedial references (i.e. reference to mediated role models) that in John Fiskeʼs terms can lead to the development of “agency”.4 This understanding of media technology allows us the analysis of different forms of action and, thus, differentiatedy forms of socio-cultural change in the context of everyday communication.5 Against this backdrop, we will discuss two key hypotheses from our study.

First we will show that processes of collective creativity do not take place primarily in the virtual environments of the WWW (i.e. in the joint production of media content “online”) as much as they are mediated through them in the collaborative reception and production of digital photographs and videos face-to-face and “offline”. We will show that such processes have both a translocal and a local dimension: translocal because symbols and narratives from the WWW are being appropriated at the same time in different places by different actors and in varying social, cultural and institutional contexts; and local, because processes of appropriation take place under specific spatial and social conditions that decide (among other things) how, by whom and with which intentions audio-visual media content is produced and (possibly) distributed on the WWW. Thus, the transcultural dimension of media appropriation is addressed. Following Wolfgang Welsch’s concept of transculturality, symbols from the global media context pass through classical cultural boundaries quite naturally (Welsch 1999, 197).

Second we intend to show that content, space and technology are appropriated in a situation-based way by the use of camera phones and can be made productive for the development of “agency” (e.g. to demonstrate friendship, to foster social relationships, to aestheticize oneself or to experiment with body images and gender roles). However, these “offline” forms of empowerment in dealing with digital ICT and camera technology do not mean that in the creative process hegemonic ideas of social identity are automatically undermined. The examples we have looked at tend to indicate that society’s interpellation for creativity contributes to a mode of subjectivation corresponding to “aesthetic capitalism” and, through this, existing stereotypes are rather updated than criticized.

From the perspective of a cultural media and technology studies approach, and based on videos collected in the field and on the WWW, we will show how global media content is appropriated in local contexts by teenagers and young adults and negotiated in the local context by means of filming with a camera phone, the joint viewing of these videos and—in some cases—their release on the WWW. One way to understand this appropriation in terms of the socio-cultural change associated with digital media is to take a look at the relationship between persistence and recombination, which—as model of cultural analyses—will be discussed in the following.

Persistence and Recombination: A Model for the Analysis of Cultural Practices in Socio-Cultural Change
In the theoretical concept of persistence and recombination, the appropriation of media content is not analyzed in terms of the assertion of something new, but primarily in terms of that which existed previously. It is about the interaction of persistence and recombination. This perspective emphasizes the antecedent, the persistence. It aims to explain the transformation from “the old” into “the new”, or simply put, how “the old” is renewed. Importantly, the relationship between old and new, tradition and innovation, persistence and fading away is neither understood as dichotomy nor as dialectical interplay. This means that regardless of the changing technological conditions in which appropriation of social practices take place, existing socio-cultural practices persist, migrate or flow into the outwardly new phenomenon. Both in relation to the socio-cultural practices as well as to the connected existing social praxes, a number of moments of persistence and recombination are witnessed in the interplay between technology, internet-based media formats, and these practices and praxes. Those practices that then emerge under changed technical conditions but on the basis of the existing social structures and particular social practices to be reassembled or recombined are understood as being recombinants. The term “recombination” is used here to describe entanglement and the ties between existing and emerging socio-cultural practices and technologies. In our context, the term “social praxes” relates to concepts of every-day life conduct, way of life, or lifestyle. These social praxes are strongly connected with the dimension of social structuring, i.e. economic resources, social and cultural capital, and gender. In contrast, socio-cultural practices such as writing letters, blogging, writing diaries, taking photographs, or filming denominate patterns of communication and action, which can enable, help realize, double, or transcend a variety of very different social praxes and, thus, also social structures. The term “enabling potential” is meant to denominate the connection between users' expectations, requirements and hopes on the one hand, and their skills, qualifications and resources on the other.6

Data and Methods
The empirical basis for the following discussion was collected between 2012 and 2014 within the research project “Camera Phone Videos. Artistic and Ethnographic Approaches to Representations of Young People’s Everyday Worlds”, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The research was conducted by the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK) of the University of Zurich and the Institute for Critical Theory (ith) and the Institute for Contemporary Art Research (IFCAR) at the Zurich University of the Arts.7

The project looked at how young users appropriate, on the one hand, mobile phones as technical devices and, on the other hand, their living environment, including the production, distribution and reception of camera phone films—and under which spatial, technical and social conditions this takes place. Looking at the young people’s everyday praxes, we focused in particular on two issues: a) the aesthetic and technical dimensions of the videos as well as the intermedial and transmedial connections between the camera phone videos analyzed and other (e.g. popular culture) media contexts; and b) the interconnection of the “online” and the “offline” (Holfelder and Ritter 2014, 2-3).

The analysis is based on a sample of 380 camera phone videos made available by teenagers and young adults between 14 and 20 years of age. The videos were analyzed during the ethnographic field work carried out in the city of Zurich as well as at a vocational school in the Zurich agglomeration. This empirical work was supplemented by qualitative analyses and interviews. The interviews were carried out, on the one hand, as short one-on-one Q&A sessions during the ethnographic field work in Zurich (with a total of 60 short interviews) and, on the other hand, as group interviews with school pupils from two classes at the vocational school (with a total of 24 interviews). Moreover, research was carried out on video sharing platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo as well as on Facebook. According to an ethnographic concept described by Christine Hine as ethnographics “in, of and through the virtual” (Hine 2008, 65), we aimed to contextualize the data collected offline with online data such as video clips or Facebook communication. Only by looking at both contexts can the practices oscillating between online and offline be fully understood—especially when it comes to the question of “how gendered and racialized identities are negotiated, reproduced, and indexed in online interactions” (Wilson and Peterson 2002, 453–454).

This research design is reflected in the structure and argumentation of this paper, which follows the “moving targets” (Welz 1998) paradigm introduced to European ethnology by Gisela Welz, drawing on George Marcus’ groundbreaking concept of “multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995). In this paper, this concept is understood as an approach based on the blurred boundaries of modern living environments, with the aim of analyzing the moving of people, practices and meanings in changing contexts. For this purpose, a “radicalization” of this concept is necessary. However, for the purpose of this paper, a “radicalization” of this concept is necessary. We argue that multi-sited ethnography must go beyond a geographic dimension: it should also look at a wide range of social spheres, as well as cultural, economic and institutional contexts. While these are implicitly mentioned in Marcus’s “follow-the” categories, and acknowledged on the theoretical level, empirical operationalizations remain scarce (Schönberger 2013, 132).

The following case studies begin with a camera phone video from the empirical data corpus, which refers to the widespread practice of appropriation of popular cultural content through camera phone videos (Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 65-82). However, in order to interpret the example fully taking into consideration its medial reach, it is necessary to develop the empiricism and analysis beyond the original context. Thus, to achieve this, the primary example will be supplemented by further data mainly gathered on the WWW (videos, user comments). This will form the basis upon which different socio-cultural, socio-technical, and institutional conditions of production, distribution and reception will be compared, contrasted and analyzed. According to the “grounded theory”, the collection and selection of the examples was conducted parallel and based on the material’s potential to provide answers to the questions posed (cf. Glaser/Strauss 1967). The fact that very different topic and contexts play an important role in the process of both, research and analysis shows the multi-layered nature and ambivalence of the mediatized environment of modern digital society.

Appropriation and Re-Appropriation: How a Brazilian Pop Music Video Became a Transcultural Phenomenon
Transculturality, convergence and the aestheticization of everyday life are three aspects of today’s media culture that form the background for the cases that will be discussed in the following. By analyzing examples from everyday and popular culture, we hope to draw conclusions on the relationship between social empowerment and aesthetic practice. This in turn should help us to better understand the (new and old) practices of appropriating and re-coding of meanings connected to the digitalization of communication. Here, focusing in particular on the socio-technical potential of digital communication and camera technology, the connection between persistence and recombination will be discussed using the example of the medial reenactment of a music video, in this case for the very popular song “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” (English = “Oh, if I catch you” aka “Nossa Nossa”) performed by the Brazilian pop singer Michel Teló.

The empirical starting point is a 28-second-long camera phone video collected during the ethnographic field work in Zurich in 2012. The video was given to the research team by a 15-year-old girl and produced during a lunch break at the local vocational school. In the video, two friends of the young woman are shown dancing and singing in a stairwell. While the two girls performing in front of the camera are visible and audible, the young woman operating the camera phone remains offstage (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Dancing and filming during the lunch break (screenshot of a camera phone video).

The video of the girls refers to three modes of appropriation characteristic of those we observed when it comes to how young people use digital camera technology in their everyday lives.

  • The appropriation of public space: The convergence of the device, but also its mobility and ease of use allows for the spontaneous staging and documentation of performances, thus enabling performative and medial appropriation in totally new situations and contexts. This is shown, for example, in the appropriation of public space through its temporary filmic and spatial occupation as a stage for a (private) video production—in this case of a public stairwell.
  • The appropriation and negotiation of hegemonic body and gender images: The technical-medial configuration of the camera phone videos enables methods of appropriation and re-enactment of stereotypical roles in daily life, unlike the static representation of the body and gaze in photography. Moreover, the combination of image, sound and movement also makes it possible not only to appropriate the body, through the filming of the performance, but also to provide this appropriation with an audio framework (such as music, sounds or voices).
  • The appropriation of technology: The example of the dancing girls shows that the “camera phone” as a technical device is integrated in multiple ways into the production of media content. It also shows how the young women combine multiple devices to create new production environments. For the production of this video, one camera phone was used as camera and data storage, while a second mobile phone was used to played the music. Other examples from the ethnographic field work include the video of the young women exemplifying that the technical device “camera phone” is integrated in multiple ways into the production of media content: not only as recorder of image and sound, but also as a player for the musical “playback” of a performance, as a data storage device, as a display for viewing and verifying the quality of the recording and—at times—as a tool for distributing the recorded videos via Apps like WhatsApp, e.g. transfer technologies like Bluetooth, USB, etc.

In order to show a) how the socio-cultural and socio-technical potentials are realized in technical-medial and physical-performative practices of appropriation and b) how these can be analyzed with the model of persistence and recombination - it is of key importance to understand the worldwide “Nossa Nossa” phenomenon.

While the performative and filmic adaption of the “Nossa Nossa” dance became a global mass phenomenon (the video from Zurich mentioned here is one such example), Michel Teló’s song stormed music markets in Europe and the Americas, particularly the American Latin Pop Billboard charts. In 2012 the song reached top chart positions in 25 countries. In Switzerland, where our research was conducted, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” held the number one position for 47 weeks. In Germany, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” was the best-selling single download ever with over 600,000 units sold.8

The global popularity of this song is related directly to the dance shown in the official music video, which has been watched more than 714 million times on YouTube since its release in July 2011 and which became a part of global media culture.9 The video was shot during a concert in Brazil and shows the male singer performing his song in front of a primarily female audience. During the chorus of the song, the singer and the audience perform a choreographed dance together. Central elements of the dance are hip thrusts reminiscent of a male act of copulation. A number of videos from youth and everyday media culture show how these dance moves are staged in different cultural and social contexts, filmed and—in part—uploaded onto the World Wide Web.

Michel Teló’s dance became a viral phenomenon as early as in 2011 as the result of a video recorded by the Brazilian football club FC Santos.10 The video uploaded onto the club’s YouTube channel in September 2011 was produced as a short “behind the scenes” documentary for the fans and shows the players in the locker room after a successful game. At the center of the video is FC Santos player Neymar (today a star player with FC Barcelona) dancing to the music of Michel Teló, mimicking the characteristic dance steps and hip movements (Fig. 2)

Figure 2: Football player Neymar dancing in the locker room (screenshot from YouTube).

Soon after, the video was shared on various fan sites and sports portals on the WWW and gained widespread attention, especially in South America. Later, Teló’s dance was taken up by European players like Cristiano Ronaldo and consequently found its way into European television sports coverage and the YouTube channels of European football fans.

Within a short time the reenactment and documentation of the dance became a transcultural phenomenon of viral media culture. In the course of two years, a great number of “Nossa Nossa” videos were produced in very different contexts. While many of these videos never left the mobile phones or computers of the producers, others found their way into the public sphere of the WWW. Today, on YouTube one can find more than 1.7 million videos related to the original song and its visual representation, most of them amateur productions. Similar videos collected through internet research and in ethnographic field work show how the dance is performed at flash mobs, weddings, birthday parties, talent shows or in different private contexts all over the world. The global importance that the phenomenon gained during this time is underlined by the caption of a dance tutorial on YouTube: “It’s the dance craze that’s been sweeping the globe!”11

But also the entertainment industry realized and reflected the global impact of the “Nossa Nossa” phenomenon, as can be observed in very different contexts. One example is the popular video game FIFA 13 by the video game company Electronic Arts Inc. (EA). In this game the virtual players can be made to perform the dance when they score a goal by using a special key combination (Fig. 3).12 The function can be purchased in the EA store in exchange for so called “FIFA points”, which can be collected during the game or bought online.

Figure 3: Dance episode in the video game FIFA 13 (screenshot from YouTube).

Other examples collected during internet research show that the viral “Nossa Nossa” phenomenon also gained the attention of the music industry, illustrated clearly by Michel Teló himself. In February 2012 a Michel Teló concert at the Planeta Atlântida Festival in the Brazilian town of Rio Grande Do Sul was opened with a screening of amateur videos from YouTube, showing groups and individuals performing the dance.13 This example shows particularly well how camera phone videos produced in local contexts and uploaded onto the WWW take on importance in a shared, obviously local reception situation.

Both examples from the entertainment industry have in common that they point to the re-medialization and re-appropriation of a phenomenon that appears to not only affect everydaylife but also the fields of economy. Jenkins describes it as a feature of today’s convergence culture that, under the portents of blurred technical boundaries and the ubiquity of digital technology in everyday life, there is not only a shifting of the lines between different communications systems and different ways of accessing media content—the relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture are also becoming increasingly complex (Jenkins 2006, 243).

As in comparable viral productions (e.g. the video for the song “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean rapper “Psy” in 2012, Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 65-72), the “Nossa Nossa” performances are typical in that they reproduce a number of different familiar and persistent practices of media appropriation.

Firstly, filming oneself using a camera phone can be seen as an extension of the practice of photographing oneself. Even before the making of camera phone videos emerged in youth culture, visual self-documentation using camera phones (and in part with digital cameras or webcams) was an established youth practice.14 The much improved camera technology and the online connectivity of digital devices have made a decisive contribution to the emergence and persistence of stock posing and gesturing for the camera as a widespread form to mediate self-exploration and form community (“Vergemeinschaftung”). Popular culture personalities (stars, models, etc.) from fashion magazines or music videos serve as an inspiration and (implicit or explicit) template for photographed and— now—filmed reenactments (Ritter 2010, 112).

Secondly, the ubiquity of mobile camera technology in everyday life has expanded the possibilities of mediated appropriation to include the dimensions of sound and movement. But such practices of the imitation and audiovisual documentation of filmed sequences using camera phones or webcams also refer to existing, albeit less widespread, youth culture practices. Such examples can be found in videos made (above all) by young people using VHS camcorders to reenact scenes from the blockbusters of the 1980s and 1990s (cf. Klinger 2011). Today it is the WWW and specifically YouTube where such “fan reenactments” are produced explicitly for a translocal online audience— as opposed to the VHS productions, which were made necessarily for the local peer group alone.15

Thirdly, popular media culture dance choreographies presented in mass media were imitated by teenagers and young adults years before the emergence of MTV (1981), YouTube (2005) or VEVO (2009) came to dominate everyday media culture. Already in the 1970s and 1980s, dance movies such as Saturday Night Fever (1977), Staying Alive (1983), and Dirty Dancing (1987) inspired young people worldwide to mimic the dance moves of their idols in discotheques and at private parties to brighten their day-to-day lives with the codes of “disco glamour.”16 However, it is only with the proliferation of mobile and convergent recording devices that such performances have led to the widespread appropriation that includes not only the reception but also the production and distribution of content by “media amateurs” (Regener/Köppert 2013).17 Today, countless videos can be found on the WWW in which women and men from around the world and in all kinds of situations perform choreographies taken from music videos.

Case Studies: Modes of Appropriation in Everyday Use of ICT and Camera Technology


Our empirical study on the youth culture use of mobile phone-produced videos reveals that temporal and spatial transition zones are important sites for the collective production of camera phone videos. This seems to indicate the importance of local contexts, not only as social spaces but also as spatial and technological environments for media production. Making camera phone videos is a way to appropriate and negotiate such spaces through creative processes. The example shown in Figure 3 reveals how social actors can redefine monofunctional spaces (Marc Augé speaks of “non places”, cf. Augé 1995) such as the stairwell through audio-visual documentation and representation and make them part of their own, youth culture narrative. At the same time, the intimate character of the sexualized “Nossa Nossa” dance offers an opportunity to recode the occupied (public) space as a quasi-private space.

It is not only the venue, but also the timing of the presentation that is recoded by means of dancing and filming. Teenagers in European countries spend a great deal of time traveling by public transportation to school or work, but also in public spaces during breaks, especially in urban areas (Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 81-82). The example of the girls dancing in the stairwell comes from Switzerland, where teenage pupils are not obliged to spend their lunch break on the school premises. As the producer of the camera phone video mentioned in a short interview during the ethnographic fieldwork, the clip of the dancing in the stairwell was recorded at a location near their school during a break.

If every sphere of life is permeated by the invocation of creativity, as Reckwitz suggests, this includes life in temporal and spatial transition zones such as those between school and leisure. The entire filming situation marks a contrast to the social factory of “school” to which the young women had to return a few minutes later. This is no coincidence: dance movies from the disco era to the present day and many music videos represent dancing as a way to escape the everyday drudgery of work and family life— and as a way to “pull oneself out of the swamp by one’s own hair” (Kusser 2013, 19). Speaking about 1980s dance movie “Flashdance”, Astrid Kusser has examined how the protagonists even need to dance, so as not to succumb to everyday depression (59). However, as opposed to this powerful narrative of the manic dancer in cinema, the act of dancing is not only about escaping from the structures of work, school or family. Moreover, it can be interpreted as embedded in the post-Fordist economics of self-aestheticization. According to this understanding, the mentioned practices of dance and film can be understood as a form of immaterial work in the sense set out by Maurizio Lazzarato (1998) and Toni Negri and Michael Hardt (2000), referring to the post-Fordist work paradigm. According to Michel Foucault, the performance in front of the camera phone can be understood as a technology of the self, which allows the individual to work on its subjectivity (Holfelder 2014). At the same time, they network and thereby carry out communicative, creative and emotional work— skills and abilities which are of vital importance in the cognitive capitalism diagnosed by Yann Moulier-Boutang (2012) and can be incorporated directly into processes of value creation. The example highlights not only how such undefined situations in particular offer opportunities for creative practices of appropriation and self-aestheticization, but also the fact that the mobility and technical convergence of camera phones predestines them to be used in transitional situations. In this case, the aestheticization and medialization of everyday communication is revealed as two closely related aspects of blurred technical and cultural boundaries.


Other modes of recoding can also be seen in “Nossa Nossa” videos presented on YouTube, namely those in which (scantily clad) young women dance for the camera in their still childishly decorated bedrooms. Performances like this can be seen as part of adolescent self-discovery in which young men and women claim aspects of body and gender discourses for their identity constructions and test the aesthetic potential of their bodies.18 The relation of sexual and popular culture codes in these videos can be described as very ambivalent; the sexual connotations of both dance and song lyrics are at the core of why young women and men around the world imitate the dance. For women as for men, the mixture of lascivious (feminine) movements and the aggressive (masculine) movements of simulated coitus allows them to explore the body codes of the respective opposite sex and to negotiate their own gender identity. Following Johan Huizinga’s conception of “Homo ludens,” such playing with gender and identity has an “aim in itself” and is “accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy and the consciousness that it is ‘different’ from ‘ordinary life’” (Huizinga 1980, 28). But the popular culture framing of the dance is important as well in that it allows outside recipients (i.e. on the WWW) to properly decode the representations of the sexualized body and to situate them in a transcultural, popular context.

Identifying the performance as a reenactment of a specific media model is also important to identify the creative effort of the media amateurs. For this to occur, the original dance moves from the Michel Teló video must remain recognizable for the audience. This becomes clear when a protagonist in a “Nossa Nossa” video reprimands another dancer for straying away from the predetermined choreography, accosting them: “you’re doing it wrong!”19 In this situation, the possibility to immediately view the joint product on the mobile phone display or on a PC allows for an immediate discussion and evaluation of the performance.

It becomes clear that not the translocal (virtual) but the local spatial, social, and technical situation dictates whether and how hegemonic codes are negotiated through the use of digital ICT and camera technology. Practices of construction and negotiation of identity take place less “online” than they do “offline” in local social environments. In view of such examples, it appears that the idea of the WWW as a “significant social laboratory for experimenting with the constructions and reconstructions of self that characterize postmodern life” (Turkle 1995, 180) is not being maintained— or at least needs to be specified.


The videos we found on YouTube also emphasize how the decoding of the “Nossa Nossa” dance in the anonymous environment of the Internet is dominated by its interpretation as a sexualized act. Michael Strangelove describes such ambivalent threads of empowerment and stereotyping as typical of the production, circulation and consumption of sexually explicit material on the WWW— not only in terms of the (female) body but also in terms of the sexualization of private spaces, which are being “redefined as sites of sexual pleasure” (Strangelove 2011, 87). Strangelove writes about new modes of amateur erotic performance that represent both “acts of subjugation and moments of individual liberation through bodily pleasure” (87). An example is a camera phone video uploaded in 2011 by a female user calling herself KathyCostta entitled “Ai se eu te pego—Michel Teló (Katty, Aroa, Albyta)” (Fig. 4).20 According to the personal details given on YouTube and Facebook, the video was made by a woman living in Spain, where it was also filmed. It shows KathyCostta together with two friends merrily performing and filming the “Nossa Nossa” dance in a bedroom.

Figure 4: Presenting their bodies for the camera’s gaze (screenshot from YouTube)

However, here too it can be seen that for an analysis of the practices in the “Nossa Nossa” phenomenon, the country in which the youngsters live and their nationality are far less important than the immediate social context. Like most “Nossa Nossa” reenactments staged in private rooms, KathyCostta’s video was not primarily made to gain attention of an actual audience on the internet, but instead was intended to be a fun and playful social act. Patricia Lange describes such videos, which are characteristic of YouTube, as “videos of affinity,” that are typically:

...not targeted nor read as necessarily containing material for general audiences. They typically interest delineated groups of people who wish to participate and remain connected socially in some way to the videomaker. The content of such a video is often not original or interesting, although it certainly can be. Often the content is stereotypical, spontaneous and contains numerous in-jokes and references that many general viewers would not understand in the way creators intended (Lange 2009, 73).

The video was viewed more than twelve million times, rated over 25,000 times (of which 22,423 were positive) and commented on more than 7,000 times (as of January 2016). However, the popularity of the video is not based on “in-jokes” and “references” that only the involved protagonists understand (such as the witty moderation at the beginning of the video). Rather, the decidedly (hetero-)normative character of production plays a much greater role, as witnessed in the numerous comments that explicitly refer to the sexual attractiveness of the dancing girls (i.e. “The one on the left moves so SEXY <3,” or “Thumbs up if you got a boner!!”).21 Other comments posted by both male and female users analyze the practices, intentions or emotions of the actors (“Girl on the left is a ‘perfect 10’, good choice not to wear glasses. That way reflects her full beauty”)22 or criticize them:

Bitches listen... 1. the one in the middle is like ‚bitches do it right’ and ‚im all it’ 2. the one on the right is like ‚im so gourgeous and hot and every guy is gonna fuck me’ 3. the one on the left is the only normal one shes cute too but try harder but the picture and the end.. i love it <3 [sic]23

Today, several duplicates of this video can be found on YouTube, in part with new names that refer directly to the sexual reading of the video, like the video titled “Ai se eu te pego - Sexy Chicks Dance” uploaded by a German user.24 In January 2012 even a Facebook page was opened dedicated exclusively to the YouTube video by KathyCostta. This page also demonstrates the ambivalent relationship between social life and self-representation. On the one hand, the associated text suggests that—as mentioned above—the protagonists are primarily interested in the experience of dancing and filming together (“Espero que todavía encontrar tiempo para hacer un video de baile”; English = “I hope I still find time to make another dance video”).25 On the other hand, KathyCostta formulates the text to meet the expectations of her potential audience (“Me alegra mucho que te guste mi video”; English = “I’m so glad you liked my video”).26 That the video is embedded in a social economy of user numbers, comments, “likes” and “dislikes” is revealed by a young male from a vocational school whom we showed the video during an interview:

This is not just any moment, they recorded it so that they could post it on Facebook, that they get “likes” and that people write to them. Yes, they look good. But it is purely for attention. It’s not a spur of the moment thing, a snapshot. This is simply a staged situation that they do only for Facebook or whatever.27

The examples presented here seem to confirm the feminist film critique of Mulvey and others that the camera’s gaze is a male gaze on the female body (cf. Mulvey 1975). On the whole, it appears that global knowledge about the body and gender in the transcultural “interpretive communities” (Fish 1980) of the WWW tends to sustain and not challenge stereotypical gender roles. This underlines again the manner in which existing (persistent) cultural practices from the “offline” world are intensified (recombined) “online”. Paradigmatic for this process is another example collected on YouTube, showing a “machinima” (Fig. 5). Machinima are animated graphic representations of people, objects, landscapes and architecture that can be reproduced within the structure of computer games, in this case within the virtual world from “Second Life“. Media scholar Phylis Johnson describes machinima as “a form of cinematic expression that documents life within virtual spaces.” (Johnson 2012, 4).

Figure 5: Gender stereotypes in the virtual reality of Second Life (screenshot from YouTube)

The video shows two very stereotypical female figures with bare legs clad in tutus and boots dancing to Michel Teló’s hit song.28 The representation of bodies in images is always accompanied by practices of reduction of the visible, which is a necessity of image technology (c.f. Silverman 1997, 144). But this is all the more the case when it comes to images that do not simply represent some form of “reality” outside the image (like a photograph or a film) but are in their entirety a technical reconstruction, as is the case with machinima. While the opportunity presents itself here to use the aesthetic transgressions and medial discrepancies between model and image to undermine stereotypical identity models and deconstruct traditional ways of looking at the (female) body, such forms of resistances to hegemonic images of the body are rare in the machinimas. Nudity, idealized figures and overly revealing clothing are typical of female game characters, sustaining stereotyped and sexualized ideals that Karen Dill et al. summarize as “beautiful, busty, scantily clad sex objects” (Dill et al 2008, 1402). As in the example discussed, machinima are often converted into video files and uploaded on video sharing platforms to make them accessible to the machinima community. In this context, too, the choice of a well-known popular cultural motif and the sexualizing modulation of the dancing bodies can be interpreted: the machinima sequence is not only intended to show the producer’s technical, creative and dramaturgical skills to the community— it must also be able to affect the audience and generate attention.

Appropriation of technology

The examples discussed above have shown that technical devices such as smartphones play a dual role in the appropriation of the “Nossa Nossa” dance. On the one hand, they allow for the documentation of a performance and its direct reception and communication. Our interviews suggest that camera phones, but especially the act of filming itself, is less about documentation and memory as it is about the production of a social situation through the timely sharing and negotiation of experience within the peer group. Whether and in what form these videos actually are shared and negotiated in the Social Web or through mobile applications such as WhatsApp, or whether they remain on mobile phones or personal computers (as among the young people we spoke to), seems to be secondary for the social dimension of the act of filming. Evidently, for the young people it is more important to have the ability to do so, if they feel the need to do so (Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 31-33). Dutch media scholar José van Dijck notes the social importance of this timely negotiation of everyday images in the youth culture context. A younger generation, she writes, “seems to increasingly use digital cameras for ‘live’ communication instead of storing pictures of ‘life’” (van Dijck 2008, 58).

On the other hand, the “live” communication mentioned by van Dijck requires— aside from technical skills and digital literacies— the availability of the technology to record, play, watch and share video in a mobile and spontaneous way. Through their medial and technological foundation, the everyday situations of young people can be experienced in a more intensified form. A possible image or video always in mind, their bodies, practices and environments are perceived and evaluated from the perspective of an imagined audience. The appropriation of camera technology here also means to charge ordinary situations with extraordinary narrative meanings and integrating them into the construction of identity.

Against this backdrop, a cultural and media studies analysis is interested in how the appropriation of technology is inscribed in the context of aesthetic artefacts. This can be seen for example in the (often uncut) camera phone videos, when the filmed protagonists move towards and away from the recording device in order to start or stop the recording or the accompanying music, as illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Every step on video: a girl moves towards the camera to stop the recording (screenshot)

But these short sequences at the beginning or the end of the videos reveal not only the technical conditions of film production. They also encode the videos as non-professional productions in which such “irritants” are permitted. This suggests again that the producer’s focus is more on the adequate reenactment of the dance and less on the aesthetic, formal or technical qualities of the videos. Visible and audible in the examples is also how various technical devices and function are combined situationally. Figure 4 shows how a camera phone is used to record KathyCostta and her friends dancing while the music video by Michel Teló is being played on the PC in the background. This medial co-presence of global popular culture role models and their local reenactment can be seen as typical of the medial appropriation of popular culture.

As we have demonstrated, the possibilities of digital ICT communication do not necessarily lead to new, but to altered modes of appropriation. Rebekkah Willet describes the consumer citizens in the WWW as individuals who “consume as a way of marking their identity and form their identities in relation to what is on offer, but they also resist and create new consumer cultures” (Willet 2008, 55) The possibilities available to appropriate and create “culture” may have grown in the digital age, but Willet’s analysis also refers to relationships of resistance and creativity in everyday life, which were already outlined by the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies for youth and subcultural practices in the 1970s. From a cultural media and technology studies approach, it is less important which ICT communication practices can be identified as “new”— more important is how new and existing practices come together at the intersection between technical, aesthetic and social processes, and which specific situative potentials can be developed through this. Taking that into consideration, this paper is to be seen as a contribution towards describing the current socio-cultural and socio-technical change on an empirical basis and in the sense of a cultural anthropology oriented towards contemporary societies.

Starting from the examples discussed in this paper, we derived a model to understand the relationship between persistence and recombination on the level of today’s media practices. On the one hand, the examples reveal how the appropriation of global media content extends the radius of youth cultural social relationships and how the use of ICT and camera technology can lead to (new) forms of social empowerment. On the other hand, it became evident how young adults negotiate and criticize, but simultaneously refashion and fortify, stereotypes of (female) bodies and gender roles. However, it is not only the relationship of persistence and recombination that is characterized by tensions and contradictions but also the correlation of the global and local dimensions of the discussed “Nossa Nossa” phenomenon. Regarding the idea of a collective and transcultural body of knowledge about images, bodies, and practices that is mediated by internet communication, our examples reveal that, rather than forming a critical “collective intelligence” in the WWW, hegemonic symbols and narratives are preserved and persist. If at all, it is more on the local level of everyday media culture where the collaborative production and consumption of camera phone videos actually leads to different and—sometimes—even new (youth cultural) meanings.


1Interview with E.B, (21 years of age), Baden (Switzerland), February 20, 2013. [ Return to the article ]

2As argued by media scholar Irina Rajewsky, the effect potential of media practices is to be found in how media boundaries and differences are dealt with. The notion of media boundaries, Rajewsky says, should be rethought and the borders or “border zones” between media should be understood “as enabling structures, as spaces in which we can test and experiment with a plethora of different strategies” (Rajewsky 2010, 65). [ Return to the article ]

3The socio-technical potential of internet und digital communication can be described as the sum of options for enabling or preventing individual, independent action (Schönberger 2007, 203 and Schönberger 2015, 205). [ Return to the article ]

4“Agency” is described by Fiske as “[t]he notion [...] that people can recognize their social interests, not necessarily articulate them, not necessarily be fully conscious of them, and can also work to promote those interests” (Müller 1993). [ Return to the article ]

5On the enabling potential of digital ICT and camera technology in popular culture and hegemonic media contents cf. Ritter 2014 and Ritter 2017. [ Return to the article ]

6Cf. more generally Schönberger 2015, English version to be published in 2017. [ Return to the article ]

7The project was realised by Christian Ritter and Ute Holfelder under the supervision of Thomas Hengartner (University of Zurich) and Klaus Schönberger (Zurich University of the Arts, now University of Klagenfurt). [ Return to the article ]

8GfK Entertainment: “600.000 Verkäufe: Michel Teló legt Download-Rekord hin,” accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

9“Michel Teló - Ai Se Eu Te Pego - Video Oficial (Assim você me mata).” YouTube video, 2:45. Posted by “Michel Teló,” July 25, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

10“Bastidores - Santos 1 x 0 Cruzeiro.” YouTube video, 7:05. Posted by “Santos Futebol Clube,” September 13, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

11“‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego’ - Dance Routine Tutorial.” YouTube video, 1:17. Posted by “MichelTeloUK,” August 9, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

12“Fifa 13 nosa nosa.” YouTube Video, 1:39. Posted by: “dieviedeomacher,” November 29, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

13“Michel Teló - Ai Se Eu Te Pego - (Planeta Atlântida) 03/02/2012.” YouTube Video (no longer available). [ Return to the article ]

14The bodily imitation and medial documentation of people, objects and ideas in images has from the very beginnings of photography been part of the development of (audio-)visual media. Artists, private citizens and various kinds of associations hired photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to document staged scenes and tableaux vivant – living imitations of artistic or historical motifs (cf. Jooss 1999 and Folie et al 2002). [ Return to the article ]

15Today such youth culture productions can (still) be easily identified vis-à-vis professional industry productions on the basis of the quality of technical aesthetic factors such as lighting and resolution. Barbara Klinger says that “in keeping with the aesthetic possible via the phone cam and inexpensive digicams most YouTube performances and the mise en scène, photography and sound are low quality,” (Klingler 2003, 203). Considering current developments in mobile phone camera technology up to 4K resolution, these differences are slowly losing their relevance. [ Return to the article ]

16These disco classics remain favourite dance motifs for flash mobs in countries around the globe, as a random search in YouTube shows. [ Return to the article ]

17Susanne Regner and Katrin Köppert use the term “media amateur” (German: “Medienamateur”) ex negativo to describe non-professional media producers, particularly on the WWW (Regener/Köppert 2013, 12). [ Return to the article ]

18On adolescent gender performance on the Social Web cf. Schär 2013. [ Return to the article ]

19Video collected on 12 May 2011 in Zurich (Switzerland) courtesy of Y. E., 15 years of age. [ Return to the article ]

20“Ai se eu te pego - Michel Teló (Katty, Aroa, Albyta).” YouTube Video, 3:07. Posted by “KathyCostta,“ October 27, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

21ibid. [ Return to the article ]

22ibid. [ Return to the article ]

23ibid. [ Return to the article ]

24P“Ai se eu te pego -Sexy Chicks Dance.” YouTube Video, 3:07. Posted by “Harry Bäcker,” January 22, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

25"KathyCostta Facebook.” Accessed March 5, 2014, (no longer available). [ Return to the article ]

26ibid. [ Return to the article ]

27Interview with J.G, (19 years of age), Baden (Switzerland), February 20, 2013. [ Return to the article ]

28“Nossa Nossa Dance: Second Life.” YouTube Video, 3:17. Posted by “Pia Klaar,” August 15, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2016, [ Return to the article ]

List of Figures

Figure 1: Screenshot from YouTube, Bastidores - Santos 1 x 0 Cruzeiro.” YouTube video, 7:05. Posted by “Santos Futebol Clube,” September 13, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016,

Figure 2: “Fifa 13 nosa nosa.” YouTube Video, 1:39. Posted by: “dieviedeomacher,” November 29, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016,

Figure 3: Screenshot of a camera phone video, collected on May 12, 2011 Zurich. Courtesy of Y. E., 15 years of age.

Figure 4: Screenshot from YouTube, “Ai se eu te pego - Michel Teló (Katty, Aroa, Albyta).” YouTube Video, 3:07. Posted by „KathyCostta,“ October 27, 2011. Accessed January 22, 2016,

Figure 5: Screenshot from YouTube, ““Nossa Nossa Dance: Second Life.” YouTube Video, 3:17. Posted by “Pia Klaar,” August 15, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2016,

Figure 6: Screenshot of a camera phone video, collected on May 12, 2011 Zurich. Courtesy of Y. E., 15 years of age.

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