Thunder Bay Dirty (Now on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube): Surveillance, Social Media, Forced Identity Performance, and the (Re)Production of “Indian” Stereotypes in Canada

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Scott THOMPSON, University of Saskatchewan, Canada
In April of 2015, a young woman received several texts from friends warning her of her appearance on a social media page. After a few clicks, she was appalled to find her imager coupled with a message reporting that she was yet another “Drunken Indian” degrading everyday life in the city of Thunder Bay. Though this claim of excessive alcohol use was unfounded, this depiction of her had not only repeatedly performed the stereotypical actions of “Indian Drunkeness” to everyone who had visited the site, but had also made this performance sharable, likable, open for comments, and capable of being reformatted to other social media platforms. This paper demonstrates this link between surveillance, identity, performance, and social media. It charts how the use of social media to identify, classify, and sort individuals and populations within communities, is being used to (re)produce stereotypical understandings of First Nations and Métis peoples in Canada. Specifically, it takes up the case of “Thunder Bay Dirty” (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), in order to identify key traits associated with “Indianess” thought these technologies, while also looking to understand the role of these technologies in labeling, reproducing, and multiplying these forced identity performances. Staring from an understanding of identity as being constructed through performance and repetition, this paper argues: first, that the posting of labeled images and videos represents a forced identity performance; and second, that these externally imposed, and much more public, social media performances, represent an important culturally productive capacity of surveillance technologies, making them capable of (re)producing imposed identity categories within society, and (re)producing externally constructed stereotypes within understandings of self.