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175 CHAPTER EIGHT Broadcasting the Stigmatized Self: Positioning Functions of YouTubeVlogs on Bipolar Disorder1 —Darcy Holtgrave Once or twice a week, a young woman who goes by the name Desa Kroma turns a video camera on herself.2 Most often she films from her bedroom,and behind her we see her nightstand with books,a brass lamp,and a few medication bottles. From this intimate space, Desa Kroma shares her thoughts and stories about her life. Starting in November 2013, she has made appearances on YouTube, the free Internet video sharing platform where her videos are publicly available. She has revealed many personal things: she is an artist, a cat owner, and a fan of the card game Magic: The Gathering, which inspired her username. The main thing she talks about, though, is her experience with bipolar disorder.She and I have never met face-to-face; rather,she has chosen freely to share a part of her life with me (and anyone else with access and interest) in the hopes that her videos have a beneficial effect, either for her or for her audience.And she is by no means alone. I began exploring the ways that people talk about their personal experience with mental illness on the Internet as a matter of convenience. With a few clicks, I found blogs, discussion boards, and other forms of text-only communication that introduced me to some of the themes and ideas people talked about.I honed in on the topic of bipolar disorder,a mental illness characterized by abnormal shifts in mood,3 in part because I had been prescribed a medication used to treat mood disorders (though bipolar disorder was not my diagnosis),but also because bipolar disorder seemed to be an increasingly common diagnosis.4 Darcy Holtgrave 176 In my Internet wanderings, I came across YouTube. I quickly discovered that many people dedicate their endeavors to sharing stories about particular illnesses, including bipolar disorder. I currently follow over 180 people whose YouTube channels (pages where a viewer may access all of a person’s publicly available videos) are dedicated entirely or largely to presenting their personal experience with bipolar disorder. Although more than half of my subscriptions—which were compiled from searches on the term bipolar disorder within YouTube as well as following others’ subscriptions—consist of young white women from North America,5 making videos on this topic is by no means solely an endeavor of that demographic; the people in my sample range in age from late teens to mid-sixties, and they come from a wide range of ethnicities and (mostly English-speaking) countries of origin. In these videos, their creators sometimes reveal deeply personal things about themselves, both positive and negative—like the birth of a child or the thrill of finding love to abusive relationships or suicidal thoughts. They also sometimes talk about everyday things, like oil changes or grocery store trips, as if they were conversing with a friend. Some record their in-the-moment emotions, talking through a particular issue in a quasi-soliloquy that comes from addressing an imagined audience to a camera or the speaker’s own image reflected in a computer monitor. Sometimes that in-the-moment emotion is boredom. “I can’t think of what else to say,” they sometimes declare, and then cast around until they do or turn the camera off. While I did have contact with members of this community to inform them of my research,in my analysis here,I relied primarily on observations of publicly available speech and comments. My decision to remain an observer and not take a more active role in the community has not gone unexamined . A few considerations came into play. On YouTube, an observer is, in a sense, a participant, and these participants generally far outnumber the ones who actively comment or respond by another video (Buccitelli 2012:73–74). Video views influence the YouTube algorithm that decides whether a video is promoted or recommended in other viewers’ feeds.6 YouTube tracks and publishes how many times a video is viewed, and even minimal gestures like anonymously giving a video a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” show in a running tally below the video.7 It goes without saying that behind-the-scenes communication between community members takes place. For the sake of this introductory project,however,I discovered that there is rich and nuanced information—cogent and direct answers to questions...


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MARC Record
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