Gizoogle: Amusing tribute or racist caricature? – NSFW (part 5)

For over a month now, I’ve been taking a look at Gizoogle, a website that parodies the search engine Google by rendering web content in language resembling Snoop Dogg‘s speech. In a series of posts, I’ve been trying to arrive at a conclusion about whether the website is just an amusing tribute to Snoop Dogg or a racist caricature of African-American English (AAE). I’ve looked at the creators’ stated intentions. I’ve also looked closely at the website’s grammatical accuracy relative to Snoop Dogg’s speech (which is obviously influenced by African-American English). In addition, I’ve looked at the degree to which Gizoogle is representative of Snoop Dogg’s linguistic repertoire. Finally, I’ve looked at whether Gizoogle exaggerates the differences between Snoop Dogg’s speech and so-called ‘standard’ English. This final post will deal with an extremely important piece of the puzzle, namely how Gizoogle is interpreted by others. At the end of the post, I’ll try to offer a final opinion on the question of whether Gizoogle is just an amusing tribute or a racist caricature.

A few prominent media outlets have made mention of Gizoogle, recommending the website to their readers. They have been on the whole quite positive. A Huffington Post article calls Gizoogle “downright hilarious”. A blog post from Wired claims that “the fun is endless”.

The positive response to Gizoogle’s apparent humor is even more clear when one looks at #Gizoogle on Twitter. It  is filled with users who find the website to be quite funny as demonstrated below.

gizoogle-twitter_feed

There is, however, a notable lack of ostensibly Black voices to be found commenting on #Gizoogle (although there are a few, and they don’t seem particularly angered by the website). This lack of Black voices laughing along with Gizoogle is cause for concern, because it suggests that Gizoogle may be viewed by African-Americans not as a way of laughing along with them but as a way of laughing at them, a form of Mock African-American English (a concept I discussed in a previous post). Thus, I went looking to find Black voices responding to Gizoogle.

I found a number of Black men and women weighing in on the issue on tumblr (for example, herehereherehere, and here). In response to a meme created using Gizoogle that combines images of Anne Hathaway in the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables with Gizoogle speech.

gizoogle-les_miserables_tumblr

One commenter (xtremecaffeine), in particular, puts forth a strong argument for the interpretation of the meme as racist:

In short, the words in and of themselves are not funny; put into the mouth of someone whose face might relate to the words being spoken, they tell the same tragic story as ever. The only comedic aspects to this are the misunderstanding of AAVE [African American Vernacular English] as being inferior, and the disconnect between Ann Hathaway’s face and the words presented.

Essentially most people who objected to Gizoogle on grounds of racism did so because of the interpretation that others read the text it produces as an attempt at AAE more broadly. Thus, for these commenters, Gizoogle reflects what we’ve known for a long time: AAE is highly stigmatized (see my past blog posts on this: herehere, and here). They view any humor to be taken from Gizoogle (and indeed it appears that White people especially find quite a bit of it) as deriving from the mismatch between the ‘serious’ nature of things like Les Miserables and the low opinion many people have of AAE.

Another response worth highlighting, however, comes from Tucson Weekly article. The writer, David Mendez, considers a recent student project that translated the classic novel The Great Gatsby using Gizoogle. He comments that Gizoogle “makes one feel vaguely uncomfortable, even a bit racist”. However, he concludes that the translation of the book using Gizoogle is not in and of itself racist but rather represents “a look at a novel through a lens that is meant (even in a tongue-in-cheek, goofily-designed fashion) to pay tribute to a subculture based around one celebrity’s unique speech mannerisms”. Mendez then views the student project of translating The Great Gatsby to derive from a sincere appreciation for linguistic diversity rather than the view that the language Gizoogle uses is deficient. Importantly he also interprets Gizoogle as representing “one celebrity’s unique speech mannerisms”, not AAE more broadly.

One final person’s perspective that I should mention is Snoop Dogg himself. From what I can tell, he’s been fairly quiet on the matter. All I could find was a celebratory post on the Gizoogle news page announcing a shout out from Snoop Dogg (which I confirmed was indeed tweeted from Snoop Dogg’s verified account). It appears then that Snoop Dogg is positive enough about the website to announce it once to his Twitter followers. Beyond that though, it seems Snoop Dogg has been publicly silent.

confirmation_of_snoopdogg_tweet2

Some final thoughts on Gizoogle

As you might expect if you’ve been following along with these posts, the question of whether Gizoogle is a racist caricature of AAE more generally or an amusing (but still respectful) tribute to one man, Snoop Dogg, is not easily answered.

The impression I’ve gained looking at the way Gizoogle presents Snoop Dogg’s speech is that it has a rather exclusive focus on elements that present Snoop speaking in a manner maximally different from ‘standard’ English speakers often exaggerating these. More than that though the changes the creators make seem to represent only one side of Snoop Dogg, both in the sense that they exaggerate the degree to which he uses features like izzle speak but also in the sense that the changes largely stress the sort of materialistic values promoted in some of Snoop Dogg’s work (for example, the song Gin and Juice, which includes lines like “Laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind”). However, Snoop does not singularly promote this materialistic vision. In an interview I cited before, Snoop espouses a number of values like dedication to his art. Gizoogle’s portrayal of Snoop Dogg then appears, to me, one-dimensional.

In addition, it seems that Gizoogle and its creators are at the very least quite naive in failing to acknowledge the potential for their website to promote racist attitudes toward AAE (simply stating that “no racist words” are used). This issue seems to come down to whether the website is based on one man or on a larger social group’s language patterns. The Gizoogle creators and their supporters seem fairly insistent that the website is about only one man and seem to feel comfortable leaving the issue at that. While I don’t necessarily question that that is what they intend, they don’t seem to acknowledge the great potential for users of the website to interpret the language used as AAE more generally opening the door for the website to fuel existing racist attitudes.

While I again see no evidence to suggest that the creators have malicious intent, their failure to address the stigma attached to AAE and to take a firm stance on the validity of Snoop Dogg’s speech and AAE (beyond just finding it funny) leaves me questioning what they want users to think of Snoop Dogg and AAE more generally. I certainly see no evidence that they are attempting to educate the public on the complexity, validity, and potential beauty of Snoop Dogg’s speech or AAE. It’s my opinion that it’s unlikely that such lessons will be learned by simply exposing people to the language generated by Gizoogle, particularly in a world that largely views AAE as ‘incorrect’ or ‘lazy’.

Another area of complexity is that regardless of what Gizoogle’s creators think or do, they have created a content-generating website. At some point then, others take control of the texts created by Gizoogle and use it for their own purposes. We can see a couple of examples of this in the meme and The Great Gatsby project mentioned above. Once these content creators have taken the language off of Gizoogle, especially in the case of the meme, the creators’ intention to model only Snoop Dogg’s language can easily be lost. It seems likely that the meme is interpreted by many people, not as one man’s speech, but as AAE generally, and, as the commentators I cited above argued, AAE speakers then become more clearly the butt of the joke. The Great Gatsby project seems to be a different story. The creator seems to acknowledge the problematic assumptions behind what can be considered ‘serious’ writing and seems to be intending to use Gizoogle as a statement against this (although even here there is room to be more explicit about the rejection of negative attitudes toward AAE). Hence, the degree to which Gizoogle is racist often comes down not so much to the intentions of its creators as it does to the intentions of the people who use it for other purposes. 

All in all, Gizoogle walks a fine line, and I think can fairly be accused of at least being an accomplice to racism. On the one hand, genuine interest in and appreciation of AAE and Snoop Dogg’s speech are not at all racist. To the extent that Gizoogle and people might be using it to engage in such appreciation, the website would actually be a positive force. My impression, however, is that it is largely not being used in this way. I believe Gizoogle’s creators and users would benefit from a critical look at the source of the ‘hilariousness’ of the texts produced by the website. When using Gizoogle we should be asking ourselves some important questions like: Are we laughing with Snoop Dogg and other AAE speakers? Or are we laughing at them? Or, better yet, why are we laughing at all?

Interested in reading the earlier posts in this series? Here are some links:

  • Part 1 discusses Gizoogle’s stated intentions.
  • Part 2 examines the accuracy of the grammar in Gizoogle.
  • Part 3 explores the degree to which Gizoogle represents Snoop Dogg’s speech patterns.
  • Part 4 considers the degree to which the features of Gizoogle might be explained simply by differences between speech and writing.
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Posted in Language and race, Technology and language
One comment on “Gizoogle: Amusing tribute or racist caricature? – NSFW (part 5)
  1. Gizoogle 2.0 says:

    Hey, I’ve been reading some of this series about Gizoogle. First, I want to thank you for making an objective analysis of Gizoogle, and for putting so much effort into this. I’ll have to go through the earlier posts when I have extra time.

    In response to this particular chapter, I must point out that the Gizoogle of ye-olden times (2005) was used in a much less egregiously racist/superficial manner than the new 2011 version. At the time twitter wasn’t around, and the audience was mostly message board users, so the discussion surrounding it was more substantial and fleshed out. If you look through archives of forum posts about Gizoogle pre-2009, you’ll find plenty of examples of civil discussion of Gizoogle (here‘s a thread with a small discussion of the phonetic rules used in the translation). Compare this to the present twitter atmosphere: You probably noticed when you were researching on twitter, that the majority of tweets on #Gizoogle are derivatives of “Enter your twitter handle in Gizoogle, thank me later,” or a picture of the poster’s own twitter feed after it’s been through the translator. You just barely covered the saddest part about this, which is that the creator is running with it, encouraging Gizoogle to be consumed as purely entertainment, seemingly unaware that it could even be used to start a worthwhile discussion or commentary, as evidenced by his numerous tweets. Unfortunately, he seems satisfied in basking in his/her moderate internet-fame instead of encouraging his audience to make a social statement. He’s leaving it up to users to take control of Gizoogle as a content-generating tool, but the only real example of someone making use of the tool is the “The Great Gatsby” student project you mentioned in this article.

    It’s important that I state my reason for responding to this: I’ve been working on my own Gizoogle to replace the original site since before Gizoogle.net went live. I’m not here to plug my own stuff, just letting out some of my discontent over gizoogle.net, so instead I’ll point out that the largest Facebook page about Gizoogle has no direct affiliation to gizoogle.net; it’s called Gizoogle 2.0, and it’s my creation. On the page, I’d like to address the social implications of Gizoogle at some point, especially by linking to posts like this series, but at the moment, my audience is much smaller than Gizoogle.net’s (it was actually larger at one point) and my opinion would likely fall on deaf ears or get mistaken for the opinion of the other gizoogle, even though the different logo, twitter name, and homepage should make it obvious for anyone who reads the page. Considering there is no mention of that Facebook page in this series and I’m sure you came across it, I would not be surprised if you left it out because you thought they were the same thing. I’d love to know if you have any thoughts on this, or if you wouldn’t mind making a sort of comparison between the two.

    Anyway, I want to state my own opinion on the ambiguity between tribute and caricature, which is that there was no ambiguity in the original Gizoogle (it was clearly parody), and that it’s generally the result of the aforementioned attitude taken by the creator/s of the new site. When I created Gizoogle 2.0, it was very important to me that the content I create and post can be looked at from a critical standpoint, and for this reason I take a self-aware approach to the posts on its social media pages, and I don’t think you can say the same about the other site. Again, I’d love to know if you have any thoughts on this. Also, in my version, I aimed to emulate the original translations as closely and as purely as possible, and I believe you would appreciate the differences it has with gizoogle.net. Although nowadays you can only see discussions about the original site by scouring archived forums, it interests me to know how the textual results of the original site or 2.0’s translation compare in your opinion, and if they change your opinions at all.

    In closing, I agree with most of what you wrote, especially in your last paragraph, and I found this analysis generally well-done, at least part 5. As a side note, if a time comes when Gizoogle’s followers/like-ers will take notice of and appreciate a critical discussion about Gizoogle, I will absolutely be willing to link to this on Gizoogle 2.0.

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