Authorship on Fleek

Kayla Lewis (aka Vine [R.I.P.] star Peaches Monroee) is the innovator behind the highly popular “eyebrows on fleek” saying that entered our cultural lexicon in 2014 after Kayla’s original Vine post went viral.

The phrase appears everywhere, from beauty blogs like Refinery29, to magazines like Seventeen, even appearing in branding for companies like Taco Bell, the phrase is ubiquitous, and the creator hasn’t seen a single cent in compensation. While this could generate a discussion about intellectual property and plagiarism, it also has strong ties to “what makes an author.”

Our discussion in class of what constitutes an author suggested that an author is an author when they produce something that is repeatable, or easily attributed to them.  Foucault discusses the author as a part of the discourse (p. 2o), wherein knowing the author adds a referential layer of meaning to the text.  In Kayla’s situation; her statement is easily repeatable – as I mentioned earlier, it appears in print in almost every beauty website and magazine, and referring to “eyebrows on fleek,” “outfit on fleek,” anything on fleek is very common in everyday conversation, but it gets more interesting when we analyze Foucault’s statement of author adding referential meaning.  Some texts, he says, do not require authors, as they were circulated and valued without even considering the author.  This is like what happened to Kayla – her phrase gained cultural value without her authorship, however, she complicates this by attempting to attach her name to this phrase.

Learning about the author does in fact add a layer of referential meaning to the phrase. Kayla grew up in Chicago.  This information is relevant because it relates to the formation of the term ‘fleek.’  In Chicago, common slang for something looking nice is “flickin”, so it is likely that the origin of fleek derives from this word – which can help explain the meaning of this word.

This makes me question – is it fair for Kayla to ask for compensation & recognition for this phrase, when it seems to be a remix of a phrase with an unknown author?  Do you think she deserves recognition because this phrase is being used by brands?

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting analysis! I find that the ‘on fleek’ situation you describe here is one that is telling of Western society and its convolution between Web 2.0 and capitalism. Due to the increased capacity for wide distribution of content allowed by today’s online media platforms, virality seems to be much more common these days for often humorous or entertaining (yet not too mind-boggling) content. Because it is so easy to produce merchandise related to these viral phrases, they therefore are attributed a monetary value. This gives the impression to content ‘creators’ that their (likely non purposeful) creation of memes, or phrases is deserving of any monetary benefits that they could potentially receive.

    I personally don’t have much of an opinion about whether these content creators are truly deserving of any monetary benefits based off of their ‘creation’. I do think it is important to note that this only possible because of the existing networks that have allowed for these series of events to occur. Without these online media platforms, ‘On Fleek’ girl would never have become viral, and she maybe wouldn’t have even felt the need to even video herself saying such odd terminology. This shows the recursive nature of social media platforms, and its tangible role in society.

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  2. I definitely think your questions are interesting to consider and even more challenging to answer. The notion of authorship and copyright in general present so many ethical grey areas. When it was so easy to mock Taylor Swift for wanting to copyright “her” phrases such as “and I’ll write your name,” is it reasonable to ask for such short and ambiguous phrases which have become part of the cultural lexicon to be trademarked? The creation and spread of the phrase clearly involved some types of labour, but can (and should) it all be attributed to the one Vine star? What about the other users who also contributed to the phrase’s success by re-vining or sharing through other platforms? The ones who begun appropriating the phrase on Twitter?

    I think looking at it as a network changes the notion of who is responsible for the phrase’s success and perceived profitability? There are many factors at work in the production of virality, whether it’s a phrase or a meme or a video. Unfortunately, the nature of the internet is anonymous, and the nature of such intellectual property is that it’s not seen as property at all. Again, the ethics are a cloudy grey area, but the regulation of this type of content is possibly beyond the grasp of copyright and trademark – and maybe it should be?

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