On Tuesday October 26th, the Internet was exposed to a highly provocative, yet problematic recounting of a story of one wild weekend in Florida. The 150-tweet-long story elicited celebrity response, inspiration for one woman’s Halloween costume, a flood of memes, and a fan club for a woman who goes by the name of Zola.
Check out the tweets on IMGUR here
Aziah King, or Zola, the stripper/waitress-turned-madame tweeted the story of how she met a fellow stripper, Jess, while working at Hooters. They instantly bonded, and the next day, Zola agreed to tag along with Jess, her boyfriend, and her roommate for a weekend dancing trip to Florida. Little did she know, Jess’s “roommate” turned out to be her pimp. Long story short: Zola thinks she can pimp out Jess better than her actual pimp, Jess’ boyfriend tries to kill himself, Jess gets kidnapped, and her pimp murders the kidnapper. Though the authenticity of the story is being called into question, how the internet responded to the story is what is of the most significance. The story was praised as wild, empowering, and worthy of a movie adaptation. Such a reaction draws attention to the desensitization of what we see on our computer screens, specifically in the form of 140-character tweets. Her story includes an attempted suicide, someone’s plight with bipolar disorder, the kidnapping and beating of a sexworker, and murder. Though it’s Twitter consensus that Zola’s storytelling skills are Oscar-worthy, the story’s casual treatment of problematic material, such as mental illness and prostitution, provides a lesson to be critical of content online.
At first read, the action-packed story is empowering. Zola takes full ownership of her role as a stripper, something she does out of love rather than obligation. Zola’s story gives a voice to black women in the sex industry who are not martyrs, down-trodden, or drug addicts. She also asserts her agency, and is unwavering in her conviction to keep the money she earns, and not prostitute herself, unlike her white counterpart, Jess. Such a tale is rarely told. Zola is funny, authoritative, powerful, and strong-willed. Her sass and irreverent tone allowed for a feminist reading of an otherwise shocking story. The internet lapped up Zola’s bonding with Jess over their “hoe-ism” and Zola schooling Jess in self-worth, explaining that her body is worth thousands more than she had agreed to be paid.
Jokes aside, Jess, on the other hand, was kidnapped, severely beaten, and thrown into a closet. Zola’s choice to air Jess’ dirty laundry is both a violation of Jess’ privacy and potentially triggering. In addition, Jarrett, Jess’s boyfriend who travelled to Florida with them, has bipolar disorder. Zola repeatedly makes reference to his crazy antics, and she loses her cool with him when he throws temper tantrums, cries hysterically, and then eventually tries to kill himself. Zola, Jess, and Jarrett then witness a pimp’s murder. The light tone and Twitter format of the story make it hard to believe that the events actually happened to real people, and that Jess and Jarrett have to live with the memory of those traumatic events they went through that weekend in Florida.
While it’s easy and totally warranted to laugh at Zola’s account of those few days in Florida, it’s also important to remain critical. Just because online content generates an enthusiastic buzz- doesn’t mean it’s irreproachable.
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