BFA COMMUNICATION DESIGN THESIS 2023
My project is a website that combines illustration and interaction to create an immersive world where traditional feminine visual motifs have been subverted. Utilizing a maximalist and ornamental web design approach, the database is designed to guide the user through the learning experience about the online life of Trisha Paytas and examining how their journey to capitalistic success was reliant on exploitation of marginalized peoples, through a postmodern feminist lens. My main concept is the relationship between privileged white women and marginalized peoples and how this relationship is depicted in media and in online spaces. Trisha Paytas has simultaneously painted themselves as victims and a self-made success story, when in reality they have attained their capitalistic success through exploitation and bigotry, and using harmful comments and rhetoric to garner exposure and clicks through controversy.
Paytas is an American social media icon, starting her YouTube channel in 2007 and has amassed millions of subscribers since that date.
Despite numerous controversies and cancellation attempts made by others online, what makes her a standout and the reason she was selected for this project is her “uncancellable” quality.
Throughout her lengthy online career, Paytas has said and done numerous things that are emblematic and reflective of the values of white liberal feminism, such as:
— avoiding accountability through absurdity, performance, and self-victimization
— harming marginalized peoples through statements and actions throughout the years
— connections to evil white men
— farming 'controversy clicks' through racist, anti-semitic, problematic statements
My position in this project was informed by the writings of Judith Butler, bell hooks, and Angela Davis. The qualities I incorporated from their writings are the elimination of the gender binary and justice for trans, non-white, working class, gender non-conforming, non-western peoples.
My design inspiration comes from designers like Tracy Ma, Mindy Seu's Cyberfeminism Index, and Maya Man. In incorporating the egalitarian nature of early web spaces, along with the absurdity of late-stage capitalism, and the subversion of traditional aesthetics, I connected my concept and design philosophy.
I began my research my making mind maps of how Paytas and more abstract ideas were connected — how a single one of Paytas's actions reflected largely the absurdity of late stage capitalism and the need for gender binary restructuring.
As I continued to research, I pulled specific quotes from PDFs to save into a database to be able to pull from for the website; in order to make the connection between concept and execution apparent.
I later incorporated these into the website by using a Google Sheets API as a content management system for my research.
PDFS USED FOR RESEARCH
As my research progressed, I noticed that Paytas had a habit of copyright striking videos of herself that she considered unflattering, forums dedicated to 'snark' or holding her accountable for her early actions on the Internet. Both Reddit forums I was using a resource were copyright struck and removed during the year I was doing this project; and since the Wayback Machine does not support video content not on YouTube, essentially these clips posted by forum users were lost after the site was taken down.
At this point, I began saving all videos locally that I wanted to use that reflected poorly on Paytas, and it added invigoration into my process; I was determined to find a way to archive and share these videos considering they were so difficult to find.
Since all writing for this project was original, in addition to the coding and design, I used Notion to organize my outlines and the sources I would use to each point, along with the links to them.
The writing for this project was grueling — it was extremely important to remain completely factual and not to use anything that was unsubstantiated, which is easier said than done when conducting research on an Internet celebrity who has been around for so long.
NOTION TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THESIS
After some trial and error, I arrived at a grid system and typography hierarchy that could effectively hold all the information. It was so extremely important to remain organized and diligent while coding, in order to maintain the typography hierarchy and grid system. I used this single note to keep track of my formatting system; while extremely simple, incredibly effective.
A fun little tidbit to share is that while I was working on my thesis, specifically the section that required the Twitter API, Elon Musk took over Twitter, which meant the code of Twitter was being restructured while I was attempting to fetch data from it.
It was incredibly challenging; sometimes the Twitter API would throw null data entries that broke my code, or began blocking what Twitter considered 'adult content.' This means that one day my code would work, and the next day it wouldn't; I had to repeatedly keep checking the API for weeks and alter my code to account for data types and entries.
Upon leaving this site, users will at least have knowledge of Paytas's actions, the ability to decide for themselves whether interacting with her content is worth it, and hopefully, in the future, be able to identify patterns in narratives white women construct when avoiding accountability.
Maggie Gibson, 2023.