KOTAKOTI AND THE DIGITAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF
A year or so ago I came across an article profiling Kirsten Ostrenga, a teenager with the sobriquet of Kiki Kannibal. In her early teens she had created a Myspace profile and soon became the site’s prevailing princess at the apex of its sovereignty. Her dominion was due mostly to her quick adoption of ‘scene’ style, and supplemented by a Lolita-esque waifishness and an ostensible lack of parental supervision. As has been proven time and time again, the Internet does not look kindly on the confidence of teenaged girls, and Kiki was soon harassed and threatened to the point that her family had to move towns and receive police protection. Despite the constant bullying, violence, and death threats made against her it took years before Kiki’s parents finally ripped the computer from her thin, pale hands, forcing her away from the intoxicating nastiness of Internet attention.
I googled Kiki’s nom de plume and soon encountered the social media platforms belonging to her younger sister Dakota, a (supposedly) sixteen-year-old with an Internet presence so complex and captivating that thousands have devoted themselves to its destruction. Dakota has manufactured and popularized a more appealing version of herself through technology, employing Photoshop and Adobe After Effects for the external features and Youtube videos and blog posts for the internal. The majority of her followers maintain that Dakota should not profit from such false advertising, and feel it’s their responsibility to publicize and disseminate this mendacity.
Pre-Kotakoti / Post-Kotakoti
I’m fascinated by Dakota and her audience equally, as they both propose and seem to be searching for the answers to some questions about twenty-first century reality and individuality that I think about quite often. These questions include: What are the implications of self-construction? How real is the Internet? Can you make something a tangible reality if you first actualize it on the Internet? What happens when one’s Internet personality and their real life collide? Why do Dakota’s followers continue to give her attention if they hate her so much? Why do they feel like they need to reveal who she “really is”, although they’re only familiar with the person she is on the Internet? What do celebrities owe their audience?
Dakota Ostrenga, otherwise known Kotakoti or Dakota Rose, had an Internet presence before she had her period, posing in the background of her sister’s Myspace pictures before eventually smearing on the requisite black eyeliner and making her own profile. Dakota escaped most of the vitriol targeted at Kiki, but her repeated ventures into online popularity despite a knowledge of its hostile consequences suggest a similar obsession with online attention.
Five or six years later, when the Internet had mostly lost interest in Kiki Kannibal and long dismissed the authority of anything scene or emo, Dakota quietly emerged in the guise of ‘Kotakoti,’ a big-eyed, skinny-limbed anime character, and quickly gained followers through a combination of edited, posed portraits and Youtube-hosted make-up tutorials.
Dakota gained reverence for her doll-like physicality, but her popularity soon met with backlash. Dakota was accused of using Photoshop and circle-lenses to construct her delicate features, and her past proclivities towards entry-level racism and homophobia were quickly promulgated across the web.
“I hate lesbians”
Such past behavior was incongruous with the Kotakoti brand, which could be described as kawaii, delicate or shy, exemplative of the dainty teenage girl characterization frequently deployed in Japanese media. While her detractors worked hard to illuminate the “real” Dakota, someone they understood to be brash, prejudiced, and average-looking, Kotakoti steadily gained popularity. She was especially admired by Japanese and Koreans, who were familiar with the archetype. She soon acquired a modeling contract in Japan, which enraged her detractors and exacerbated their efforts to broadcast Dakota’s numerous deceptions, from her looks, to her age, to her persona.
Dakota and her family were clearly unhappy with the circulation of such content, and though they could delete anything negative that was posted on her blog or videos the rest of the Internet was fair game. That is, until they discovered a loophole in that pesky issue of “free speech:” By reporting pictures of Dakota on other people’s blogs on the basis of copyright infringement, Dakota and her family were able to procure almost complete jurisdiction over any pictures of, words about, or allegations towards Dakota. This deeply antagonized Dakota’s critics and eventually forced them to create private forums so they could discuss Dakota’s duplicitiousness without duress. Needless to say, that wasn’t nearly as much fun.
It’s clear from pictures of Dakota that aren’t self-produced that she uses Photoshop and After Effects to tweak her image. She is, of course, a very pretty girl, but she’s not the fairy elf goddess that her Youtube videos and blog photos would purport her to be.
But which of the above pictures is more real to Dakota? Is it the person who she sees in the mirror, or the person who she sees on her blog? The Internet allows us to cultivate and present the persona that we wish we could present in real life. Dakota differs from any other sixteen-year-old girl only in that her image is more widespread. In this respect, is her contention of copyright-infringement on any content she dislikes equivalent to a high schooler untagging an unflattering picture on Facebook? When you untag a picture, you are not only eliminating it from being amalgamated into others’ perception of yourself, you are eliminating it from your own self-perception. Nobody would argue that a sixteen-year-old girl shouldn’t be able to untag photos, but celebrities relinquish themselves to the public when they choose to pursue fame. You’re free to seek extensive amounts of attention, but only at the price of controlling your reputation. Fame is enticing and enthralling and there are many benefits to acquiring an audience, but, like any addicting substance, you can’t expect to reap the rewards of celebrity without any negative consequences (just like you can’t expect to enjoy the fun aspects of daily narcotic use without also experiencing addiction, withdrawal, death, etc.).
Dakota is one face of a new generation that has innumerable levels of celebrity available at their fingertips. We are the first crop of young people for whom the simple click of a mouse can allow our ascention and decline in equal measure. Putting your talents online can help you to achieve your dreams, but the easy slide into fame these days has normalized celebrity to the point that we expect attention simply for putting ourselves online at all. We all just want to figure ourselves out, especially as young adults, and we want to help other people figure us out as well. That desire for others’ understanding has coerced teenagers to create some of the best and most truthful documents and art and music ever made. Celebrity used to have a basis in some talent or knowledge, or at the very least in beauty, but today none of that is necessary for one to be a celebrity. This lack of substance is attested by the thousands of people who show up at Kim Kardashian’s little sister’s public appearances, or the Youtube personalities who make a living off talking into their web cam for three hours a week. The insubstantiality of fame has allowed the cult of celebrity to permeate the collective unconscious to the point that most teenagers are blindly striving towards a goal they have no real knowledge of.
Many people embellish and formulate their Internet lives so that, whethey’re aware of it or not, they create a division between their real self and their Internet self. The Internet self can fill in the gaps where the real self fails, so the insecure might only post edited self-portraits, and the lonely may exaggerate the nature of their social life. The Internet doesn’t feel real, because it’s not, so it’s easy to do and say things online that you wouldn’t in real life, a fact corroborated by the prevalence of cyber bullying and the mere existence of catfishing. Why do people feel comfortable doing those things? Because facts and statements lose substance in the online world, so none of it really feels real! Typing something is different from saying it. Posting something is different from being it. I’m curious about the consequences of such casual misrepresentation. I’m certain that there are corollaries in one’s social life and self-understanding. Our fabricated online lives will become more salient than our actual lives, and that concerns me.
The power you have over your Internet presence is disproprortionate to the power you have over yourself. When we become consumed with regulating the way others see us, what we see in ourselves loses a great deal of its significance. I think everyone is at least subconsciously aware of the way in which putting things online depletes their real-world meaning, which is why we react unfavorably to couples who post tons of selfies whenever they’re together, and mock people who post lots of Facebook statuses about their feelings. As we spend more time constructing our online being, I’m afraid that tangible actions will be depleted at the expense of our digital performance.
You can tweak your online self to be an ideal version of who you are in real life, but doing so inhibits you from actually becoming that person. Fantasy should serve as an objective, and putting it online sucks the life out of it. I know so many people who consider themselves famous because they have 800 listeners on Soundcloud. That means nothing. 800 Soundcloud listeners isn’t indicative of how many people would come to hear you play, or buy your CD. 1000 Twitter followers doesn’t mean you have 1000 friends, nor does it mean what you’re saying is in any way valuable. The ease of clicking the Follow button provokes widespread quantities of undeserved self-aggrandizement, which is nicely concomitant with the rising numbers of young adults who feel they are “owed” something by the world and expect it to fall into their lap while they wait for it on their Macbook at their parents’ house. That’s not to say you can’t leverage Internet attention into real world action, but I think it happens a lot less often than many of us would like to believe.
Frequent use of social media platforms has been shown to engender our depersonalization, when we lose sight of ourselves and our surroundings as we continue to pur our energies into our Internet lives. I already see this derealization occurring when I go out to dinner with friends and they spend the whole time texting and Tweeting and then take a picture of us which they upload to Facebook and Instagram. The representation outweighs what it represents. I find this attitude frustrating, and I don’t want to have to give up my tangible friendships for their online demonstration. I’m sure we can establish a happy medium, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is interested in doing so while the power associated with our Internet presence is still so beguiling. Everyone just wants to be in control, of our faces, of our intellect, our happiness, and while social media appears to facilitate this desire, it is really only the illusion of such control. I hope that, as digital corporations become ever more powerful and covetous of our information, we will realize true autonomy resides outside the sphere of the digital world, and that real power manifests itself in our capacity for tangible change.
(Pictures from Encyclopedia Dramatica)