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Is Zola's Epic Twitter Story Empowering Or Disturbing Or Both?

It's complicated.

On Tuesday morning, Twitter user _zolarmoon, who also goes by Aziah King, used her account to write an epic story in 150 tweets.

Her first tweet, posted along with a photo of herself and an unnamed white woman, reads, "Y'all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It's kind of long but full of suspense." 

 What followed was a story with countless twists and turns, in which King relayed the time that she and the woman (named Jess) met at a Hooters, discovered a shared enthusiasm for stripping, and decided to go on an impromptu weekend trip to Florida to make money dancing.

To record the entire sordid tale here would be pretty much impossible, but during the course of the very NSFW story King crosses paths with a whole host of characters, including pimps and gangstas. What should have been a harmless trip results in Jess being kidnapped and beaten by a rival pimp until Zola is forced to intervene. 

Black Twitter ate up the wild story (which King has insisted via Twitter is completely true), and its humorous, irreverent tone. The story, which has since been deleted from King's account but is preserved via Storify and screencaps, went viral, with thousands of retweets and reblogs on Tumblr. 

King has been described as Twitter's answer to the urban erotica writer Zane, and social media users are demanding that she gets a book or movie deal to tell more stories. Choice lines from her tweet essay are being quoted, retweeted, and turned into memes. 

When I first encountered the story via a Tumblr meme, I enthusiastically reblogged it. "This is WILD, this is HILARIOUS." I wrote. "I'M SCREAMING."

And then I got called out.  

Some social media users have questioned why people were finding Zola's story entertaining, when in fact so many of its key details are pretty disturbing. "I get that the Zola story is 'wild' but it isn't funny," one Tumblr user wrote me anonymously. "Jess gets beaten and almost killed. Z is a child sex trafficker. How is any of that funny?" 

It seems reactions to the meme have been split into two camps of "this is totally juicy and hilarious," and "this is totally horrifying."

The reaction to Zola's story is vaguely reminiscent of the reaction to Rihanna's video for "BBHM." Like Rihanna, who directed the controversial video, Zola has taken full ownership of her identity as a sex worker and her story, telling it unapologetically and on her own terms. And like the Rihanna video, much of the supposed "humor" in her story is derived from the brutalization of another woman, specifically that of a white woman. 

What King describes happening to Jess (forced prostitution, kidnapping, physical abuse) isn't funny, and a woman who is allegedly Jess from the story posted on Facebook that to be reminded of the ordeal "honestly freaking hurts." The idea that her real name has been used and that people are entertained by a story that involves a dark period in her life is disturbing. 

The fact that King, a sex worker herself, is being hailed as a new kind of literary voice for adapting a medium often viewed as the antithesis of literary, is exciting. The reaction to King's story proves the power of social media to give an elevated platform to people who otherwise wouldn't have one. It's great that King is getting attention, but it's unfortunate that her popularity is at someone else's expense. 

So how do we reconcile these two things? How do we praise one woman for empowering herself through telling her own story, when that story also trivializes the abuse of another woman? Is that even possible?

We may not have an easy answer to those questions, but that's exactly why we should be asking them. Being captivated by the story is a normal response, but feeling no level of discomfort about who we're laughing at and why should give us pause. And while, at the end of the day, this meme is being treated as nothing more than another funny Internet sensation, it's important that we think about why exactly we are so entertained.

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