tishaturk: (pen)
[personal profile] tishaturk
Issue no. 9 of Transformative Works and Cultures came out yesterday; it's focused on Fan/Remix Video, and it looks amazing—I am really, really looking forward to reading the whole thing. It includes an essay I wrote with Joshua Johnson, a former student of mine, called "Toward an ecology of vidding." I'm really proud of this essay, and I'm hoping it will form part of the basis for a longer project, so I'm already thinking about how to revise and expand it. If you read it and have thoughts about it, I'd love to hear them; you can post comments at TWC, comment here, send me an email, whatever. All feedback is welcome: points you liked, points you disagreed with, points that need expansion or clarification, things we missed, anything!

As I was re-reading the essay for the final proofreading, I thought of something that was really important to me (I can't speak for Josh here) while we were working on it, but which was a little too meta to easily integrate into the essay itself, so I thought I'd write about it here instead.

One of the things I wanted to do in this essay was to write about a typical vid rather than an unusual vid.

Academics writing about vids tend to focus on vids that are special cases of one kind or another: vids that are the first or only vid to do a particular thing; vids that got unusual amounts of attention within or outside fandom; vids from relatively small subgenres, like meta vids or vids with unusually explicit analytical or political thesis statements; vids that use external footage or vidder-created footage. I love those kinds of vids myself, which is why I've written about vids like Luminosity's "Vogue" and Laura Shapiro and LithiumDoll's "I Put You There" and often show Sloane's "Star Trek Dance Floor" when I talk about vids at academic conferences.

These unusual vids are a really important part of who we are and what we do; my own fannish experience (and my VividCon) would be poorer without them. I love that over the last ten years we've created fannish venues that make a place for those vids, that we value them, that we discuss them. And I understand that in an era of DMCA exemption petitions and YouTube takedowns and fair use misinformation campaigns, we have to be strategic in how we talk about vids: those of us who are public advocates for vids, who argue for their value under our public, offline, and/or legal names, often focus on unusual vids because they can help people who are not familiar with vids learn to see vids as transformative works.

But I suspect that for most vid fans, those unusual vids are not what we most often watch and produce, and they're not how a lot of us got interested in vids. Personally, I started off watching (and, eventually, making) 'ship vids and character studies, and those are still some of my favorite vids; watching a really moving 'ship vid or really insightful character study is one of the most emotionally intense and satisfying experiences I can have in fandom.

If we focus only on the atypical vids, the outliers, the unusual cases, we end up distorting what vids and vidding and vidwatching are about; we end up being silent about some of the chief pleasures of fandom. Given how intent our culture is on erasing female pleasure in general, that silence strikes me as really unfortunate.

So when I went looking for a vid to use as a case study in "Toward an ecology of vidding," I had those issues in mind. I wanted us to write about a recent vid in a new, active, squeeful fandom that I was personally unfamiliar with (...and there's a lot I could say here about what happens when acafans write extensively about their own personal fannish interests, which I will save for another post), but mostly I wanted to write about the kind of vid that first drew me to vidwatching and ultimately to vidding.

"Something's Gotta Give" is that kind of vid. It's not an innovative or a groundbreaking vid, and I don't mean that as a criticism at all. It's a terrific vid, an enormously satisfying vid to watch; [personal profile] lamardeuse knew exactly what she wanted to do, and she did it beautifully, and in doing so she clearly made a lot of fans very happy. That is a huge part of what vidding is for—not the only part, certainly, but a really, really important part. If our theories of vidding can't account for this kind of vid, then our theories are incomplete.

I also, though this was a more minor consideration, wanted to write about a slash vid without discussing it as slash—I wanted, essentially, to normalize a slash vid by talking about it in terms of rhetorical and aesthetic choices, the same way I would with any other vid. I think acafans often do way too much over-explaining about slash—for me, at least, it always comes up when I talk about fandom at conferences—and we end up exoticizing slash and/or coming across as defensive, which... annoys me, especially when I find myself doing it. Slash is not a primary point of fannish identification for me, though I have watched and loved and even made slash vids, but I am queer, and I am kind of tired of representations of same-sex relationships and desires needing to be explained all the time. Which is why we never actually used the term "slash" in the essay (though it does come up in the names of some of the LJ communities we referenced, and it's there in the vid info in the Works Cited list).

Anyway. Like I said, I get that acafen need to be strategic about how we discuss vids, but I really hope that, as more people start doing this work, we'll write about a wider range of vid types in a wider range of fandoms. Academics like explicit argumentation, and we like finding vids that will be relatively easy for non-fannish academics to understand, and I think it's totally reasonable for those considerations to affect our choices about which vids to discuss. But, you know, I showed bluefairy1113's fabulous Kirk/Spock reboot vid "Must Be Dreaming" to a roomful of academics last spring, only some of whom were fannish, and they got it—like really, really got it; they got why it was smart, they got why it was interesting.

I suspect that sometimes we downplay 'ship vids because we're worried that other academics won't take those vids seriously, or maybe even because we ourselves are nervous about discussing explicitly romantic vids in an academic context, but as a feminist I worry about this tendency. Saying or implying that 'ship vids aren't serious or aren't worthy of study, or are worthy only if they have some other historical or analytical significance, seems to me to be a profoundly problematic thing to do, so I'm hoping to counter this tendency more explicitly in my upcoming work.

...long post is long, but my point is that I had a blast writing about [personal profile] lamardeuse's vid, and I really appreciate her permission to do it, and I want to write more about the kinds of vids that I first fell in love with.

Date: 2012-03-16 04:43 pm (UTC)
kass: Steve and Danny, in profile. Text: "MFEO." (Steve/Danny)
From: [personal profile] kass
I ♥ [personal profile] lamardeuse's vid, and I also ♥ your and Joshua's essay. It's so neat to see y'all outlining and exploring the processes of vid-watching, the ways in which an educated viewer (by which I mean, a viewer familiar with the fandom, fannish tropes, fannish context) brings all of these extra lenses to bear on the vids that s/he watches.

And also, I love your point about downplaying 'ship vids and why we should resist that. I'm guilty of that myself, I think, at least in terms of how I think about my own work in this space -- I love a good 'ship vid and yet when I think about what I want to bring to VVC, my first thought is, "Well, I don't have anything interesting or novel to say about the Doctor and his companions, so I can't vid Doctor Who" -- as though the kind of character-focused / relationship-focused / squee-focused vid that I love to watch (and love to make!) is somehow less valid or less valuable than the technically-fabulous, intellectually-intriguing kinds of things we sometimes see at that con.

Anyway. ♥!

Date: 2012-03-16 05:01 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: Text only: fandom is my fandom (fandom meta)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro

Date: 2012-03-16 07:18 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro
Because I am generally inarticulate? Nah, that can't be it...

Date: 2012-03-16 08:49 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro

Date: 2012-03-16 06:00 pm (UTC)
kbusse: photograph of me (Default)
From: [personal profile] kbusse
I know it's kinda gauche to link to yourself, but Louisa and I've been having these discussions as long as I can remember. I think in vidding it is more blatant than in fic, but even there we create a sort of canon and an implicit qualitative hierarchy, which is deeply problematic for a number of reasons--focus on female pleasure being one of them, but also the aesthetic value systems of complexity we often uncritically resurrect.

I spoke a little bit about canon last year at SCMS, and i think it fits right in with both your post and your essay itself :)

Date: 2012-03-16 07:41 pm (UTC)
oracne: palestrina score (singing)
From: [personal profile] oracne
I have been having a great time reading this particular issue.

Date: 2012-03-16 08:52 pm (UTC)
cesperanza: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesperanza
I wanted to say that, you know, for me, it's about access--like, the first vids *I* understood were vids that were multifandom trash can vids with really clear theses - like "Hair" or "What I Like About You" (TS, Sentinel, Wiseguy; you can imagine). It took me a while to get more subtle character vids or even relationship vids if I didn't know the show, and I remember my first VVC being a bit of a downer because I didn't relate to every vid the way I related to vids in fandoms I knew. (I remember Kass having the same problem, and others. It's like the first year blahs of the inexperienced vidwatcher.) And then you become a better vidwatcher, and that passes, and you can love a vid like Haunted.

But the thing is, I've shown vids to people who I thought understood my arguments about vids and then watched as they turned away from the vid to talk to me while it was playing and I was like NO NO NO NO YOU'RE MISSING IT!--and it turns out not to be so OK to grab someone's face and turn them back to face the screen. :D But having seen intelligent people look away from a vid they've never seen while it's playing, it's made me realize that MOST people don't know how to watch a vid. And so for me, I've had to choose vids with more explicit arguments rather than less explicit arguments, and that's not necessarily for me about meta vs. ship: "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" is a romantic vid that's also an argument vid, for instance. And like, we just saw with GK and the DMCA that people who were prepared to grant that "It Depends On What You Pay" made an argument about rape, rape, raaaaaaaaape saw Der Kommissar as a bunch of promo clips!

So, um; in summary. tl;dr: canons are also teaching tools, and teaching= converting. :D

Date: 2012-03-17 12:28 am (UTC)
absolutedestiny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] absolutedestiny
I guess I'm just not satisfied with leaving folks with that level of vid appreciation. I agree that canon knowledge can give you a certain kind of connection with a vid but if you aren't reading then you aren't comprehending. I also agree that most people don't know how to watch a vid but honestly I think part of that is because they aren't preparing themselves for what a vid might do and sometimes it's a simple as not knowing that they should look closely.

I guess I see it like prose poetry. Give a high school kid their first prose poem and then ask them about it and they'll paraphrase it to tell you the plot. Tell them it's a poem and they'll read it again and have all kinds of things to say. Part of that is that they can go 'oh, ok. Poem... what tools do I have to help me appreciate poetry'.

There is precision in vidding. Finesse. If you aren't looking for it then you could be missing a large part of the message. First-timers watch vids superficially, like someone would watch a commercial music video or a musical montage in a movie but these are not the same media at all.

The reason vids speak largely to vidders is because they know what went into the creation of the vid, they can watch a vid and immediately start peeling away at the dense onion skin of communication - they start with song choice and the establishment of viewpoint, mood and themes. Knowing the source helps but film and tv is largely tropes that they know so source doesn't matter so much. They can pick out a pov and they can get enough context to just roll with it. They then pay attention to the cutting, its speed, the associations being suggested with each shot and each juxtaposition. They listen out for refrains in the song and how they change over time. They look at character reactions because they've know that each one has been selected out of hundreds, they know to look at movement because it creates another kind of connection, just like colour... just like everything. These clips don't just go together, they were placed, methodically. They know that 'I Put You There' means more than just re-appropriation of cannon. They know to listen for changes in the music to anticipate pov shifts or eureka moments where ideas are fully realised. They also know that they might not get it and that that's ok because sometimes you never will.

Watching vids for the first time isn't an spectacle - it's a test and there *will* be questions later. Perhaps your point is that expecting folks to read at the speed of vids isn't realistic and if they can enjoy a vid then perhaps somewhere down the line they will be able to understand why. I get that and I know everyone has to start somewhere but I worry about people making assumptions about this as being all there is to it. Access is right but when it comes to fan studies I guess I'm expecting people to make an effort to look closer not only at what the vid's existence means for digital participatory culture or what-have-you but also (and more distinctively?) at what the vid is actually doing and what understanding that may bring on its own merit and how that connects to what all these other vids (ALL these other vids) and what they are doing and saying.

One thing I can say for sure is that academic writing on vids has improved massively the last few years and it's clear that there's a lot more interesting stuff to come.

tl;dr Ian rambles a great deal and looks forward to more study of what makes everyday vids collectively different, individually significant and acknowledges that the interesting parts about vidding are not limited to fan works that can be easily connected to established cultural or political discourse.

Date: 2012-03-17 01:30 am (UTC)
cesperanza: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesperanza
Oh, +1 to everything; this can't and shouldn't be the END, it's only an (educational, pedagogical) START.

And in fact, I think that one of the reasons the academic writing is getting better is because we've made that start: we don't have to start every essay with "So, what IS a vid?" You can move the discourse ON A BIT now that we're writing for an audience -even a non fan audience--who has SEEN more than one vid.

Date: 2012-03-17 01:36 am (UTC)
absolutedestiny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] absolutedestiny
I know... Small moves, Ellie, small moves.

I'm genuinely looking forward to a year of academia where we don't actually *have* to talk about A Fair(y) Use Tale anymore. That's going to be awesome.

Date: 2012-03-17 12:51 am (UTC)
absolutedestiny: (Default)
From: [personal profile] absolutedestiny
I truly loved this, btw. If my comment to Cesca above didn't make it obvious, there should be much more of this. I'm so immensely happy that you've said it and said it a million times better than I ever could. I know it's just a beginning but it's *so damn important*.

I actually clapped when you mentioned Tumblr, I kid you not. I cannot begin to articulate the sense of connection and understanding I get, as a vidder, looking at pages of short animated gifs. Sometimes fannish response is just that - I'm recalling sisabet's SPN vid with the double hug that she abandoned once she vidded that part because that's where she wanted to get to.

That vids bring those together into something more or different or surprising or comforting...

I really like vids. I should make more of them.


tishaturk: (Default)
Tisha Turk

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