tishaturk: (TV: Buffy)
[personal profile] tishaturk
I'm starting to think about the paper I'm writing for Film and Film Culture--no actual reading or writing yet, just some back-burner pondering. This post is sort of a warm-up for beginning that paper; I want to try to articulate a few general thoughts about TV and movie vids. I'm particularly interested in the reasons that vidders make (and viewers watch) TV and movie vids, and in the conditions that govern viewer responses to them.

Fans seem to be drawn primarily (though not exclusively) to the long form of visual narrative, to the intratextual complexity (and extratextual camaraderie) that a regular ongoing narrative enables, and so it's not surprising that vids based on TV dominate fannish vidding and vidwatching experiences. But most of us also appreciate the possibilities of movie vids, and not just for movies that inspire extensive fannish activity or draw on existing fannish infrastructure (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, comics-based movies, etc.); witness the perennial presence of movie vidshows at VividCon or the new community [livejournal.com profile] bigscreenvids. Movies can be tricky to vid--there's a lot less source in a two-hour movie than in even a half-season of a prematurely cancelled show--but movies often have more viddable shots: gorgeous cinematography and spectacular scene-setting are more common in movies than TV shows, for obvious budgetary reasons, and so movies often present aesthetic possibilities that most TV shows simply can't.

Movie vids seem, in my admittedly limited experience, to be more accessible than TV vids for viewers outside a fannish context. This is partly, I think, because of the familiarity of movie trailers, which are superficially similar to vids in various ways. I suspect it's also partly a matter of cultural osmosis: non-fannish viewers are more likely to have at least a passing acquaintance with or at least awareness of the source if that source is a movie (partially because of trailers). But I wonder whether accessibility is also a matter of content: often a passing acquaintance with the premise of the source is all one needs for a movie vid, whereas the nature of TV narratives and especially our common modes of fannish engagement with TV narratives encourage TV vids that reward deep knowledge of context. Vidders can make context-dependent TV vids knowing that someone will get the details and be thrilled about them. Movie vids tend not to rely on the same detailed knowledge of the source that TV vids do (although they may well reward detailed knowledge by yielding additional layers of meaning).

I don't want to overstate or overgeneralize this difference; obviously both context-dependent and context-independent vids are made with both types of source. It is absolutely possible to make very deep living-room-style movie vids, and certainly most movie vids benefit from having seen the movie. But I do think that movie vids tend (tend!) to be more easily parsed by someone who doesn't know the source, and in particular to be more easily parsed by someone who is not reading in a fannish context or in the ways that fans routinely practice. This is not to say that such viewers will love the vid or automatically have an epiphany about how awesome vidding is; I just mean that they stand a better chance of developing some sense of what's going on.

I think in some ways movie vids are often less accessible for fans than TV vids are, because most movies don't have a fandom already in place--which is to say that we usually don't think about movies as intensely or collaboratively as we do about TV, and for some of us the fannish cultural-osmosis-knowledge about TV shows we don't watch may be stronger and more pervasive than the general cultural-osmosis-knowledge about movies (though of course this will vary enormously from individual to individual). Movie vids may be pretty or impressive; we may enjoy, admire, and respect them; but typically they don't hit us where we live in quite the same way that TV vids do (though there are exceptions, especially for movies that do have thriving fandoms), and it's that emotional hit (especially the shared emotional hit) that seems to characterize what fans want out of vids. Which is to say: What makes a vid work for a for a non-fannish viewer is not necessarily the same thing as what makes it work for a fannish viewer, and in fact what it means for the vid to "work" for those two audiences may be quite different.

I don't think it's accidental that Luminosity/[livejournal.com profile] sockkpuppett's "Vogue" has made perhaps the biggest splash outside fandom of any single vid so far. "Vogue" is accessible partly because 300 was hugely promoted and discussed, but also because the central theme of the vid requires very little context or content knowledge: it's all right there on the screen, all those nearly-naked men, the homosocial being queered right before our eyes. You really don't have to know the movie--the vid arguably repudiates the very idea of there being a fandom for this movie, even as it emphasizes the slash potential on which many a fandom has been founded. The vid is also accessible because it's funny; [livejournal.com profile] sockkpuppett refuses to take the movie seriously. The vid might even be described as a parody, and while that description would, I think, be an oversimplification, one can think of it in terms of that category--the same category into which we might put the once-ubiquitous "Brokeback Penguin" and "Brokeback to the Future" trailers and their ilk--and I think that very familiarity gives non-fans a framework within which to understand the vid.

I saw "Vogue" before I ever saw 300; in fact, until I decided to propose a paper on "Vogue," I had no intention of ever seeing 300. Such refusal-to-see is one possible response to texts that seem likely to bore or annoy me, and (as a feminist and highly opinionated cultural consumer) I take this option more often than not; life's too short to volunteer for being bored and annoyed. Vidding offers the possibility of another kind of response: re-seeing the text, and giving other people the chance to re-see it with us. One of the interesting things about the reception of "Vogue," for me, is how many of the comments say something to the effect of "Finally, a reason to be glad I sat through that godawful movie." [livejournal.com profile] sockkpuppett could have posted a critical review of the movie, or a rant about the movie, and no doubt she would have had a lot of readers nodding along. But the vid allows us to convert our anger, boredom, etc. into glee. It would be possible to laugh at the movie without the vid, but for fans the vid turns that laughter into a community experience.

Looking back over this post, it occurs to me that the real distinction might not be between TV and movie vids but between vids for source texts that have extensive and elaborated fannish activity and source texts that have smaller or less active fandoms (which also allows for change over time as shows gain fans or go off the air and the popularity of a particular movie explodes and then wanes)--a distinction that maps only partially and incompletely onto the TV/movie difference.

I should mention, too, that I know I'm oversimplifying by categorizing possible audiences into "fannish vidwatchers" and "nonfannish viewers." There are plenty of fans who just don't get vids, and plenty of others who come to like them eventually but take a while to get there; and there are people who aren't involved in media fandom but who know quite a bit about other aspects of remix culture; and there are people who aren't in fandom but whom we might describe as proto-fannish: they may not know much about fandom, but they're savvy readers of media texts, and when shown vids (especially vids for shows they like) they grasp the concept and understand the appeal pretty quickly. So we've actually got... not so much a continuum as a graph where X = fannish tendencies and Y = interest in DIY video, and individual people may be anywhere on that grid.

Which makes me think about Jason Mittell's thoughts on "Vogue" and Scooby Road, which I haven't engaged at all in this post. Mittell claims that Scooby Road is a better introduction to vidding than "Vogue" for someone who's an "outsider," who isn't, to use a phrase he borrows from Luminosity, a "contextual fan," but in fact his post suggests that Scooby Road works for him precisely because it enables him to position himself as an insider and to be a contextual fan: he knows Buffy, he loves Abbey Road, he's found a vid that celebrates things he's already inclined to celebrate. And that speaks, I think, to the way that fandom is a matter not just of seeing in similar (or at least related) ways, but of wanting similar (or at least related) things. Mittell dismisses most of the vids on Kristina Busse's list of recommended vids, saying that they left him "underwhelmed," which is fair; I've been underwhelmed by plenty of vids, and I love vids, plus, while I think most of the vids Busse recommends are terrific (at least the ones I've seen), I have reservations about some of them as intro material for non-fans. But I think that it's a little disingenuous to suggest that Scooby Road is necessarily a better introduction to vidding than "Vogue" (or many of the other vids on Busse's list); it was better for Mittell, it might have been better for me had I not already been sold on vids, but that's hardly a definitive sample. As a counter-example, I think of a proto-fannish colleague of mine who would, I suspect, find Scooby Road profoundly boring because she isn't interested in Buffy and isn't a Beatles fan, but who took to [livejournal.com profile] sockkpuppett's Highlander vid "Ability to Swing" like a duck to water because she is 100% on board with the premise that Duncan's hotness should be celebrated.

Which brings us back, once again, to the balance of context and content.
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tishaturk: (Default)
Tisha Turk

November 2016

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