A little over a month ago, an editor from New York Magazine wrote me to see if I might nominate what I saw as "the best online videos." I saw this request as an opportunity to promote the amazing work that goes on in the fan vidding community, work which is frequently not discussed when people are talking about the vernacular creativity of YouTube. After consulting with some friends in that creative community (including long time reader Laura Shapiro), and corresponding with the artist herself, we decided to nominate Luminosity, who ranks among the very best of contemporary vidders. Here's the letter I wrote nominating her:
The tradition of fan video making long predates the rise of YouTube and our current fascination with remix culture. For several decades, fans, mostly women, have re-edited footage from their favorite films and television shows, setting them to music, as a way of expressing their complex feelings towards their favorite media franchises. These women produced compelling videos when it was hard,editing on their home vrs, and now, they have achieved incredible sophistication and virtuosity now that they can use digital editing equipment. Luminosity is among the best of this current generation of fan video-makers: one need only look at a few of her works to see the range of different styles and interpretations she brings to her material. "Vogue" merges the music of Madonna and the images of the recent Hollywood blockbuster, 300, into a
compelling consideration of masculine spectacle, one which plays with our expectations about gender and sexuality. "Bite me, Frank Miller," Luminosity says, blurring the lines the original work constructs between the hypermasculine Spartans and the perverse Persians. "Women's Work" offers a feminist critique of the place of sexual violence in the CW television series,
Supernatural, while "Ecstatic Drum Trip" spins wrecklessly out of control, offering us a mad rush of images, drawn from the science fiction series, Farscape. These represent just three of the more than 30 videos which she has posted on the web so far, each transforming content from mass media into the raw materials for her own expressive activity. Much of contemporary remix culture falls back on parody but these fan videos seek to convey the emotional intensity which fan women feel towards these original
works, taking us into the heads and hearts of their favorite characters. These fan videos can be funny (as "Vogue" suggests) but they can also be deeply moving (exploring the pain and loss which surrounds some of our favorite characters.) These videos communicate more if you know the shows on which they are based but they represent on their own mood poems or character
sketches which pack a powerful punch.
(Those of you who have followed the Gender and Fan Culture conversation series this summer and fall will already know Luminosity's work which was referenced by Francesca Coppa in her discussion with Robert Kozinets.)
Well, the New York editors must have liked what they saw because Luminosity is profiled, alongside a range of other independent and amateur media artists, in a special issue which explores "the New Online Star System."
Here's how the story begins:
Luminosity is the best fan that shows like Friday Night Lights, Highlander, Farscape, and Buffy ever had--but she can't use her real name in this interview for fear that their producers will sue her. As a vidder--a director of passionate tributes and critiques of her favorite shows--Luminosity samples video in order to remix and reinterpret it, bending source material to her own purposes...We emailed with Luminosity about her meticulously crafted videos, including "Women's Work," her loving critique of violence in Supernatural, and Vogue/300, her hysterical riff on those hunky Spartans.
The interview which follows is respectful of her accomplishments and seeks to reclaim a place for women's creative work in the larger history of online video. Luminosity speaks, for example, about the politics behind "Women's Work," which remains one of her most controversial videos. Like many other fans of Supernatural, I have admired what she accomplishes here, showing how fan vids can be used for feminist critique of popular culture, but have wondered if the critique may be misplaced, given how much work the series does to make us care about its female characters, how complex the friendships which emerge between the men, especially, Sam and these women, as compared with the representations of sexual violence in many other works in the horror tradition. But Luminosity offers a thoughtful response to these concerns:
"Women's Work" is a critique of the eroticization of the violence done to women in all media, not just Supernatural. Women are sexually assaulted, murdered, and then laid out in artistic tableaux, chopped into pretty, bloody pieces. They usually further the plot, but they're hardly ever a part of the plot. We wanted to point out that in order for us to love a TV show--and we do--we have to set this horrible part of it aside. A lot. Often. Sisabet [the co-vidder of the project] and I believe that we could have made this vid using almost any show, from Heroes to CSI, but we are fans of Supernatural. We care so much about a show that we want share it, make an argument, highlight a character or situation, lampoon something, evoke a mood. I've also made four other Supernatural vids that celebrate the show, the arc, the relationship between the brothers and the genre itself.
I can appreciate the critique of the horror genre as a whole, which has historically relied heavily on the victimization of women, but I remain concerned that this video holds Supernatural accountable for what it takes from the genre but not what it adds to it. That said, I see it as a credit to the power of this particular work that people want to argue with it -- "Women's Work" makes a clear and unambiguous statement which forces us to think more deeply about the series in question and that's what I think vidding at its best can achieve.
Congrats to Luminosity for the visibility her work is starting to receive. Here's hoping that the coverage leads to greater recognition not just for her work but for other cutting edge fan media makers.
I haven't spent enough time yet working through the other articles in this special issue. There's a tremendous number of links here as a range of critics have curated what they think is the best work out there on the web. Even a quick browse through the articles New York has assembled will suggest the creative energy that has emerged as we have lowered barreers for creative artists of all kinds to get their work into circulation via the web.
This may be a good time to also alert my readers to a major event in the realm of Do-It-Yourself Media Production, which is coming up at the University of Southern California this February. I am excited to be able to participate in a plenary event along with Howard Rheingold, Yochai Benkler, John Seely Brown, Joi Ito, and Lawrence Lessig on the Future of DIY Media.
Here are the details of the event:
24/7: A DIY VIDEO SUMMIT
February 8-10, 2008 School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California
Conference web site: http://www.video24-7.org
Spaces are limited for attendance at the academic panels and the workshops. The video
screenings are free and open to the public.
24/7: A DIY Video Summit will bring together the many communities that have evolved
around do-it-yourself (DIY) video:artists, audiences, technology providers, academics,
policy makers and industry executives. The aim is to discover common ground, and to
chart the path to a future in which grassroots and mainstream, amateur and professional,
artist and audience can all benefit as the medium continues to evolve.
This three-day summit features:
SCREENINGS OF DIY VIDEO
On February 8 and 9, there will be screenings of DIY video that are
open to the public. These will feature curated programs on design video, activist
documentary, youth media, machinima, music video, political remix and video blogging.
The video program will culminate in an evening program and reception on February 9 that
will draw from all of these video genres.
Registered attendees will have access to the academic program on February 8 and 9 that
features panels on The State of Research, The State of the Art, DIY Media: The
Intellectual Property Dilemma andDIY Tools and Platforms.
WORKSHOPS AND BIRDS-OF-A-FEATHER MEETINGS
On February 10, the day will be devoted to practical and hands- onworkshops for
registered attendees on topics such as intellectual property, media creation,
distribution and new-media design tools.
Attendees will also have the option of organizing their own birds-of- a-feather meetings
to connect with other attendees.