DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part Three)

Vidders: In Their Own Words

Vidding curator Francesca Coppa interviews vidders Giandujakiss, Flummery (Part Three), Counteragent, and kiki_miserychik (Coming next time). Coppa and Stanford’s Julie Levin Russo will also be co-editing Transformative Works and Cultures’ special issue on remix video: anyone interested in submitting should check out the call for papers.

An interview with Giandujakiss.

Giandujakiss is a prolific vidder who has worked in many fandoms. . Notable vids include “Origin Stories” (2008; submitted for the 2010 DIY festival), “It Depends On What You Pay,” (2009; a vid critiquing rape in Dollhouse), and Hourglass (2008; a vid which looks at the Groundhog’s Day trope in multiple media.) Her vid “Origin Stories” was included in the 2010 DIY show.

FC: What was your first vid and why did you make it?

GK: My first vid was a Highlander slash vid pairing the characters of Duncan and Methos. I made it because I couldn’t not make it. A friend had introduced me to the concept of vidding maybe several months or a year earlier, and suddenly I had all of these ideas and I couldn’t get them out of my head – they were driving me crazy. So I finally broke down and figured out just enough of the technical aspects to be able to make my own, very low-tech vid.

FC: What do you remember about the experience of making “Origin Stories”?

GK: “Origin Stories” was unusual for me because it’s the most collaborative vid I’ve made. The idea wasn’t mine – it was Thuvia Ptarth’s – and she came up with the song and the theme and part of the basic structure. The biggest challenge from my “perspective was to figure out ways to make Thuvia’s ideas work visually and be clear to the viewer. And that was particularly difficult because the whole point was that we were focusing on characters who were underrepresented, and so the amount of available footage was limited. I also tried to stretch myself technically; that vid made a bit more use of effects and certain stylized cutting than I’d done before.

FC: What kind of reception did “Origin Stories” get when it was released?

GK: The reception was really positive and really overwhelming. There were so many downloads when I first posted it that it blew my site bandwidth after just a few hours. And lots of people started posting long analyses and thoughts about the vid, which was just amazing. I hadn’t anticipated any of that – I’m a Buffy fan, obviously, but I hadn’t been all that active in the Buffy fandom community, so I hadn’t realized how much of a hunger there was for this kind of critique.

There was another thing that really struck me, though. A little while after the vid was posted, Thuvia posted a short essay about Spike and Robin Wood and why she’d wanted the vid made. The purpose of the essay was to explain where the idea for the vid had come from and what she’d hoped it would convey. That essay got linked by a couple of blogs that were outside our internet fandom circle – I think they were race blogs, or feminist blogs. Anyway, what was striking to me was how those blogs overlooked the vid itself, like, they barely even seemed to understand that Thuvia wasn’t just writing an essay about Buffy, but was writing an essay about a vid. It really brought home how difficult the concept of “vids” or “vidding” is to grasp if you’re unfamiliar with the form. It wasn’t just that they didn’t understand the vid – it was that they didn’t understand that the vid was the primary document in which the argument about Buffy was being made; the essay was just a supplement.

And I’m not mentioning this because of my vanity :-) . I’m mentioning it because it was a really visceral demonstration of how hard it is for people to understand even the idea of “vids” when they haven’t seen them before.

FC: Have you seen any of the other vids in DIY 2010 vidding program?

GK: I’ve seen all of them! Within my particular corner of the internet vidding world, most of these vids are quite justly “famous.” I think they’re all brilliant in different ways – some are more of an internal analysis or celebration of the source material (“I’m on a Boat”, “Handlebars”), others are more political critique of the source (“Women’s Work”, “How Much is that Geisha”), and Counteragent’s, of course, are explicitly celebrations of fandom that are almost divorced from the source itself. I think “Still Alive” in many ways captures my experience of fandom – the television show is just a jumping off point; what I’m really here for is the artwork by other fans.

FC: What are the best and worst things about vidding?

GK: The best is probably the experience of “vid farr” – which most vidders have felt at one time or another. The term is a play on the Star Trek phrase “pon farr,” and in vidding, it means you’re essentially “in the zone.” The clips are coming together the way you want them to, you can see your vid developing as you’d hoped or better than you’d hoped, and it’s like a compulsion – you can’t stop for anything, not sleep, food, or work.

The worst thing for me are the technical challenges. Figuring out how to get the software to work with the source, and formatting and you’re tearing your hair because there’s some bug in the program … it’s incredibly frustrating. For some reason, for example, my video editing program has decided to declare war on the .wmv format. I don’t know why. It always worked fine before!

An interview with Seah and Margie, aka Flummery.

Seah and Margie have been vidding together as Flummery for ten years. . Among their best-known work is the multimedia vid “Walking On The Ground,” which tracks the history of vidding through various times and technologies. “Walking On The Ground” was featured in the 2007 24/7 DIY Show at USC. Their Doctor Who vid “Handlebars” was featured in the 2010 DIY show.

FC: Tell us about your first vid.

Flummery: Our first vid was “Kryptonite”, for the tv show Invisible Man. We came up with the idea in 2000, listening to the song and thinking that hey, this would make a great I-Man vid! We did a whole outline on it, complete with complicated POV shifts, and sent it off hopefully to one of our favorite vidders asking if she’d be willing to make it, since neither of us could vid. She said no very kindly and gently, leaving us with no option but to eventually figure out how to do it ourselves. That same vidder flew across the country the next year to help us with some basics, and we plugged away at it for months, finally premiering it at Escapade in February 2002.

FC: What was it like making “Handlebars”?

Flummery: We were vidding this [Doctor Who] live – episodes were still airing right up till our deadline. It made things a little tense, as we had to hope that we could find enough footage to fill in the holes we were leaving along the way. It meant that we redid entire sections a lot more than we were used to, ripping things out to rebuild them from scratch as better footage appeared.

We also weren’t at all sure what the reception would be. We’d never done a vid where we so blatantly pointed out the negative aspects of our main character before, and we thought there was a really good chance people would hate it. We spent a lot of time being nervous about how it would play at Vividcon.

FC: How was it received?

Flummery: We were gobsmacked at the reception, which has been almost uniformly positive. This vid has gotten more attention than anything we’ve ever done. The most interesting part about it is that we get the same reaction from fans who love Ten and fans who hate Ten — they all think we did a good job of capturing him the way they see him. Which is incredibly cool.

FC: For you, what’s the best/worst thing about vidding?

Flummery: The worst thing about vidding is discovering that the perfect clip that you KNOW was somewhere in the source is really only in your head. And clipping in general is just a pain.

The best thing about vidding is having made a vid. And really, the way vidding changes the way you think and see — it’s a real shift, at least if you start out as more verbally oriented, the way both of us did. Learning to think visually, and to tell stories visually, is amazing.

Francesca Coppa is Director of Film Studies and Associate Professor of English at Muhlenberg College. She is also a founding member of the Organization For Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit organization established by fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and culture. Coppa and OTW recently worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to get a DMCA exemption for noncommercial remixers like vidders. Coppa also writes about vidding both as a feminist art form and as fair use.

DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part Two)

This is the third in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following selection was curated and written by Francesca Coppa, a long time fan and media professor researching the feminist tradition of fan vids.

Women’s Work, by Luminosity and Sisabet (Supernatural, 3:14)

A controversial and massively popular video that deliberately cut Supernatural‘s beloved male protagonists out of the picture to offer a critique of the eroticization of violence against women in media. As Luminosity noted in

an online profile by New York Magazine, “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.” If it is women’s work to be menaced and killed on tv, it is also clearly women’s work to make a vid like this. (Note also that despite being cited in several academic articles and featured in New York Magazine, the vid is not available on YouTube; the audio has been disabled.)

Still Alive, by Counteragent (Supernatural, 3:07)

This vid is part of a conversation in fandom started by “Women’s Work”, above; or as one fan put it, “Women’s Work/Still Alive = problem/solution, yes?” This vid speaks in the voice of both Supernatural‘s female characters and its fans; the vid’s thesis, broadly simplified, is that, yes, female fans are angry at the show’s sexism, but we’ll keep making our female-oriented fanworks (“doing science”) for those of us (women) who are “still alive.” The vid ends by moving away from the show’s violence to a celebration of female fanworks and fan communities.

Origin Stories, by Gianduja Kiss (Buffy/Angel, 3:47)

“Origin Stories” was released with the tag line, “It’s Nikki Wood’s fucking coat.” This vid is about race and appropriation in the Buffyverse, hung on the fact that fan-favorite Spike’s trademark leather coat turns out to be a trophy taken from the body of a black Slayer named Nikki Wood, whose son Robin shows up in season seven to avenge her. The vid not only critiques the text but also the fan response to it, both of which tended to privilege Spike’s redemption arc over the stories of Buffy’s minority characters. This vid circulated widely through fandom in 2008 as part of a larger conversation about race in both source and fannish texts.

In Exchange For Your Tomorrows, by lim (Harry Potter, 4:01)

A beautifully made character vid about Severis Snape that tells his story through the end of the books using footage from what were then only five films. Lim compensates not only through skillful editing but through making her own footage and special effects, which blend seamlessly with the movie’s own magical effects. As Obsessive24 wrote, in her analysis of the vid, “Given that the vid uses existing and limited footage to tell a bigger story, the narrative is nonlinear and driven largely by emotional connectivity and symbolism. Lim uses object symbolism to astonishing effect: in terms of character representation (e.g. repetition of umbrella blowing in the wind) but also in general setting of atmosphere.”

* Piece of me, by Obsessive24 (Britney Spears, 3:21)

RPF–or real person fandom–has been increasingly popular within traditional media/science fiction fandom in recent years. This vid uses one of Britney Spears’ own songs to analyze not only the tabloid version of Spears’ story (divorce, custody battles, substance abuse, bad behavior, etc.) but also Spears’ counter-narrative of control. The vid also uses visuals from unconventional sources: including YouTube, tabloid photos, etc.

How Much Is That Geisha In The Window? by Lierduoma (Firefly, 2:55)

A critique of race, this time in Firefly, a show which imagines an Asian-influenced world without any Asian protagonists. Lierduoma brings the show’s “Oriental” background to the foreground, focusing on the use of Chinese people and artifacts as set dressing and cutting multiple times to a sign that reads, meaningfully, “Good Dogs.” This vid was influential at the DMCA hearings on noncommercial remix as an illustration of the ways in which vidders shift visual emphasis to people and objects on the margins. It became a crucial example of why vidders need to work with high-quality DVD footage – where these background items are visible – rather than lower quality digital video, where details of anything not central might be muddied or lost.

* Art Bitch, by Hollywoodgrrl (Battlestar Galactica, 2:19)

This character study of Starbuck reframes her bad girl behavior as Romantic, self-destructive artistic temperament. The vidder – herself an artist, of course – paints extravagantly over BSG‘s footage and collaborates with fanartist Deej to put Starbuck on the covers of the art magazine’s I-D and Visionaire - which of course also both work as puns, considering Starbuck’s identity quest and prophetic powers.

cover of I-D

cover of Visionaire

Destiny Calling: A Tribute To Vidding, by Counteragent (multi, 4:22)

A jubilant metavid made for “More Joy Day” (a fannish holiday dedicated to spreading joy) which demonstrates the vidding community’s ability to articulate its own aesthetics, build its own canon, and celebrate its own talent. (Many of these vids and vidders will be easily recognizable to DIY 24/7 participants!)

Francesca Coppa is Director of Film Studies and Associate Professor of English at Muhlenberg College. She is also a founding member of the Organization For Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit organization established by fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and culture. Coppa and OTW recently worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to get a DMCA exemption for noncommercial remixers like vidders. Coppa also writes about vidding both as a feminist art form and as fair use.

DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part One)

This is the third in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following curator’s statement was written by Francesca Coppa, a long time fan and media professor researching the feminist tradition of fan vids.

Vidding is one of the oldest forms of DIY remix. Invented and still largely practiced by women, vidding is an art form in which mass media texts, primarily television and movies, are remixed into fan music video. In the mid-1970s, women created vids with slides; in the 1980s, they used VHS footage, editing with home equipment and tape-to-tape machines. Today, vids are made with digital footage using computers and sophisticated digital tools, and vidders – who have always been interested in aesthetics as well as argument – have more and more opportunities to bend the both style and content of pop culture to their will and taste.

Many people still don’t “get” fan vids, seeing them either as incomprehensible mashups or mere celebratory slideshows. In fact, vidding, like most forms of remix, is about critical selection and the editing eye: deciding what to put in and what to leave out. Vids can make very sophisticated arguments about the source text’s plot and characters, and even its ideology. While some vids are edited to broadly emphasize certain themes, images, or characters, and are thus easily understandable to the uninvested spectator, other vids are made specifically for fellow fans who are assumed to be familiar not only with the source text but also with the conventions and established aesthetics of vidding.

At the most basic level, turning film and television into music video represents a fundamental change of genre. While most mass media stories have a forward-moving, plot-driven structure, music video is more like poetry: expressive rather than descriptive, concerned with feelings and rhythm rather than the distanced narration of events. Like poetry, music video is also a highly concentrated form, distilling hours, days, or even weeks of footage into three or so minutes! Consequently, looking away from the screen during a vid is considered to be as offensive as arbitrarily deciding to skip words in a poem, since every moment, every conjunction of image and music, carries meaning.

While not all vidders are part of the organized communities, there is a longstanding tradition of vidding within shared groups, partly because in the pre-digital age, vidding was complicated and expensive, and so the mostly all-female vidding collectives shared equipment and skills. (See Henry’s 1991 chapter on fanvidding in Textual Poachers.) While today most vids are released straight to the web, fans making vids in the 1980s and 1990s had to take their vids to conventions if they wanted anyone to see them, so even today many vidders debut their vids at conventions like MediaWest, Escapade, Bascon, and Vividcon, which is entirely devoted to vidding.

Moreover, the fans who attend these conventions have developed their own critical vocabulary for talking about vidding, and an institutionalized “vid review” based on art show reviews. Escapade features a 2 hour vid review; Vividcon not only has that, but also an additional “in-depth vid review” focused on only one or two vids. Even more recently, vidder bradcpu has been making a series of vidder profiles: short documentary films historicizing and analyzing the work of particular vidders. Like any advanced art form, vidding has developed its own conferences, critical literature, and theoretical apparatus.

Vidding Programme.

* vids marked with an asterisk appeared in the main programme.

The following represent a selection of notable vids made from 2007 – 2010.

* I’m On A Boat, by kiki miserychik (Star Trek, 2:36)

This vid expresses the widespread fannish joy over the 2009 Star Trek movie; it also captures the reboot’s younger, more frat-boyish tone compared to the original series. It’s worth noting that this vid, along with a wave of others, was made from a camcorder copy in May 2009. (See also: Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor by Sloane in the political remix section.)

Handlebars, by Flummery (Doctor Who, 3:27)

Probably the most successful vid of 2008, this meticulously-crafted character study of the Tenth Doctor spread beyond its community and intended audience almost immediately, eventually reaching–and being praised by–the show’s creative team. As one fan noted, “Flummery completely called Ten’s character development, and well over a year ago at that. The Doc has, indeed, gone completely handlebars on us.”

Francesca Coppa is Director of Film Studies and Associate Professor of English at Muhlenberg College. She is also a founding member of the Organization For Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit organization established by fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and culture. Coppa and OTW recently worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to get a DMCA exemption for noncommercial remixers like vidders. Coppa also writes about vidding both as a feminist art form and as fair use.

Multitasking and Continuous Partial Attention: An Interview with Linda Stone (Part Two)

Some have argued that new media have diminished our attention span, but you are arguing for more nuanced shifts in the ways we pay attention and process information. Do you see these shifts as a product of the technology or of the ways we have learned to inter-relate with those technologies?

Our most resilient selves are able to tap the attention strategy that best matches any given activity or situation. As we create and adopt new technologies, we do a dance with them — we are figuring out what they offer and the trade offs (how they optimize us and how we optimize the technologies). The shifts are a result of this dance. Over time, as we internalize the costs and benefits of our inter-relationship with technologies (the “what”), and we make choices as to the “how.”

When we talk about information overload, it’s as if we believe the information is committing the crime. When Nicholas Carr talks about “the web shattering focus and rewiring our brains,” we turn the finger of blame toward the worldwide Web. Carr even asks, “What kind of brain is the Web giving us?” Excuse me, the web is giving us a brain? Can we really be so certain about cause and effect?

If we shift our focus to the how, we can find new options. This is a call to action, not a call to a war of technology vs. humans. In our relationship with technology, we are powerful. The HOW is up to us.

For more on these ideas, check out these posts.

There has been a good deal of debate about the value of multitasking. Is it a logical adaptation to the intensified flow of information and demands we face in the current media environment?

There are so many degrees of multi-tasking. There’s simple multi-tasking and complex multi-tasking. Most people lump it all together, but there are very different impacts physiologically and mentally. What I call continuous partial attention is complex multi-tasking. I wanted to more clearly differentiate. In any case, this is _not_ black and white. Sometimes it’s good to multi-task, sometimes not. Attention strategies need to match intentions and situations.

What are the educational implications of your research on attention? Many educators are opposed to bringing new media tools into they classes because they see them as a potential distraction for their students. Is this a legitimate concern or should they be helping students develop skills at managing their attention which may allow them to more productively engage with such technologies?

Long, long answer possible here. The short story is that, as a former teacher, I think there’s room for all kinds of experiences. There are times when NO technology is the best match and times when a thoughtful integration of technology is best.

This may sound a little out there, but I’ve come to believe that it’s time for students to learn breathing techniques that help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Autonomically regulated, we have the best command of our attention, of using the strategy we choose that best matches the activity and situation.

honestly, I do believe, the single most important thing educators can do is to teach breathing techniques that regulate the autonomic nervous system and help up regulate parasympathetic response. This is at the heart of attention, social and emotional intelligence, and contributes to cognition. Further, educators can consider how reflection time might be integrated into the school day. Between media, technology and the 24/7 lifestyle, this precious processing and integration time doesn’t exist. Art, music, leisure time – these contribute to our humanity, and often are cut in a productivity obsessed society. A post productivity society will value them again. It is not an accident at the TED Conference that art, music, dance and wordless videos are as important a part of the program as the talks. This variety contributes to the “music” of the human body and human learning…. Rests and notes.

Time and environments for self-directed play – also essential. We have replaced self-directed play with homework and guided learning. Both of the latter have value. The former is significant. Self-directed play is where our emergent questions find expression, our passions find us, failure is iteration – there isn’t an emotional charge, it’s part of a compelling process of discovery.

I am eternally grateful to my mother for having an art/art supply table set up in the family room. When we weren’t outside playing, we were often creating books, objects, works of art — we were given freedom to express. Questions were indulged with trips to the library, opportunities to build, make or create experiments. We were welcomed in the kitchen, one of the greatest labs, ever, for me. When I wanted to start a cookie baking company, selling cookies door to door at age 8, I was encouraged to do so and had to pay cost of goods before I could take profits.

Today, in the name of “safety”/danger, so much is declared dangerous — so much of what feeds curiosity and wonder. Granted, some of it may be dangerous, but so much of it can be explored — just ask Geever Tulley.

In the name of “teacher-proofing,” everything from schedules (2 minutes of health and safety, 30 minutes science, 70 minutes reading, etc) to content (which book, which page), to measures (least common denominator student learning objectives, uni-dimensional tests that teachers are compelled to teach toward), is prescribed.

This alienates imaginative, passionate teachers and, honestly, it’s time to assess the overall (in my opinion) damages caused by this hyper productivity approach to learning. I’m a fan of diane ravitch and highly recommend her latest book on the rise and fall of American schools. She is a wise woman.

It’s not the fault of the unions and a war with the unions is not going to improve education. We need re-assess both the what and the how of education and find a way to enlist all parties in re-creation vs destruction.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention school lunches. This program was started after world war II, to support an under-nourished populous. Today, it is one of the cornerstones contributing to childhood obesity and poor health, and potentially, the learning challenges that can stem from poor nutrition.

This program must be a role model for healthy nutrition. It is one of the central ways to infuse information and experience around healthy food choices.

Social critics, such as Walter Benjamin, have long raised questions about distraction, seeing it as a phenomenon of the modern age. Is there a reason to think that contemporary forms of distraction are profoundly different from those encountered in cities at the beginning of the 20th century? If so, in what ways?

Different, but at heart, the same impact. Distraction is like a broken glass. Embracing a spectrum of attention strategies and having the flexibility and skill to match intention and activities to attention strategy is the prize. Understanding and being able to manage breath and emotion contributes this (and it’s commutative — managing attention helps manage breath as much as managing breath helps manage attention).

You noted recently that there are new tools emerging which seek to block some of the distractions we encounter on line. What is motivating these tools and are they a good response to the situations you are observing?

I’m in favor of approaches that tap the wisdom of the body or that enhance the wisdom of the body, the cooperation/integration of mindbody.

I’m not opposed to using technologies to support us in reclaiming our attention. But I prefer passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies over parental ones. Consider the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn’t stop in the middle of a highway and say, “Listen to me, Mr. Irresponsible Driver, you’re using too much gas and this car isn’t going to move another inch until you commit to fix that.” Instead, a display engages us in a playful way and our body implicitly learns to shift to use less gas.

Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.

In our current relationship with technology, we bring our bodies, but our minds rule. “Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. Yes, pick up that phone call, you can still answer these six emails. Follow Twitter while working on PowerPoint, why not?” Our minds push, demand, coax, and cajole. “No break yet, we’re not done. No dinner until this draft is done.” Our tyrannical minds conspire with enabling technologies and our bodies do their best to hang on for the wild ride.

With technologies like Freedom, we re-assign the role of tyrant to the technology. The technology dictates to the mind. The mind dictates to the body. Meanwhile, the body that senses and feels, that turns out to offer more wisdom than the finest mind could even imagine, is ignored.

Our opportunity is to create personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings. Conscious Computing. It’s post-productivity, post-communication era computing. Personal technologies that enhance our lives.

Thirty years ago, personal computing technologies created a revolution in personal productivity, supporting a value on self-expression, output and efficiency. The personal communications technology era that followed the era of personal productivity amplified accessibility and responsiveness. Personal technologies have served us well as prosthetics for the mind, in service of thinking and doing.

How do we usher in an era of Conscious Computing? What tools, technologies, and techniques will it take for personal technologies to become prosthetics of our full human potential?

For more on conscious computing, follow this link.

Widely recognized as a visionary thinker and thought leader, Linda Stone is a writer, speaker and consultant focused on trends and their strategic and consumer implications. Articles on her work have appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Economist, Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and hundreds of blogs.

Previously, she spent close to twenty years as an executive in high technology. In 1986, she was persuaded to join Apple Computer to help “change the world.” In her 7 years at Apple, she had the opportunity to do pioneering work in multimedia hardware, software and publishing. In her last year at Apple, Stone worked for Chairman and CEO John Sculley on special projects. In 1993, Stone joined Microsoft Research under Nathan Myhrvold and Rick Rashid. She co-founded and directed the Virtual Worlds Group/Social Computing Group, researching online social life and virtual communities. During this time, she also taught as adjunct faculty in NYU’s prestigious Interactive Telecommunications Program. In 2000, CEO Steve Ballmer tapped Stone to take on a VP role, reporting to him, to help improve industry relationships and contribute to a constructive evolution of the corporate culture. She retired from Microsoft in 2002. She is an advisor for the Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) and is on the Advisory Board of the RIT Lab for Social Computing.

Multitasking and Continuous Partial Attention: An Interview with Linda Stone (Part One)

Many of you know the white paper I and a team of MIT-based researchers wrote for the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative identifying some of the core skills which young people need to acquire if they are going to be able to meaningfully participate in the new media landscape. Perhaps the most controversial skill we included on our list was “multitasking.” We knew that many regard multitasking as a form of distraction which fragments the attention of young people, but we also felt it needed to be seriously considered as a mechanism which allows us to cope with the intense information flow which constitutes our contemporary environment. Our point was that students need to be able to manage their attention, shifting it as needed between modes which involve scanning their environment for meaningful inputs (like a hunter) and focusing closely on a specific domain (like a farmer). I’ve since written on this blog discussing patterns of multitasking I’ve seen from students in my classroom while I was at MIT, further elaborating on my own thinking about multitasking.

Today, I am happy to share with you the thoughts of Linda Stone, who has spent a great deal of time over the past decade reflecting on strategies for managing attention and about the educational consequences of what she has called “continuous partial attention.” I met Stone years ago through the PopTech! conference in Camden, Maine, a great event, and we’ve stayed in touch off and on. In recent times, she’s written some provocative pieces for the Huffington Post about what’s she’s been calling “conscious computing.” Stone has been a top level executive at Apple and has led research at Microsoft on Virtual Worlds. She’s now spending much of her time trying to understand the impact of new media on attention. As she writes on her blog, “Attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit. We can enhance or augment our attention with practices like meditation and exercise, diffuse it with technologies like email and Blackberries, or alter it with phamaceuticals. In the end, though, we are fully responsible for how we choose to use this extraordinary tool.”

Let’s start with a basic statement. You write, “Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.” In what sense?

For most of us, when we sit at the computer or use a cell phone, our mind is engaged and our body is “hanging out.” Have you ever noticed someone sitting at a computer, body increasingly slumped and computer increasingly animated? Have you found yourself holding your breath or breathing shallowly while you work at the computer. I call that email apnea, temporary cessation of breath or shallow breathing while doing email (or texting). We use the computer to extend our minds, while often, unintentionally, our bodies are being compromised in some way (posture, breathing, even just waiting to use the bathroom until we get yet another email done or another document completed).

You coined the term, “continuous partial attention,” to describe a particular way we interact with each other in a world of mobile technologies. Can you explain this concept? How did your interest in attention emerge from the work you were doing with Microsoft on online communities?

In 1997, I coined the phrase Continuous Partial Attention (Harvard Business Review, January 2007) to describe what I observed in the world around me, at Microsoft where I was a researcher and later a Vice President, with customers, and at NYU where I was adjunct faculty in a graduate program. We all seemed to be paying partial attention – continuously. NYU students had their screens tiled to display multiple instant messaging windows, email, WORD documents, and more. My colleagues in high technology did their best to give the appearance of paying attention to a conversation, all the while, also attending to caller I.D., Tetris and BrickOut on their cell phones, and other people in range. Every stray input was a firefly. And every firefly was examined to determine if it burned more brightly than the one in hand.

As I watched the graduate students at NYU, it occurred to me that they were doing something very different from what I called multi-tasking. These students were hyper alert, ready to respond to any input coming in from any direction. They participated in four I.M. conversations while talking on the phone, responding to email, and noticing who was passing by. In those days, back at the Microsoft campus, many of us worked on two monitors – one monitor displayed email, the other displayed code or a Word document or a spreadsheet. It was no surprise to me when Microsoft’s earliest version of Instant Messenger (I.M.) took up a full screen. An assumption had been made that if a user was I.M.’ing, they wouldn’t choose to browse the net or answer email or prepare a document simultaneously. Digital immigrant thinking.

Digital immigrants at technology companies founded prior to 1990, were beginning to encounter digital natives. Digital immigrants had embraced technology to enhance productivity and personal creativity – PC’s and Macs, word processing and spreadsheets, desktop publishing and paint programs empowered and enabled us. Digital natives took it all a step further. Technology wasn’t just about tasks and productivity. New technologies enabled new types of communication, relationships and personal networks.

I mutli-tasked because I believed it made me more productive. I ate a sandwich while I filed papers. I had an eye on email coming in while I prepared a document. To answer email, I turned my attention to the monitor displaying it and set my document aside, momentarily. I moved between tasks, in rapid sequence, or, if I was doing more than one thing, one of those activities was automatic – like eating a sandwich – it didn’t take much thinking, and one of those activities required some thinking – like answering an email.

My NYU students were hyper alert. They were asking their brains to do something different – they were asking their brains to attend to four I.M. conversations, a partially completed paper, a news website, a text message coming in on the cell phone and a conversation with the person sitting next to them. This blew me away. I wanted to give it a name that more accurately described it. I called it Continuous Partial Attention (cpa).

These students were ahead of the curve. As anywhere, anytime, any place technologies like cell phones, Blackberries, and wi-fi, proliferated, we came to expect immediate responses to email and phone calls, and all began to use cpa as an attention strategy. It was possible to work 24/7 and we did. We took time management classes and refined our ability to create schedules and lists. Untethered technology gives us the freedom to do anything, anywhere, anytime. It also enslaves us. We feel compelled to use it where ever it is.

At Microsoft, when I moved from Microsoft Research to work for Steve Ballmer, I believed I could do everything – both proactive and reactive, and I just made my days longer to accommodate demands.

My colleagues and I struggled with the workload in an effort to stay on top of everything. Mobile devices in hand, we were now all using cpa as our primary attention strategy. And we had even amped that up – often we were continuously paying Continuous Partial Attention (continuous cpa). There was no break in the pace. 24/7, anywhere, anytime, any place.

Widely recognized as a visionary thinker and thought leader, Linda Stone is a writer, speaker and consultant focused on trends and their strategic and consumer implications. Articles on her work have appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Economist, Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and hundreds of blogs.

Previously, she spent close to twenty years as an executive in high technology. In 1986, she was persuaded to join Apple Computer to help “change the world.” In her 7 years at Apple, she had the opportunity to do pioneering work in multimedia hardware, software and publishing. In her last year at Apple, Stone worked for Chairman and CEO John Sculley on special projects. In 1993, Stone joined Microsoft Research under Nathan Myhrvold and Rick Rashid. She co-founded and directed the Virtual Worlds Group/Social Computing Group, researching online social life and virtual communities. During this time, she also taught as adjunct faculty in NYU’s prestigious Interactive Telecommunications Program. In 2000, CEO Steve Ballmer tapped Stone to take on a VP role, reporting to him, to help improve industry relationships and contribute to a constructive evolution of the corporate culture. She retired from Microsoft in 2002. She is an advisor for the Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) and is on the Advisory Board of the RIT Lab for Social Computing.

DIY Video 2010: Political Remix (Part Three)

This is the second in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is my interview with Jonathan McIntosh, who describes himself as “a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate.” McIntosh was the curator for the Political Remix track of this series.

Your selections here suggest a strong over-lap between fan vidding and political remix. Can you tell us something of the relationship which has emerged between the two DIY video communities?

The overlap in my curated examples is definitely intentional on my part, though I’m not sure how much of a self-conscious relationship there is between the two genres. I can say little about the impact of political remix on vidding but I can detail the impact of vidding on political remix work.

Many of my favorite political remix videos are created by people from a wide range of DIY communities who felt inspired or compelled to make one (or several) remixes addressing a political/social issue. I think many of these people creating remixes with a critical edge would not necessarily describe themselves or their remixes as being part of the political genre.

There are of course, a relatively small group of remixers who primarily do political work, and I am one of them. Unfortunately, within this self-identified group I still find some resistance to include vidding as a legitimate part of the political/critical remix tradition.

From my point of view it seems clear that vidding is not only an integral part of remix history but vidding practice can also can teach political remixers an enormous amount on a wide range of practices and techniques. Through my engagement with vids and vidders I have gained invaluable insights about the fannish use of narratives and pop culture characters in remix videos. When I look at vidding I see as a core element the idea that it is possible to simultaneously enjoy and love a television show while also being critical of aspects of the show’s writing, characters, story arc, embedded messages etc.

Most people engage with mass media stories in a subtle and complex way – we both love it and are critical of it. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this now but I didn’t really understand this tension very well before I learned about vidding. I think that part of the resistance to vidding I encounter from other political remixers might be related to this point. They may be uncomfortable with the fannish and or sympathetic relationship that vidders have to their source because self-conscious political remixers often have a relationship of ridicule or animosity to their source.

Political remix video can be a blunt tool that uses ridicule as a way to expose hypocrisy, illuminate tropes, and talk back to power – but it is a little harder to use the form in more subtle ways (especially if you still want to get the lolz).

Learning about vidding really gave me permission to embrace my fannish-side as a political remixer instead of hiding or being ashamed of it. It would have been impossible for me to conceive of making either “Buffy vs Edward” or “Right Wing Radio Duck” without the positive influence of vidding on me and on my work. In both I rely on my fannish (and therefore sympathetic) view of one pop culture icon (The Slayer and Donald Duck) which I use to critique another popular culture character or story (Glenn Beck and Twilight/Edward Cullen).

I would also say that political remix video does not really have a self-conscious or intentional community, at least not in the same way that communities have coalesced around vidding, AMVs or machinima. The love of source material(s) seems to be part of the glue that holds vidding, AMV and machinima communities together. Political remix video as a genre on the other hand does not have a fandom at its core – but rather rallies around a deep shared suspicion of powerful institutions, structures and the media itself. This base of criticism is what, I think, poses challenges to building a larger sustained online community organized specifically around political remix video.

Political remix makes about the strongest case possible for fair use as a fundamental right of citizenship. Yet, it is clear that our current legal environment does not always support that position. Can you tell us more about how political remix intersects with current debates about intellectual property?

We are living in a culture that increasingly speaks in an audio-visual-video language. Videos which remix, transform, quote and build-on pieces of our shared popular culture are not only valuable to the larger social discourse but are actually an essential part of full participation in society. I absolutely agree that remix is a basic right of communication – it’s the right to communicate using the language of the new media landscape(s). This right extends to all genres of DIY video that appropriate fragments of mass media pop culture including vids, AMVs, machinima, lip-syncs etc.

As you point out, political remix video in particular should be one of the most protected transformative genres because of the unambiguous political commentary and critique. However, despite what should be fairly obvious fair use and free-speech arguments, these works still tend to be very vulnerable to takedowns filed by irritated copyright holders.

The widespread use of automated content ID bots for removing videos from media sharing sites like YouTube has been catastrophic for remix video makers. This practice has brought about huge increases in the number of fair use works being zapped into the void by baseless copyright claims. When a creator’s remix or entire channel is deleted, not only are all their videos lost, so are all their comment, subscribers and playlists.

These video removals leave gaping holes in the Internet – and I mean that quite literally. Video embeds on blogs, forums and social networks are suddenly missing. Tweets and links to remixes are all abruptly dead or lead to YouTube’s notorious pink line of death. In the past month alone five fair use political remix videos I had planned on posting to my blog politicalremixvideo.com have been removed from YouTube for “infringement”. To make matters worse many DIY video creators I speak with are either not aware of their fair use rights or are afraid to rock the boat by challenging the takedowns. As a result, valuable online conversations and visual discussions are being shut down.

All of this, for me, highlights a larger problem surrounding our creative new media culture which is that it is all taking place in private corporate spaces. There are effectively zero public spaces on the Internet. The online public square has been completely privatized from the beginning. This strikes me as especially problematic because the development of the Internet was primarily done with public funds. And then it was just unquestionably handed over to corporate interests.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to corporate power and the pursuit of profits being valued far more than the public good, media literacy or a free and open culture. I see no reason why we can’t begin to create a new and truly public commons with a little good old fashioned imagination and innovation.

(As an aside, I haven’t heard anyone articulate an argument for turning YouTube over to the public commons for the public good but I would be interested to hear a call for that.)

Glenn Beck attacked your recent Donald Duck video, assuming that it was heavily funded and produced by a professional media operation. Was provoking such a response the ultimate badge of honor for a DIY mediamaker?

It was really fascinating to hear Glenn Beck concoct a conspiracy theory live on the air involving me, the stimulus package, the NEA, the “communist union organizers” and Donald Duck. But honestly it was even more exciting to see another remixer on YouTube take what Glenn Beck said and combine that with a Mickey Mouse cartoon. That remixed response – which built on my video to further the conversation – was ultimately much more a badge of honor for me. That along with the thousands of supportive, insightful, hilarious and sometimes scary comments left by people all over the Internet in response to my video was far more satisfying.

What does this controversy say about the blurring lines between DIY and professional media production? There have been, after all, some “astroturf” videos, such as Al Gore’s Penguin Army which also sought to imitate the look and feel of DIY political video.

AND

I recently showcased on my blog a range of mainstream political ads which deploy pop culture references, parody, and the remixing of news clips to make their case, most often against their political opponents. What do such videos suggest about the influence which Political Remix might be having on the rhetoric and imagination of American politics?


There is no question that powerful corporate and political interests are actively attempting to co-opt the DIY video and remix aesthetic. (I also see this co-optation extending to the re-use of actual viral videos for corporate advertising campaigns like the recent Honda Odyssey ad built around David After Dentist and Kitten Afraid of Remote Control Mouse.)

Powerful institutions understand that they have a serious crisis of legitimacy on their hands resulting from widespread public cynicism about advertising. So as genuine DIY videos become enormously popular online, marketers are desperately trying to capture and bottle that sense of authenticity for their own brands.

This type of co-option has been happening for decades. Marketers have long been coming in and stealing from various DIY subcultures. But, though advertisers may be able to copy the mechanics of DIY video to mimic the look and feel of low/no budget viral videos, it’s obvious to almost everyone (especially DIY video makers) that these poser videos are made for a very different purpose and with very different messages.

The Jerry Brown for Governor ad you posted which mixed footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger with Meg Whitman may be political, and remix, and video but there is no escaping the fact that it was produced by an establishment politician with a campaign budget of millions. The ad was also shown ad-nauseam on television here in California – to the point where even people that may have agreed with the critique became incredibly annoyed by the video.

What the marketers don’t understand is that there is much more to political remix video than the aesthetics, style and production techniques. In my view the most interesting videos in the genre don’t just remix the source material, they also remix the larger dominant messages, power relations and social norms embedded inside that media.

In some of my work, I’ve argued that appropriation — the meaningful remixing of borrowed materials as a form of critical commentary — constitutes one of the core New Media Literacies skills. What kinds of knowledge and insight do you think emerges when young people create political remixes?

I often facilitate workshops with youth using remix video with the aim of empowering young people to both understand and creatively talk back to the massive media propaganda machine targeting them. Earlier this year I taught a workshop on gender and remix with young women at Reel Grrls in Seattle.

We looked at several dozen highly gendered toy commercials recorded off the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. In our first discussion, the young women quickly identified some of what the ads were telling us about what is normal, valued and expected in terms of gender roles.

I then asked the participants to form small groups and remix the commercials by simply switching the audio and video of some of the ads directed at boys with those of the ads directed at girls.

We all had a lot of fun as we literally de-constructed and re-constructed the ads and marveled at the hilarious and insightful juxtapositions that resulted from the process. Through remix, the representations of young women in the ads were made into the heroes of epic barbie battles while the representations of young men were made to express nurturing and caring feelings for the world around them.

Before the workshop ended we screened their transformed ads and the young women pointed out further insights discovered during their editing. We discussed how, without exception, the “boys ads” focused on action, making, doing, building, competition and often engaging in battle. While the “girls ads” (even the ones for pink tech-toys) tended to focus on care-giving, child rearing, domestic tasks, physical appearance, shopping and finding a boyfriend. As they left for the day all the participants expressed interest in making more remixes in the future.

Sahar & Diana’s video remix from ReelGrrls Workshops on Vimeo.

I think this workshop and others like it are are a fantastic way to empower young people to look behind the curtain the see the mass media wizard and to better understand the manipulation that is being directed at them. In the process participants also learn critical media literacy skills, new media technology, video editing and fair use rights.

After engaging in remix culture, people young and old, find it nearly impossible to experience media in a passive or uncritical way. As members of that remix culture even if we never make a remix video ourselves, we can’t help but make imaginary mash-ups in our heads when watching television or movies.

Most of the best known political remixes are progressive. Are there right wing groups who are also creating political remixes? If so, is there any relationships between these two DIY communities?

This question starts to get at what is classified as political remix video, which can be a somewhat complicated answer. There are a wide range of big ‘P’ and small ‘p’ topics, beyond the narrow election arena, that are often the subject of DIY videos. I define political remix video to include a broad range of government, social, cultural, corporate, economic, privacy, gender, race, sexuality and media related issues that don’t necessarily all fit neatly in the current left/right dichotomy.

When considering if a transformative work fits into the political remix video genre I use the follow criteria:

1) Does it remix or transform the source material(s) used?

2) Does it remix, subvert or comment on some of the messages embedded in the source?

3) Does it subvert larger dominate social or political power structures and messages?

Before categorizing a work as part of the political remix tradition – I also like to consider if the work is DIY or created by a powerful institution or if it is hate speech, targeting marginalized groups or just totally batshit insane (I’m kidding about this last point, sorta).

While some remixers might be intentionally creating progressive messages, many others may not be self-consciously setting out to do that. They may simply want to comment on an issue or topic they are particularly passionate about and feel is missing, under-represented or marginalized by existing mainstream media conversations.

For me, political remix video has at its core a basic power analysis and a suspicion of powerful institutions. The goal is often to challenge oppressive norms, stereotypes and dominant media messages. Remixes dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, don’t simply follow red/blue lines but rather critique government policy, empire and military power from all sides of the political spectrum.

When it comes specifically to “right-wing” remix videos, many look and feel a lot like amateur commercials in support of existing power structures. The DIY aesthetic might feel subversive but the messages are often indistinguishable from public relations industry campaigns. Sometimes these works take a more extreme tone or position than even commercial media advertising would deem appropriate. An example would be GrouchyMedia who makes pro-war and pro-military mash-ups mostly in the form of music videos. He uses lyrically violent tracks to accompany violent imagery – like the videos “Die Terrorist Die” or “Taliban Bodies” – both of which celebrate killing, revenge and military power.

Similar mash-ups that ride the edge of online hate speech are works that promote or celebrate racism, sexism, homophobia and violence. Many of these pull clips, themes and messages from movies like Zack Snyder’s 300 in very uncritical ways to ridicule different peoples and cultures around the world. I don’t consider these videos part of the critical tradition because they are replicating or amplifying established systems of power and oppression.

It would feel rather absurd, for example, for someone to make a remix about how there just aren’t enough heterosexual characters or white men on TV. There might be people who are delusional enough to believe that but I don’t think such a mash-up would be taken seriously as a critique.

Examples of remix works that reinforce established sexist and patriarchal norms are everywhere online. The LazyTown mash-ups made popular by 4chan and Something Awful are some of the most disturbing in terms of gender. Typically, these works appropriate images or video clips featuring young actress Julianna Mauriello, who at age 12 starred in the hit Nickelodeon children’s television show LazyTown. The most popular of the videos combines Mauriello singing the song “Cooking by the Book” with a misogynist, hyper sexual music video by Lil’ John. It re-edits and manipulates her dancing to make her move in intensely sexualized ways in time to the beat and lyrics.

Though not all the media appropriating Mauriello’s image is sexually objectifying, it is not uncommon for her images to be photoshopped onto hardcore pornography. Not only is this practice horrifying – it also amounts to the virtual sexual harassment of a child via remix.

There is nothing subversive in sexualizing a young actress on a television show for young children. We have a word for people or institutions that use there physical, social, economic or institutional power to demean and target those with less power – and that word is “bully”.

The DIY remix video medium is a tool for communication, which can be used for either oppressive or liberatory purposes. At its best political remix video has the potential to transform our relationship with the new media landscape(s) and help us re-imagine our shared sociopolitical systems.

Jonathan McIntosh is a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate. He blogs at PoliticalRemixVideo.com and is a member of the Open Video Alliance. He also facilitates workshops with youth that utilize remix video and a crucial media literacy tool. His latest remix “Right Wing Radio Duck” along with the rest of his work, can be found on his website RebelliousPixels.com.

DIY Video 2010: Political Remix (Part Two)

This is the second in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following selections were curated and commented upon by Jonathan McIntosh, who describes himself as “a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate.”

Music Videos

Music Videos – Vidding, AMVs and many political remix videos use music and lyrics to complicate or even subvert conventional understanding of a particular series of images. Music and lyrics can significantly change the tone or emotional register of otherwise familiar images, and lyrics in particular can provide a complicated counter-narrative to common-place visuals.

Star Trek: Too Many Dicks

Sloane’s first vid is a hilarious visual critique of the 2009 Star Trek movie re-boot. Sloane takes the popular ironically sexist song, “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor” by Flight of the Concords and edits together clips of the largely male Star Trek cast to critique the male dominated storyline. Sloane says of her vid “I was disappointed that J.J. Abrams had dramatically rewritten so many elements of Star Trek canon – and had largely ignored women. I was surprised how many people didn’t seem to think that was a problem, or even that the issue existed.” This video also serves as a strong argument for the use of cam recordings for visual criticism and critique. Cam or bootleg recording of current theatrical releases make it possible for fans and critics to make their critiques in a timely fashion while films are still fresh in the collective consciousness of the public. If vidders and political remixers have to wait for a DVD release to make their visual arguments then the window for sparking public debate and discussion might have largely passed.

Video Games: Too Many Dicks

Inspired by Sloane’s Star Trek Dance Floor vid Anita Sarkeesian of FeministFrequency.com appropriates the same “ironically sexist” song to critique the male domination, hyper masculinity and glorification of violence in popular video games, using source material from 39 different game titles. Once paired with the misogynist lyrics, the games’ imagery of guns, swords and chainsaws become hilarious phallic metaphors for patriarchal power inside virtual worlds. Anita also uses the lyrics to highlight two games as alternatives (both with women of color protagonists) that help counter the genre’s male dominance: Portal, a first person action puzzle game which utilizes mostly non-violent problem solving strategies, and Mirror’s Edge, a less-violent adventure game involving the navigation of a dystopian city maze.

Club Iraq

A warning before viewing: this remix contains clips of military personal using explicit language, mimicking sexual acts and otherwise being racist bullies. The video will most likely leave you feeling at least slightly ill.

“Club Iraq” is a very disturbing and powerful remix from the Wreck and Salvage video art crew. It combines 50 Cent’s famous song “In Da Club” with audio of Bush’s invasion speech mixed with scores of home videos uploaded to YouTube by US soldiers stationed in Iraq. The juxtaposition of the song with the amateur footage of US soldiers acting like immature boys and saying horrific things about the Iraqi population makes for a sickening, depressing yet poignant remix video. Wreck and Salvage provide us with a behind the scenes view of US military operations never seen in corporate media. These troubling and deeply unflattering home videos (and the thousands like them posted online) were a PR disaster for the Pentagon and are likely part of the reason the Military banned myspace and YouTube from military bases in 2007.

Supercuts

A supercut is an obsessive video montage created by meticulously collecting every phrase, action or cliche from a television show or movie and then editing those clips together into one single video. This can be a powerful way to reveal or highlight something otherwise missed during casual viewing.

The Price is Creepy

In this remix, Rich Juzwiak illuminates the sexist behavior of the famous TV game show host Bob Barker form the The Price is Right. Rich collected and placed back-to back a series of short clips of Barker making patronizing and downright creepy comments to female contestants. Rich’s use of 1970′s era episodes of the popular game show demonstrates the potential power of the supercut remix genre perfectly with this remix.

A Whole Day Of Tony Hayward’s Obfuscating In Four Minute

In the wake of the gulf oil disaster people all over the Internet worked to creatively counter the public relations machine unleashed on us by the company formally known at British Petroleum. There were hilarious logo re-designs, the very entertaining BPGlobalPR spoof Twitter feed and a swarm of videos remixing BP commercials. Here Ben Craw uses a supercut to reduce many long hours of C-Span hearings down to 4 minutes. We see BP CEO Tony Hayward refusing to answer question after question and giving intentionally ambiguous responses over and over again to the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Synchronized Presidential Debating

Ever wonder why watching the 2008 presidential election debates gave you a funny feeling of déjà vu each time? This re-cut debate video from 236.com (now part of the Huffington Post) might provide some insight. Rather than placing each clip back to back, this supercut uses carefully synched CNN footage from all three presidential debates to highlight the repeated use of well rehearsed talking points by both candidates.

Identity Correction

Identity correction is a term popularized by political pranksters the Yes Men for their many impersonations of corporate officials – when applied to remix video the term refers to re-editing of corporate or government public relations efforts to make them more truthful.

The Red Stripe

YouTuber freeyourpixels offers a short yet eloquent critique of the US Marines “Red Stripe” online advertising campaign. The remix uses still images, commercial clips, new text and precise match-action editing techniques to perfectly mimic the style and tone of the original ad while highlighting the often brutal imperialist history of the US Marine Corps.

World Economic Forum Spoof Videos

The Yes Men spoofed the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with an official looking but erroneous website. As part of the project they created a series of re-dubbed video interviews with global economic, government and corporate leaders. In each video, leaders appears to speak in strikingly honest terms about real global economic problems and solutions. The re-dubs succeed in presenting us with a brief look into a possible alternative world. The remix of Patricia Woertz, CEO of the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), apparently did not sit well with the agro-business giant because they quickly filed a takedown notice through YouTube. Luckily for us the video is still live on vimeo and elsewhere.

ADM CEO Patricia Woertz (1:10)

Davos Annual Meeting 2010 – ADM CEO Patricia Woertz from World Economic Forum on Vimeo.

Klaus Schwab (1:03)

Davos Annual Meeting 2010 – Klaus Schwab from World Economic Forum on Vimeo.

Queen Elizabeth II of England (0:52)

Davos Annual Meeting 2010 – Queen Elizabeth II of England from World Economic Forum on Vimeo.

Transformative Storytelling

Transformative storytelling combines existing narratives to create new stories often keeping the popular character’s original personalities intact while placing them in new contexts and situations. These are particularly popular when they build on the sympathetic use of fictional characters or narrative and utilize them to critique another source.

The Dark Bailout

Matthew Belinkie remixes one of the most famous scenes from The Dark Knight to present the Joker’s take on the big bank bailouts. The gangsters in the blockbuster Batman film are re-cast as taxpayers watching President Bush’s September 2008 speech urging Americans to support the $700 billion TARP bailout of Wall Street. Through the Joker, Matthew expresses the widespread public anger at the massive transfer of wealth from Main Street to Wall Street.

Jake Gyllenhaal Challenges the Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

An ambitious remix project by artist Diran Lyons who creates a new narrative critical of President Obama’s foreign policy. Diran pulls footage from two films starring actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko & Jarhead) and combines it with news footage of the US President. As Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, Gyllenhaal’s character becomes disillusioned with Obama’s seemingly hypocritical pro-war rhetoric, escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the failure to pull all troops from Iraq.

Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed

Lastly I have included one of my own remix videos. It’s a remixed narrative in which Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer at Sunnydale High. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Created by re-editing and re-combining clips from the Twilight movie and scenes from 36 different television episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed.

Jonathan McIntosh is a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate. He blogs at PoliticalRemixVideo.com and is a member of the Open Video Alliance. He also facilitates workshops with youth that utilize remix video and a crucial media literacy tool. His latest remix “Right Wing Radio Duck” along with the rest of his work, can be found on his website RebelliousPixels.com.

DIY Video 2010: Political Remix (Part One)

This is the second in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following curator’s statement was written by Jonathan McIntosh, who describes himself as “a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate.”

Political Remix Video can empower people to assert their creative voice, tell alternative stories and critically engage with mass media systems. It is a form of critical DIY media production which challenges power structures, deconstructs cultural norms and subverts dominant social narratives by transforming fragments of mainstream media and popular culture.

The practice of remixing and re-framing moving images for political purposes has been around since the invention of film. The tradition dates back to the 1920′s when Russian re-editors (many of them women) would repurpose American Hollywood films to create different political narratives and class messages. During World War Two, the Allies propaganda machine re-edited footage from Nazi rallies for newsreels to poke fun at the German Army making it seem less threatening. These early re-mixes were painstakingly done by hand, splicing strips of film and setting them to a new audio track.

The 1980s and 1990s brought video tapes and home VCRs allowing artists, activists and fan-vidders to make remixes via tape-to-tape editing. The media tools and technology of the 21st century have made the power of critical remix available to anyone with access to the web, a computer and some extra time.

Increasingly we are becoming a global culture that communicates in an audio-visual language. All political remix videos are made without the permission of the copyright holder and rely on the fair use doctrine. However despite the fact that they should be protected under fair use many critical remixes are especially vulnerable to DMCA takedowns and automatied content ID matching systems.

Today a small number of large corporations own, control and produce most of our popular culture. The remix video process provides creators a powerful way of talking back to this mass media machine. It is a way to communicate using that audio-visual language in poetic, humorous, poignant and entertaining ways.

I curated the political remix portion of the DIY 24/7 Video show at USC in the Spring of 2008. I was asked to put together a new show for 2010 highlighting some of the best remixes of the last two years. Here I have collected videos representing several distinct remix styles, covering a wide variety of social, cultural and political topics. I have focused in particular on re-cut trailers, identity correction, transformative storytelling, supercuts, and music videos. These works comment on, subvert, critique, ridicule, celebrate, illuminate and build on aspects of mass media by utilizing pieces of mass media. The topics of these videos vary widely; some focus on big “P” political issues like war, elections and government policy while others highlight small “P” political issues like race, gender and sexuality.

Re-cut trailers

Re-cut trailers are probably the most popular form of video remix online today. Some dramatically shift the genre and tone of popular movies while others remix straight characters to create new queer relationships and queer narratives from heteronormative Hollywood films.

Pretty Women as a Horror Film

Becca Marcus re-imagines the popular romantic comedy Pretty Woman as a terrifying thriller. The 1990 movie stars Richard Gere as a wealthy businessman endearingly obsessed with a women who prostitutes herself on the streets of New York City played by Julia Roberts. Becca re-cuts the films trailer adding a new soundtrack and transforming Richard Gere’s character from “wealthy saviour” to a more appropriate violent controlling predator. Interestingly, the original film was written as a dark drama dealing with the difficult lives of sex workers but prior to production, Walt Disney Motion Pictures rewrote the film making it into a lighthearted Cinderella-story with the tagline “Who knew it was so much fun to be a hooker?”

Gay Marriage Storm Chasers

Mary C. Matthews of VideoPancakes remixes the now infamous anti-gay marriage “gathering storm” ad created by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). She couples it with footage from the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers, she creates a promo for a new fictitious reality show called “Gay Marriage Chasers”. Matthews’ seamless combination produces a hilarious critique of the absurd fear mongering embedded in religious anti-gay PR efforts.

Harry Potter and the Brokeback Mountain

By now there are thousands of Brokeback Mountain parody videos online, some edging on ridicule and homophobia and others successfully subverting heteronormative Hollywood narratives to create new queer relationships. This Harry/Ron slash remix, by 19 year old vidder MissSheenie, re-casts the stars of the heteronormative Harry Potter films as young, queer wizards struggling with magic and their feeling for each other. Slash fiction using film trailers as a foundation allows makers to easily queer nearly any on screen straight relationship and is an especially important tool for LGBT fans who have so few characters to identify with in mass media.

Jonathan McIntosh is a pop culture hacker, video remix artist and fair use advocate. He blogs at PoliticalRemixVideo.com and is a member of the Open Video Alliance. He also facilitates workshops with youth that utilize remix video and a crucial media literacy tool. His latest remix “Right Wing Radio Duck” along with the rest of his work, can be found on his website RebelliousPixels.com.

From a Cyberspace of Their Own to Television 2.0: An Interview with Rhianon Bury (Part Two)

You closed A Cyberspace of Their Own with a call for more research which dealt with issues of race and class as they relate to fan practices. While some such work has been done, this still remains largely unexplored territory. Why do you think it has been so hard to deal with race in fandom as compared to issues of gender and sexuality?

I think it’s because fandom is predominately white as are the scholars that study it. This is not to say that people of colour are not fans! But I suspect that they are a minority in many of the participatory cultures that are being studied. Moreover, many do not mark themselves out in terms of their racial identity and therefore are assumed to be white by the other participants.

In contrast, there is a solid body of literature dealing with race and ethnicity in media and film as well as in cyberspace and digital culture. In general, critical discussions of race are started by scholars of colour who have investments in a politics of social transformation much the way that critical discussions of gender were started by feminists (most of whom are women). I chose to work with female X-Files fans, in part, to underscore both their experiences of marginalization in public cyberspace and their strategies of resistance. The subtitle of my book is an intentional reference to Virginia Woolf’s famous essay, “A Room of One’s Own.”

Your book discussed the function of humor in the female-centered fandoms around The X-Files and Due South. There is still relatively little writing on fan humor as compared to the more romantic, erotic, and melodramatic aspects of fan production. Why? What has Fan Studies missed by not focusing more on fan humor?

I haven’t a clue why so little is written about humor. Having a background in sociolinguistics, I have a particular interest in language practices and in how things get said, not just in what gets said. Humor plays such an important role in the community making process, cutting across fan interactions and practices, including romantic and erotic talk. As I argued in Cyberspaces, humor is bound up with class, gender and by extension race and ethnicity and nationality. I looked specifically at the repartee, the plays on words and witty exchanges by white, middle-class educated “elite” fans. I’d be very interested to learn about the role of humor in other contexts.

Your discussion of Due South explored the ways that fans did or did not connect with its “Canadian” origins. We are seeing ever more international content develop American fan followings, increasingly based on its accessibility on the internet. Does this process of acquiring the content change how fans think about its national origins?

When I look back, I’m struck by how ahead of their time the American Due South fans were. Many of the MRKS members I worked with in 2000 had never seen the series when its first two seasons were originally broadcast on CBS (Due South was a Canadian-US coproduction at that time.) They either picked it up in syndication or heard about it from fans in other fandoms. There were no opportunities to even rent or buy commercial DVDs.

Due South with its American fan base was part of what Chris Barker calls reverse flow. In his 1999 book, Television, Globalization and Cultural Identities, he challenged the notion that the one-way flow of American programming to the rest of the world would lead to the homogenization of culture and the erasure of local and national identities. The more likely outcomes, he argued, were fragmentation and hybridization. You’re certainly correct to suggest that online accessibility is providing more opportunities for Americans to become fans of series from other countries.

Whether this changes their sense of national identity (and there are differing notions of what constitutes being American) remains to be seen. I think that will depend on the type of content being viewed, the viewer’s other identifications (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender) and the context of viewing. My sense is that the majority of non-US programming with large American fan followings is British–Dr Who and now Sherlock come to mind. The Anglo-American flow is hardly new although the ability to download episodes almost immediately after they are broadcast in the UK instead of waiting months for the series to be broadcast in North America does offer the opportunity for American fans to hang out in fan spaces dominated by British fans. Considering that most Americans and Canadians outside of Quebec are monolingual, their opportunities to consume a range of international media content and participate in discussions are rather limited.

In your more recent work on Six Feet Under, you have questioned some of the founding assumptions of fan studies. In particular, you have challenged a tendency to equate fan resistance with progressive politics. What do you find in your work on HBO discussion boards which led you towards a different understanding of fan politics?

I was a huge fan of Six Feet Under but only occasionally perused the HBO boards until I watched the fourth season episode, “That’s my Dog.” As some folks may recall, this episode focused almost exclusively on the psychological and physical violence inflicted on David Fisher by a young man whom David had stopped to help after his car broke down. I had strong but very mixed emotions: on one hand, I was horrified by what had happened to a character I was emotionally attached to; on the other, I felt manipulated by the writers.

So off I went to the HBO boards, where I discovered a number of posts containing vitriolic homophobic comments, blaming David for his victimization (a fantasy scene indicated his initial sexual attraction to the young man). I was shocked that such comments were made by fans of a show with a central gay character.

My later analysis of the posts for the episodes of Season 4 revealed a remarkable pattern of interaction around every storyline in which David expressed explicit gay desire (e.g., giving a blowjob to a plumber in the funeral home; having sex with Sarge, a man he and Keith had picked up and played with after a paintball tournament). First the man-on-man sex scenes were flagged as “excessive,” with negative references made to Queer as Folk. These were followed by complaints that David’s expression of desire was out of character or morally questionable, and finally by complaints that there was too much “gayness” on television in general.

Of course not all fans responded this way but even the well-meaning comments made in defense of David’s actions served to erase his identity as a gay man. I described these fans as textual gamekeepers. Unlike the slash fiction writers who poach by queering the characters that have been written by the producers as straight, these fans “straightened out” the gay storylines. I bet there’s a whole lot more textual gamekeeping going on in fandom that has yet to be uncovered.

While your earlier research seemed to focus on relations within the fan community and on interpretive and evaluative responses of fans to the series texts, this new research seems to focus much more on the technologies we deploy in accessing content. Will these strands ultimately come together? What relation exists between whether fans consume content on Hulu and the kinds of social and meaning-making practices that evolve around that content?

It’s true that in my previous work I did not pay attention to modes of viewing or the accessing of content. Until recently, fan scholars just assumed that fans as committed viewers watched the original broadcast or a home recording shortly thereafter if they had to miss it. Even the technologies that enabled the creation of fan cyberspaces I studied were in the background. These new modes of consumption, production and interaction are unlikely to change the ways in which fans make meaning out of texts or the community-making process.

However, they certainly have the potential to change what it means to be a fan, how one becomes a fan, what one does as a fan and the kinds of relationships one has with other fans. These are the types of questions that I hope to begin to answer with the survey and interview data.

Let me close by saying that Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way I disseminate research on fandom. The norm in academia is to analyze our data behind closed doors and not report on it until we have a finished “product” in the form of a conference paper, a journal article, a book chapter, etc. With the use of blogging and microblogging technologies, I plan to informally report on findings as I work my way through the data in the coming months. I hope this will provide opportunities for dialogue with fans and fan scholars, and in turn provide feedback to inform my analysis.

Rhiannon Bury is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University. Her research interests include communication technologies, identity and community, and media fan culture. Her book, Cyberspaces of Their Own, was published by Peter Lang in 2005. She is currently collecting data for her Television 2.0 project. To take the survey, visit here. Check out her blog.

From a Cyberspace of Their Own to Television 2.0: An Interview with Rhianon Bury (Part One)

Several months ago, I was contacted by Rhianon Bury, an early contributor to the scholarly research on female online fan communities through her book, A Cyberspace of Their Own, asking me to help her publicize a survey she was conducting on how fans engaged with new delivery platforms for television content.

Bury agreed to do an interview for my blog which deals with this new initiative and what it means in terms of her own methodological approaches (an expansion from primarily ethnographic to a more hybrid approach), as well as shifts in the field of fan studies and new media since 2005 when her book first appeared. Like many of us, Bury is finding it hard to separate out the study of media audiences, creative industries, and new media practices, at a time when some aspects of fan culture have become more central to the operations of convergence culture, while, as many recent scholars note, others remain marginalized and in some cases, continue to be fully hidden from outside attention.

You have recently launched an online survey designed to better understand the shift in the media consumption patterns of fans in response to the changing affordances of the new media environment. What kinds of shifts are you hoping to explore?

I am interested in learning more about shifts in both modes of viewing and fan practices afforded by time shifting, streaming, downloading and Web 2.0 technologies. Industry data has provided a starting point for my “Television 2.0″ project. According to Nielsen, 38 percent of US households now have DVR/PVRs, up from 33 percent in 2009 and 24.4 percent in 2008 (TVbytheNumbers). In addition to its traditional Live data stream, Nielsen produces two additional streams: Live+SD (same day) and Live+7 (seven days). Although the latter are not significant in setting advertising rates, their effects are starting to be felt in network decision making. Writing in the New York Times, Bill Carter suggests that NBC’s The Event was spared early cancellation on the strength of its Live+7 numbers. NBC subsequently ordered a full season, although it remains to be seen whether all will be broadcast given that the live/live+sd numbers continue to fall (Toni Fitzgerald).

A number of recent surveys by marketing research companies attempt to quantify the popularity of viewing of time shifted and online content. Say Media, for example, found that 56 million Americans are “off the grid viewers,” 13 percent of whom can be classified as “opt outs” who have no longer watch live TV at all (GigaOM). This matches Strategy Analytics findings that 13 percent of Americans are planning to cancel their cable subscription in the next year. The large majority of “cord cutters” are under 40 and are college educated.

This type of industry data, however, cannot capture the complexity of viewer and fan engagement with multiple screens and platforms. I want to know how much television programming people are watching in front of the television screen, the computer screen and/or on a mobile device. I also want to learn more about what kinds of programming people watch (and rewatch) on which platform(s) and under what circumstances. Television programming is not a homogenous category and viewing is not a homogenous activity.

In terms of media fandom, anecdotally we know social media looms large. Web analytics software can quantify views, hits and clicks of primary and ancillary content on network sites, Hulu, and YouTube. The resulting data, however, tells us very little about the heterogeneity of fandom in terms of the range of practices that fans engage in (or not) and their varying levels of investments and involvement in participatory cultures.

Until now, you have been seen primarily as a qualitative researcher. What has motivated you to adopt a more quantitative approach to this project?

First of all, I am trying to fill what I see as a large gap in the study of fan and participatory cultures. It is of great concern to me that eighteen years after the publication of your very important work, Textual Poachers, no large-scale quantitative academic studies have been conducted. Without valid and reliable data, we cannot make generalizable claims about fan practices. We know fans watch television programming on a variety of platforms, go to cons, participate in online discussion forums, are members of online fan communities, read and write fiction, make vids, live tweet episodes, etc., but we have no idea how widespread these practices actually are among the fan population to use research terminology. Getting a snapshot of this population is not only interesting but critical to establishing a legitimate field of study, at least in the social sciences.

Moreover, unlike my previous research, my starting point is not a particular fandom but rather the individual viewer/fan. There is a tendency among fan scholars to study the fandoms of which they are a part. Methodologically, there’s nothing wrong with this choice as long as one is sufficiently reflexive. Such an approach also foregrounds research questions on community and community making. I’m sure we all know people who really enjoy particular television shows but who don’t actually do much more than watch the show, talk about it face-to-face, add it to their list of “likes” on Facebook and/or go to the broadcasting network website on occasion.

The Television 2.0 project is actually a mixed methods study. I will be doing not only a quantitative analysis of the data collected in the survey but a qualitative one as well. The second phase will consist of follow up interviews with interested survey respondents, starting (I hope) in early 2011. I still consider myself primarily a qualitative researcher because my interest in measurement is not an end in itself.

You published Cyberspaces of Their Own: Female Fandoms Online in 2005 and it reflects research done much earlier than that. What do you see as the biggest changes in online fandom over that time?

It’s hard to believe that almost fifteen years have passed since I started working with members of the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigades (DDEBs). In the preface to Cyberspaces, I recounted first discovering their websites using a lynx browser on Mozilla using a monochrome monitor. I can’t even visualize that interface today!

Beyond the obvious technological changes, one of the biggest shifts has been in the gender composition of fan-based cyberspaces. Research on internet access and use shows that gender parity was reached around 2000 in North America. Would the DDEBs be set up as private female-only listservs today? I doubt it, not because listserv technology is obsolete (at least for this purpose), but because the Usenet group (alt.tv.x-files) where the founding members originally met likely would have had far more participation from women, thereby “diluting” the sexist attitudes of more vocal male members of that forum. In other words, the practices engaged in by the majority of members would have created different community standards or norms.

More significantly, online X-Files fandom would not have been concentrated in one space. A range of alternatives would have been available: discussion forums on Fox and Television Without Pity; LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, particularly for fan fiction writers and vidders; Second Life and Facebook. Fans who had felt personal affinities with others on the various forums they visited would have become personal Facebook friends. Earlier this year, I reconnected with some of my research participants from the DDEBs on Facebook, which has been fun. And just this week, I read the status update from one of the members of the original DDEB indicating that she has created a private Facebook group for the community.

A second major shift that I would like to mention is related to the production of television’s secondary texts or paratexts. There was been a lot of “industry creep” into the areas that were once exclusively the domain of fans. Most networks host discussion boards and produce a range of ancillary content for their series websites, including quizzes, polls, games, as well as facebook pages and twitter feeds. The reasons for this move are obvious: fans are also consumers and media content producers want to foster fan loyalties to their brand. Combine easily accessible sites with the power of Google and YouTube, the latter which allows for far wider distribution of fan vids than in the past, and the result is a multiplicity of entry points into fandom.

Rhiannon Bury is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University. Her research interests include communication technologies, identity and community, and media fan culture. Her book, Cyberspaces of Their Own, was published by Peter Lang in 2005. She is currently collecting data for her Television 2.0 project. To take the survey, visit here. Check out her blog.