On vids and videographic criticism, some initial thoughts

My larger project (and by extension, these exercises as well), explores what happens when we put into conversation two forms of media authorship are arguably quite distinct but also share some key commonalities in intent and sometimes in aesthetics: fan video and videographic criticism.*

Fan video, sometimes known as vidding, (or these days FMVs), has a long history, arguably dating back to the Star Trek slide shows of Kandy Fong, although we could also trace alternate histories, most especially those of Anime Music Videos. I have written a fair amount on fan video because it’s a favorite preoccupation of mine: for example here and here. Fan videos (or vids) re-edit popular media texts (TV, Film, web series, video games, sometimes even fan art itself) set to popular music. (A subset rework the sound of the source as well.) Fanvids usually use full or somewhat shortened songs, often songs that will be familiar to viewers, though some are set to classical music or to more obscure musical artists. Some fan videos make critical arguments about the source text, others combine multiple sources to make larger cultural arguments, others function as character studies, narrative journeys, or emotional punches in the gut (sometimes all at once.) I’m painting in broad strokes here, but there has been much good work on the history of fan video and fan video as a form, with plenty of new avenues for scholarship in the works. (Here’s an in-progress working bibliography on Fan Video; please let me know of any resources I should add!)

Videographic criticism is a newer and also still evolving form. It has at least some of its roots in my very own home department of Film and Media Studies at Middlebury college, where Chris Keathley and Jason Mittell have created the summer workshop I mentioned earlier, as well as a college class dedicated to exploring the form. [In]Transition: The Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies is another key space for the development of videographic criticism. Videographic criticism seeks to discover and present new insights through experimenting with editing media; the exercises outlined in the book insist upon somewhat arbitrary rules and discourage over-thinking, with the idea that the combination of rules and source text will reveal new insights about the media texts in question. Mittell and Keathley encourage fledgling videographic critics to avoid going into these exercises with an already clearly worked out critical argument that they’re just deploying in video form, but rather to use the video and audio editing as part of the creative critical process, a process of research and discovery rather than one solely intent on explanation of known information. While videographic criticism can also look like the more widely known “video essay,” it often includes more experimental and poetic (and less explanatory) dimensions as well.

I find this approach especially compelling because it destabilizes the ideas that as scholars we already have concrete, unchanging knowledge, instead casting us in the position of learners and creators, participating in dialogue and reworking and revision and introspection.

There are many ways we could compare these two forms (vidding and videographic criticism): aesthetic norms, critical purpose, cultural distribution, use of visual vs audio, perceived cultural legitimacy, status re fair use, and I do want to talk about all of these eventually, but I want to start with this topic of learning through process in regard to vidding as well as videographic criticism.

Now, I don’t want to make any overarching statements about vidding in comparison because the practice is so diverse in intent and form, but, in my experience at least, (and here I am in part speaking as a vidder and participant in vidding communities myself) vidders often go into projects with either a concept (argument, focus, intent) in place or at the least a song that we’ve chosen in part because it offers a particular argument or interpretation of a character or the source text. That is, we often go in to editing with a purpose in mind and less of an exploratory spirit. There is certainly the thrill of discovering what a new source text had to offer visually when you start vidding a new TV series or film, but usually this is a side experience at the most and the process is about Making The Thing. When I started vidding back in 2006 (or 2000 if you count my now buried experiments with Windows Movie Maker and Smallville, about which perhaps the less said the better), I think I had a less purposeful, more experimental approach. But now I generally vid with a purpose from the start. I feel that videographic criticism as a practice seems to be offering me a bit of a reset, helping me to rediscover that it’s in the process of creativity that insight happens.

*This topic of the relationship between fan video and videographic criticism has been a preoccupation of mine for a while now; I moderated a conversation on this topic in Cinema Journal with Corey Creekmur, Melanie Kohnen, Jonathan McIntosh, Lori Morimoto, Katie Morrissey, and Suzanne Scott, which you can find here. Lori Morimoto and I also curated a vidshow at the Fan Studies Network North America 2018 conference that showcased videos that merged the two forms in some way.

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