I’m currently preparing the next and final creative assignment on fan labor for the penultimate week of ds106 (there will still be an archiving and reflection assignment for the final week). One of the fan labor communities that I think is both fascinating and inspiring are vidders, a community that emerged during the late 70s, early 80s (made up predominantly women) who would recut various TV shows and films using dual VHS decks and send them around to each other through the mail. The would often focus on the representation of various characters by reinforcing certain unrequited relationships or even by subverting traditional relationships (either through gender or sexual orientation). Vids might celebrate or critique a given show or movie, but regardless they were a direct intervention within the text based that was shared within a particular community of fans. The practice is known as vidding, and in the last 30 years—particularly with the explosion of the internet—it has become almost quotidian. We see examples of fan-based interpretations of innumerable songs, TV shows, movies, etc., all over the internet, in fact it may be the web’s most popular genre. Now I don’t want to reduce vidding to fan labor more generally, but this particular subculture of the 80s epitomizes for me the idea that media culture was never really as unilateral in its effect as so many have claimed. A TV series, film, video game, song, etc. doesn’t simply act on you or transform you, you are always at the same time transforming it, and in this negotiation is the basis of a mediated culture that is more than just an opiate or a popular placebo—it is a relationship to our moment that is too often dismissed in school.
All of this led Martha Burtis and I to reflect on the fact that much of what we have been doing in ds106 has in may ways been some version of fan labor, encouraging students to intervene in various forms of media that speak to them in order to intervene within that story to frame their own interpretations of the media landscape we all find ourselves in. So, anyway, all this leads me to this video featuring one of the pioneers of the vidding movement Francesca Coppa. The video of her presentation “Geneaology of Vidding” was taken at the 24/7 DIY Video Summit. I recommend it for anyone interested in fan labor, what’s more Coppa contextualizes the practice of vidding as a direct challenge to the historical gloss that this practice emerged as a result of the advent of YouTube—which in turn is often attributed to guys. She gives a gendered history of vidding and provides a careful reading of a number of works as a means to understand the vidding culture, as well as punctuating her talk with considerations of what is currently happening en masse with social media within a broader, cultural history of fan-created media. It is awesome to hear the technical means by which the early vids were made— dual slide projectors–are you kidding me?! And I love the how-to vid on how to make vids from the 80s—nothing new under the sun. As Henry Jenkins notes in the introduction to this talk, these grass roots communities of DIY media production needed to be attended to because the provide an important history for the revolution of production we are currently undergoing. YouTube may provide us a platform to share video*, but it doesn’t create the videos nor frame the interventions into our media landscape, we do that!
*And as I noted in a previous post, YouTube seems less and less willing to understand the distinction between copyright protections and a transformative work, which makes it an increasingly less and less useful platform in this regard.