Video mashups using 1970s softcore to learn about Vietnam?

“The visual is essentially pornographic…”
From Fredric Jameson’s Signatures of the Visible

I’ve been thinking a lot about video mashups for teaching and learning recently. It is a lot of fun using the mashup as a prism through which to rethink contexts and possibilities for teaching and learning technologies. Moreover, it allows for these examples to emerge in the strangest of places. BoingBoing linked to a video made by a student that uses the narrative filler of a 1970s softcore film to narrate the history of the Vietnam War. At first glance such a link may seem to garner unwarranted attention because of its lurid relationship to pornography. However, after watching the video it was fascinating to hear a brief history of the Vietnam War constructed through cheesy, throw-away narrative filler (there are no sex scenes at all in the mashup) within a bonafide 70s setting.


The director/author of this mashup re-frames these scenes (using his own voice-overs) to talk about the war within the mise-en-scene of the period being discussed. While at the same time placing that discussion in the most unlikely places: at the beach, in front of a food truck, or in a doctor’s office. The dialogue is forced, and you can see that the project required a certain amount of factual information -yet the characters acting out the author’s ideas work on the viewer on a completely different register -making for a quite disjunctive and memorable viewing experience. This short “history” uses a conversational manner to impart information and varying viewpoints about the Vietnam War. The re-employment of the narrative elements of this 70s film within an educational context forces us to once again consider the power of re-using and re-mixing content in a variety of different, and yet unimagined, ways. Moreover, how might already rich online archives of videos like the Internet Archive or the Library of Congress further open up these possibilities for re-framing narratives for various disciplines using archival instructional videos, industrial videos, commercials, cartoons, film features, newsreels, etc.

Thinking through the 20th century as both teachers and learners affords us a tremendous amount of primary material that are not strictly textual, and to ignore the visual texts for their potentially “pornographic qualities” would be to miss the opportunity to present research, arguments, and discussions in a myriad of multi-modal ways.

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