On Vine Vids and Videographic Criticism
Louisa Stein / Middlebury College


Vine App

Vine application

Starting in 2012, microblogging sites began featuring short form video with accompanying audio options. Vine introduced moving images with sound in 2012 as its primary form, and was shortly thereafter bought out by Twitter. Vine, Twitter, and Instagram all now allow viewers to post videos and to toggle soundtracks on short videos on and off. The resulting audiovisual forms in these different sites (site specifically and collectively) are in their nascent form(s). (See, for example, the Vine account “Vidder Vines.”) What are the current realities and future possibilities of short form fan audiovisual authorship on Vine, Instagram, Twitter, and, by extension through embedding and crossposting, the fan-favored interface, Tumblr?


Vine Vids as Self-Reflexive Depiction of Vidding Process

Perhaps not surprisingly, fan video on Vine and Instagram mostly offer extensions of or paratexts to vidding as the central form. Nonetheless these Vine or Instagram short videos also exist as their own discrete works, playing on the interfaces they have been released within, looping by design, limited to 6 seconds (Vine) or 15 seconds (Instagram). Often signposted by the hashtag #vidding and/or #fanvid, many of these Vine or Instagram vids function in part as documentation of a vidder’s process in the making of another, longer-form vid. For example, the following Vine by BatB Vines, with the accompanying text “when I’m bored,” showcases the vidder’s use of particular filter and transition techniques and highlights the technical choices being made:

Since this video consists of a video capture, it also shows the metadata that accompanies the making of a vid, depicting in image the editing software and thus including the advancing frames, frame rate, and aspect ratio/frame size.

Sometimes Vine vids depict the moment when everything goes wrong—the pain that comes with the labor of production, as in this Vine vid with the accompanying text “mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s fucked up and lost it all.”

This Vine vid includes its own musical track that is likely not that of the lost vid, but rather a playful evocation of the drama of technological meltdown.

These short vid-in-process excerpts are part of the attention being paid to the labor of authorship via digital social media tools. These Vine vids exist in part to allow vidders to share work in progress rather than waiting until a work is completely done to share it with others. They also exist as self-branding and transmedia positioning for the vidder, highlighting their ongoing creative labor. Just as actors tweet from sets and writers tweet from writers’ rooms with tantalizing details of a TV series’ or film’s production, so to do vidders release moments of their works-in-progress as teasers for the full videos (or as advertisements upon the video’s release).

For example, the Vine vid “Monster” is an excerpt of a key transitional moment from an already released vid of the same title, and the text accompanying the Vine lists the vidder’s YouTube name and says “YouTube |Dexter || Monster|” thus referring to the vid being excerpted and directing the viewer to YouTube to view the full vid. The vidder’s name is not coincidentally the same on Vine and YouTube, thus rendering their YouTube and Vine part of a purposefully self-branded transmedia spread, with the Vine vid serving as advertisement for the vid as a whole.

The Evolving Aesthetics of Vine Vids

Although in some cases—such as shared works-in-progress, and short form teasers—we might consider these short videos secondary or tertiary texts, nonetheless these 6-15 second videos also have their own distinct independent life. They exist as discrete elements that circulate within their home interface and moreover, anywhere in which they are embedded, including new streams and multiauthored contexts in Tumblr etc. Thus, what of the Vine, or Instagram video as an independent form or aesthetic? One could certainly argue that the documenting of editing labor is its own aesthetic, one that calls attention to fan intervention and power via digital tools. But the 15 or 6 second limit and on/off audio toggle offer their own stimulating/formative creative limits. Like the drabbles or comment fic I referred to in my previous post, or like the 100×100 pixel icon art form that Kristina Busse and I wrote about in “Limit Play,” the Vine vid and Instagram vid offer restrictive constraints that can force creators to pare down and concentrate, to make a point or argument within a tight audiovisual economy. But despite the formal limits, the conceptual possibilities are still abundant and multiplicitious, a la the infinite scroll I talked about in my last post. That is, editing tools can weave together multiple textual references within even a six second Vine vid. For example, Brian Rovia’s “Murder Dads vs. Dadstiel,” which combines and parallels the TV series Hannibal and Supernatural.

That such Vine vids may be excerpts of fuller vids does not undermine their status as objects of their own with their own formal and cultural demands. Not every six seconds of a vid will work as an independent module, looping on its own. I found this out in a very tangible way. Initially for this blog post, I planned to make a Hannibal/The Lodger fanvid that I would also release as a series of six second Vines as I went, with each Vine drawn from a single episode. I found out very quickly that the demands of a six second Vine are quite different from the pacing and build of a three minute video, and the two sets of expectations fought one another. I may still continue with this experiment, but I am less confident that both can be simultaneously equally successful. I was able to make one Hannibal Vine vid that I am reasonably happy with. However, to keep up on this level of audiovisual pacing would, I think, make for an exhausting vid. At least that’s my hypothesis. But this points us to the evolving aesthetics of Vine vids, even those that are excerpts of longer vids, in that they need to effectively flow in a continuous loop, creating a sustained visual impact, inviting viewers to ponder the repeated visuals, effects, and audiovisual relationships. To me, a successful Vine vid is in part mesmerizing; watching one is a meditation on another’s meditative reworking of a source text.

Vine Vidding and the Videographic Essay

While the formal limits of the Vine vid or Instagram vid may be fairly restrictive, this doesn’t mean that they can’t evolve particular aesthetic expectations (as discussed above) or make sophisticated critical arguments. I want to focus for the remainder here on the latter: the potential for the short fan video form to make complex and/or purposeful critical interventions. In doing so, I’d like to put forth a connection between the Vine vid (and for that matter, “full size” vids as well) with another evolving aesthetic form—the videographic essay or videographic criticism. With the introduction of the journal [In]Transition and the increased incorporation of works of audiovisual scholarship by media studies academic in, for example, on a panel on “New Directions in Videographic Criticism” at the upcoming Society for Cinema and Media Studies, media studies academics are increasingly bridging the assumed divide between authoring about media and authoring with media. [In]Transition’s call for “papers” defines the form in broad terms as follows: “The work, which can be of any length, should produce new knowledge about its subject, or about film and moving image studies, through its audiovisual form.” Where videographic essays create new knowledge about the subject or moving image studies, vids and Vine vids create new knowledge about their media source and/or the shared knowledges of fandom and audience culture.

For example, Brian Rovia’s “Murder Dads vs. Dadstiel” not only combines Hannibal and Supernatural, but makes a pointed comparison between the alternate family structures that fans recognize on both series, spelling out how not only that fans see Hannibal and Will as unlikely #murderhusbands but also “Murder Dads” as they attempt to care for Abigail; likewise, fans read monster-hunter Dean and angel Castiel as having not only reached the status of old married couple, but so evidenced through their care for teen girl Claire. This short 6 second Vine vid argues for the presence of these arguably queer, alternate family structures in both shows, and more largely points to this alternate family structure as a trope reaching beyond a single text. Thus this Vine vid creates “new knowledge” about the media sources invoked, about the preoccupations of contemporary television, and about fan investment in the tropes of contemporary television.

Conclusion

Although not identical forms, the vid, the Vine vid, and the videographic essay coexist in an ecosystem in which their authors use audiovisual editing to critically engage with media texts, digging deep into individual texts and mapping out the relationships between them. Moreover, through these seemingly divergent forms, authors also articulate their own positioning within a multi-textual culture and within communities of readers, be they academic, popular, fannish, or a mix of all three. Rather than relegating them to separate realms of culture, I encourage us to think about the potentials for conversation between these evolving popular and academic forms of video remix culture.

Image Credits:

1. Vine App

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Fandom in Transition: Long Live the Landslide
Louisa Ellen Stein / Middlebury College

Behind the scenes footage of Lord of the Rings

Behind the scenes footage from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings

“A love-letter to a fandom I’m not really in anymore”: That’s how Gwenfrankenstien describes her vid, “Long Live,” a Lord of the Rings fan video made from the Return of the King DVD extras, edited to Taylor Swift’s anthem of the same name.

I find Gwenfrankenstien’s description of her vid very evocative. “Long Live” captures the power and the transience of the fan experience, and I’m saying that as someone who is not really a Lord of the Rings fan by any definition. But I’m still moved by this vid every time I watch it. In part, I’m struck by its vision of the journey shared by media producers as they (re)create a fan-loved media text. The Taylor Swift song’s proclamation “long live the magic we made” helps amplify the vids’ vision of the producers and actors of Return of the King coming together, via technology, performance, and creative teamwork to transform a collective imagined fantasy into a filmed reality. The magic, it suggests, is in the lived process of that creation as much as (if not more than) in the final product, and thus cannot be fully contained in the form of a movie or even in DVD extras. “Long Live” celebrates the vision and determination of media producers, and (to me at least) in doing so likens their community experience to that shared by fans. Indeed, I can’t help but see fans not only as the recipient of this video’s love letter, but as represented by proxy in its images of producers, actors, interviews, and award shows.

While I’m not part of the particular fandom represented here, I am part of a different sort of fandom that was also the intended audience for “Long Live,” the vidding fandom, that is, fans of fan-authored remix videos. This video was made for Festivids, an annual fannish vid exchange. Many festivids vidders also participate in Vividcon, an annual convention in which vidders submit premiering and recent videos, and host vid shows and panels on particular subjects of interest to vidders and vid-viewers. I saw “Long Live” for the first time in the “Nearly New” vidshow at Vividcon 2015. I was especially struck by how connected I felt to this video about a fandom I wasn’t in, which I was watching within a fan community that precisely brings together multiple, diverse fandoms, with participants connected together by their love for a particular form rather than a particular source text.

Although the multiplicity of fandom is a core feature of both Festivids and Vividcon, that multiplicity isn’t without its friction points, friction points that emerge from the power and transience of fandom highlighted in Gwenfrankenstien’s vid. The Vividcon vidding community has evolved over the decades across not only the rise and fall of multiple fandoms, but also over multiple interfaces held in tandem, built on prior histories of vidding and fan conventions. Francesca Coppa and Henry Jenkins have written about early years of vidding, the cultures of vidding collectives working with the technology of dual VCRs [ (( See Jenkins, Henry. “’Layers of Meaning’: Fan Music Video and the Poetics of Poaching.” Textual Poachers, Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Routledge, 2013. p. 223-249. And Coppa, Francesca, “Women, Star Trek, and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding.” Transformative Works and Cultures 1 (2008). http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/44. doi:10.3983/twc.2008.0044 ))]. They and other scholars have argued that since its origins in the 1980s, through into the era of digital editing, vidding has fostered often-female communities of practice in which fans turn video authors, taking ownership of and speaking back to mainstream media, and in so doing developing alternative aesthetic traditions and perspectives.

Vividcon 2015

Vividcon 2015 logo, edited within Community

When I began to participate in vidding in 2006, vidders mostly shared their videos in locked communities or behind password protected servers. Even as YouTube grew in popularity and breadth, vidders were very tentative about sharing their work there for fear of copyright takedowns and IP issues. As Francesca Coppa has argued, this tentativeness threated to erase the creative work of the mostly female vidding community while the more often male remix artist were posting their work publicly on YouTube [ (( Coppa, 2008. ))].

But at the same time that Vividcon vidders were hesitant to post on YouTube and to share their work publicly, new fan video traditions were evolving on YouTube. There were and are many vidders and fan vidding communities on YouTube that did not necessarily emerge from or align themselves with the traditions of Vividcon and/or VCR vidding. The vids that these “YouTube vidders” (as they are sometimes called) created/create look significantly different from the still dominant aesthetic at Vividcon, one which highlights professional-feeling clean cuts, minimal special effects, music rather than dialogue for audio, and linear, legible narrative or analytic structure [ (( Katharina Freund, “I Thought I Made a Vid, But Then You Told Me That I Didn’t: Aesthetics and Boundary Work in the Fan Vidding Community,” in eds. Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough, The Routledge Companion To Remix Studies (New York: Routledge, 2015). ))]. In contrast, many “YouTube vids” layer dialogue as well as image, and incorporate filters and overlays, sometimes/often in abundance.

At Vividcon, congoers have debated the relationship between the Vividcon community and other evolving fan vidding and remix traditions, aesthetics, and interfaces for sharing, in panels like the 2007 “Town Hall on Vidding and Visibility.” At the 2012 Vividcon panel entitled “Forever Reblog: Vid Audiences on Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, etc.,” we talked about whether vidders should experiment, migrate, and embed these new interfaces and/or the aesthetics evolving on them. The overall tone was open and encouraging, with people giving tips about how to publicize, self brand, and link across interfaces.

Vividcon 2015

Vividcon 2015

Now, in 2015, Vividcon has grown in tremendous ways—most notably its streaming vidshows that have allowed greater access to those unable to attend the conference in person. Its panel and vid show topics continue also to encourage a diversity of approaches, perspectives, and fannish identification. And yet I fear that the vidding community might still be facing its own transience—that it might not live on if it does not enter more fully into conversation with evolving fan video and remix video cultures. Yes, Vividcon has a Tumblr and many vids circulate on Tumblr, and a fair amount of vidders post their work to YouTube as well as to Vimeo. But an us versus them/ours versus theirs mentality still lurks, not shared by all, but it’s there, arguably motivated by an understandable fear of loss—loss of the aesthetics, culture, and values specific to the vidding/Vividcon communities.

For me there was one vid at Vividcon 2015 that stood out, in part because it spoke to these issues and in part because it seemed to me a poignant counterpart to “Long Live”: Millylicious’ 2015 Vividcon premiere, “Landslide.” This Harry Potter vid conjures up the specifics of the passage of time for Harry Potter and its fandom, through the powerful conceit of a Hogwarts point of view (at least that’s how I read it). I find myself especially moved by this video, as I am currently re-engaging with Harry Potter through the eyes/ears of my eight year old daughter and thus am very aware of Harry Potter fandom as something past and present, continued yet fundamentally different from what it was. Harry Potter lives on but its initial fandom movement was specific to place, time, interface, and technology.

And yet I don’t read Milly’s “Landslide” as only about Harry Potter and HP fandom, to me it is about fandom’s evolutions and revolutions and changes more broadly, and now for me at least it is also inextricably about Vividcon specifically, the changing culture there, and the vidding cultures that are growing in other interfaces with other sets of aesthetic norms and expectations. Vividcon vidding and community is not what it was, even as many vidders still hold up strict lines to defend against the more diverse practices of vidding in YouTube, Tumblr, and fan culture(s). I don’t think that VVC and vidding should erase those boundaries from history, but if they/we don’t move forward in more open ways, I fear we may face endings rather than evolution, a practice tied to a moment and its technologies rather than one fluid enough to move into new but related traditions that stand on the backs of old ones.

I believe we must honor the specifics of communities and specific fan practices while acknowledging and embracing the larger cultural creative frameworks that contain diverse practices. Let’s not reify cultural divides in our self-definitions of media fans and fan practices.

Image Credits:

1. Lord of the Rings behind the scenes footage
2. 2015 VividCon Logo
3. Vividcon 2015

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