This article maps two divergent trajectories within a narrowly defined sphere of short-form, time-based digital media created between 1995 and 2005. These works are considered in relation to the historical avant-garde – particularly the Structural film movement of the 1960s and 70s – and analyzed as responses to a range of cultural concerns specific to the digital age. The analysis identifies movement toward two terminal points: first, a mode of remix-based montage inspired by open source programming communities and peer-to-peer networks; and second, the emergence of a mode of imaging termed the “digital analogue”, which foregrounds the material basis of digital production.
Published in Digital Humanities Quarterly vol 1, no 2 Summer 2007
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As a recent contributor to the “Hitler meme” genre of detourned video parodies of the movie Downfall, I was inspired by the recent Rocketboom video with Kenyatta Cheese describing the steps to challenge a YouTube takedown. Rocketboom, in turn, was motivated by the recent wave of takedowns ordered by Downfall producers, Constantin Films, which resulted in the removal of hundreds of Downfall parodies, mine included.
My Hitler meme video Digital Humanities and the Case for Critical Commons was created to publicize the relaunch of Critical Commons, a site that promotes the fair use of media by educators. I was contacted by Alison Hanold of the Center for Social Media at American University, who was writing an article about YouTube’s takedowns of the Hitler videos and she generously included my my thoughts about the Downfall takedowns:
I found the latest round of Downfall takedowns to be unfortunate and poorly timed on the part of Constantin Films, which is now being subjected to disproportionate resentment and vilification. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be criticized, but there are many other much worse offenders among the copyright industries’ takedown trolls and it’s toward them that our real outrage should be directed. The shock-and-awe strategies that have been favored by members of the MPAA and RIAA for the past decade have had an impact on some people’s behavior and it has instilled fear and paranoia in many others. But, like military shock-and-awe campaigns, it’s short-sighted and ultimately counter-productive. The longer-term impact of such mass takedowns is organized resistance and legal efforts that will ultimately have a greater cost to the media industries than a mere public relations nightmare. Creators, students, educators, vidders (etc.) have unprecedented resources and support at their disposal in the form of the CSM’s Best Practices guides and a growing body of court decisions supporting fair use. Indiscriminate takedowns that ignore the legitimate protections of fair use are just as illegal as commercial piracy and it’s time for the industries to start being held accountable for their actions.
In retrospect, I think the real issue here is not the actions of Constantin Films, a relatively small player who has been swept into the current copyright wars, but the resulting wave of awareness about YouTube’s use of automated takedown systems, including ContentID, which was used by Constantin to order the Downfall takedowns. Of course, none of this is intelligible outside the context of the current Viacom v. YouTube litigation, which could significantly undermine current interpretations of the DMCA safe harbor clause that made YouTube a billion-dollar company and made online video a key part of the cultural vernacular for millions of creators. While automated takedowns and “fingerprinting” systems that sniff for copyrighted content while a file is being uploaded may have once seemed like the silver bullet to fight unauthorized uses of copyrighted materials, such systems are incapable of making nuanced determinations about the fairness of a given use. It will be no small irony if these automated measures, intended to deter and intimidate even legitimate users, turns out to be the “downfall” of the copyright industries’ last-ditch efforts to hold onto a fading business model.
On Friday April 16 as part of the HASTAC Grand Challenges and Global Innovations virtual conference, I will be “presenting” (live via pre-recorded video) a project from my class last semester titled “Interactive Experience and World Design: IKEA as ARG” in which graduate students from USC’s Interactive Media program infiltrated an IKEA retail outlet to analyze the spatial and narrative design of the store as part of an Alternate Reality Game experience. The video offers a summary of the course context and project assignment, focusing on the concept of “scripted spaces,” drawn from Norman Klein’s book The Vatican to Vegas. This video also marks the first time I have had content automatically removed from my YouTube account due to the inclusion of copyrighted material. In representing the transmedia context for this project, the video includes clips of television programs, feature films, advertisements and popular music, at least one of which was flagged by YouTube’s copyright-filtering system on behalf of the Fox/News Corp. media conglomerate. I have filed a counter-takedown notice with YouTube in the hopes of having the video reinstated for public viewing, but for now, it is viewable as a Quicktime file or on Vimeo.
I just gave a talk at Art Center College of Design to students in the graduate Media Design Program about video documentation. My basic thesis was that, for many interactive media projects, installations, performances (etc.), the documentation can be as important as the work itself. Good documentation begins well before the project is complete, often incorporating video and still images of the process, iteration and underlying technologies associated with the project. Although I have been teaching documentation strategies for many years, this was the first time I have attempted to outline a taxonomy of documentation genres. Slides from my presentation are posted on Slideshare; most of the video samples are available online.
Jennifer Terry’s Killer Entertainments presents challenges to both designers and users on many levels. How to critically address videos shot by soldiers engaged in combat without sensationalizing, decontextualizing or trivializing them? How to provide access to such a diverse and extensive range of work? How to insert commentary, context and background information while preserving the raw power of the original videos? In response to these challenges, author Jennifer Terry and designer Raegan Kelly developed a rhetoric of connection and accretion which resists linearity and the seductiveness of a single argument illustrated with evidence. Users are led toward no single interpretation; no replacement ideology takes over from that of the Administration’s party line. Indeed the text allows for and even encourages responses based in idiosyncracy and uncertainty. The source material presented here all comes from “the Internet,” but what does that mean? What can it mean? Which of the sites hosting these materials are “real” and which are run by counter-intelligence agencies hoping to track usage patterns among potential dissidents via IP addresses?
Terry’s text also refuses the screen-media convention of text that has been reduced to digestible lexia. The micronarratives, profiles and backstories that make up Terry’s analysis, like the unedited videos themselves, insist on a certain investment of time, thought and connection-making. Curiosity and patience are rewarded with a rare feeling that one is not simply the conduit for one of several predetermined responses being called up by mainstream media or academic commentary. In an age when the Google search engine can claim to return over 6 million references to “iraq war” in “(0.11 seconds),” the issue no longer seems to be gaining access to information so much as knowing what to do when we have it at our fingertips. Part of the power of Terry’s commentary lies in the flat understatement of her text. When she drops raw figures — such as the fact that coalition forces have fired more than 250,000 bullets for every “insurgent” killed in Iraq — the number seems to hang impossibly on the page. The point is not to dramatize, shock or dismay, but to suggest the importance of educating ourselves out of our narrowness of concern. The Iraq war is happening now — with men and women killing and dying in our names whether we like it or not. We owe it to them, at the very least, to watch, read, listen, think, and then decide for ourselves exactly how we intend to act.
Seeing Is Believing: Unseen Cinema unearths a new history of the early American avant-garde.
The most interesting histories are those that dispute prevailing narratives or reclaim a past that is in danger of being lost. Indeed, the essence of historiography is discursive and cultural struggle – the preservation, revision and contestation of a consequential past – not the accumulation of polite facts in academic volumes. Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941, a joint project of Anthology Film Archives and the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, offers one such undertaking. Curated by Bruce Posner, the travelling program of films – a staggering 22 hours’ worth – is a rare attempt at both historical revision and preservation, and if things go well, one that is likely to provoke both controversy and interest in this long-neglected corner of film history.
Published in The Independent July 2001
Download Seeing is Believing: Unseen Cinema
Profiles of alternative media makers in Los Angeles including William Jones, Erika Suderberg, Tran T. Kim-Trang, Jesse Lerner and Ming-Yuen S. Ma
An often-overlooked fact about Los Angeles is that the city is home to some of the most diverse and cutting edge experimental media production in the world. The scene has a long history stretching back to the 1920s, but it also has a very current presence, thanks to the work of numerous artists whose work brings together a commitment to theoretical sophistication, stylistic innovation, and political engagement. Many of these artists express their faith in the power of alternative media by performing in multiple capacities, making films, videos or multimedia projects while also teaching, writing, and curating. Among these artists are William Jones, Erika Suderberg, Tran T. Kim-Trang, Jesse Lerner and Ming-Yuen S. Ma. For these makers, “independence” is a necessity rather than a marketing strategy – they do not aspire to three-picture deals with the latest mega-merged entertainment industry giant or even a distribution deal with Miramax. Although their work is widely disparate both formally and thematically, these artists together constitute a strong, smart, and much needed alternative media presence in a city that, thanks to diminished arts funding, has almost no remaining infrastructure to support them.
Published in The Independent, March 2000
Digital video, circulated among communities, friends and the Internet at large, is becoming one of the primary ways we tell stories about ourselves, our interests, opinions and passions. The videos we find online are as varied as the conversations we have in our everyday lives, but there are also themes, techniques, and shared source materials that tie together diverse genres of DIY video. This two-part documentary video was Produced and Directed by Steve Anderson and Mimi Ito as the culminating event of 24/7: A DIY Video Summit in February 2008.
What is DIY Video? Part I opens with a video telling of the threads and commonalities that have emerged from our viewing of DIY video in different genres. Curated through a collective process involving the curatorial and conference committee for 24/7: A DIY Video Summit, this video traces the “meta” context that frames what we see as a new golden age in DIY video production. The program is organized as segments that feature video and response, the use of common source material, shared topics, and shared techniques in different forms of DIY video.
Part Two of What is DIY Video? features videos that stood out among the thousands that we viewed as part of our curatorial process as the most outstanding and compelling DIY video works. Together, these two programs document and define a moment in the rapid evolution of user-generated video. Both videos are distributed freely online for download and have been widely screened in festivals, conferences and in educational contexts worldwide.
What is DIY Video? is available for viewing/downloading on the 24/7: A DIY Summit website, along with links to many of the projects included in the video.
The Getty Museum is currently hosting “California Video,” a survey of 40 years of video art made in California. To complement this show, the IML’s Anne Bray has curated a stellar program of cutting edge videos from 1980 forward called “Hotbed: Video Cultivation Beside the Getty Gardens”; it will feature 20 videos projected outside on the walls of the Getty in a spectacular and unprecedented display this Friday, May 9 (7:00 – 9:00 p.m.). The show continues on Saturday, but this conflicts with the IMD thesis show opening, so plan accordingly!