What is vidding?

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about the artform of vidding, the particular genre of music-video remix that participants in media fandom have been honing for more than 30 years. The Organization for Transformative Works has been working to preserve that history in their Vidding History project; I recommend spending some time with the links there (including a bibliography) if you are interested in learning more. Francesca Coppa and Tisha Turk have done excellent work articulating the strategies vidders have developed for making meaning out of clips from TV and film and borrowed songs. Seah and Margie’s 2005 meta vid Walking on the Ground (scroll down for the vid) is also a great introduction to the history of vidding, conveniently provided in vid form.

Vids create artworks that are often also arguments, making their case for particular ways of seeing through instigating feeling in the viewer. They suture the borrowed images to the emotive force of particular pieces of music; the songs are by no means incidental. In many ways vids codify the emotional work songs do for us all in our everyday lives, engaging similar practices to those that Karen Tongson identifies around karaoke. Vids sometimes access existing musical connotations but more often make new ones. What they do that is, as far as I can tell, new is in the depth of meaning they can draw out of juxtaposition and listening. In a world where online video becomes ever more part of the background, vidders insist on total attention and multiple rewatches in order to make the full extent of their meaning clear. The depth of that meaning is easy to miss if you let the familiar images wash over you as you are probably accustomed to doing.

When I first got interested in fanvidding in 2008, I also began to make vids of my own. I now also encourage my students to experiment with the form; taking a media text apart is an incredible way to learn about it, and you develop a very different relationship to a piece of music when you use it to carry emotional and intellectual force that you are manipulating. It is also a practice that forces us to confront head on the differences between the ways we make meaning in a digitally mediated world that blurs the boundaries between production and consumption and the copyright laws and digital rights management procedures that govern what may count as a legitimate use.

Most vids are made out of love for a source text and a desire to spend more time with it. The vids that I have made tend (though not exclusively) to be motivated more by critique, by a desire to speculatively remake source texts into the stories and critical narratives I read in and through them. Vidding and academic writing feel like very similar processes to me; in both cases, I have texts I want to draw on and an interpretation I want to get across. The music in a vid works a little like the theoretical framing of a critical essay, I think. Sometimes it casts light on what the vid says in a very straightforward way––but just as, in the best works of literary or media criticism, the specific analysis also changes the way you approach the theory, a good vid’s imagery affects your perspective on the song it used ever after.

Vids, like most scholarly essays, don’t stand alone. They appear as part of a dense network of fan production, showcasing particular images in context. In the future, I hope to do more of what I’ve started to think of as scholarly vidding, using the form to connect to allusions beyond the fannish ones. The vids I have made all do this to some degree, although they are also often connected to specific networks of fan production.

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