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VIDDING IS SEEING: FEMINISM THROUGH FANDOM

Fandom in general has a pretty bad reputation, most of us think of fans as red-eyed fanatics who engage in near stalker-like activity where their heartthrobs are concerned. However, developments in the online sphere are changing this perception, with the increased popularity of internet art and culture we are starting to see the subversive possibilities available through the internet and through fan practices. One of these subversive fan activities is something that we’ve all encountered: vidding. You’ll most likely find the vid in that ‘weird part of YouTube’, home edited videos that are a far cry from the original programme or song. It’s easy to dismiss these fan works as meaningless and unskilled - but these videos have more to offer than you might expect. 

 

The definition of vidding is a music video which comprises existing visual media. The craft of vidding began way before the internet in the mid-seventies. The first vid was made by Kandy Fong and consisted of Star Trek outtakes to music. In the 80s and 90s women often vidded in rad collectives such as The Clucking Belles, Media Cannibals, and Bunnies from Hell. The act of vidding was not just an individual project but also a space for like-minded women to meet up and express themselves through changing and challenging the structure of mass media moving images. The advent of the net provided video sites like YouTube and Vimeo moved these vidders into the online world which has made vidding a whole lot more accessible.

For vidders working in the 80’s and 90’s their projects were made through physically editing footage together. Despite the fact that the film industry is historically one of the worst in terms of equality (only 4% of directors are female), women have always been able to secure a role in editing. This space within film was opened up to women as it was seen as similar to sewing, so it was a supposedly appropriate job for women to do. This is possibly one of the reasons that vidding as a practice is overwhelmingly female. The nature of vidding then meant that vidders would have to teach each other how to edit vids. Skilled women would teach unskilled women and so on. As well as arranging to teach one another, exhibiting vids also meant scheduling meetups to share works. The origins of vidding created communities and co-operatives for both creating and sharing works that existed outside standard spaces, often in the back rooms of fan conventions. Figuratively and literally existing outside of the mainstream. 

 

Presently, you’d be hard pushed to find a space exhibiting these works. Only a select few events across the world screen old vids such as Vividcon. Luckily YouTube user PoliticalRemix has preserved a select few vids on the net. The most memorable of these old school vids is undoubtedly the 1997 Detachable Penis made by vid collective Media Cannibals. The revolutionary females that formed Media Cannibals were active from 1992-2001 and also created the zine Guilty Pleasures which explores ‘an individuals kink’ through amateur short stories. The Media Cannibals were instrumental in initiating the vid review process and ‘were also noted for advancing VCR editing technique (for instance, using very fast cuts or short edits at a time when most vidders used very long "talky-face" clips) and cutting edge music and thematic choices’. This superb editing can be seen in Detachable Penis which uses footage from The Professionals (1977-1983), a TV show that follows the lives of two hyper masculine male secret agents. The vid is a series of fast cuts highlighting the ridiculousness of all the phallic imagery used in the show. The song ‘Detachable Penis’ by King Missile shows the absurdity of all the masculine imagery used and provides a narrative for the character in the vid. The men in the vid can be seen searching for something in the vid (presumably the oversized phallic objects from which they have been liberated in the vid). Other fan vids preserved online by PoliticalRemix are Oh Boy by Sterling Eidolan and the Odd Woman out, and Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by Killa, both well worth a watch. 

The radical female vidders of the cassette era set the scene for the online world of vidding which can be found all over the Internet. YouTube is host to a vast amount of fan videos, with content that covers a variety of fan cultures which includes vids. YouTube isn’t the only site to feature vids, there is a whole corner of the Internet that is seemingly dedicated to the pastime. This includes websites that show you how to vid, forums that discuss the craft, and even social media that functions only to support vidders. The community that was once elusive and seen only in the back rooms of fan conventions is now available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Recently I become a member of vidders.net, the social network for vidders. On vidders.net you can add friends like you can on Facebook, join chat groups, upload vids, post comments and send messages. To gain access to the site you need to be added as a member by an administrator. The application process is pretty simple with only basic personal information required. You then have to answer three questions: 1) How or from whom did you here about the site? 2) What’s your main reason for joining? 3) Smartphone? To gain access I simply said I found the site on Google and that I wanted to use the site to ‘find vids'.  Gaining access is pretty simple. The profile you get shows little information to other users, only your username and profile picture are visible. Most users keep the vidders.net image that is provided when you create your profile or use a character from a TV show or Film as their image. Most users of the site seem to value their anonymity and the platform is interested in little else other than vids. 

 

When I first accessed the site there were 18,174 vids uploaded. The content and style of these vids varies wildly. Some merely focus on the admiration of a specific character, others take an existing on screen relationship and make it hyper romantic, some hyper sexualise it, and others show queer readings. The visual quality and level of skill also fluctuates. Despite the disparity between the vid styles they all share a common thread: these vids can be seen as re-workings of the traditional, patriarchal gaze that mainstream media presents. In the 1970s the forward-thinking feminist Laura Mulvey brought us the term ‘male gaze' which refers to how much of visual culture is shaped from a masculine perspective. Many of the vids you can find presently (and ones from the past) subvert this idea and re-frame media to show the ‘female gaze’ instead. This progressive gaze matches up most of the vids on vidders.net, giving them an overall continuity of radical thinking. 

Another trait that can be seen in vids is bringing to the fore characters, which might not have been seen previously as objects of sexual desire. The vid Collide – Block [LOST] created by user Sage of Spice does just this. In this context, Block stands for John Locke and Ben, who are characters in the TV series Lost. As Lost fans will know in the original series these characters were not portrayed to be in a romantic relationship but the description for the vid reads: ‘Many apologies for the poor video quality! Bocke (John/Ben) slash shipping. Expect lots and LOTS of eye sex. All scenes are from seasons 1-4. John is forever a dreamer but he knows that this isn’t all just his own fantasy. Besides, Ben is done lying.’ The vid is a series of clips set to the sound of romantic acoustic, ‘Collide' by Howie Day. Most of the clips feature John and Ben giving each other intense, lingering looks or ‘eye sex’.  The originally tense relationship in Lost is now seen through a queer perspective that romanticises and eroticises the fantasy relationship. This new media product has subverted the original gaze to provide us a new way of experiencing the relationship of Ben and John.

 

Finding vids on the vidders.net site is a simple task, although you do have to wait for approval before you can use the site. On YouTube, access to content is entirely open and you don’t even have to log in to to search the site’s huge video library. This means that even if you have no interest in vidding, or don’t know what it really is, you can still access the content (purposefully or accidentally). YouTube provides vidders with an audience and a universal audience at that. To find my way through all of the vids on YouTube I decided to search for TV shows that have vocal fan bases (in this case I chose Buffy and Smallville). If you type into the search bar ‘Spike fan vid’, there are dozens of results of fan videos of spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you type in ‘Smallville fan vid’ there are also dozens to hundreds of results. One of these results is Because the Night-Smallville Clark/Lex this vid is similar to Collide – Block [LOST] but explores the relationship in a much more erotic way. The vid is set to the song “Because the night belongs to lovers’ by Patti Smith. Both of the characters (who again don’t have a romantic relationship in the original series) can be seen giving each other intense looks. The video then shows them in bed with one another, looking intensely once again, as the music sings ‘because the night belongs to love’. Another shot pans out to reveal two characters in bed with one another with some telling thrusts happening, uncovers Clark and Lex no less. This sexual fantasy would be unlikely to find a place in the actual show, through vidding fans are able to re-claim and re-appropriate the mainstream media to forge a space for themselves. 

The sidebar on this video leads you to other readings of the text Smallville. One video Smallville: Evil Clark Kent – it’s My Life, takes Clark Kent’s evil alter ego and fetishes the character. The ‘evil' version of Clark Kent is created in the original Smallville season but this character is removed from this frame and fetishized by featuring scenes with intense evil looks, flexed arm muscles, and topless scenes. This collection of gratuitous Evil Clark shots allows the viewer to enjoy watching and looking at the character without the distraction of narrative. Evil Clark Kent is also shown to dominate his physical adversaries, showing him as a strong, dominating and hyper sexual character. Another vid is a comedic exploration of the Smallville material in which Clark Kent is shown as a gay male experimenting with heterosexuality. In the original material the character is shown as strictly straight. This trail of side-vids allows you too explore all kinds of re-imaginings of moving image. The trail can lead you to fandoms or fetishes, which you previously didn’t even know existed. I was entirely unaware that the relationship of Eggsy and Harry in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) had become a common fantasy feature in fan vids. 

 

With online vidding being anonymous, it is often hard to establish whether the creators are female identifying. One of the most prolific vidders I stumbled upon was YouTube user Talitha78, who I assume is female identifying. The majority of the commentators on her vids also appear female, although not exclusively. It’s hard to establish whether vidding is still mostly dominated by women, but the way in which vids are still composed demonstrates the female gaze used by the early vidders. Although vidding can easily be dismissed and ignored like much fan activity, it is undeniable that vidding is a small act of rebellion that reframes content to suit an audience that isn’t always catered for. Female visions of media help to bring in new perspectives and highlight how male centric much contemporary media remains. 


Bibliography 

Burgess, Jean and Green, Joshua, ‘The Entrepreneurial Vlogger: Participatory Culture Beyond the Professional-Amateur Divide’ in The YouTube Reader, (Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2010), 89-107. 

Busse, Kristina, ‘Introduction’ in Cinema Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2009), 104-107.  

Busse, Kristina and Lothian, Alexis, ‘Scholarly Critiques and Critiques of Scholarship: The Uses of Remix Video’ in Camera Obscura, Vol 26, No. 7 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011), 139-146.

Coppa, Francesca, ‘A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness’ in Cinema Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4, Summer 2009, (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2009), 107-113. 

Coppa, Francesca, ‘An Editing Room of One’s Own: Vidding as Women’s Work’ in Camera Obscura, Vol 26, No. 7 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011), 123-130.

Sassatelli, Roberta, ‘Interview with Laura Mulvey: Gender, Gaze and Technology in Film Culture’ in Estudos Feministas, Vol. 13, No. 2, (Santa Catarina: Instituto de Estudos de Gênero da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, 2005), 351-362.   

Stanfil, Mel, ‘Spinning Yarn with Borrowed Cotton: Lessons for Fandom from Sampling’ in Cinema Journal, Vol 54, No. 3, Spring, (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2015), 131-137. 

Mulvey, Laura, Visual Pleasure and Other Pleasures (Basingstoke: Macmillan Academic and Professional, 1989). 

Vainikka, Eliisa, ‘Generation of Content-producers? The reading and media production practices of young adults’ in Particpations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, Vol 10, No. 2, (http://www.participations.org/, 2013), 118-138. 

 

Online Sources

Interview with Sandy and Rache (’The Clucking Belles’) by Francesca Coppa, 2011 [Accessed 20th March 2016]
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/242/202

Miss You Already's Catherine Hardwicke: ‘Only 4% of films directed by women make it. Why?’ by Nosheen Iqbal, 2015 [Accessed 20th March 2016]
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/21/catherine-hardwicke-miss-you-already-toni-colette

 

Websites 

http://fanlore.org/ [Accessed 20th March 2016]

http://fpvideos.proboards.com/ [Accessed 20th March 2016]

http://vidders.net [Accessed 20th March 2016]

http://vividcon.info/ [Accessed 20th March 2016]
https://wickedwords.dreamwidth.org/tag/vids [Accessed 20th March 2016]

https://www.youtube.com [Accessed 20th March 2016]

 

Videos  

Because the Night-Smallville Clark/Lex https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjSX_qXrLj4 [Accessed 20th March 2016]

Collide – Block [LOST] http://vidders.net/video/collide-bocke-fanvid-wmv [Accessed 20th March 2016]

Detachable Penis - by Media Cannibals (1997) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYsSIDDkwNk [Accessed 20th March 2016]

Fanvid: I kissed a girl (Clark/girls, Smallville) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4VAeZ33Xhk [Accessed 20th March 2016]

Smallville: Clark Kent IT'S MY LIFE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bkyxgSE1G0 [Accessed 20th March 2016]


Words by Jennifer Shearman 

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