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FILM: Online and Off No One Sees Your Face October 3, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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ORIGINAL at SpliceToday.

Afterschool_large

Please excuse the following nerdy statement: I care about how artists represent online video. This is something you need to know to understand why Afterschool, an independent film out in limited release on Oct. 2, is one I respect but do not love.

Afterschool, the debut feature of Antonio Campos that premiered at Cannes last year, tells the story of Rob, a lonely student at a prestigious high school who, in a turn of bad luck, witnesses the death of two popular girls at his school. He captures the incident on film, and then he is tasked with filming and editing a memorial video of the two girls.

Rob is unpopular and spends his time watching YouTube and other online videos, most of them concerning violence and sex. While Afterschool is a coming-of-age story, and a somewhat bleak one at that, it is also a film about our current media moment.

“It feels like YouTube has been around forever and will always be around,” Campos said in an interview with The New York Times.

That’s the setup, now the film. (more…)

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ONLINE VIDEO: Where and How to Publish Your Videos, Web Series September 29, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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finebrothers

UPDATE: For the full interview, click here.

I had an email interview with Benny and Rafi Fine recently, the pair that makes up the Fine Brothers, the duo of producers making some of the most popular viral videos on the net, along with a couple of web series. They’re razor-smart, and I hope to quote extensively from our interview in future articles, but I wanted to pull out an interesting statement from Rafi that I think is useful for producers starting out in the space. It’s about where to publish your videos and knowing which websites are good for specific kinds of videos. The Fine brothers publish everywhere: YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Atom, iTunes, FunnyorDie, Break. This is in part because they do all kinds of videos; so take the advice with a grain of salt: they’re more versatile than your average producer, so they publish more places.

Rafi: YouTube is of course the bread and butter of everything online. No other site gives any ad money to independent producers on that scale, and no other site gets us steady views like YouTube (thanks to their subscriber system which over time has stood out as the best). That said, the other sites have their specific merits… whether it’s the million views you can get in a day or 2 if Break puts you on the homepage, to the more traditional media cred Funny Or Die gives you.

It all depends on what ones goals are online really, and changes month to month on which websites can help you achieve those goals. That said, YouTube should be the base of operations since it has stood out as the only place other than iTunes that can generate a reliable fanbase that will always come back for more.

Not all producers have found success on YouTube, of course. I got an email the other from a web series creator whose YouTube videos have not taken off in the same way. The Fine Brothers probably do well on the ‘Tube because they’re really funny. Their videos go viral, because people like to share them. They’ve used the visibility from YouTube to build a fanbase and support their other activities — like their Atom project MyProfileStory, which, despite being of one the more creative web series ideas, did not go past the pilot, though Benny tells me it’s not over quite yet: “It was a huge success though and we have several companies interested in the series.” So there’s still hope!

Although they are still invested in the future of web video, the Fine brothers told me they are taking meetings with traditional TV companies; it’d be great to see the aesthetics of web humor make it onto the TV screen (aside from the activity already happening in web video, like YouTube on AppleTV and the Koldcast/TiVO deal, noteworthy developments on their own from the past few years).

If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s one of their latest viral vids, part of their “spoilers” series, which apparently they shoot in one take (looks like it to me)! I can’t imagine how hard it is to memorize all these lines, and then say them so fast — though I guess Michael Buckley knows something about that.

spoilers-fine-brothers

For more of the interview you’ll have to stay tuned and watch for them in other publications!

ONLINE VIDEO: A New Kid Delivers Mad Men Parody “Ma Men” September 16, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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funnyordie-joey-mcintyre-MA-Men(Click the photo above for video!)

The level of humor here is pretty base: the Boston accent is funny. But, hey, it is funny!

Bloggers are already raving about New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre’s spoof Ma Men — although it really has little to do with the original. The 36-year old McIntyre is a Massachusetts native, hailing from Needham and Jamaica Plain, both outside Boston.

It looks pretty clear Budweiser sponsored this and that’s okay. Perhaps if it becomes sufficiently popular (70,000 views on FunnyOrDie in 24 hours isn’t half bad), it’ll become a web series. There are enough Mad Men fans to pull in an initial audience, and the fact that it’s hilarious will keep them coming! Could this be one of the next hit web series? Will it go viral? Time will tell!

TV: “Adam On The Road” and Other Web Series July 10, 2009

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logo

You’re forgiven if you don’t watch any made-for-Internet television — also known as: web series, webisodes, web shows, or web originals; they’re still working on the name. Most people don’t. Ever since Lonelygirl15, the faux-vlog on YouTube turned ridiculously over-the-top web series, debuted three years ago, the web show has been consistently on the rise but never reaching a breaking point. Sure, there have been breakouts, most notably Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the Neil Patrick Harris starrer recently honored with a few Streamys — a web series Webby — and now available on Hulu, and of course there is YouTube’s Fred, perhaps the most obviously popular (with 12 year-olds). But nothing has broken through the culture in a huge way. Not that celebrities aren’t trying.

More at Ronebreak

YOUTUBE: Music Video Remakes: Fair Use (!) and History June 11, 2009

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So the following post is a truncated version of a paper I’ve written and plan to submit to conferences and publications soon. For an unrevised draft of the paper, click here. For a playful YouTube video I made on this topic, click here.

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' rendition of "I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' parody of "I Kissed a Girl"

For non-academics and makers of YouTube and other online video the headline for this post should read: Music Video Remakes = Fair Use! Though this isn’t the main point of my essay, it’s obviously the most relevant and practical. My basic fair use argument is this: using the most important part of Pierre Leval’s “four factors” and jettisoning the rest, music video remakes are almost always fair use because they necessarily “transform” the original work they mimic. Why? Because corporate music videos (the originals) are promotional tools for celebrities and music. Nearly all remakes either change, replace or remix the celebrity or the music in a video, thereby transforming fundamentally the original purpose of the music video and creating something new and interesting!

There are other ways to justify the fair use of the many other videos that appear on YouTube. The best of these remedies is Peter Jaszi and Pat Aufderheide’s “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video,” a clear and brilliant set of guidelines to assure users they are not criminals — it also provides a useful defense for users when they receive a takedown notice from YouTube or another portal. There are only six categories, so it’s worth a look-over. I was surprised how many YouTube users obey the takedown notice without protest; there is a knowledge gap between copyright holders (mostly corporations, but some small producers) and YouTube users. Many users are simply unaware of the fair use defense, and if they are, they are not skilled enough to make a convincing one.

The bulk of the paper examines the history of the music video and shows how, from it’s inception, the video was all about challenging coherent narratives, dominant representations and authorship itself, or at least that’s how scholars interpreted it. Music videos were inherently participatory, sites of fandom; people sang and acted out the videos in their homes. I use this framework to suggest the video remake follows in the music video tradition of challenging dominant narratives, encouraging fandom and viewer participation.

A remake should not have to be a parody to be fair use; it shouldn’t even have to critique the original, which courts have seen as the clearest fair use defense. Many of the remakes are simply homages, and my framework allows for derivative works that don’t critique but instead extend or reinvent the original. Transformativeness should be interpreted as broadly as possible. Just because Weird Al Yankovic asks (and pays) for consent because he needs the industry’s approval to survive, doesn’t mean that model is appropriate for the user who simply wants to remix to demonstrate skill, or his/her love or disdain of the original!

This is a very clear extension of James Boyle (The Public Domain) and Lawrence Lessig’s (Free Culture) argument that culture belongs to everyone, that it is public, and that no one can make anything that is wholly original. As Henry Jenkins argued quite a long time ago, we all make culture from existing (often mainstream and corporate) culture.

So make remakes and prosper! If YouTube sends you a takedown notice, call me.

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"

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THESIS (for those who care):

For a genre most recognizable by the antics of Weird Al Yankovic, who inaugurated the form over twenty-five years ago soon after MTV inaugurated the music video, the moderate popularity of music video remakes on YouTube marks a hallmark in the evolution of several historical trajectories, including that of music video itself, the increasingly public nature of fandom, the desire for fame among young people raised on the Internet (“millennials”), the power of digital technology to democratize cultural production, the growing cultural power of remixing, sampling and mash-ups, and the persistence, perhaps the evolution, of postmodern aesthetics. In all, these cultural artifacts on YouTube fundamentally question cultural ownership at a time when digital technology is forcing corporations and legal institutions to continually rethink copyright, fair use and how to ensure the progress of the sciences and the arts, a Constitutional imperative, while honoring rich cultural histories and modes of production of users. All of these currents run through the genre of music video remakes, marking them as a historically significant development in media history.

This paper proposes answers to the dilemma of cultural ownership in the digital age – copyright – through a theoretical and historical lens. First I will place the remakes in the context of music video history and then differentiate them from forms of production that have arisen since, including remixing, sampling and mash-ups. I will then discuss the cultural significance of music video remakes, i.e. what they say about this contemporary moment. Next I will discuss why individuals engage in such activities and offer a way to categorize their videos. In compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube takes down videos accused of violating copyright, so I will proceed by discussing some of the consequences of this policy on the remakes. Finally I will attempt a fair use argument using the examples of Britney Houston’s “Lipgloss” and a few others as a way incorporate the history and meanings of this form into actionable policy and practice; I argue that nearly all music video remakes inherently transform their source material by remaking and reimagining the corporate image, providing a legal justification for this form of media production predicated on pastiche, sharing and multiple interpretations.

Once again, full paper here.

FIRST ENCOUNTER: Bakhtin and the Carnivalesque April 25, 2008

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So last night after an exhausting day — 4 hours of class, a presentation, preparing to teach today, starting a paper on realism — I came home in the mood for reading. I selected a random essay in the Cultural Theory and Popular Culture reader, and I’m so glad I did! Here is my take on my first reading of Mikhail Bakhtin’s “Carnival and the Carnivalesque:”

My favorite quote comes early, it’s what woke me up last night:

“Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectactors. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act. Carnival is not contemplated, and, strictly speaking, not even performed; its participants live in it, they live by its laws as long as those laws are in effect; that is, they live a carnivalesque life.”

Bakhtin goes on to discuss how the carnival — primarily a Renaissance phenomenon — opened up a space where social distinctions become blurred, hierarchies suspended, free contact between people became possible, and parody allowed for open critique, “an entire system of crooked mirrors elongating, diminishing, distorting in various directions and to various degrees.”

There’s a lot more there, but I want to focus on these concepts. I know there is tendency to take Bakhtin and run with him in all sorts of direction, but I cannot help but think of parallels to the current new media environment — and perhaps a large part of contemporary youth subculture.

Let me break it down.

There’s been this fantasy in new media studies that the Internet collapses boundaries and distinctions. We can think of the now infamous 1997 MCI commercial made famous by Lisa Nakamura: “there is no race.” “there is no gender” “there are no disabilities” online. It seems foolish now, but perhaps we can salvage the thrust behind the campaign.

I’m studying the performance of camp on YouTube right now, and, despite the prevalence of homophobia, one of the interesting things I notice is the amount of “normalcy” the performers confer to their vlogging. On YouTube, they just “are.” (“I’m just being me,” I hear often.) There is a sense of marginality, but it’s usually discussed as if it’s something that only gives the performers more agency, not less.

There are so many “weird” people on YouTube that hierarchical distinctions from the “real world” matter a bit less. It isn’t MCI’s utopia (or Cisco’s “Human Network” or the Washington Post’s “OnBeing”) but it’s this sense of finding a place for oneself in democracy’s individualist, neoliberal framework, in ways that begin to transform the definitions — individual, citizen, male, female — themselves.

Bakhtin, a favorite of postmodernists, talked a bit of “disruption” in the carnival. But perhaps we can see the new media carnival not as “disruptive” per se, but progressive and inclusive instead. A colleague of mine, C. Riley Snorton, talks about the “radical politics of hope” (before Obama, mind you), and while he’s never explained this to me in detail, I suspect this is somehow related. In other words, rather than lament the system, decry “power,” people online are finding ways of articulating their own kind of power, in ways that seek to remake the “system” from within, in ways that blur the lines between performers (agents) and spectators (subjects). (Think: can there be anything more neoliberal than YouTube?)

Perhaps I’ll write more on this later. This was just my stream-of-consciousness thoughts on my first reading of Bakhtin.