Over the last several years, it's become increasingly common for vidders to complain of having lost control over the distribution of their work. People's vids get "sampled" by other vidders, they get put up on YouTube, they wind up on blogs and in other public spaces. At the same time, more and more vidders and other video remixers have been going more and more public, fearlessly putting their own work out there, even working collaboratively with mainstream media creators and tech companies.
Further, there has been frustration among more academically-minded fans about the fact that our 30-year history and traditions are not widely known, and that other, male-dominated communities are taking credit for having "invented" this art form and being enshrined in various publications for their creative efforts and participatory cultures, even as our contributions are ignored or even mocked.
Tensions are increasing. The corner of the fannish vidding community where I sit has been grappling with some of the most fundamental concerns of media fandom: the need for safe spaces, the need to avoid legal reprisals, the need for pleasure, and the need for respect.
So we have a basic problem here: we simultaneously lambaste the people (both inside and outside of fandom) who are ignorant of our culture and its origins, and scramble to keep ourselves below the radar. How can we "keep it secret, keep it safe" and then expect to be known and respected for our work?
In the past week, I've had the opportunity to speak with vidders, vid fans, academics, and creators of other sorts of derivative art. I've been trying to get to the bottom of historical fannish concerns and current vidders' concerns, and to try to understand the evolving climate in which we are at work and at play.
In this post, I hope to outline the most pressing issues vidders face, and how we might benefit from wider exposure as a community. My goal is to facilitate a broad discussion of these issues, with as many people as possible joining in. I am especially hoping to hear from vidders who are outside of my normal vidding sphere. Therefore, I have allowed anonymous comments, linked to this in fan_vids and my own journal, posted a reference on the Vidder mailing list, and am hoping this gets picked up by metafandom. Please help spread the word!
Why we hide
Most vidders I know personally are afraid of being sued over intellectual property and copyright issues, and the entity they fear most is the RIAA, which has a history of targeting individuals, even those with little money or influence. Such lawsuits can devastate individuals and families, costing people their jobs and anything they might have in the way of savings.
Secondarily, some vidders face reprisals in their personal lives. Fandom, especially as we practice it, is still often seen as a weird, illegitimate, nonsensical waste of time. When you compound this with potential legal issues and the celebrations of sexuality that many women's fannish creations involve, being "out" as a vidder can result in uncomfortable situations (or worse) at work, at church, with family, and with non-fannish friends.
Finally, in the larger sense, there's the desire to be safe in a space filled with people who understand us, rather than to be ridiculed in a larger environment made of people who don't understand what we do or why we do it. Most vidders make vids for fun. They aren't interested in having to go around justifying their hobbies to people who don't value them. This is particularly galling at a time when male fannish creations and behaviors are beginning to be recognized, academically and in the wider world, as interesting and valuable contributions to culture, and male fans are forming partnerships with major media producers and getting to go pro.
You can't stop the signal.
However legitimate a vidder's fears may be, the fact is that the vids are already out there. The minute we put our vids online, we expose ourselves to the world. Admittedly there are varying degrees of this: locked posts, password-protected sites, and temporary links are some of the lengths to which vidders go in order to keep off the radar. But we can't stop people from finding and watching vids, especially since the advent of YouTube and similar sites. We can't stop people from sharing our vids without our consent or even our knowledge. We can't control the distribution of our own work in a viral medium.
We also can't control other people's attitudes. New vidders arrive on the scene every day, without any historical context or legal fears, and plunk their vids onto YouTube without a second thought. They post publicly and promote themselves enthusiastically, and why not? That's what everybody does on the Internet, from the AMV creators to machinima-makers to Brokeback Mountain parodists to political remixers. All of these works are potentially infringing, but these creators don't hide, and they are drawing attention. Lots of it. Bloggers and news sites are writing about independent media and the rise of user-generated content, and academics are writing books about fannish creations of all kinds. Almost nobody is talking about us yet, but it's only a matter of time. If we aren't there to represent our points of view, what do you think they will say about vidders?
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Given that our vids are getting out into the world, what are the advantages of continuing to try keep vidding, as a concept, underground? It's possible that some individual vidders may feel or even be safer from legal exposure. The community is likely to feel more or less the way it has always felt: small, predominantly female, and made up of people who "get it" to some degree or other. But as more and more vidders offer their work publicly, and more and more hidden vids are "discovered", vital changes to the community may be inevitable.
So what are the advantages of bringing vidding to wider audiences?
- recognition of our history and traditions, academically and socially (new vidders learn, older vidders are venerated)
- the opportunity to provide context and normalize our fannish work the way traditionally male fannish work is becoming normalized
- the potential for vidders to connect fannish work with professional work, working professionally in the entertainment industry if they want to
- more widespread appreciation and recognition of great vids and great vidders
- the potential to generate widespread support for us in any legal battles we may encounter (joining forces with other DIY video communities, representation of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, creation of legal defense funds, etc.)
- the potential for cross-pollination or even unification of disparate vidding communities and the chance to connect isolated vidders with those communities
- the chance to influence Big Media to create more of the kinds of TV shows and movies we value
- the potential to influence the wider viewing world with themes and portrayals of sexual and gender equality, homosexuality, etc.
- more feedback for everybody!
What are the disadvantages of such exposure? There would be an awkward adjustment period during which a lot of us have to do a lot of explaining, but it seems to me that this would be fairly brief and very valuable. Going public is also likely to bring more vidders into the community who may challenge our values, but is that a bad thing? Ultimately, such a move may change our communities in ways we cannot anticipate, which can of course be very frightening.
It's up to us.
In considering these pros and cons, I want to be very clear not to conflate the idea of a greater public visibility of vidding as a whole with the greater public visibility of any individual fan. If vidding itself is more widely understood and recognized, that doesn't mean that any individual vidder must expose herself. She can continue to use a pseud, continue to password-protect her work, can even take her vids offline if she chooses. It will always be possible for any individual to be "in the closet" to her family/friends/work if she chooses. Giving vids a public face simply means that others she encounters would be more likely to know what vidding is, and potentially more likely to view it positively.
We can to some degree control whether we as individuals are vidding in public. We probably can't control whether vidding as a whole goes public -- it's going, going, gone. Can we control the spin? Can we get something out of it? Can we benefit ourselves and our communities by embracing, rather than fighting, this new visibility?
What do we want? Do we just want to be left alone to have our fun, without threat of legal interference or invasions of the ignorant? Or do we want credit for our work? Do we want to be recognized, to become part of the historical archive? Do we want professional editing or filmmaking careers? Do we want to be able to influence the creative direction of the shows we watch? Do we want to be thought of as sane, creative, and valuable?
We can't stop the signal, but we do have choices to make.