Notes on ghost_lingering
's amazing "Silent Fandoms"
vid/not!vid/experimental video/thing. Some new observations, some adapted from the rants that constituted my beta notes on an earlier version of the vid. Fair warning: I've been thinking about "Silent Fandoms" since ghost_lingering
first told me her ideas back in November. I have a lot to say.
-Having just read, in the OTW's submission to the Library of Congress for extending the vidding exemption from the DMCA, an essay on fannish boundary policing in terms of what constitutes a fanvid, I'm hesitant to make any judgement on whether or not "Silent Fandoms" is a vid or not. In my estimation it probably is, but I'm inclined to defer to ghost_lingering
's not!vid name, and I think I do understand the sentiment. There are a lot of fannish expectations about what a vid looks like that this not!vid violates. At the same time, it is a submission for Festivids involving fannish video set to music, so by the clearest definition of fanvid anyone can come up with, it's hard to argue that it's not one. I don't know, so like I said, I'm inclined to defer to the vidder's wishes.
-I love that ghost_lingering
uses 4'33" in its classical mode, but also in a less passive mode. By which I mean, classically we understand 4'33" to involve the composer reflecting back the obligation of creating sound and meaning to the audience. If a critic argues that there is a musical content to 4'33", which is not something there is universal agreement about, but for those critics who believe there is, they usually point to the sounds made by the audience, by the concert hall itself, by other ambient presences. The pianist is not the one creating the music, they are creating the space in which the music happens.
This not!vid definitely uses that technique. It makes wonderful use of silences, and it makes use of other vidders' work and ideas to create a space where the viewer has to create meaning. The effect is very deliberately like reveals day, where there are hundreds of new vids, most in fandoms the viewer doesn't know, and the viewer needs to weed through them to find the ones that have meaning for them- either because they already know the fandom, or because the vid introduces them to fandoms and elements of fandoms that they find exciting. Because there is such a volume of information, and because by the nature of Festivids, different viewers will key onto different elements of that swarm of information, every viewer's experience of "Silent Fandoms" is completely their own. Of course, this is true of any vid, any piece of media that someone consumes, but it is more apparently true here because of the contextualization against 4'33", against a silence that by the absence it creates, actively encourages the viewer to add themselves into the story.
But at the same time the not!vid also, more actively, pushing specific and intentional messages and ideas about vidding and particularly about Festivids. In particular, the not!vid comments on what I've labeled the classical mode, by enlisting 4'33" into a conversation about the 'volume' of fandoms. "Silent Fandoms" isn't just meta on Festivids, it's also meta on 4'33". It's not set to 4'33", it's set to a remix of 4'33", because the kind of silence ghost_lingering
wanted was a lot more active and deliberate, a lot less aleatoric than Cage supplies. "Fandom is a conversation", one of the snippets in the not!vid says, and by intention I think "Silent Fandoms" hosts a particular conversation.
And you have a wonderful contrast: On the one hand, there is the AU Reveals Day where all the unvidded fandoms get their volumes turned up, but at the same time ghost_lingering
brings out carefully curated quotes from an array of vidders about the unique set of frustrations and satisfactions that comes from being in small fandoms. And because every viewer is creating their own version of the vid by picking out pieces that have meaning to them, it becomes really clear how Festivids is an uncommunity based not on shared love of particular content qua most fandoms, but on shared tools, that there are many miniature communities of Festividders within Festivids.
-Which leads me to what I think is one of the major themes of "Silent Fandoms", this idea of uncommunity. In the weeks between golive and reveals, hanging out in #vidding, someone pointed out that there were 160 vids, but the ten or fifteen people who were guessing on the guessing thread were only guessing about ten or fifteen vidders. The thing about Festivids is that it isn't a community. I mean, obviously, it is a community, it's a group of people who get together once a year to make vids for each other, but it's not really one unified group where everyone knows everyone. It's a bunch of smaller groups with some amount of overlap, and not everyone knows everyone, and not everyone likes everyone, and not everyone vids the same way.
Because I've met ghost_lingering
in real life, because she overlaps with my community more than a lot of other Festivids participants, I immediately recognized her through the distorting filters in that shot towards the end of the not!vid where she's eating soup. And while betaing we talked a bit about whether that compromised the anonymity of the vid. Ultimately, we concluded it didn't since only a very small handful of Festividders know what she looks like (I guess a rather larger number of Festividders do now), and most of us were already spoiled because as members of her particular Festivids subcommunity, we'd been recruited for brainstorming and betaing anyway. ghost_lingering
told me that another beta who didn't know what she looks like had asked "Is that you?" and I saw similar questions in the comments section after "Silent Fandoms" was aired. That ambiguity that for me wasn't an ambiguity highlighted how clever the identity play is in that moment.
Vidding is a visual medium, but vidders mostly communicate via text, so we don't know what most of the rest of us look like, and we don't know what most of the rest of us sound like. In that way, too, there is something Silent about our fandom. Vidders hide behind our vids, letting the art do the visual communication for us. I love that ghost_lingering
violates that taboo by becoming herself a visual element of her not!vid, much as she violates the taboo by letting audio recordings of other vidders become audio components of the 4'33" remix. As much as "Silent Fandoms" is about bringing forward the fandoms that never get attention, it is also about bringing forward the vidders themselves, who also never get attention, who stand silently behind their vids. I think that's one of the reasons why the credits, the amazingly dense credits, are a key visual element of the presentation, because the fellowship of vidders become characters in "Silent Fandoms". That's also why the not!vid traces the process of creating a Festivid. It begins with getting the assignment and then, by progressive zooms and transforms of the text of the assignment, models the process of emotional and intellectually processing the request and figuring out how to vid it. Then it moves to the video editor and the construction of the timeline (many timelines! many different vidders working in parallel on different projects!). And it concludes with the familiar FV-Poster pages where Festivids are posted and publicly available for enjoyment and dissection. This experience is the only shared experience of all Festividders, so it is naturally the narrative throughline of the vid from beginning to end.
One of my favorite moments in the vid is at 2:13, when we see the "Vids are Due in 8 Days" clip from 4:06. The viewer watching the first time cannot possibly understand its meaning, but the viewer watching Silent Fandoms for the tenth time, unpacking its meaning, knows exactly what that shot is doing there. It's injecting ghost-lingering into the not!vid, and it's also specifically inviting rewatches.
This idea of uncommunity is built fabulously by the Behind the Scenes vid/not!vid. It's 20 minutes long and nobody, not even the people who made the vidlets, knows all the fandoms. So a person flips through and their eye is caught by the things they're familiar with. I loved chaila
's comment on the vid: "Many people have smart things to say above, and I'm like I SPY BORGEN and my fav Borgen lady and her EPIC SWAGGERING." I think chaila
's response is precisely on point, that by design this not!vid will have not just different responses but radically different responses, because the people coming to a Festivid come from so many different vidding experiences.
For me, personally, the vid snippets that jumped out to me as part of my own not!festivids experience include the Batman vidlet to "Behind Blue Eyes", the Ghostwriter vidlet that was specifically for me, the Borgen vidlet to Dessa, the WarGames vidlet to "Deep Blue", the Blazing Saddles vid, the Noah's Arc Losing Our Religions hat-tip,
In my world, the Adam West Batman to "Behind Blue Eyes" is the perfect vid snippet. The quick-hit, instantly obvious joke that is narrowly tailored to the most ridiculous detail of elipie
's request is a wonderful statement of the power of Festivids to interrogate our desires as vidders. I checked on this during the beta process- there are multiple other Batman "Behind Blue Eyes" on youtube, though this is the only Adam West one... because it is utterly inappropriate for Adam West beyond the one note joke. What I love about this is that it is absolutely a not!vid. It is not sustainable as a vid, it is not tantalizing in its promise of further effort, it is just a joke that works perfectly at its length.
The Ghostwriter snippet, meanwhile, is tantalizing, because it offers a little bit of Jamal/Lenny, a little bit of visual textual play, and then before we can get anywhere with it it's over. I want more! All the Ghostwriter vids! Similarly, the Borgen vidlet is the obvious and perfect Borgen song, in a tiny taste that leaves us wanting the full version, leaves us wanting the fandom to be louder. And "Deep Blue"? I think I gave that song to sanguinity
, and I think I now want to make that full vid myself. Damn you, sanguinity
Meanwhile, the joke of ghost_lingering
making even more snippets to "Losing My Religion" will never stop making me crack up. What, "Losing Our Religions" wasn't enough? She had dug up so many extra covers of the song while making Sarah Connor Chronicles snippets that they would have been wasted if she hadn't used them on this project? I love ghost_lingering
's ambitious approach to vid exchanges, which we've seen twice now with gifts over 20 minutes in total length. I love that when she gets a crazy overambitious idea, she follows through, and she follows through magnificently even if she may regret the commitment.
-The whole idea of a 4'33" "mashup" is wonderful and terrible at the same time. I feel very strongly about the power of formal structures in art: sonnets and Madonna and Childs and James Bond movies and string quartets, patterns that artists deliberately force their work into because of the benefits of working within the structure. It works because you follow the rules imposed, and find your creativity within the restriction. And there are only limited circumstances in which you can violate the rules of the structure and still have a meaningful work of art.
I think it's hard to parse out exactly when those moments are. I remember struggling in high school with my junior English teacher teaching us Hemingway while simultaneously telling us not to write like him. As a somewhat more mature artist now, I am less frustrated by the idea that breaking the rules of a formal artistic structure is a difficult judgement call that an artist needs to make, because I have a clearer idea of the kinds of parameters you need to consider when making that decision. Violating the rules has its own artistic effect, jarring the audience and forcing them to rethink their expectations, and if you do that correctly it can be powerful, but if you do it wrong, it can destroy any beauty in the art. And the flip side is that if a rule is not clear enough in an audience's mind, breaking it has no effect other than to violate the purity of the structure and weaken the art.
4'33" is a tricky formal structure to work with because it is itself designed as a violation of the rules of the classical concert hall. A musician or group of musicians gets on stage, sets a score in front of them, and then as the audience expects them to play a piece of music, they don't play anything. That silence is itself the formal structure, but it's also a perversion of a different, more classical formal structure. And this makes the choice to 'mash up' 4'33" with sounds a perilous choice. The risk is that rather than sounding like 4'33" with sound, it will just sound like a bunch of random sounds.
I think ghost_lingering
manages to avoid this trap though, for a couple reasons. The first is that the first 21 seconds of the mashup truly are just ambient noises, and the first non-ambient noise we hear is a beep that chimes in the transition between "Vid to John Cage's 4'33" if you want" and "To a John Cage Mashup". That beep is an advertisement of the balance that is being struck between the silence and the noise of fannish activity. And it follows 21 seconds of silence that up until this point has gone unexplained. The length of Cage's piece is arbitrary. He could have made the same point with a composition called 4'32" or 4'34", or for that matter 0'21". For the first 21 seconds, ghost_lingering
draws the viewer into the world of Cage's silence, and then with a beep she jars the audience into a new formal paradigm. It's startlingly effective.
The second reason I alluded to briefly before. Even after that transition into the mashup, even after we start to hear sounds of vidders talking about Festivids and snippets of the music from not!vids weaving their way into the mix against the ambient noises of a number of different versions of 4'33", the idea of silence remains the vid's primary theme. We get quotations from other vidders about the level of silence in their fandoms. In a beautiful sequence that begins at 3:07, we get a series of windows with not!vids layered on top of each other. The vid on top moves for a few seconds, and then the cursor clicks on the upper left corner and the vid disappears, and on we move down the pile, extinguishing the life of the vids in parody of Haydn's "Farewell Symphony". And most persistently of all, we have the vid's title, "Silent Fandoms". No matter how much noise we hear in the vid once the mashup section begins at 0:21, we cannot forget the connection to Cage.
There's something brilliantly askew about vidding Festivids by using silence and non-Festividded fandoms to talk about what makes Festivids great. Your first expectation on hearing that someone is going to make a Festivid Festivid is that it'll follow the pattern of "One Night Fandoms" and be a tribute to things actually made for Festivids, especially if you're making a vid for the co-creator of "One Night Fandoms". I pointed out that this vid is literally the opposite of "One Night Fandoms", and ghost_lingering
responded by putting in some of both the music and video from "One Night Fandoms" into the vid as a hat tip to the influence. Because this vid is nothing if not absurdly self-referential.
At the same time, the silence is meaningful for precisely the reasons laid out by the vidder comments in the vid. The fandoms Festivids is for are tiny, quiet fandoms. As much as Festivids is a gift exchange, an intimate one-to-one conversation between two vidders who share a fandom, it also constitutes a bazaar where every vid is an advertisement for a fandom that doesn't get attention. The act of unifying these fandoms under the Festivids banner serves to amplify all of their sounds together, as people who would never show interest in rare fandoms cluster to watch Festivids. One motivation Festividders have in participating is to put the call of their quiet fandoms out their for others to hear. And so we get silence, but as the time and the intricacy of the not!vid builds, we also get sounds, shouts in the street. They constitute calls for attention. And yet not all calls for attention earn the same amount of attention. "Silent Fandoms" is carefully crafted, but it is full of asymmetries, videos that get more or less time or focus for no particular reason other than their place in the overall visual scheme.
-So the end result is that "Silent Fandoms" and its companion "Behind the Scenes" piece create a world of their own that looks at Festivids through a very singular lens and tells many, many stories about it, through its own act of creation. One last contrast between "Silent Fandoms" and "One Night Fandoms": Whereas "One Night Fandoms" was created as a tribute to Yuletide, it is not actually a part of Yuletide. "Silent Fandoms" is itself a Festivid, a gift from a vidder to another vidder, a testimony to the creativity of the whole community but particular a testimony to the creative gifts of ghost_lingering