- User-Penetrated Content:Fan Video in the Age of Convergence
Internet video has populated media ecology with remarkable speed and thoroughness. Although there has been video online since the late 1990s in forms such as QuickTime streaming, Flash animation, and downloadable files, YouTube's 2005 launch and the subsequent proliferation of similar sites represent a maturation of the broadband infrastructure and the embedded software required for social media. The resulting ease of posting, finding, watching, and sharing videos, along with the incorporation of Webcams and basic editing tools like Windows Movie Maker into standard computer bundles, have facilitated an eruption of user-generated media. At the same time, the digitization of mass media, including the compulsory conversion to digital television in the United States, has made commercial texts more readily available for appropriation and manipulation because these video files are now directly transferable between the devices formerly known as the TV and the computer. These conditions have contributed to the profusion and pervasiveness of various sorts of video mashups. This dynamism has in turn sparked increased interest by the media industry in harnessing some of this reservoir of creative labor for the purpose of making money (above and beyond the fact that YouTube and its ilk are ad-supported commercial enterprises), including exploiting it for promotional ventures. This encroachment provokes antagonism over the limits of participation; the legitimacy and perhaps even survival of forms of vernacular creativity may hinge on the degrees of poaching, hybridizing, and queering that processes of commodification are able to tolerate and incorporate.
Video's viral propagation is not unlimited. Its vectors are constrained by the lattice of power materialized in available technologies—not only technologies of media, but also more broadly technologies of law, commerce, and desire. As long as the infrastructure for video hosting remains prohibitively expensive, not to mention legally delicate, grassroots producers who wish to participate in the culture of streaming depend on commercial social media sites for distribution. You Tube and similar ventures face greater risks for hosting illegal content than for refusing to host content that is legal; they have every incentive to reduce these risks by complying with the industry's demands. This results in a lack of recourse for users. For example, YouTube is [End Page 125] implementing automated filtering to flag potential copyright infringement, and it cites vague violations of terms of service to unilaterally suspend content that appropriates proprietary material. Such strategies make the derivative artworks hosted there vulnerable. In opposition, policy initiatives in support of fair use, including the Center for Social Media's "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video,"1 are making crucial interventions to protect the possibilities for queering both media form and media content. The compromises and constraints that structure the relationship between the media industry and fans are thus undergoing continual negotiation.
One subcultural practice embroiled in these emerging struggles is the tradition of fan song videos, or vids—montages of visual material culled from mass media source texts and set to music. This underground art form, which has been part of media fandom since the mid-1970s, was inaugurated with the use of slide projectors, developed through VHS technology beginning in the 1980s, and transitioned into the era of digital video in the late 1990s.2 My concern is with the subsequent evolution of vidding as the boom in Internet video since the mid-2000s renders vids and vidding more accessible and visible than ever before, both inside and outside their fannish milieu. Vids are growing in number and diversity as the tools of their creation become increasingly widespread and sophisticated; they celebrate, critique, and de- or reconstruct mass media in what Anne Kustritz calls a "genre commensurate form,"3 engaging the source via its own images (along with their webs of intertextual connotation) and visual language. In many cases, they render queer dimensions of these sources visible by telling stories of same-sex romance (known as "slash") through sophisticated viewing and editing techniques. Whatever their explicit themes and narratives, they represent a queer form of reproduction that mates supposedly incompatible parents ("original" media source and "original" creativity) to spawn hybrid offspring...