I love fan works. I love the way they exhibit a love for the source text, the way they engage with it actively and often times critically, and the way they create a community of readerly writers and writerly readers in turn. And yet, whenever I move beyond the very narrow confines of the subdiscipline of fan studies, I am shocked yet again how the academy remains entrenched in outmoded value systems. After having spent all my years in grad school in the early nineties assuming that the canon debates were all but decided, the repeated assertion of high brow aesthetics, the establishment of canonical texts, and the dismissal of popular works astound me. Working on fan works, I feel like I’m fighting the debates over the values of popular culture and the arbitrariness of aesthetic evaluation again and again. The latest in a long line of these is a recent chapter in the Scope book Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation, entitled A Taxonomy of Digital Video Remixing: Contemporary Found Footage Practice on the Internet by Eli Horwatt. It smartly connects avant garde aesthetics with contemporary digital remix practices, yet when reading I felt there to be a huge gap: where is the discussion of vidding? It can’t be that vids weren’t good enough for the author, because many of the cited pieces were technically and aesthetically less sophisticated than the vids we find within fandom. And yet as I read his taxonomy of “estrangement” and “inversion” I can’t help but fear that the reason vids are absent is because they’re too subtle rather than not subtle enough. Now, of course subtlety is already a conflicted aesthetic judgment but it tends to be one most of us have been taught through secondary school and beyond: complexity and subtlety, the ability to hide thoughts and ideas so as not to jump out at viewers/readers right away but to require “work,” tend to be valued in most contemporary Western contexts. Throughout the piece, Horwatt values aesthetic choices that increase complexity, and even as they may “replicat[e] the grammar of the source material,” he values them for their criticism of the source. And it is here that my suspicion begins as to why vidding is such a prominently excluded genre in this TAXONOMY: after all, an essay that includes Jonathan McIntosh’s Buffy/Edward remix, Brokeback Mountain parody trailers, and Downfall subtitle parodies, should have a place for Killa’s Closer, Lum and Sisabet’s Women’s Work or Obsessive24’s Climbing Up the Walls. The difficulties here are manifold, however. These vids may indeed require an understanding of not only the source text but also the community in which they are created. After all, these vids engage not only with the text but with varied receptions thereof and the conversations surrounding these receptions. On that level, they may be too subtle next to the examples presented. Neither are the examples used all that clear-cut. As much as I appreciate Jonathan’s remix, Buffy vs Edward, I have discussed with him the way he appropriates one text nearly uncritically to make fun of the other; many of the Brokeback Mountain trailers are quite blatantly homophobic (as Julie Levin Russo has convincingly demonstrated); and as a German who continues to understand the original soundtrack of the clip, the Downfall subtitles just aren’t that funny to me. All of which is to say, these cultural artifacts are themselves much more complex and the move of gathering them together as if they weren’t is problematic. And I can’t help but wonder whether it’s even more than that: one of the things that all the examples share is an almost detached ironic distance to the source texts used. They are found materials with little to no emotional resonance beyond what purpose they can serve. But then that’s an argument Henry Jenkins has repeatedly made, here, for example, that parody tends to be male- and industry-preferred whereas the more emotional engagement of fanvids is often dismissed out of hand. Fans, on the other hand, however contentious our relationship to our fannish objects may be, at heart have a strong emotional affective relationship. The three fannish vid examples I cite above all share that love even as they go beyond it and analyze, interpret, and criticize (characters, show runners, and fan audiences in turn). Vidding thus is an art form that is both too subtly critical (because always inflected with fannish passion) and too polished aesthetically (because the aesthetic dimension does matter above and beyond the critical point being made) to, perhaps, fit into a quick overview of YouTube remixes. Still, as both a vibrant subculture of critical interpretive if not outright political remix culture and an sophisticated artistic subculture with its own aesthetic value system, fan vids certainly deserve to be included in any “Taxonomy of Digital Video Remixing.” Ultimately I have no idea why Eli Horwatt chose to write a chapter on remix videos without including either vidding or AMV. Beyond missing out on one of the older contemporary remix practices, he also fails to engage in the quite complex interrelation between love and critique, aesthetic distance and affect, as well as the way fans have long been trailblazing not just remixes but the ability to interrogate and criticize and culturally resist without dismissing the text and their relationship to it or ironically distancing themselves. And indeed, there is a growing scholarship that addresses not only the critical and aesthetic but also the affective components of vidding. The academy has often been accused of unrealistic attempts of objectivity in the humanities in particular but even in the sciences. After English departments in the seventies destroyed the idea of an objectively created value system that can separate great from merely mediocre and bad literature, after anthropology departments realized in the eighties that observers cannot ever remain neutral and always bring their own biases to their field research; after queer theory and gender theory and critical race studies have brought the personal into the academic in the nineties; after affect theory has established itself as a field of study since–it amazed me that vidding may indeed have been overlooked in its merging of love and inquiry, affect and analysis, celebration and criticism.

[META] Affective Aesthetics
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21 thoughts on “[META] Affective Aesthetics

  • 24/11/2010 at 12:16

    Thank you for this. I continue to be intrigued by the fact of the gender separation between certain types of fan activity; it’s not absolute, of course, but it’s real and I think it has a definite impact here. I guess it takes female scholars to uncover this, in general, though certainly awareness is growing. I’ve barely dipped into vidding, so I appreciate very much these guided tours. Thanks for the links.

    • 24/11/2010 at 15:56

      I sometimes feel like I’m beating a dead horse, bringing up the gender divide again and again–and yet with essays like the one I’m responding to, i feel like it needs to be done again. And clearly the gender divide’s not absolute–but I do think that it underlies a lot of the issues. (If you want more vidding links, there are a couple of excellent rec posts out there.)

  • 24/11/2010 at 15:17

    We may have had this conversation before, but I see interesting parallels between the place of vidding within remix studies and soap operas within TV studies – both are feminized and marginalized within more “mainstream” realms of analysis and consumption. Both operate on the affective plane and require a longer-term investment in the mode to learn to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of the form. And both prompt reactions of “why aren’t you acknowledging this form?” from insiders toward scholarship about the more mainstream forms of parody remix or primetime serials.

    What I like most about your post is that you’re not insisting that the author become a scholar of vidding, but that he acknowledge and think about the ways that vidding might (or might not) fit into his taxonomy. In my own experience writing about primetime seriality, critiques that say “you should be studying soap operas” seem to miss the necessity of carving out a realm of analysis that always excludes other examples or modes. The more productive is critique is to insist on exploring and acknowledging the boundary between similar forms (vidding/parody or soaps/primetime serials), and not claim to be studying all forms of a cultural practice when you’re really only looking at a subset, which is exactly your point here.

    Have you sent a link to this post to the author? (Based on his bibliography, I doubt he frequents OTW!) I’d be curious about his response…

    • 24/11/2010 at 16:01

      Thanks Jason. I’m glad it came across that I didn’t mean to take him to task for not studying vidding but rather for providing a seemingly comprehensive overview (the word taxonomy to me promises such an attempt) with such a glaring oversight.

      The analogy to soap operas and complex seriality is a great one–and the underlying concerns are definitely connected: i love the way you single out particular forms of affect and long term investment, because those seem to be dominant in both and the biggest hindrances to casual investigations.

      I’m hesitant to link. Or rather, maybe i’m hoping Jonathan will do so 🙂

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  • 24/11/2010 at 21:01

    As an information scientist, I admit to being more than a bit boggled at a taxonomy of remixing of found footage that leaves no space for fan vids. I mean, really?

    It’s as if he decided to leave those pesky marsupials (fan vids) out of a biological classification scheme and focus on mammals (political remixes) and reptiles (trailer remixes) because marsupials didn’t prominently inhabit his own backyard.

    I would be less bothered if his article had been titled “Towards a Taxonomy…” At least then he would be acknowledging that there might be more types of digital remixing on the Internet than those he had identified so far.

    As it is though, it just looks like he either A) didn’t bother to do a cross-discipline lit search (ouch!), or B) he didn’t think that the existence of another vast taxon out in the real world, about which many papers have been written was worth considering in his classification scheme. (Not even a footnote? Wow.) Either way, bad taxonomy, no biscuit!

    • 25/11/2010 at 02:42

      You point toward one of my pet peeves (and yours, I know : ): the cross-discipline search. Only, we’re not even in another discipline…just a tad left of center, I suppose.

      Maybe we should propose marsupials to replace the Llama at VividCon 🙂

  • 25/11/2010 at 11:52

    I’m very surprised that the article didn’t mention the fanvids as some have pointed out up there, the gender divide seems to be the cause and, as you stated the affective relationship with the text is very important. I don’t think the Downfall vids or even the Brokeback Mountain “parodies” are made by fans of either of them (though I’ve seen slash fanvids–i.e. in Merlin fandom–made Brokeback style; of course these are not parodies, but intend to bring the Brokeback theme to a different text), and I’m tempted to add they’re made by people that are not in fandom, though I know that is not necessary true.
    I like how you focus on the affective relationship with the text: whether love, hate, analysis, etc, I think that’s probably the key part of a fanwork.

    • 25/11/2010 at 13:56

      Yes, all of that 🙂

      I think it’s really easy to mock something as if one stands outside/beyond/above it. It’s much more emotionally and intellectually complicated to negotiate love and critique, to make a political statement not about a random thing that others love (because they’re mistaken? have no taste? are stupid?) but about something one is deeply invested in as well.

      It always seems like cheating to criticize a cultural text one has no connection to. It’s so much harder to line up one’s interest in the text with one’s awareness of its issues…

      • 26/11/2010 at 19:41

        Especially when to mock and to be detached and arch is cool and to be passionate and invested is to be geeky and look like a fool. Except, of course, when the object of passion is something like the NFL.

  • 06/12/2010 at 11:42

    Great plea for the role of affect in fan studies, Kristina. I wholeheartedly agree, and yes, the article seems very out of touch with previous research as far as I can tell. I would even say the article hardly relates to fan studies at all since it’s not up to date on fan communities and features little references to studies on fans/audiences. Empirically, as well as theoretically, doing more ‘home work’ could have prevented this and substantially enriched the article Ah well. At least he took Hutcheon’s book into account, a personal favourite of mine when it comes down to analyzing parodic features in fandom/media.

    • 06/12/2010 at 22:23

      Thanks, Nicolle. I’m a big Hutcheon fan myself–in fact, after having read some legal writing on “parody” defenses in transformative works, I’d like us to think more about the term and concept and be better at defining it as literary scholars (I know it when I see it just won’t cut it : ).

  • 18/12/2010 at 19:36

    Not all of the academy is entrenched against this approach, though. McIntosh’s “Buffy v. Edward” AU vid and web site article won the award for best short form scholarship from the Whedon Studies Association this past year. Or would that be the exception that proves the rule?

  • 19/12/2010 at 16:39

    Well, clearly those of us doing fan studies are not entrenched, but what I was trying to argue is that the underlying theoretical changes should have affected more than just small subsets of cultural studies and it really hasn’t! Yeah for Jonathan and the Whedon Studies association though 🙂

  • 20/12/2010 at 07:03

    I wanted to respond to this critique, first of all, by saying you’ve hit upon the major blind-spot of this article. Consider this an attempt at offering penance for my oversight and in some way, an explanation.

    Since this essay was posted on Boing Boing, over one year after it appeared in Scope and almost three years after it was written, I have become more aware of vidding itself, and its propensity towards being critical and politically engaged. Remixers like Jonathan McIntosh and Elisa Kreisinger have pointed out this oversight to me and caused some reflection on its absence. One of the commenters appropriately wrote that I should have called it “Towards a Taxonomy.” If only I could go back…

    I wrote this article in the first year of my masters (in 2007) after a conference at Nottingham University called “Cultural Borrowings” which was later turned into an e-book by the Nottingham film journal Scope. I confess, with some embarrassment now, that I had only a cursory interaction with vidding (or as I knew it then: fan video) and was not even aware of the term until around 2009. The lack of discussion was due more towards ignorance, than to (total) negligence, though more on this later.

    This article appeared in early 2009, long after it was written and was not widely circulated until very recently when Corey Doctorow posted it on Boing Boing. There is one factual error in your critique however, which has some implications for how you might evaluate the absence of a discussion of fan vids. My article did not include Jonathan’s Buffy vs Edward, which came out six months after its publication and longer after its final edit. Interestingly though, my initiation into vidding culture appeared closer to when Jonathan’s video came out.

    The videos I had seen that fit into this milieu, were usually montages of popular television shows set to emotive pop music. My immediate reaction, was admittedly unimpressed. Your incredibly important point, about the complex interaction between celebration and critique, is something I will forever incorporate into any future writing on remix/vidding. That said, the few videos I had encountered were perplexing to me—formally simplistic, acritical synopses of shows—I realize now that I had not delved deep enough. The relationship between this and my point of reference (experimental found footage film and video) was not immediately clear. Furthermore I was, as you pointed out, looking for a detournement of some kind that was not visible to me. Your point about overlooking these emotive, fannish objects which you say are often “too polished aesthetically,” has some basis in my thinking at the time. This of course, is not meant to excuse its absence in the essay. Appropriation is a highly problematic procedure to me, precisely because it sometimes acritically parrots the source material. Perhaps it was too subtle for me at the time—though I can see some of its larger dimensions now.

    I have since seen more formally sophisticated work by vidders —with the Spock/Captain Kirk Closer video being the most significant example I’ve seen thus far. A taxonomy of digital video remixing should obviously include this major facet. This blind-spot is no doubt due in part to the context I was (and still am) operating under: experimental found footage film and video art. This article is not simply interested in taxonomizing remix, but in drawing aesthetic links between avant-garde art movements (like the Soviet re-editors and Surrealist tendency towards the exquisite corpse) and remix. Vidding does not appear to have antecedents here—other than the principle of recycling extant footage. Its exclusion is again, partially ignorance, and as well, partially my critical framework overwhelming the depth of research I should have engaged in.

    • 20/12/2010 at 10:45

      I should add that it might be interesting to make an addendum to this article somewhere which explores the various forms and features of vidding styles. Does such a thing exist already? And if not, could a networked/wiki project get started?

    • 20/12/2010 at 17:13

      Thank you for being willing to have this discussion here! I defer any critique of vidding or its examination in the scholarly press to Nina and the other vidding experts around here, but this kind of dialog is exactly what this blog is for.

    • 21/12/2010 at 03:45


      thank you for reading my critique and for your gracious comments. I certainly apologize about my inclusion of Jonathan’s later vid, though I do not think it changes my argument much.

      Others have offered you references (and it hopefully becomes clear that while little has been written about it due to media fandom’s long-standing choice to remain underground, the first essay extensively discussing fanvids is nearly 20 years old!), so I’ll focus on the argument itself, because I’m still somewhat confused (even if I accept your aesthetic theoretical framework, which I hope to have argued is in itself highly problematic).

      I appreciate your drawing aesthetic connections and continuities, and it may be my own ignorance in remix video beyond AMV and vids, but much of the satirical and political remixes seem not necessarily interested in aesthetics in the way you describe it.

      I do appreciate you addressing the problematics of appropriation that may not be subversive (or may subvert things we believe in or in ways we don’t like!) and I also appreciate you addressing my focus on the complexity that affect brings into the equation. Maybe disinterest and irony go hand in hand with the aesthetic you’re foregrounding, but that again doesn’t necessarily fit with your focus on political investment.

      It’s a complex issue, and I’m very excited to see you bring “our” and “your” foci together 🙂

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