Multimedia

Fred rant

Alexandra Juhasz

Pitzer College, Claremont, California, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Antifan; Fan; Parody; Youth media; YouTube

Juhasz, Alexandra. 2012. "Fred Rant." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0295.

1. Introduction

[1.1] I was introduced to Fred (http://www.youtube.com/show?p=VUGSB_LmlNA) in 2008 when I was asked to write a commentary about his wildly successful video oeuvre for Teacher's College Record (http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=15367), "the voice of scholarship in education." As a stately YouTube expert, a verifiable adult, and a scholar, it seemed my duty to interpret for confused educators this teen performer's insanely popular video performance as a lying, screeching 6-year-old (he is one of the most subscribed YouTubers in the site's short history). I would be a reasoned voice of scholarship in the face of his juvenile squeals. I humbly accepted the challenge. After all, our work as media scholars is to give clarity, reason, and structure to the often unruly objects we study, to make meaning in the wilds of popular culture.

[1.2] As I continued to study Fred, I looked outward to the fan videos of his huge body of followers—kids like him—in hopes that they could better instruct me about what still seemed like the questionable value of his work. In what was to become just one eerie and reflexive parallel in this noisy fun house of a project, I found that his fans were also attempting to make meaning of his often nonsensical videos, and that their work, mirroring his, was mostly pointless and absurd (and still shrill). Therefore, so was mine, even though I had seriously accepted the charge to be a voice of reasoned, seasoned scholarship in education. Given my training, why did I find myself so often stumped (and repulsed, bored, or enervated) in my interpretive work? What were these speedy, screeching children saying?

[1.3] A common practice within fan studies, particularly the brand that celebrates the utopia of participatory culture, seems to be to coddle and celebrate the work of nascent artists and citizens, but after watching hundreds of Fred fans' videos and tens of Fred's, I found that this huge body of work rarely exhibits anything like empowering possibilities. Sure, I could stretch my interpretive chops to find them, but why do so, given that failures, meanness, and poor imitation are the most common, and popular, forms for these newly minted participants, our sacrosanct children? Why honor cruelty? Why commemorate the paltry?

[1.4] I am aware that my tone is also shrill, and I will end (or begin) by explaining why. First, biting (or better yet, failed) nastiness is the lingua franca of the videos I consider here. To discuss Fred's fans on their terms is to succumb to a logic of being mean to your friends as a form of supplication. Fred is surprisingly sweet in comparison. But more importantly, I think it is necessary to look to the common practices of quotidian YouTube culture (and its fans, and its students of fans) and try to name how this culture is failing us, to learn from the failures of children and scholars (starting with my own).

[1.5] I came to YouTube as an advocate, practitioner, and scholar of activist media. People like me have long believed that when regular people were afforded access to the production and dissemination of media, there would be a revolution. How wrong we were! Like many adherents of fan studies, I was drawn to the valuable and enabling culture made by people outside of dominant systems of power. My academic work was often conducted in the guise of interpreter and advocate: naming, promoting, and sharing the alternative practices of outsiders. But here I am compelled to do something different; to speak shrilly and thus harshly to the new forms of people-made media that I currently find, as well as to my own enduring needs and values. Citizens need good cops and bad cops, and kids develop best in relation to mothering across the loving spectrum.

2. YouTour

[2.1] This piece is written into the same architecture as my video book, Learning from YouTube, recently published by MIT Press (http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=12596). You can enter the interface below, then click on the red "Continue Fred Rant for TWC" link on the bottom left of your screen to take this special YouTour. Make sure to pull down the Origins and Context (http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/learningfromyoutube/texteo.php?composite=217) and See Also menus provided. There you will find more background on Fred, his videos and his fans', and other approaches to this body of work.

[2.2] I recently (and with much time and labor) developed this agile, multimodal writing platform for online media studies with the team at Vectors (http://www.vectorsjournal.org/) and with Craig Dietrich (http://www.craigdietrich.com/) as collaborator. When I was asked to contribute to TWC's special issue on fan remix, I was pained to imagine not moving quickly, efficiently, even speedily between text and video, fans' voices and mine, YouTube and academia in this extension of my YouTube studies. Furthermore, an advantage of the video book is that it could expand to encompass new (and related) projects, and that any new writing could link to what was already nestled happily online.

[2.3] I thank TWC's editors for allowing me to continue my experiments in YouTube writing, and I await readers' responses (http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/learningfromyoutube/texteo.php?composite=247). You may respond in the comments here or in the form of your own texteos within the video book; simply make use of the Voice pull-down menu to write your feedback (http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/learningfromyoutube/texteo.php?composite=248).



Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Contact the Editor with questions.