Symposium

The two-source illusion: How vidding practices changed Jonathan McIntosh's political remix videos

Martin Leduc

Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

[0.1] Keywords—Buffy vs Edward; Culture jamming; Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck; Mashup; Remix

Leduc, Martin. 2012. "The Two-Source Illusion: How Vidding Practices Changed Jonathan McIntosh's Political Remix Videos." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0379.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In an interview with Henry Jenkins, Jonathan McIntosh named fannish vidding (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidding) as a key influence on two of his more recent video remixes: "Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM) and "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfuwNU0jsk0) (McIntosh 2010). And I think it's worth looking in more detail at precisely how these two videos intertwine vidding (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidding) practices with those of political remix video (http://www.politicalremixvideo.com/what-is-political-remix) (PRV), and to what effect.

[1.2] By combining a vidder's eye for narrative and characterization with the critical media pairings typical of PRVs, McIntosh achieves an effect that I'm describing here as a two-source illusion. He mines choice bits from the noisy barrage of commercial media and sculpts them into a pair of evocative fictive worlds that can be critically weighed against each other. This two-source illusion demonstrates for PRVs what scholars like Francesca Coppa have long noted about vids: that affective and critical relationships with mass media do not have to cancel each other out, but can in fact be leveraged in each other's favor.

2. Critical pairings

[2.1] McIntosh operates principally within the formal traditions of political remix video—a term in fact coined by McIntosh himself, but that fits into a history that long predates his work (McIntosh provides a history of PRV in this issue of Transformative Works and Cultures). Eli Horwatt (2009) has written in detail about a number of the traditions of politicized appropriation art that have come to inform today's PRVs. He traces the practice back to Soviet Union propagandists of the early 20th century, who reedited Hollywood films to transmit communist ideology. Through the Situationists of the 1960s and the culture jammers of the 1980s, Horwatt eventually reaches the performance groups Negativland and Emergency Broadcast Network (EBN), whose work in the 1990s popularized a set of remix approaches that McIntosh took up himself and that still characterize PRVs today.

[2.2] Many of Horwatt's examples share a particular formal technique that is common to PRVs: they organize their subject matter into sets of two. Horwatt's own focus is on "incendiary juxtapositions of pop-culture and the military industrial complex" (2009, 79), with examples that include EBN's 1991 mix of gulf war footage with overproduced corporate entertainment (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_KAkENkfqg), and McIntosh's 2003 juxtaposition of Kodak commercials with images of Iraqi victims of the second gulf war (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFesRfyFrrY).

[2.3] These sorts of critical pairings can involve other types of footage, creating opportunities to highlight the media's ties to forms of systemic power besides the military-industrial complex. Bryan Boyce's "Special Report" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t382xJWGwvs) skewers media fearmongering by remixing television news with the overblown horror dialogue of '50s B movies (Horwatt 2009, 79). Elisa Kreisinger confronts the patriarchy of the culture industry with a remix that mashes, in her words, "corporate medias over sexualized depiction of women with a trailer for the misogynistic horror flick, 'Captivity'" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7EfhumL4yo).

Video 1. "Special Report" by Bryan Boyce (1999).

[2.4] All of these remixes have this in common: each juxtaposes two different media sources in a way that condemns them both. Hollywood spectacle is paired with imperialism and patriarchy; hyperconsumerism is linked with wars of aggression; for-profit news reporting is implicated in sensationalist and alienating propaganda. By pairing the media representations, the remixer highlights their collusion in the project of domination, and both sources are damned as "the repressive fictions of corporate media's Magic Kingdom," as culture-jamming theorist Mark Dery put it in 1993 (11).

[2.5] These critical pairings characterized McIntosh's earlier work: 2003's "War on Terror Sports" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj1MHXBWq2A) sets the US occupation of Iraq to the audio track of a football commercial. Another 2003 video mixes George W. Bush's military aggression with a Burger King advertisement (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ic3yEfx93M) (as a voice-over narrator describes Bush as a man who "fights for something more," the remix cuts to a pair of sizzling hamburger patties). McIntosh's later remixes still feature critical juxtapositions (Buffy the Vampire Slayer paired with Twilight, Disney cartoons paired with Glenn Beck). But these remixes no longer completely condemn both their sources. Instead, they engage in a more intricate form of criticism by drawing on the formal strategies of vidding.

3. The vidder's eye

[3.1] I'd like to focus on two practices that McIntosh borrows from vidders in his later PRVs: narrative and characterization. Narrative is rare in PRVs, which often imitate montage-oriented forms like commercials, music videos, or channel surfing. All of the PRVs I mentioned above do so, except "Buffy vs Edward" and "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck." Henry Jenkins offers a useful description of how this sort of pastiche differs from vidding practices:

[3.2] If MTV is a postmodern art of pastiche that isolates images from their original context(s) and unmoors them from their previous associations, fan video is an art of quotation that anchors its images to a referent, either drawn from the fans' meta-textual understanding of the series characters and their universe…or assigned them within the construction of a new narrative. (1992, 234)

[3.3] One great recent example of such a reworked narrative is Laura Shapiro's 2010 vid "Hurricane," which Anita Sarkeesian tidily describes in a recent blog post (2011): "Hurricane combines source material from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and the cult hit Farscape, to create an alternative universe in which Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace and Aeryn Sun, both fighter pilots on their respective shows, meet in an intergalactic bar" (video 2). If you watch this vid, notice how its two characters are made to interact with each other by means of carefully edited cutaways. This is one of the techniques I'm referring to when I talk about a vidder's deployment of characterization.

Video 2. "Hurricane," by Laura Shapiro (2010).

[3.4] By characterization, I mean that salient realist concept that still fuels so much prose fiction, poetry, cinema, and other art: aesthetic conventions that relate "people's attitudes and actions to the customs and climate from which they spring" (Gardner 1991, 47).

[3.5] Characterization in vids often requires the vidder to mine countless hours of footage in order to isolate brief moments of emotion or interaction that can then be hacked to either celebrate or modify a favorite character (Coppa 2008). Two popular vids by Killa and T. Jonesy offer a good indication of the extent to which characters can be hacked through the practice of fannish remix. Working with the same characters—Kirk and Spock—Killa and T. Jonesy have produced both "When I'm 64" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDyguTDEkyw), a disarmingly sweet and goofy portrait of the two characters' long-standing love, and the widely discussed "Closer" (http://www.blip.tv/file/2289542), described by the Organization for Transformative Works as "a Star Trek vid that eroticizes violent encounters between the characters Kirk and Spock…It is a disquieting vid for many fans, but it is meant to be" (OTW, n.d.).

[3.6] Characterization, especially that which portrays characters with the kind of sympathy we see in vidding, is also rare in PRVs, perhaps because of the genre's descent from traditions of appropriation (like culture jamming) that take an antagonistic stance toward their source material. Indeed, when McIntosh (2010) himself mentions that, unlike vidders, political remixers "often have a relationship of ridicule or animosity to their source," he touches on a tension between fans and culture jammers that has come up before.

[3.7] In a response to Mark Dery's 1993 article on culture jamming, Jenkins (n.d.) offers one description of how their attitudes toward the media have distinguished fans from jammers:

[3.8] Unlike the other jammers he discusses, however, fans do not see television content as "ugly, dull and boring" or necessarily see themselves as acting in opposition to dominant media institutions. Fans would strongly disagree with Mark Crispin Miller, who Dery quotes sympathetically as explaining, "TV has no spontaneous defenders, because there is almost nothing in it to defend."

[3.9] But perhaps Jenkins has drawn the line a little too thickly between jammers and fans. Why can't we preserve the project of disrupting TV's injustices while keeping the parts of it that we love, even if Dery's article offers little help with doing so? In her discussion of several of the women who pioneered vidding practices, Francesca Coppa reminds us that visceral affect and critical analysis not only can coexist, but can work together in tandem: "While vidders make an infinite variety of arguments about the television shows and films they love—theorizing about characters, fleshing out relationships, emphasizing homoerotics, picking apart nuances of plot and theme—these arguments frequently articulate alternative perspectives, particularly in terms of gender and sexuality" (2008, ¶5.1). It is this sort of interplay between affect and criticism that we see in "Buffy vs Edward" and "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck."

4. The two-source illusion

[4.1] Immersed in the traditions of PRV, McIntosh has only been able to borrow from vidding in very broad terms. Coppa (2010) has named poetry as the artistic form that best resembles vidding's narrative style—vids navigate the tensions and connections between lyrics, images, and shared fandoms to engage in a range of meaning making that covers both the narrative and the lyrical. In "Buffy vs Edward" and "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck," McIntosh employs a comparatively prosaic means of building his narrative: the closest structural equivalent for both remixes is the narrative short film, complete with a three-act plot that reaches a climax. McIntosh is not the only remixer to take a "short-filmish" approach to his PRVs (see, for example, Elisa Kreisinger's Queer Carrie series) (http://elisakreisinger.wordpress.com/projects/queercarrieproject), but the remixes do deviate from the typically montage-oriented formats of many PRVs.

[4.2] "Buffy vs Edward" lifts the character Edward Cullen out of his role as the lead vampire in the Twilight films and drops him into the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Edward targets the show's title character, Buffy Summers, as a potential love interest, using the same brand of domineering courtship tactics that work so well for him within the Twilight franchise. While a vid (http://fanlore.org/wiki/Vid) might build such an alternative narrative by selecting a new song for the music track and using its lyrics to comment on the remixed video footage (Coppa 2008), McIntosh's "Buffy vs Edward" relies mainly on edits to the sources' dialogue. Through various manipulations of the audio and video of his sources, McIntosh builds new scenes where Buffy and Edward speak directly to each other and respond to each other's actions.

[4.3] Within this remixed narrative, Buffy consistently shuts Edward down, and as his harassment escalates, the consequences he suffers get more harsh. The narrative increasingly unveils and condemns the sexism that is celebrated without question within the commercial novels and films of the Twilight franchise, and McIntosh further leverages his criticism by hacking his characters so that Edward's behavior receives the scorn it deserves.

[4.4] By hacking together selected bits of footage from Twilight, the first film of the series, McIntosh changes Edward Cullen from a smoldering, sparkly antihero into a self-obsessed stalker who's prone to throwing tantrums. Buffy Summers reacts to him with disdain and dwindling patience, assertively rebuking his every self-indulgence. McIntosh sculpts these performances out of countless media fragments, which include not only suitable clips of dialogue, but also brief clips of rolled eyes, glares, furrowed brows, and other reaction shots. This method recalls the same labor-intensive studies that many fannish vidders make of their own favorite characters (Jenkins 1992, 228). In fact, McIntosh (2009) turned to fan-written transcripts to help him find some of the clips he needed. Within the remix, we're encouraged to cheer Buffy on as she deftly repels Edward's bullshit, and this sympathetic portrayal leverages McIntosh's critique of the Twilight franchise. As McIntosh (2009) puts it, "the audience is not supposed to go 'Oh, see how TV is stupid?' They're supposed to go 'Oh, see how Buffy was awesome!'"

[4.5] But in trying to remix a limited palette of extant footage into a 6-minute short film that prioritizes narrative and character, McIntosh does encounter certain obstacles. In filmmaking terms, these obstacles could be described as continuity errors: unexplained changes in wardrobe, hairstyles, lighting, and so on. It is here that the "critical pairing" conventions of PRV can provide an organizing principle for all the disparate pieces of video.

[4.6] As I mentioned above, "Buffy vs Edward" employs the familiar PRV technique of juxtaposing two different media texts. From the straightforward dualism of the title to the contrasting color schemes of each character's footage (orange hues for Buffy, blue ones for Edward), the remix repeatedly prompts us to compare one source to the other.

[4.7] But it is, of course, an illusion that McIntosh is only mixing two sources. In addition to using footage from Twilight, "Buffy vs Edward" includes footage from 36 different episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a bit of a Harry Potter movie. Rigorously interweaving PRV and vidding strategies, McIntosh takes countless disjointed fragments of footage and gathers them into two separate and cohesive piles. Weighing these two constructions against each other offers us new ways to analyze the characters, tropes, and politics of the original sources.

[4.8] "Buffy vs Edward" has been discussed in relation to the vidding subgenre of constructed reality (http://fanlore.org/wiki/Constructed_reality)—vids that edit footage to create a new fictional reality by tweaking locations and characters, or changing plot details, or blending multiple fandoms, or remixing in some other way. But perhaps McIntosh's remix can be better understood as a constructed pair of realities that build the footage into a pair of cohesive fictive worlds that can be compared and contrasted. While vids like Shapiro's "Hurricane" make meaning by expertly blending disparate footage into a single alternate universe, "Buffy vs Edward" repeatedly signals its juxtaposition of two separate universes.

[4.9] The two-source illusion we find in "Buffy vs Edward" recalls vidding's frequently "complex interrelation between love and critique, aesthetic distance and affect" (Busse 2010). The remix's PRV-style critical pairing gives us a sense of cohesion firm enough for us to believe in the hacked performances of the narrative, and the fact that it is structured like a short film intensifies its criticism. Affect is deployed in the service of analysis, while analytical constructions help us generate affect. And while this intermingling is quite robust in "Buffy vs Edward," it becomes even more so with "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck."

[4.10] The 8-minute "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck" remix is more technically ambitious than its predecessor, combining clips from over 50 Disney films with countless Glenn Beck audio snippets. It also employs a firmer method of delineating each side of its critical pairing: all the remix's visuals are from Disney, while Glenn Beck intrudes on Donald's world only by means of audio. Most noteworthy, however, is the increased complexity with which the two media texts interact in a shifting relationship of sympathy and criticism.

[4.11] Again following the model of narrative short film, McIntosh casts Donald Duck as an anger-prone, laid-off worker who falls for the paranoid racism of media personality and Tea Party hero Glenn Beck. The remix gives a sympathetic account of the kind of socioeconomic turmoil that can make Beck's poison seem palatable.

[4.12] To a certain extent, the characterization in this remix operates similarly to that of "Buffy vs Edward"—our sympathy for Donald functions to undercut Glenn Beck's phony populism. What is different is that despite being the remix's protagonist, Donald is not spared criticism when he deserves it. This development can be attributed more or less directly to McIntosh's further exchanges with vidding after he completed "Buffy vs Edward." That remix prompted some interesting discussions within fan communities, which included feedback from fan scholar Kristina Busse (2010): "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." Busse points out that love of the source material is a crucial component of vidding, but she adds that many vidders reach "beyond [that love] and analyze, interpret, and criticize" their "fannish objects."

[4.13] McIntosh (2010) himself has recently agreed that vidding's long-standing interchanges between love and critique offer a subtle way of engaging with the problematic sources of different fandoms, and now we see this principle at play in his characterization of Donald. If Buffy escapes criticism in McIntosh's remix, Donald Duck certainly does not.

[4.14] While Donald's economic frustration is portrayed sympathetically, no sympathy is extended to his racist reaction to Glenn Beck's rhetoric. As Beck's hateful monologues reach a fever pitch, Donald's resulting paranoia is illustrated with some of Disney's most shameful portrayals of racist stereotypes.

[4.15] By shifting in this way between sympathy and criticism, McIntosh's critique takes on more significance. The popular appeal of Disney's iconic artwork and characters contrasts with Glenn Beck's cynical populist facade. And when we see Disney's racist visuals working in concert with Beck's rants, both sources are implicated in the same system of white privilege. This remix goes beyond merely targeting Glenn Beck, focusing instead on his role within broader systems of domination. The remix acknowledges the legitimate grievances of Tea Party sympathizers (Rothschild 2010) while condemning the movement's white supremacist politics (Wise 2010). It paints a detailed picture of the media's role in turning social and economic devastation to oppressive purposes.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Coppa points out that vidders have long been comfortable with combining affect and analysis: "Most fan works seek to unite the analytical mind and the desiring body in order to create a total female subjectivity" (2008, ¶2.19). By adapting the vidder's analytical and affective eye for narrative and characterization, McIntosh has built on the critical pairings typical of PRVs, expanding them into pairs of pop culture worlds that can be compared and contrasted. This interplay between celebratory and oppositional aesthetics reminds us that there are some priorities shared between those remixers who aim to disrupt the mass media and those who actively engage with that same media within a community of fans: each of these practices emerges from the impulse to draw from the media that pervades our lives and turn it to suit our own purposes.

[5.2] As the cross-pollination between different remixing traditions continues and the resulting aesthetic resources grow more robust, we may find that remix can offer a means not only of responding to the commercial media industry, but of replacing it.

5. Works cited

Busse, Kristina. 2010. "Affective Aesthetics." TWC Symposium, November 23. http://symposium.transformativeworks.org/2010/11/affective-aesthetics/.

Coppa, Francesca. 2008. "Women, Star Trek, and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 1. doi:10.3983/twc.2008.0044.

Coppa, Francesca. 2010. "DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part One)." Confessions of an Aca-Fan, November 24. http://henryjenkins.org/2010/11/diy_media_2010_fan_vids.html.

Dery, Mark. 1993. "Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs." Open Magazine Pamphlet Series 25. http://markdery.com/?page_id=154.

Gardner, John. 1991. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York: Vintage.

Horwatt, Eli. 2009. "A Taxonomy of Digital Video Remixing: Contemporary Found Footage Practice on the Internet." In Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation, edited by Iain Robert Smith, 76–91. A Scope e-book, published by Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies. http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/cultborr/Cultural_Borrowings_Final.pdf.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry. n.d. "Interactive Audiences? The 'Collective Intelligence' of Media Fans." http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/collective%20intelligence.html.

McIntosh, Jonathan. 2009. "Total Recut Interviews Jonathan McIntosh about Buffy vs Edward." Total Recut, December 24. http://www.totalrecut.com/permalink.php?perma_id=265.

McIntosh, Jonathan. 2010. "DIY Video 2010: Political Remix (Part Three)." Interview by Henry Jenkins. Confessions of an Aca-Fan, November 17. http://henryjenkins.org/2010/11/diy_video_2010_political_remix_1.html.

Organization for Transformative Works [OTW]. n.d. "Test Suite of Fair Use Vids." http://transformativeworks.org/projects/vidtestsuite.

Rothschild, Matthew. 2010. "Chomsky's Nightmare: Is Fascism Coming to America?" Progressive 74 (6): 14–21. http://www.progressive.org/rothschild0610.html.

Sarkeesian, Anita. 2011. "Hurricane: A Femslash Vid." Political Remix Video, May 11. http://www.politicalremixvideo.com/2011/05/11/hurricane-a-femslash-vid/.

Wise, Tim. 2010. "New Report on Tea Party Movement: Racist, Christian Supremacist Ties Documented." October 20. http://www.timwise.org/2010/10/new-report-on-tea-party-movement-racist-christian-supremacist-ties-documented/.



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