Multimedia

Queer video remix and LGBTQ online communities

Elisa Kreisinger

New York, New York, United States

[0.1] Abstract—A curated selection of remix videos that edit pop culture texts and recut them into new works that explore themes of gender and sexual representation, or create new LGBTQ narratives from the original source material.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan video; Homoeroticism; Sexuality; Transformation

Kreisinger, Elisa. 2012. "Queer Video Remix and LGBTQ Online Communities." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0395.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Appropriation has always played a key role in the survival of queer communities and nowhere is this more prevalent than in online spaces. New media tools and technologies enable creators to deconstruct appropriated pop culture texts and experiment directly with mainstream images of gender and sexuality, recreating more diverse and affirming narratives of representation. These once underground experiments have now spread throughout the Web and have the to power to radically change the way we think of and picture sexual identity. As queer remix works find more mainstream audiences, however, they are increasingly vulnerable to incomplete readings, uninformed by the discursive community from which they arise. Additionally, as the entertainment industry begins to add queer characters to mainstream texts, the available subtext that remix works depend on is threatened.

[1.2] Video remix is a DIY form of grassroots media production wherein creators appropriate mass media texts, reediting them to form new pieces of media intended for public viewing on video sharing sites like YouTube. It should be noted that the remix process itself can be considered a queer act. If queer act is defined as any act that challenges, questions, or provokes the normal, the acceptable, and the dominant, then remixes' required rejection of the dominant and acceptable notions of copyright challenges the author/reader and owner/user binaries on which these notions are based. Remix demands that producers physically deconstruct copyright images, identities, and narratives to create new and transformative works, displacing and thus queering the binaries on which copyright, ownership, and authorship are based.

[1.3] For my purposes here, queer video remix is defined as a reediting of recognizable popular culture texts, without the permission of the copyright holder, to comment on, critique, or deconstruct images of heteronormativity or to expand on an existing, implied, or desired homoerotic subtext. Because of its transformative and critical nature, the appropriation of copyrighted source material in queer video remix falls under fair use.

[1.4] Remixing requires the use of pop culture clips both in and out of their original context, a dynamic that sometimes occurs simultaneously, depending on the message. As queer remixes find more mainstream audiences, this dynamic often alters their reception and interpretation, making them increasingly vulnerable to misuse or misreadings, uninformed by the discursive community from which they originally arose. For example, the profusion of recut trailers for the popular film Brokeback Mountain (2005) quickly brought a variety of freshly queered pop culture couples to our inboxes. Because of this remix meme, wider audiences became familiar with the rearticulation of identity and the reframing of sexuality through subtextual readings. However, these remixed relationships weren't all positive representations. Many of the parodic videos were posted and shared in male-dominated spaces such as YouTube where queerness is a perceived threat to masculinity, male privilege, and heteronormativity. As a result, many of the virally popular Brokeback remix trailers, such as "Brokeback to the Future" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uwuLxrv8jY), encouraged us to laugh at the oddball pairings of men, pushing gayness further into the realm of Other while simultaneously reinforcing heternormativity—not exactly a queer-positive message.

[1.5] The rewriting of sexuality seen today in online video emerges from a history of struggles over queer representation in Hollywood. Allusions, signs, and symbols of gayness once read between the lines of code-era movies were later reappropriated by underground filmmaking communities. They were then recycled again in mainstream movies and television shows, where they are still kept alive in the self-conscious subtext of shows like Rizzoli & Isles (2010–11) and Supernatural (2005–present), presumably to appeal to explicitly lesbian and queer audiences.

[1.6] For content creators, the ever-present homoerotic subtext evident in body language, nonverbal social cues, visual conventions, and narrative entanglements between emotionally connected characters becomes valuable source material for the abundance of queer video work. However, as popular subtext shows such as Glee (2009–present) begin to give the audience what they want in terms of gay and bisexual characters, the issue of available source material arises. For example, when the close relationship between two female cheerleaders on Glee officially becomes a sexual romance, the quantity of available footage for fan appropriation greatly decreases: there's no longer a female friendship rife with subtext to work from. As subtext moves away from being a culturally marginal practice for appealing to underrepresented communities and toward being the foundation for explicitly gay or bisexual characters, access to the necessary source and inspiration required for remixing may become limited. Although queer visibility in mainstream media is a positive outcome, I question whether the lack of available source footage will result in a reduction in the number of queer variations on these texts. If history is any indication, however, Hollywood simply commodifies depictions of queerness, often creating limited and stereotyped characters. This effect will likely further encourage remixers to create broader variations and more interesting interpretations of queerness, expanding on any relevant main text—provided there is source footage to make it happen.

[1.7] I intend the curated selection of videos that follows to be representative of the queer remix community and not an exhaustive list. I include works that carry the most potential for further or more nuanced subversive readings. Many of these queer remixes require knowledge of a particular community, fandom, or pop culture text to fully appreciate their complexity, but that context is increasingly separate from the actual product as it circulates freely and publicly in video sharing space. The videos are all queer-positive appropriations of popular culture that encourage viewers to gaze through a queer lens, identify with queer(ed) characters, and be sympathetic to their struggles. Each video offers a glimpse into the complexity of its creator's situation.

2. Videos

Video 1. "Barbie and The Diamond Castle Recut" (2010), by gaberine.

[2.1] Playing guitars on their beds, saving each other from the evil forest and dancing hand in hand through the hills—this is not your usual fairy tale or your normal Barbie adventure. Most fairy tales reinforce heteronormative gender roles in girls early on, but this simple remix turns a Barbie fairy tale into a queer love story. Gaberine, a 41-year-old YouTube user, made this recut trailer with her kids by taking scenes from the 2008 Mattel movie Barbie and the Diamond Castle and recording a more subversive voice-over. Now remixed, Barbie and her current girlfriend have to save Barbie's ex-girlfriend (they are still friends!) trapped in a castle. There is no Ken; "these gay girls" only have each other.

Video 2. "Glen and Glenda" (2007), by Tom.

[2.2] Bugs Bunny spent a good portion of his career in drag; the iconic cartoon character often dressed up in women's clothes to escape compromising situations and evade his captors, and it always worked. When the narration from the cult classic film Glen or Glenda (1953) is placed over a supercut of Bugs Bunny's drag appearances, the rabbit's undercover survival strategy becomes a plea for gender and sexual tolerance.

Video 3. "It's Raining 300 Men" (2007), by suburbania.

[2.3] It's difficult to call the homoeroticism in the 2006 blockbuster fantasy action film 300 subtext. Director Zack Snyder claims that featuring shirtless, tan, and leather-clad muscle men was not intended to be homoerotic, especially because his film was targeted to straight male audiences. But similar to other action-genre films, 300 had a distinct appeal to gays, garnering media attention for its ability to cater to this bonus audience to boost sales. When paired with the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," the film's testosterone-fueled masculinity is mocked and subverted, illustrating how easily images of performative gender roles can be subverted through remix.

Video 4. "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" (released on Blip in 2009), by Laura Shapiro.

[2.4] The Beach Boys song evokes hope for the future, but the source footage in this remix reminds us how rare it is to see loving same-sex pairings in a positive light. Usually queer characters are the problem with relationships—the evil lesbian or the effeminate villain who threatens the male protagonist and his female love interest. But in Laura Shapiro's vid, we anticipate a time when gay couples can be married, happy, and even acknowledged and accepted in the media.

Video 5. "The Glass" (2008), by thingswithwings.

[2.5] Thingswithwings's nuanced interpretation of Henry Jenkins's theory of slash raises the question of desire, illustrating that the definition of slash is ongoing and evolving. In thingswithwings's theory, "slash is what happens when you take away the glass, then put it back, then take it away again, then put it back again" solely for the purpose of breaking through it again. While Jenkins was originally (http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/bonking.html) referring to the glass as a metaphor for the social barriers in traditional masculinity that prevent men from articulating emotions or expressing intimacy, thingswithwings goes one step further in this remix vid to emphasize that women also experience the glass, and that both men and women find this cycle of societal separation, longing, and desire pleasurable. Here we see this cycle in popular narratives, providing a nice alternative to the hopeful view that equal representation in media will eventually happen and demonstrating instead how queer sexuality will continually be frustratingly cyclical as characters build up and break down the glass that holds them back, perhaps because that's the way we like it.

Video 6. "Come Around: MultiFandom Slash" (2010), by mfirefly10.

[2.6] The lesbian kiss has been so overutilized to leverage ratings that it's referred to as the kiss of death, marking an obvious push for viewers and the possible demise for a TV series. This queer remix puts intimacy back into the lesbian kiss, exploring the emotional connection between two female characters, subverting any exploitative intentions.

Video 7. "Gay Romance—Until that Boy Is Mine" (2009), by jbeautifultube.

[2.7] Tucked away in the gender binary, yet ever-present, is the equivalence between female/male and maker/destroyer where the assumption is that women can (and should) be nurturing, warm, and affectionate while men destroy each other. Images of male intimacy are hard to find in mass media and popular narratives; that's one of the reasons why this compilation of "favorite male affection scenes" cut to Lady Gaga's song is so popular. Incorporating international TV series and films, this multifandom montage illustrates how we have become so inured to images of male violence and savagery that the representation of male affection and tenderness seems radical even to a queer eye. One can't help but notice, however, that despite the international source material, the majority of queer characters featured are white.

http://www.masqueweb.net/cits_page.htm

Video 8. "Circle in the Sand" (2003), by Michaela Upton.

[2.8] Remixing requires the use of pop culture clips both in and out of their original context, but when the original context is uncertain, remixing becomes a tool for metaphysically deconstructing texts. Is the creator relying on the Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001) subtext to queer the two female characters, or is she paying homage to the existing and evident romance between the two Amazon women? In this way, "Circle in the Sand" exemplifies the creator's connection to the text as well as the practice, utilizing remix as an extension of a larger online queer community. In Upton's words, "[This is] the first 'Xena and Gabrielle as lovers' music video that I produced and the first time that I realized that I wasn't merely picking a nice song and throwing a bunch of clips together. This was something that I cared about and was beginning to discover that other people did too."

Video 9. "Swingers in Love Recut" (2007), by SelfmadeMonkeys.

[2.9] Deemed one of the "sharpest male-oriented comedies of the 1990's" by TV Guide, the original 1996 Swingers movie follows five 20-something men as they cope with the mysteries of women and life in Hollywood. The queer remix subverts a male friendship between two lead characters, played by Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, into a romance of loss and longing. When the former friends and current lovers break up, Favreau is suddenly "lost in a world he [doesn't] understand"—that is, heteronormative Hollywood. He attempts to court men and comes out of the closet, but he continues to frequent straight bars to keep up appearances. Experimenting with societal expectations, Favreau "decides to be someone else"—that is, "a man" (as defined by blue captions), meaning a straight man who upholds heteronormativity. However, he soon realizes he's still in love with Vaughn.

[2.10] What makes this remix different from the thousands of other queer remixes of mainstream bromances is the sensitivity we're encouraged to have for Favreau as he tries to negotiate gender roles, masculinity, and societal expectations of men. The video successfully invites the viewer to identify with Favreau's struggle as he tries to fit into a world where heterosexuality and normative gender expression reign.


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Video 10. "One Girl Revolution" (2009) by AreFadedAway.

[2.11] "One Girl Revolution" offers a rendering of the male gaze appropriated and queered into a feminist comment on female exploitation in mainstream storylines. By removing 155 female characters from their original contexts, this remix becomes an antidote to the heroines' original conception and deployment as male fantasies. Here, the vidder has carefully recontextualized the characters, placing them one after another to celebrate the physical strength of women as subjects rather than objects.

Video 11. "Top Gun Recut" (2006) by chuck13171.

[2.12] Viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, "Top Gun Recut" is one of the most popular examples of queer video remix. As main characters Maverick and Iceman begin to fall for each other in this constructed reality, their sexual encounters and romantic relationship mock the aggressively masculine and heteronormative fraternity of fighter pilots explored in the original 1986 Hollywood hit Top Gun. Repeated phallic images are used to drive the point home: these guys want each other bad. Will the homophobic world of the military condone their desire to be together, or will it threaten their love forever?

Video 12. "I'm Your Man" (2008) by Charmax76.

[2.13] "I'm Your Man" uses 48 different visual sources, offering the viewer a full range of gendered media clichés meticulously organized and edited to successfully mock the notion of essential gender identity. Repeated images of drag, cross-dressing, and stylized of butch/femme identities are used to parody our concept of binary gender. The author packs an additional parodic punch by using the song "I'm Your Man" covered by a female performer, Patricia O'Callaghan. This queer remix celebrates the rare moments when marginalized or alternative genders and sexualities make it into pop culture while critically questioning gender representation and the resulting clichés in the mass media.



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