Book review

Fanvids: Television, women, and home media re-use, by E. Charlotte Stevens

Lauren Watson

University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

[0.1] Keywords—AMV, Fan labor, Gender, Historiography, Participation, Vidding

Watson, Lauren. 2022. Fanvids: Television, Women, and Home Media Re-use, by E. Charlotte Stevens [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38. https://doi/org/10.3983/twc.2022.2231.

E. Charlotte Stevens, Fanvids: Television, women, and home media re-use. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020, hardcover, €113 (278p), ISBN 978-9462985865.

[1] E. Charlotte Stevens's Fanvids: Television, Women, and Home Media Re-Use (2020) presents a welcome and overdue long-form analysis of the subcultural yet widely popular practice of fan vidding. Fan vidding, or vidding, pertains to remixing and recontextualizing live-action, animated, or illustrative footage in a video editing program. Fan vids are engaged in a constant state of change relative to available technology and source footage, branching out over time into different technical methods, editing styles, genres, and varieties of source footage. Thus, scholastic research of fan videos has tended to be relatively short-form, mostly with articles and book chapters tackling specific aspects of vidding culture, contents, audience, and distribution. Stevens's newest work, however, contributes to this complex conversation a valuable introduction to fan videos for invested scholastic newcomers, practitioners, and experienced researchers alike.

[2] Stevens's previous work has concerned the history of specific forms of contemporary mass media, with recent studies on twentieth-century television documentaries (Stevens and Wyver 2018) and online gaming communities (Stevens and Webber 2020). Fanvids: Television, Women and Home-Media Re-Use emerges from her previous works on vidding (Stevens 2017a, 2017b). A recurring approach in Stevens's work, also present in Fanvids, is researching multiple fan videos at once rather than viewing them in isolation, which enables an examination of the wider culture these artifacts represent. Stevens examines fan vids as distinct forms of subcultural art, merging historiography and audience studies to do so.

[3] Fanvids is split into six chapters, sans the inclusion and introductory sections, as well as a reference section that features an extensive list of fan videos. While the book has no illustrative graphics or screenshots, Stevens uses in-depth descriptions of the fan videos in question. Stevens begins in chapter 1 by plotting out a history of vidding's emergence, starting with the work of Kandy Fong in 1970s Star Trek (1966–1969) convention spheres. The chapter is a strong start, showing how tightly wound the historic relationship between fan vids and television broadcast/distribution methods is, as well as how this reflects vidding's relationship with gender, which remains a strong thematic undercurrent throughout the book.

[4] In chapter 2, Stevens asserts her approach to vids as not seeing them merely as an appropriation of the source footage but as both an artistic form and culture "with [their] own formal history and aesthetic strategies" (2020, 49). This approach is particularly salient given scholastic tendencies to view fan vids in the shadow of what they are remixing and reframing, giving less weight to the vids as standalone alternative art. Approaching vids as interpretations of the source text is valid, especially in the context of examining broader fan receptions to film and TV. Yet, direct analysis of the technical language and dialects of fan videos and fan vidding communities—which Stevens demonstrates here—is noticeably rarer in scholarship. Her push toward looking at fan vids as self-contained forms of art rather than a purely subcultural practice is particularly compelling, drawn from her autoethnographic approach as a vidding fan herself. Her reflection on this leads into a detailed account of her methodology for close textual analysis of vidding, which can be used as a model for future research.

[5] Chapter 3 expands Stevens's history of vidding by examining vids' "proximate forms," or media running parallel to vids that informed their emergence (e.g., found footage, music videos, and collage films, among others). As Stevens threads together the history of experimental collage/appropriative/remix films and vids as a subcultural art form, she distinguishes vids as "moving image re-use" as opposed to solely appropriation and recontextualization. This term seemingly advocates for a semantic push away from orientating the meaning of vids around how they reinterpret the footage they utilize. Stevens does not do this to erase or distance them from the original material but rather the opposite. Throughout the chapter, she advocates for their status as works to be researched in their own right, as works that inform not only fannish interpretation of media texts but also fannish consumption and interpretation methods, demographics, tastes, and inner desires.

[6] Chapter 4 builds on this merging of historiography and audience by looking at fan vids and personal home media collections in relation to archiving and memorializing past media. It highlights how fan vids displace traditional space/time barriers of media objects relative to traditional media distribution, storage, and use. For example, it was common for television series to be recorded from their original broadcasts between the 1980s and 2000s, and this evolved into users choosing to experience media whenever they desire, as seen in contemporary streaming services. We also see this in the storage of offline media files, which are the basis of fan vidding. Stevens argues that the very acts of curating, collecting, and repurposing clips push vids into having archival qualities because they are being actively used to create a critical commentary. To Stevens, this distinguishes them from collections because they are works exhibited for open viewing.

[7] On this subject of time, Stevens posits that "digital duplication" avoids leaving traces of the wear of time, as can be seen in physical (or, rather, chemical) celluloid or videotape in the context of understanding audience viewing habits. Stevens does not, however, fall into the trap of arguing that there are no traces of the passage of time in digital files. Their traces can be present in their paratextual framings, such as watermarks, poor image quality, or pirated camrips, which can reflect fan vids' illegitimate, pirated contexts. Stevens uses this to discuss fan vids' "tacky" bootleg aesthetics that produce visual dialects in fan vidding communities, allowing them to be distinguished and recognized as subcultural artworks. Stevens's excellent observations here have much potential for future research, with the ability to apply it to other case studies, such as in anime music video (AMV) communities that contain their own distinct bootleg framings and traces of the past.

[8] Stevens employs externalized memory as a theoretical framework for her archival examination of vidding. While chapter 4 doesn't focus on memory studies, it is a highlight because little scholastic work has been done on memory and vidding culture. Stevens interlaces an analysis of the fan as an active interpreter/curator with examinations of the footage itself, informing the reader about how memory derived from fannish modes of intense engagement is fundamental to understanding the vid form. She employs Alison Landsberg's (2004) prosthetic memory theory, wherein externalizing our past in objects can result in "prosthetic" memories of events we never experienced, to illustrate the externalized memory of vids. This demonstrates their potential as a resource in future studies. Looking at externalized cultural memory also gives credence to the chapter's argument of how media collections frame the fan vid and how studies of a fan vid can give insight beyond the contents of the video itself. In understanding what we remember of vidding history, we can imagine how we understand future retro fan vids in their digital archives.

[9] In chapter 5, Stevens continues her method of taking one aspect of vidding and expanding it for a wider insight into vidding spectatorship and meaning, this time examining the appeal of multifandom videos. Multifandom videos use media from multiple sources or fandoms, typically based around a central theme. Stevens argues that the thematic resonance between clips produces not only critical commentaries but spectacle and "excess." She provides three respective sections examining erotic and bodily spectacle, multimedia/franchise texts, and celebrity to explore what characterizes this excess and its value for scholarship. Multifandom vids are presented as transmedia spectacle, a pleasurable mode of viewing that can recognize and foreground parallels, provide critical arguments on franchise media, and show a curated, "historical depth" to their chosen subject choice. This chapter stands as a refreshing analysis of fan videos, moving away from trying to prove their value through their critical arguments. Stevens's analysis moves the reader into that fannish lens to understand the pleasures of recognizing clips and their meanings—even when densely packed together—derived from fans' intense engagement.

[10] Importantly, in moving away from framing videos as valuable for critical commentary, Stevens highlights not only the contents of the videos but also the methods of producing and remixing said content. She applies thorough technical analysis in her vid case studies, describing what aspects of the composition the viewer's eyes and ears are drawn to (or taken away from). This combination of drawing out the emotional spectacle of vids while acknowledging the technical methodologies the fan editor utilizes to draw it out in the first place is still novel territory. Mainstream scholarship sometimes tends to orient around the original footage the fan vid is reusing, acknowledging cuts and montaging but less so the precision involved in scene selection, parallels, and flow. Francesca Coppa (2008) once argued that fan vids allow female viewers to take control of the camera lens, and Stevens asks what vidders' methodologies are once they are in control and how this affects both the critical argument and emotional spectacle (at times these are easily intertwined). This chapter exemplifies the value of Stevens's methodology laid out in chapter 2 and the analytical merits of taking a microscale lens to these short-form works of art.

[11] In the final chapter, Stevens employs her established theoretical and methodological footing to provide an applied, close reading of Dualbunny's Battlestar Galactica Trilogy, a three-part character examination of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from the TV series Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009). The videos examine, subvert, and recontextualize Kara's narrative with respect to the three seasons she is present in Battlestar Galactica, providing a clear lens into feminist fan responses to gendered shortcomings in the show. Stevens examines her case study by looking at both gender and music, with the trilogy utilizing three P!nk songs that produce an alternative, remixed narrative for Kara. Using her close textual reading methodology, Stevens shows how vids allow female fans to produce artworks close to what they would wish to see in popular culture, reflective of themselves and their desires. As such, it provides an apt finale to Stevens's central thesis and what can be produced by looking at vids as art by demonstrating both the merits of a close textual reading and what it can reflect of both the vidding editor and audience.

[12] In the context of Anglo-American live-action vidding, the gendered lens to this argument is very well researched, but it does reflect a limitation that Stevens readily admits to in chapter 1: the use of live-action popular culture and what she terms "English-language Western popular culture." Indeed, fan videos have subcategories of AMVs, manga music videos, and game music videos (which Stevens herself desires to research in the future), to name a few. Stevens's approach is justified, as live action has the most extended history and, arguably, popularity: AMVs emerged after Kandy Fong's work and have their own distinct history relative to the more underground historic distribution of anime internationally (Milstein 2007; Roberts 2012). Yet, the gender demographics are slightly different in AMV cultures, with the prolific shounen action AMV genre having a large proportion of male editors (Witmer 2016) or, at least, a relatively masculinized lens (Close 2016). Stevens's focus on live-action vids is appropriate, especially for an introduction to the medium. However, those seeking to discuss gender in fan videos more broadly or for subcultures outside of live-action vidding may want to use this book as more of a supporting text because of that limitation.

[13] Overall, Fanvids: Television, Women, and Home Media Re-Use is a timely, critical, and foundational work to the future study of fan vidding. Its merit cannot be understated in terms of Stevens's analytical breadth, covering past and present vidding in relatively little space while similarly leaving plenty of questions for future research. Stevens's strengths are on display when she positions videos as artworks with their own cultural histories and meanings. This enables her to shift the focus onto what vids reflect of the editors and viewers through both the technical specifics of what they make and their exhibition practices, rather than focusing solely on radical changes in meaning relative to the original media source. This approach more adequately accounts for changes in vidding culture as a result of its spread through the internet over time. It allows me to recommend this book for the uninitiated scholar in particular, as it provides a greater and more updated context for fan vidding beyond discourses concerned with their relationship to the emergence of MTV culture in the 1980s (see Jenkins 1992, 237; Karpovich 2007).

[14] Despite Stevens's broad approach, I was surprised to find only small, brief references to remix culture. Stevens seems to imply that this is to attempt to move away from orienting vids around modern digital remix culture in order to explore their analog roots as well. As stated in the discussion of chapter 2, one of Stevens's central aims is to understand fan vids as art in their own right, giving their unique subcultural properties more space to breathe. While this is understandable for her analog historiography of vids, one could potentially draw upon remix culture studies in combination with Stevens's methodologies to understand the contemporary framings and distribution of fan vids. For example, in chapter 4, it would have been interesting for Stevens to have interrogated fannish editing methods (an aspect of the bootleg vidding aesthetic) as reflective of the passage of time, such as effect plug-ins no longer commonly used due to their dated look.

[15] The manipulation of footage and application of effects all comprise remix methodologies, or fans "writing" to the footage, to use Lawrence Lessig's term. Remix studies texts, such as Lessig's (2008, 2004) conception of our (digital) transition to "read/write" and "free culture" and Lev Manovich's (2005) conception of "modularity" in digital media, aid in clarifying the form of the digital networks, distribution, and pirated collaborative digital subcultures fan vids currently inhabit. By looking at fan vids as a form of art beyond solely interpretation, there is by extension great potential for researchers to examine how fan vids contain aesthetic movements of their own that transform and emerge from decade to decade. I highlight this not as a critique or absence in Stevens's work but rather to say that future studies could benefit from digital remix research particularly when exploring contemporary vidding cultures.

[16] No work on a subject as broad as fan vidding can be entirely comprehensive, especially when it touches the complications of hyper-connective internet cultures, but I reiterate that scholars can use Stevens's work as a foundation for future study. This is due to its acuity in understanding both past and present vidding forms and culture, with its thorough critical analysis of vids as artworks derived from the author's sincere autoethnographic appreciation and experience with them.


Close, Samantha. 2016. "Fannish Masculinities in Transition in Anime Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22.

Coppa, Francesca. 2008. "Women, Star Trek, and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 1.

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

Karpovich, Angelina I. 2007. "Reframing Fan Videos." In Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual, edited by Jamie Sexton, 17–28. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Landsberg, Alison. 2004. Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press.

Manovich, Lev. 2005. "Remixability and Modularity." Manovich, October–November 2005.

Milstein, Dana. 2007. "Case Study: Anime Music Videos." In Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual, edited by Jamie Sexton, 29–48. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Roberts, Ian. 2012. "Genesis of the Digital Anime Music Video Scene, 1990–2001." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

Stevens, E. Charlotte. 2017a. "Curating a Fan History of Vampires: 'What We Vid in the Shadows' at VidUKon 2016." Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance 10 (3): 263–75.

Stevens, E. Charlotte. 2017b. "On Vidding: The Home Media Archive and Vernacular Historiography." In Cult Media: Re-packaged, Re-released and Restored, edited by Jonathan Wroot and Andy Willis, 148–59. Palgrave Macmillan.

Stevens, E. Charlotte, and John Wyver. 2018. "Intermedial Relationships of Radio Features with Denis Mitchell's and Philip Donnellan's Early Television Documentaries." Media History 24 (2): 252–65.

Stevens, E. Charlotte, and Nick Webber. 2020. "History, Fandom, and Online Game Communities." In Historia Ludens: The Playing Historian, edited by Alexander von Lünen, Katherine J. Lewis, Benjamin Litherland, and Pat Cullum, 189–203. Routledge.

Witmer, Phil. 2016. "Beyond LinkinBall Z: The History of the Anime Music Video." Vice, July 13, 2016.