The Knox Student: How would you explain the concept of vidding to those who have never heard of it before?
Tisha Turk: Vidding is a kind of remix filmmaking in which people who are fans of TV shows or movies take clips from those shows or movies and combine them with music. To somebody not familiar with fandom or not used to watching vids, vids can look a lot like commercial music videos, but they’re fundamentally different: Commercial music videos exist to promote the song or its artist, whereas vids are made to comment on the show or movie that the clips are taken from — usually to celebrate, interpret, or critique it, but sometimes to completely rewrite it or to examine patterns across a bunch of different shows or movies. Vidding is mostly done by women, and it’s been around since the 1970s. People who aren’t fans, and even some fans, think of vidding as a YouTube thing, but it’s really not; YouTube dates from 2005, and vidding has been around since 1975, first as slide shows and then in the 1980s and ’90s as VHS tapes made with two VCRs.
TKS: How did you get involved with vidding and what factors led up to your desire to study the phenomenon?
TT: I got involved with vidding when one of my friends got me into the show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — this was back in the early 2000s. We spent a lot of time on the phone talking about the show, but we also started going online to see what other people had to say about the show, reading episode reviews and analyses that people were posting on their blogs. One of them posted a link to a vid — this was before streaming video, so it was a link to a download from someone’s web page. I watched the vid and thought it was pretty smart, but I hated the song they’d chosen. I thought, “Wow, I wish someone would make a thing like that set to music that I actually like,” so I went poking around to see if I could find vids set to music I liked, but I didn’t have any luck, and that was when I realized that I was going to have to make it myself. I downloaded a trial version of Adobe Premiere and started messing around with it, and pretty soon I was hooked. I was in grad school at the time, getting my PhD in English literature, so you would think I would have gotten excited about fan fiction, but I was never that interested in fic. I was working on my dissertation proposal at the time, so reading and writing were my day job; the last thing I wanted to do was more reading and writing. Plus I’ve always been a huge music fan, so combining music and interpretation — which is what my favorite vids do — seemed like the best of all possible worlds.
But it was close to ten years before I started studying vids academically. I’ll be talking about this some on Friday — how on earth does someone with a PhD in English end up writing about music videos? — but for now I’ll just say that even though I had kind of accidentally ended up with a great background for writing about fandom and transformative works, it wasn’t at all what I set out to do. What happened was that some other academics started writing about vids and vidding — I was interviewed by one of them for a thing he was writing — and when I read the results, I thought, “Dude, you are seriously missing the point.” It was just so obvious to me that this person didn’t really know very much about vids and vidding — hadn’t watched a lot of vids, hadn’t hung out with vidders, and, especially, didn’t know much about how vidders and vidwatchers talk about vids amongst themselves. So it was actually a lot like how I got into vidding: I looked at what was already out there and realized that if I wanted the conversation to change, I was going to have to help change it. There were several of us in that boat, academics who were also in fandom, who kind of looked around and looked at each other and said “Well, I guess we better roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
TKS: What do you think makes the discussion of vidding and fandom academic?
TT: Oh, I don’t think it’s necessarily academic at all. Fans talk about fandom all the time; we don’t need academics to explain vidding to us, or fic, or art, or cosplay or any of the other stuff we do. But there are a lot of reasons why scholars might be interested in fans and fandom. From a media studies perspective, fans are interesting because a lot of fans don’t just consume commercial media, they do stuff with it — sometimes things that the original creators or copyright holders didn’t anticipate or don’t approve of.
From a literary perspective, fans are the ultimate close readers, people who really care about the details of a text and can talk about it all day. From a writing studies perspective, which is mostly where I come from, fic and vidding can tell us a lot about what motivates people to create and what supports them when they’re doing it. From an anthropological perspective, fans are interesting because they form communities or affinity groups that operate in ethnographically observable ways. From an economic perspective, fans can have an enormous impact on the success of a show or movie: We’re the people who see it multiple times in the theater, who drag our friends to see it, who buy the DVDs and t-shirts and action figures. From a computer science perspective, fandom is fascinating because two of the largest female-majority open source coding projects in existence, including the Archive of Our Own, came directly out of fandom. You get the idea.
TKS: Although vidding and fandom are contemporary concepts, do you anticipate that they will remain significant in years to come?
TT: Absolutely. I mean, I should start by saying that fandom has a very long history; a lot of what’s “contemporary” about fandom is just new ways of doing very old things. People have been reacting to stories and arguing about how to interpret stories and writing their own versions of stories for as long as there have been stories. Just look at Homer, or ancient Greek dramatists: They were all about coming up with their own versions of familiar stories. There’s a great post on Tumblr about Dante’s Inferno: “If you ever feel bad about your own writing, just remember that one of the world’s most well-known works of classic literature is self-insert fanfiction where the author hangs out with his favorite poet and is guided on his journey of discovery by a Manic Pixie Dream Girl version of a woman he met twice.” If you’ve read Little Women, you might remember Jo March and her sisters creating amateur theatricals based on Dickens’s Pickwick Papers.
Fandom as we know it today exists in relationship to commercial mass culture, which is a twentieth-century development that has affected how and why and where people do fannish things. But the fannish impulse, to find a thing we like and get excited about it and share it with other people and make stuff that relates it to our own lives — that’s pretty basic human behavior, right there, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
TKS: What are you hoping to bring to Knox students that may be different from more conventional literary presenters?
TT: Well, for one thing, I’m not going to be talking all that much about literature! Or maybe a better way to put it is that I’m talking about how learning to analyze literature in very precise and academic ways turned out to be relevant to a whole bunch of texts and phenomena that aren’t usually thought of as literature. A lot of people like to make jokes about how English majors, or students in the humanities or at liberal arts colleges more generally, are totally divorced from the real world, but it turns out that the real world runs on stories — not just the stories we consume for fun, but the stories we tell ourselves and each other about our lives, our interests, our relationships, our institutions, our histories, our cultures and religions, our political and economic systems, our environment, our planet. Narratives matter. Narratives are how we figure out what we want and don’t want. Narratives are what let us imagine what it might look like if things were different. Fandom’s one piece of that puzzle, because fandom is one of the places where we practice looking at existing narratives and saying, “Yeah, but what if…?”