On “Art of the Videoblog,” by Michael Newman
May 5, 2008
I just read Zigzagger‘s (check this out, he’s the guy who taught me how to make these very links to other web sites on my blog!) article on “ze frank and the poetics of web video” published on First Monday. It’s got me thinking. Here’s his conclusion:
“The interactive form of the The Show is a product of the Internet’s affordance, as a network of users, of bringing like–minded but geographically dispersed people together in an common, online creative space. Furthermore, with grassroots media production, producers and their audiences typically share the same basic creative idioms and the same technologies, all being do–it–yourselfers. It is crucial in the case of Ze Frank and his audience that there was a minimum of aesthetic and technological distance between producer and fan, so that all could feel like participants in the same creative community. Frank might be a singular figure, a gifted performer, a rare talent, but the sportsracers added immeasurable value to The Show.
DIY media are engendering a shift in popular taste. No longer is professionalism assumed to be the norm and standard of quality. The notion that do–it–yourself amateurism can stand on equal ground with media industry professionalism signals a democratic challenge to hierarchies of aesthetic value. And at the same time that amateur media are gaining ground, so is the communitarian alternative to traditional, top–down mass media distinctions between production and reception. Communities like the one that came together around The Show comprise artists working in a vernacular format of creative expression, using amateur tools and a primitive aesthetic. Art is always the product of what Howard S. Becker calls a “network of cooperation,”  but artists and their support personnel have traditionally been seen to occupy separate spheres . Our contemporary mediascape threatens this notion of the autonomy of the solitary artist, revealing ways in which creative communities can function as increasingly egalitarian networks.”
His findings go against several of mine, in particular those about community (which I find untenable on YouTube) and the elevation of a user or DIY-aesthetic to be on par with that of corporate media (which I understand to be separate but equal). But this, in turn, raises two significant thoughts:
1) I am certainly overstating my theory, writing manifesto-like, to allow some things to be clear (the limitations of the site and the forms it fosters), while obscuring others (like the shows and communities that are forming, like Ze Frank’s and that around my course, for instance). Can one imagine a theory of YouTube that accounts for the possibilities of resistance and re-purposing while also insisting upon the strong forces of consoidation, capital, and conformity which are already encrusting around this (new) form?
2) talent: I have been dancing around the role that talent plays in all this, as does Newman, above. What does it mean to create theories of an art form around the exemplary practices of those who are capable of pushing the form forward as opposed to thinking through the form in relation to its common vernacular (what most people do with it)? And can something by truly DIY and exceptional at once, or is this really an oxymoron?
(I just got to read Chuck Kleinhans’ paper for Consoleing Passions, “Webisodic Mock Vlogs: HoShows as Commercial Entertainment New Media” which will is under revision for JUMP CUT no. 50. Theorizing the mediocre is his stated project: “I don’t think the HoShows have decisive meaning or are a significant contribution to the aesthetic, cultural, or institutional nature of screen media. This stuff is profoundly mediocre. But then, why consider it? I think it notable as precisely a moment, a passing fancy in screen technology. This lets us have some insight into those things, which are similar in one way or another, and the very fact of living in a rapidly changing “new media” present. You can step in the river, but it keeps flowing. Today technological change, institutional and regulatory change, industrial change, and audience adaptation flow together in new patterns, with changing currents and interesting eddies. So, while the specific example is not very notable, the larger trend it is a part of is worth considering.” He goes on to speak about the sit-com narrative, sex appeal, and the short form. Make sure to check it out upon publication.