On Video Writing

November 4, 2008

This is the transcript (and written form) of a “talk” I will present at the Future of Writing Conference at UC Irvine, on Friday. It begins with the video above (you need to watch it, just a minute, to begin), and links to videos across its duration. You can also watch in through my playlist on YouTube.

My gimmick, to teach the course both about and also on YouTube allowed for a brief viral moment last Fall, itself a great lesson in the workings of popularity, simplicity, and humor within on-line social networking and its many media convergences.

Needless to say our aims for the course have always been serious. In Learning from YouTube, I am interested in participating with my students in primary research about the forms and functions of this particular poster-child for web 2.0. By together engaging the site against YouTube’s primary aims of entertainment, we learn about the limits of its corporate architecture, and our own needs as new media makers and learners.

For the class, students are required to do all their coursework as either YouTube videos or comments. In the process, they are remaking academic writing for the digital classroom. In my talk today, I will introduce eight new forms of academic video writing: Public Writing, Isolated Writing, Reflexive Writing, Visual, Amateur and Control Writing, and Convergence and Censored Writing. I am not suggesting that each of these stylistics are not also used within traditional written expression, but rather, that they are modified, hybridized, and amplified in on-line academic video writing in ways that serve to demonstrate the current state of writing within web 2.0.
I will begin by naming some common forms and approaches that appear across the eight academic video writing forms that will be the focus of this talk. I have found there are three common structures for video writing: one, word-reliant (reading or writing a traditional paper on to video. Notably, this form allows for the most complex meanings and the least interesting videos). Next, probably most common, and arguably most successful for our purposes, is the illustrated summary, composed through the bullet pointing of more detailed ideas which are cut to images of YouTube as evidence. Finally, perhaps my favorite, and certainly the most creative, is the YouTube hack, where academic content is wedged into a popular YouTube vernacular form. Besides these common formats I hope you will observe the ubiquitous use of two, often understood as postmodern, devices of tone and structure—humor (most often being cynical, sarcastic, or parodic in form) and self-reflexivity. Finally, sometimes my students will pull the power play of sincerity, which, in ways YouTube, creates productive tension with the site’s expected cynacism and humor. As you may have already deduced from my academic video writing here, detailed rhetorical analysis, the bell weather of productive scholarly expression, is not the most powerful of tactics for this venue. I would characterize my own production, as word-reliant, amateurish, public, reflexive, and also an example of control and convergence video writing. I hope that by talk’s end, my own terms, tactics and practices will be clarified.

1. PUBLIC WRITING: The writing classroom ideally depends upon an intimate and “safe” gathering of carefully selected students to create a communal pedagogy. They write for the professor, and sometimes to each other, but the general public is neither their audience nor critic. Privacy and mutuality encourage the development of voice. In a YouTube classroom, where anyone and everyone can see and participate, such tried and true pedagogic structures shift. While access grows, the disciplining structures in place in a closed classroom or private paper can not be relied upon.
2. ISOLATED WRITING: Much YouTube writing, academic or not, while publicly presented, is produced in and about isolation, and in the hopes of finding community. This form of writing mirrors YouTube’s raison d’etre—wasting time—and so often results in meaningless, silly, or narcissistic ruminations on self. However, its reverse is the humble stab at sincere communication, banking upon what I call “NicheTube’s” guarantee that no one will actually find, see, or hear you in the uncharted and unruly sea of similarly unheard attempts at communication and self-expression.
3. REFLEXIVE WRITING makes YouTube its content and form, creating a dizzying hall of media mirrors where “the real” dissolves, a necessary but unmissed casualty to a more rich, and endlessly self-referential and self-fulfilling life on-line.
4. Written expression is closed down on YouTube. Its 500 character limit, and sandlot culture, produces a dumbing-down for the word nearly impossible to remedy. So, VISUAL WRITING reigns. In this highly entertaining form, meaning is lost to feeling that is buttressed by the sound of music and cut to the speed of final cut pro. Both spectacle and humor reliant, this is also the terrain of the expert (dependent upon corporate or popular media even if modified by “amateurs”). It is hard to use for academic video writing, but students try, usually through opposition.
5. AMATEUR WRITING is word reliant. It is either the stuff of real people talking into their low-end cameras about their private pleasure or pain, or regular people demonstrating their exceptional or laughable skills. It can be popular if it seems sincere, or if a spectacle of humiliation or extreme talent is at its core.
6. CONTROL WRITING works against the chaotic, undisciplined culture of YouTube and attempts to force structure, and the possibility for building complexity, onto its pages. The significance of discipline for academic work proves the rule. Without it, ideas stay vague and dispersed, there is no system for evaluation, and you can’t find things or build upon them. On YouTube it comes across as somewhat School Marmish, yes?
7. CENSORED WRITING is definitive of YouTube (usually heralded as a democratic platform) where users routinely flag content, servicing the corporation, whenever it strays from the comfortable confines of the hegemonic. To get to this video, “Blacks on YouTube final” you need to be of right age, as it is has been flagged for inappropriate (critical?) content. Blacks on YouTube  Note: The video that secured the most hits in our video writing contest, “Nailin’ Palin” (the ripped first minute of the Hustler hit), an example of COPYRIGHT WRITING can not be included in this tour because it was taken down.
8. CONVERGENCE WRITING: As Henry Jenkins points out, new media allows for writing that gains its impact by moving across platforms and building upon the power of ready-made media already encrusted with meaning (and ownership). So easy, even children can join the fun.

One Response to “On Video Writing”


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