Hildebrand/Juhasz on Joanie 4 Jackie
March 31, 2009
I attended some of the “Media Studies in Southern California” conference sponsored last weekend by the Cultural Studies Department at Claremont Graduate University. I was most taken by my friend and colleague, Lucas Hildebrand‘s presentation on the video chainletters of Joanie 4 Jackie, formerly Big Miss Moviola, once the project of Miranda July, and now the labor of love of students at Bard College. Lucas’ presentation was from his eagerly anticipated Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Duke University Press, 2009), where he writes on analogue video, in its many forms, including these chainletters where grrls add their small private videos to a tape and it gets mailed from home to home. While at first look these VHS chainletters seem to be a dead or dying form—given the ease, access, and cost of sharing video on the internet—I realized that what they will always have over YouTube is the actual, small community that can only be created by the painstaking and careful act of choosing to attach your work to a tape/object that already has a community built on to and within it. The VHS chainletter permits the safety of the slow in the space of a movable box.
I’ve been a fan and supporter of Miranda for a long time, but hadn’t looked at those tapes from the late 90s for quite awhile. What seemed most critical was how they anticipated YouTube (in particular the vlog): lonely rural girls using video to speak to you straight from their rooms about the oppression in their home and hometown. What I didn’t think about so much at the time was how a lot of these isolated grrls being empowered by video, were actually making their tapes (about rural isolation) while attending the progressive colleges in bigger towns or cities that supported the lo-fi, autobiographical project of Miranda July. Take my student Erica Anderson, whose tape Lucas showed, and who made her amazing, minimal, camcorder video about rural life in North Dakota while living in Southern California.
While the private stories of the girls are undoubtedly true, Joanie 4 Jackie highlights that a shared, messy, home-made aesthetic that lives across the work in the tapes, even for college coeds who could make “better,” speaks volumes as a carefully constructed formal choice. This is at once another version of the retro-futurism I’ve written about earlier in this blog in relation, for instance, to Be Kind Rewind. While also being an example of why people (women) choose “bad” video as a suitable formal register for their process and place. In all cases, a fond feeling about a manufactured authenticity and wistful ethics of community registered within VHS is at play.