On Watching Bad Video

June 10, 2009

I’ve spent a long day at an undisclosed location watching a load of bad video. As with all things tedious, cheap, people-made and yet somehow also pretentious, the hours enjoy the most unimaginable turpitude when marked by unedited real-time ramblings of the self-serious. And yet. I champion bad video across this blog, make bad video myself on many occasions, and somehow still believe my time was well spent today even as I sometimes (I hate to admit, what kind of researcher am I?!) scanned the tapes, while also secretly reading email, and picking my cuticles.

How can bad video be good for you?
I believe it might be helpful to begin to nuance this ungainly term. Here’s a quick attempt. More to come.

1) Is it bad on purpose? To what end?
2) Does it know it’s bad? Does it let you know it knows?
3) Does it not care it’s bad because it’s up to some other good?
4) Could it be good if the author had better access (to equipment, education)?
5) Where does talent fit in? Content?

8 Responses to “On Watching Bad Video”

  1. Shawn Sobers Says:

    Hi Alex. Leading on from our discussion on my blog about process & product (and progression), and linking with your thoughts on ‘bad video’ – I think there’s something to unpick about the motivation and confidence of the participant/filmmaker. A bad video might not phase a confident participant as they know it more about content, or that the video was just a tokenistic end point of a more valuable process. A less confident participant however might get their confidence dented by a bad video which has their name of the credits – thus expectation needs to be carefully managed if the filmmaking was managed by someone else. In my final year of film school I remember getting so fed up with all the wannabe Hollywood films with their close-ups and film noir lighting etc, that my graduation film was deliberatly lo-fi and resitent to Hollywood aesthetic, inspired as I was by Lars Von Trier’s Dogma95 Manifesto. (I still haven’t quite got over my allergic reaction to wannabe Hollywood short film!) 😉 S x

    • MP:me Says:

      I think your comment about community videomakers wanting and needing to make “professional” looking work, as far as their sense of confidence, is crucial, but it seems to disregard the advent of the vblog, as its own vernacular, and I don’t think amateurs are concerned when they make heart-felt “real” statements using this non-professional style. Thoughts?

  2. Shawn Sobers Says:

    Yeah please excuse my default position of relating it to community/participatory media as that is just where my head is right now. I hear you about the vlog and the amateur not being too concerned with ‘quality’ when the content is about “heartfelt real statements”, as you say. This is what I was alluding to when I said “A bad video might not phase a confident participant as they know it more about content”.

    Linking it back to communityt based work just for a moment – there is an interesting dynamic when you see adults watching “bad quality” work made by children & young people. You can see them wanting to like it, to the point that they ignore the quality like a white elephant in the room, and concentrate solely on the content – which they always love and can make convincing positive comments about afterwards. Of course I know why this happens as you don’t want to upset all the children. It does show though that good content can lead to the forgiveness of lots of other production sins. I’m a great beleiver in content first, and letting the style follow the content. The vlog is a great example of when someone has something interesting to say, the audience is willing to invest time to watch and listen to them. Different to radio, the audience still want to watch them, even when they know nothing much visually is going to happen. Bad video forever I say, but only if the content is king/queen. What do you think?

    • MP:me Says:

      Interesting…First, I think parents like the bad form too, of their children that is, because it also affirms what parents love, their children’s naivete and youth. The form is not seen through but is part of the lovely bundle of childish-expression. I’ve argued something similar for the vlog: its amateurish sensibility IS part of the entire package, a celebration of real people’s simple “truth” in opposition to corporate complexity (and beauty). We don’t see through it; it confirms what we want to believe about this package of “real” expression and sensibility. That said, when I do community-video, I work hard to engage with participants to think outside normative, corporate form (which they can only imitate, badly) and look to the expressive, creative tools of the avant-garde, which they can master with some fluency, especially if they create forms themselves. For people-made video, sure, content is queen, but it never can be expressed without the package of form, and good video engages in a self-aware project that links form and content, regardless of how “bad” the form may appear.

  3. Shawn Sobers Says:

    I love that idea about the parents embracing the ‘bad form’ as the naivete that they love in their children, and how it represents for others the “truth” in opposition to the corporate agenda. That’s what I saw and embraced in Dogma95 – the anti-corporate idealism. In the eyes of the sterile–corporate-mainstream-status quo production values, bad video is like the big bad wolf. In homage to Run DMC therefore: “He’s a big bad wolf in your neighborhood. Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good.”

    I like the approach of radical content being packaged in radical (avent-garde) form, though I guess there would be a balance needed as avent-garde form could also alienate the very audience the radical content was aimed at to empower. Though if the whole “community” was on board from the very beginning, (in a Paulo Freire prescribed way), then the new language of the avent-garde would be owned by the people themselves, and therefore not alienated by the radical form, but empowered by it as a language of resistance.

    (Alex – I’m not sure how this reply became so political by the end, but I just went with the flow. Must have been me evoking the spirit of Old Skool Hip Hop!!) 😉 x

  4. MP:me Says:

    Political is as it should be! Thanks to you for this…

    People know their “content”; as we work in communities, our specialty can be “form.” Media specialists can introduce communities to new approaches as we also together engage in analysis about content. My Media Praxis site (www.mediapraxis.org) is all about this. And, to return to our conversation about “bad” video, I have often thought of this as a radical form, but am increasingly worried that it, too has been too easily appropriated, given the speed of the copy on YouTube.


  5. […] and meaninglessness have their place(s) and their audience(s). This then links nicely to a related conversation I’ve been enjoying with British community media activist and scholar Shawn Sobers (who I met […]

  6. Shawn Sobers Says:

    Hi Alex, sorry for my delay in replying. It’s been a crazy week. Thanks for that link to your media praxis website. I’ve had a quick scan and it looks great! I’ll need more time to go through it properly as that’s a whole lot of website! 😉 Fantastic work. Great to chat to you, will be in contact in due course. S


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