The Failures of Fred’s Fans: For Youth Media Symposium

April 14, 2010

This is some of my talk for “Sensory Communication: Expressive Culture and Youth Media” at UCSD, April, 2010.

I will also present it to my CGU Cultural Studies Graduate course, Visual Research Methods, as an example of new media scholarship on “digital storytelling” and hope they will respond with some tough questions and insights that track some of the ideas of our course (so make sure to read comments!)

This is a Fake Fred. Too many Freds. It’s violence. Chaos! The camera spins. Gravity and gravitas lost. White suburban boys in a basement Rec Room doing what they do best: bad imitations of popular culture with slow descent into a pile up; and a magic wand. Only difference is that we can see it (all 117 of us) because it was taped and put on YouTube. But why, other than for this talk on Freds’ Fan’s Videos, would I want to watch this? Sure, Hillsforyou had fun making it. But did they learn anything, grow, become artists or citizens; and what of me, what is there for me to be taught… It’s time for Fred wars! No. No. Ow. Ow. Go to black. “Watch out for the TV!” “Yeah Kyle, get the ball out of here, I mean Fred.” Pummeling. Slapping. Another attack. I’m having fun. I’m having fun. And more fun! Fun time with Fred. Stairs and screams. TV. Ping-pong table. Wall-to-wall carpet. Fake Fred is over!

My talk is about the failures of Fred’s Fans. I’m not suggesting that these particular boys are failed people, or even failed video artists, although, as we will soon see, a significant variety of this body of video is itself, self-reflexively about the failure of these very videos and/or their makers and/or Fred, but rather, that almost nothing that has been euphorically projected about the possibilities for youth produced media is visible in this huge body of youth produced video: “Fake Fred” being only the first video from this huge body of youth media that I will share with you today thereby demonstrating my negative stake in this game. I have nothing more critical to add then what they say for themselves: too many Freds. It’s violence. Chaos. Fred wars. I’m having fun. And more fun! Fake Fred is over.

Compare this to the academic fantasia about youth media. Henry Jenkins writes: “If we want to get young people to vote, we have to start earlier, changing the processes by which they are socialized into citizenship. One way that popular culture can enable a more engaged citizenry is by allowing people to play with power at a micro-level, to exert control over imaginary worlds.”  Admittedly, here and also later, I will be using Jenkins from his multi-platinum Convergence Culture as a foil, for, in fact, I do believe that much of what he admires in fan culture can be true. Thus, the question motivating this talk serves to nuance Jenkins’ findings: what might truly regular youth culture need to be as productive, enabling and empowering as that which Harry Potter fans have found or made for themselves?

I have spent too many hours in preparation for this talk looking at uncountable, vapid videos like leafzkikass’ about which I have nothing useful to say other than that, I suppose it is true that he too is playing with power at a micro-level and exerting control over an imaginary world, or that the work is so banal, I just don’t care enough to work hard on making it make sense, thus introducing the “I don’t care” modality which will enter our lexicon a little later. I can attest that there is no evidence here (or in the previous “Fake Fred”) that this fan cultural production is producing young citizens nor critical culture. What is visible to me in these childish power plays—too much fun! Chaos! Fred wars!–is only an unsatisfying this: Freds’s Fan’s Videos are a jumble of juvenile works that make fun of Fred motivated by jealousy and through an almost uniform project of ambivalence, or even nihilism, that refuses to know the differences between a host of critical binaries, in particular those of being mean and being nice, people that suck and those who have talent, the deserving and the undeserving, caring and not caring, losing and winning, stopping or even “killing” versus tolerating, and criticizing and copying.

In the talk, I detail the words Fred’s Fans give to their own videos: parodies framed by ambivalence, striving for subscribers, that suk (intentionally?), are organized by parodic? violence, are failures (intentionally?), and don’t care anyway, because Fred is Gay or at least (not) Cool (watch the video for real proof).

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins devotes a chapter to youth media literacy by way of Harry Potter. He suggests that empowering moments of media convergence happen in this fan culture because a value placed on education is part of the text they play with and because these fans participate in and give quality feedback on each other’s writing, ultimately creating an affinity space where an “educational scaffolding” can take place: meaning their ideas and interpretations build and improve through dialogue. He explains that other skills for convergence can be readily found in many fan cultures including: the pooling of ideas to create collaborative knowledge, the sharing and comparing of value systems, making connections across scattered information, the exposing of interpretations and feelings, and the circulating of all this.

My talk attempts to show that while ready circulation has been irrevocably enabled by new technologies like YouTube, without the other conditions Jenkins lists (like a value on education, the possibilities for productive feedback, a structure for the sharing of values, interpretations and feelings) what is left is the Failed Fred Videos we’ve seen and the Fred Rant with which I’ll conclude. This and any Fred Fan Video sits in a sea of juvenilia with only the self-reflexive direction and education of Fred and his fans, who are not good teachers because they are still learners, kids, or faux kids. Fred’s Fans Fail because YouTube can not be the educational or media literacy scaffolding that developing, maturing, mediamakers deserve. Freds Fans need history, theory, community, and literacy tools that include the production of an argument, an understanding of structure and style, and a commitment to something other than hating Fred. Without this, Freds’s Fan’s Videos (like most people-made product on YouTube) will remain an uninspiring, uninteresting, unproductive jumble of juvenile works that make fun of Fred motivated by jealousy and through an almost uniform project of ambivalence, or even nihilism, that refuses to know the differences between a host of critical binaries, in particular those of being mean and being nice, people that suck and those who have talent, the deserving and the undeserving, caring and not caring, losing and winning, stopping or killing and tolerating, and criticizing and copying. At least, so vinforthewim and I rant.

7 Responses to “The Failures of Fred’s Fans: For Youth Media Symposium”

  1. Erin Wafer Says:

    Like I was saying in class, these videos give me such mixed feelings. On one hand, good for these kids, saying whatever B.S. comes to mind. In many of their structured/institutionalized lives, I’m glad they have an outlet to publicize whatever kind of crap they have to say. On the other hand, they truly make me sad as well. As you mentioned, you did these kinds of things as well when you were a kid, and so did I. Were any of that ridiculousness I made to appear on YouTube now, I would be mortified and humiliated- especially if I knew they were shown to a room full of academics under the heading “The FAILURES of Fred’s Fans.”

    As you were asking, what does this mean that children can now broadcast their private play? How will they react as adults ten years down the line? In the naivete of 12-year-olds, I’m not even sure it’s fair to ask them such questions.

  2. Tom Connelly Says:

    I really enjoyed hearing your talk today on “The Failures of Fred’s Fans.” I highly agree that these videos do not have the media strengths associated with fan culture such as “Harry Potter.” There seems to be a sense of immediacy or nowness linked to these Fred videos and no thinking forward as the one kid noted in his video about Fred’s future life.

    As I mentioned in class, I was thinking of what Henry Jenkins point in his chapter on Harry Potter fandom and its relationship to school. What role does education play in terms of media literary?

    You had mentioned at the end of class about the notion of permanence associated with these videos. But these videos can be removed by the user. Erasure in the digital age is something I’ve been thinking about recently. What happens to these posts when Fred’s Fans runs it course? Is there an ethics of deletion?

  3. Ana Thorne Says:

    I can’t pretend to understand “fan culture” and how it expresses itself on YouTube in regard to this Fred fellow. The fan videos are as immature and undeveloped as their creators. I’d liked to be shocked at the violence and sexual parody. I’d like to be able to overlook the incomplete sentences filled with “like” and “you know” and that end in manic laughter. I’d like to take a post-racial stance and not notice that almost all these examples are filled with white adolescents as representative of their age group interests in the fan vid YouTube world. But considering the appearance oriented and nihilistic framework within which current popular cultural values operate, what other kinds of product and behavior can be expected of children who engage in the fan culture via YouTube. The lack of any thought or structure – not counting the obvious nihilistic tendencies – in these videos frightened me. I feared the future of these children and a future with these children … children who apparently have access to expensive technology and the freedom to record and disseminate their unedited thoughts and who do so, seemingly without grounding in any knowledge base and without adult guidance. These videos are as uncultivated and disoriented as the minds of the children from which they spring.

  4. J.F. Says:

    @Tom: videos can be removed by the user, but a user’s fan could have saved it in his or her hard drive without the prior knowledge or consent of said user. Nothing is ever permanently deleted online, and every cultural object, be it text or image or both, leaves a digital trail. And it’s precisely that erasure of “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” (where the notion of deletion is a bit inherent in that logic) that is such a site of tension/contention because now it’s “On the Internet, everyone knows you AND your dog”.

    I think about whether or not an ethics of deletion can or does exist, too. Some argue that once the public informs or alters a cultural object online, it’s owned (however one wants to define ownership) by the public. I remember how a blogger I loved to comment on deleted her site one day, taking down an entire history of our collaborative conversation with it. It was devastating because I had lots of little gems in there, and there was never any warning. So who owned that blog? She with the username and password, or me and others who made its existence worthwhile to begin with?

  5. Tom Connelly Says:

    In reference to the ethics of deletion, the Library of Congress is going to archive tweets.

  6. Thanks for sharing your talk with us and I appreciated your strong argument for developing education, standards and ethics within the current youth video culture. Where I agree that media literacy should become an integral part of our current primary education system, I disagree with slamming these kids so hard for ‘producing crap’. At what point do they just get to be kids testing out their creativity and silliness in a medium that’s so now familiar to them? No, what the fake Fred videos portrayed was not a ‘story’ in my opinion, so the definition of Digital Storytelling that Lundby gives does not apply here. Perhaps this new youth media, or the ‘who cares, it’s crap’ media is in and of itself a mediatization and should be categorized as such.

  7. Eric R. Paison Says:

    Fred… hmmm? That is the first thing that comes to mind because I have not quite decided yet what to think. The one thing I do agree with is that much of what is on YouTube is crap, but Fred, I’m not sure. His bit is very calculated, and frankly… it works! As fun as it is for many, what intrinsic value does it produce, and more importantly, what does the “crap” being produced in the Fred fan culture contribute to the betterment, not much as far as I can tell. But on the other hand, it is all a part of our twenty-first global culture, and anthropology tells us that “all” cultural artifacts have value. But Fred “hate fandom”?,,, I guess I will just have to suck it up and deal with it!
    However, I have to say that this presentation poses some very eclectic and important questions that need to be asked if we are to understand where we are headed with the “new media” we have to deal with. The simple fact that the “other” now has the opportunity to have his or her voice heard changes all the rules. In light of that I see a new digital divide between the home internet user that is all about simply being heard, like the Fred haters, and those of us who have loftier ideas of a more enriching online environment. I guess we will just have to see how this plays out and who winds up on center stage–crap, or treasure!

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