Fred Rant

March 17, 2012

I have a piece, “Fred Rant,” in a stellar special issue of TWC on fan/remix video edited by Julie Levin Russo and Francesca Coppa, who write:

“In this special issue, we zoom in on questions foregrounded by the proliferation and mainstreaming of remix video over the past decade. Not coincidentally, this summer will mark the 10th anniversary of VividCon (http://vividcon.com), a convention founded at a time when the fan vidding community was weathering the transition to digital editing and an associated influx of new devotees. It would have been difficult then to anticipate the scale of this transformation, both in the prevalence of fan music videos (which are now a YouTube staple) and in their new interchanges with a vast ecology of remix practice. As mashup video genres increasingly coexist, cross-pollinate, and collide online, emerging scholarly canons and debates on these distinct traditions can become similarly intersectional and mobile. We aim to bring diverse critical engagements to this conjuncture by fostering connections between scholars and fans across disciplines and subcultures.”

And there, I rant this and more: “I think it is necessary to look to the common practices of quotidian YouTube culture (and its fans, and its students of fans) and try to name how this culture is failing us, to learn from the failures of children and scholars (starting with my own).”

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Fred on Film

September 17, 2010

I was recently interviewed by Monica Hesse at the Washington Post for her article on Fred’s big move to movie: “This is a movie. This is a movie based on a YouTube character. This is a movie based on one of the most successful YouTube characters of all time.” Like last time, we had a great talk, but little of my ideas about Fred made it to her page. Here they are:

1) While media platforms are quickly converging (Fred moves from YouTube to movie!), the maintaining of distinctions between old and new media continues to be equally definitive for web 2.0’s day-to-day. Which is to say that Fred, and most other major user-producer-stars on YouTube (NigaHiga, Shane Dawson), take on a juvenile, boyish, immature style, content and tone (and even persona: they all play themselves younger than they actually are) as the easiest insurance policy to verify their user-produced chops in counter-distinction to the slick corporate fare that also gains mucho-popularity on the site. See, I’m just a boy, and I made this all by myself in my room…In the meantime, this also efficiently corrals their humor to YouTube’s signature bad-boy fun–shit, farts, pre-adolescent sex, and generally adult-off-putting shenanigans–and childlike audience (face it, we the audience play it young, too.)

2) The pseudo male pre-adolescent voice dominates both new and old media forms (Fred/40 year old virgin/transformers/tosh.0), producing a dominant multi-platform all-male discourse where pre-PC offenses are permitted (I’m only six or forty, I didn’t know you shouldn’t treat a woman that way), and actual adult male anxieties about real-world unsettled gender norms are played out and with but never with any depth, subtlety, or (I am willing to say) adult sophistication. I, for one, would love to see some work by real kids about the changing nature of masculinity, or even by real men, or better yet women, too: all of us in a conversation that could include but also surpass the fart jokes or make-up anti-women men.

Learning from Fred

July 29, 2008

In my ongoing life as minor YouTube pundit, I’ve been asked to reflect on the phenomena that is Fred for Teacher’s College Record. Given that I had not seen the lad before the request, although I had skimmed Strangelove‘s post on the ADD of the matter, I’m using this entry to commence reflections towards the final piece. The final version is published at TCR.

As you can see Fred’s hyperdrive parodies the hyperactivity borne of a life within media (or so says LA Time’s Web Scout), one proscribed to children of this generation, one already younger than the much-touted “digital native,” who can not ever ever ever think or watch outside the logic of new media. “Cruikshank’s generation is the first one never to have known a world without the Internet. These kids speak the language of computers and technology as well as they speak English — if not better.”

Although the videos are almost unwatchable (for those of the calmer generations, we geriatrics still capable of sentences in real time…almost)—largely because, beyond their egregious squeak, the “humor” is so stunningly juvenile—I must suggest that their popularity among the under 15-set has to do, counter-intuitively, with their artful if banal sophistication (note oxymoronic structure ). I would begin to mark the nature of this timely form of media savvy within three more realms of opposition where I think Fred enacts the live tensions which are defining our media moment:

Boredom/distraction: Fred (like his teen-viewers) makes these trifles because he is stuck at home with nothing to do. He’s BORED. And yet, Fred (like his adoring fans) is jumping from YouTube to IM-ing to friend’s house, too distracted, speedy, and hyperactive to have time to get really bored (like we used to in the oh-so media-pure past of hay rides and beer bashes).

Real/Parody: FRED is watchable, and lovable, as is true for all vloggers, because he is visibly himself. A regular, rural kid from Nebraska in a tract-like house with carpet made apparent through a consumer camcorder. And yet, this likably real Fred is notably and obviously playing the character of Fred: a guy with a prostitute/alchoholic/absent/mannish mother and a jailed/murderer father. Fred artfully mixes several familiar media languages of the moment: skewing only slightly younger while amping the juvenile pre-occupations (poop, pee) of the much-loved man-boy genre (inventing the boy-boy version, I suppose); and mixing this with the mundane boring nature of the vlog. Now, I’ve written on the radical potential of the known parody in the fake documentary, and it seems that once its gotten to FRED and his banal, if savvy minions, the cutting depth of this style of critique must have worked thin. Although he reminds me eerily of Jonathan Caouette playing the black crack whore welfare Mom in his bedroom a generation earlier, Fred’s parody has been drained of what makes Caouette’s work HURT.

Isolation/Community: Of course, Fred is alone in Nebraska, which contributes to the boredom which drives him to the web, and there he meets endless, interchangable youth, also so driven to the internet, and there they parody him, in less-worthy homages, and so meet, sort of, still of course, stuck in their bedrooms, but endlessly reflecting each other’s loneliness and boredom, ever the state of youth, or ever more so the state of today’s digital youth who don’t ever go out to play, perhaps because they’ve been somehow convinced that this “community” of dopplegangers has a value, allowing them to make another video…

Now what this means for educators, people interested in media literacy, and youth media, is what I must get to next. But for now, I must get my daughter (and myself) of the net, and go to lunch.