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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My friend Brian Goldfarb and I just released Distraction Span: Technologies of Productive Disruption at MediaCommons. “With this cluster of The New Everyday we initiate a conversation about social media that sidesteps the panic over youth and digital distraction while not being afraid to look head-on at their everyday engagements with mobile devices and social networking.” Now we hope you will join the conversation.

My dear friend and colleague Brian Goldfarb and I are co-editing a section of MediaCommons’ New Everyday on youth, media, and distraction. Our call begins:

“We invite short, lively, multi-modal work that will kickstart new conversations that sidestep the panic over digital distraction: that is to say, the fear-inducing diagnosis that networked media is rewiring young minds, displacing valuable forms of engagement, and making sustained reflection a thing of the past. There is undeniably something new and challenging about the forms of multitasking and fragmented or interlaced communication that is fostered by the culture of new media. There is also something old about the panic over new forms of media and the perceived wholesale detriment they pose to learning and thinking” … read more and submit!

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.

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.