How to Watch a Fan-Vid

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Academic Commentary
Title: How to Watch a Fan-Vid
Commentator: Henry Jenkins
Date(s): September 18, 2006
Medium: online
Fandom: multi, a focus on Star Trek: TOS
External Links: online here, Archived version
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How to Watch a Fan-Vid is a 2006 post by Henry Jenkins.

It examines the history of vidding and focuses on the K/S vid Closer.



I am always fascinated when some bit of bottom-up generated “content” starts to get momentum and gain greater public visibility. This past few weeks, I have been observing a ground-swell of interest in a Star Trek fan video set to Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer.” Many of you will have already seen this video. It has already been featured by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, by Susie Bright, and by Salon‘s VideoDog among others. As someone who has done work in the past on Star Trek fans, I have received multiple pointers to this video from friends all over the world. Many of the people who sent it to me and certainly many of the bloggers who have pointed to it seem to have little or no awareness that there is a much larger tradition of fan-made videos or that the video makers, T. Jonsey and Killa have produced a larger body of work that circulates within the fanvid community. As artists, they are known for their sophisticated techniques and intelligent use of appropriated materials as well as for their diversity of approaches to their subject matter. It is the nature of YouTube that the work which appears there could come from almost anywhere and that it is often consumed outside of its originating content: YouTube is the place right now where work travels from one grassroots community or subculture to another. There are real advantages to such a site since it results in cross-influences and more innovation, experimentation, and diversity, yet there are also losses to this process of decoupling amateur media from its original contexts of production and consumption.
I wonder if this particular song video would have generated the buzz that it has if it was not set to the music of Nine Inch Nails. The urban cool and the rough-hewn images of this video contrast sharply with people’s expectations about the aesthetics of Star Trek fan art. In popular mythology, Trekkers are geeks, not rockers. The earliest fan music videos might have reconfirmed those stereotypes: the most commonly used songs were slow-paced and sappy, pop not rock, though artists explained this was in part because of the difficulty of doing rapid edits using the tools that they have had at their disposal. As these fans have embraced new digital tools, the overall pace of fan made videos has quickened. This, and the emergence of a younger generation of fans with taste for alternative music, has broadened the choice of songs. We are seeing many more hard-edged songs find their way into fan culture.
MVD, at the time, could not have imagined what it might mean to watch a fan-made music video totally outside of the cultural context which fandom provided—to come across it on YouTube or Boing Boing and not have any access to the conversations which shaped these particular appropriations. For one thing, “Closer” is apt to be understood within fandom as a “constructed reality” video—that is, it creates a new story by linking together shots from the original series as opposed to using those shots simply to interpret or provide an alternative emotional perspective on events already depicted in the aired episodes. Such “constructed reality” works are extremely rare because they are so difficult to do well.