Hildebrand on Joanie 4 Jackie (March 31, 2009)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2009 blog post considers the relations between earlier media forms and formats, like VHS video, and newer practices on YouTube. Media scholars like Lucas Hildebrand don't "want us to forget the significant impact of analog media on American culture," including YouTube.
Autobiographical practices are as old as the media themselves. Media artists and the avant-garde make "diary films" (attending to form and craft as well as self), every day users make "home video" (where the politics of the family may be as visible as are amateur techniques). Vblogs continue these confessional, artistic, consumer, and familial practices with technologies that have made production and distribution even more accessible.

Miranda July is a filmmaker, artist, and writer ... Raised in Berkeley, California, she currently lives in Los Angeles where she is making her second feature film, The Future.[cit]
I attended part of the Media Studies in Southern California conference sponsored last weekend by the Cultural Studies Department at Claremont Graduate University. I was most taken by my friend and colleague Lucas Hildebrand's presentation on the video chain letters of Joanie 4 Jackie, formerly Big Miss Moviola, once the project of Miranda July, and now a labor of love by students at Bard College. Lucas's presentation was from his eagerly anticipated Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Duke University Press, 2009), where he writes on analog video in its many forms, including these chain letters where grrls add their small private videos to a tape they mail from home to home.

While at first look these VHS chain letters seem to be a dead or dying form "given the ease, access, and cost of sharing video on the Internet," I realized that what they will always have over YouTube is the actual, small community that can only be created by the painstaking and careful act of choosing to attach your work to an object that already has a community built onto and within it. The VHS chain letter permits the safety of the slow through the space of the movable box.

I've been a fan and supporter of Miranda for a long time, but I hadn't looked at those tapes from the late 1990s for quite a while. What seemed most critical was how they anticipated YouTube (in particular the vlog): lonely rural girls using video to speak to each other straight from their rooms about oppression they face in their home and hometown.

What I didn't think about so much at the time was how many of these isolated grrls being empowered by video were actually making their tapes (about rural isolation) while attending the progressive colleges in bigger towns or cities that supported the lo-fi, autobiographical project of Miranda July. Take my student Erica Anderson, whose tape Lucas showed and who made her amazing, minimal, camcorder video about rural life in North Dakota while living in Southern California and taking video art classes at Pitzer College.

While the private stories of the girls are undoubtedly true, Joanie 4 Jackie highlights that a shared, messy, homemade aesthetic that lives across the work in the tapes, even for college coeds who could make "better," speaks volumes as a carefully constructed formal choice. This is at once another version of the retrofuturism that I've written about in relation, for instance, to Be Kind Rewind, while also being an example of why people (women) (like me) choose bad video as a suitable formal register for their process and place. In all cases, a fond feeling about a manufactured authenticity and wistful ethics of community registered within VHS is at play.