The Failures of Fred's Fans: For Youth Media Symposium (April 14, 2010)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
[ X ]
Origins of this content
I began speaking publicly about LFYT in 2007, always to academics, but in a variety of disciplines (media studies, rhetoric, communications, art, library science, digital humanities). I attempt to push my public speaking about the course and about YouTube in ways that mimic the formal provocations of both. Thus, I perform some or all of my critique of YouTube on YouTube and in its vernaculars. This blog introduced and mirrors a talk I gave about Fred, fakery, and fandom at the Sensory Communication: Expressive Culture and Youth Media symposium at UCSD in 2010.
Fan-vids and fan studies have exploded with the Internet.

Media literacy "is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media ... Media education encourages a probing approach to the world of media: Who is this message intended for? Who wants to reach this audience, and why? From whose perspective is this story told? Whose voices are heard, and whose are absent?"[cit]

One of my ten founding terms for this project is ethics: The lived power relations between humans that are mobilized by media production and reception are integral to its process and understanding.
This is some of my talk for "Sensory Communication: Expressive Culture and Youth Media" at UCSD in 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.

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' fans' videos, would I want to watch this? Sure, Hillsforyou had fun making it. But did he learn anything, grow, become an artist or citizen; 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, thereby demonstrating my negative stake in this game. I have nothing more critical to add than 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." [cit] Admittedly, here and also later, I will be using Jenkins from his multiplatinum 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 add nuance to 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 those by 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 that I just don't care enough to work hard on making it make sense, thus introducing the "I don't care" modality that 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: Fred's fans' 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: 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, and 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 media makers deserve. Fred's 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, Fred's fans' videos (like most people-made product on YouTube) will remain an uninspiring, uninteresting, unproductive jumble of juvenile works that make fun of Fred. At least, so vinforthewim and I rant.