The specific trigger for this post is laurashapiro's post on race, gender and accessibility--my thanks to her for making it, even if I don't agree with all that is said. While my post is not specifically about race or gender, it touches on both issues. It is. however, deeply personal, and I'm aware of that. This is my own personal view and I don't expect anyone to agree with me.
I've become increasingly uncomfortable about the politics of inclusion and exclusion within the community, and specifically at Vividcon. You might say I have no right to speak about Vividcon because I have never attended. That is true. I am told it is wonderful, and I believe that. I am told everyone is lovely. I believe that. That doesn't stop the institution being problematic.
These are my five things I wish that LJ/VVC-based fandom would remember. I use 'we' in this post, throughout, because for better or worse and whether other people accept me or not I consider myself part of this community and I am as much of the problem as anyone else.
1. We're not the only vidding tradition. We may be the oldest and the 'original' and I have hushed on this subject out of respect for that. I love the tradition! I'm a woman, I'm a slash fan (at least at times), I love the history. But there are a lot of other vidding communities out there. Starting with AMVs. AMVs seem to get a nod occasionally because people crossover from them to live action. A nod, but there is no real integration of the two--they seem to exist in separate bubbles. And what about all the swathes of Asian vidding communities? What about vidders in other languages? What about all the people on YouTube we'd like to ignore? They are vidders too! There are communities of vidders springing up constantly. They may not even have heard of LJ or VVC. And living-room watching is the number one means of viewing vids for most vidders. I vid for living room audiences and I was completely startled to find that this was looked down on as a secondary or inferior audience.
2. Vidding is by its nature a privileged act. It costs money to vid. Sorry, but it does. Even if you pirate everything you need access to some basic hardware--either through your own money or through a family member or friend. That means most of the citizens of this world do not have the opportunity to exercise the privilege we do. On top of that, the more serious you are about it, the more you have to spend. I have spent thousands on my hobby. I am lucky to have the discretionary income to do so. The very fact that it is an act of privilege means that it is more likely that vidders are a) white, b) middle class, c) reasonably well educated. That means we're a skewed community--we should acknowledge that as the starting point of ANY discussion about social class or race.
3. We're not all women. In LJ/VVC we tend to be women. But that's not the case in other communities! In a different vidding community, the majority may be men. Women build certain kinds of social networks. Male-centred communities may function differently and we may not even see them as being a community in our sense. The point here is that we shouldn't assume that all vidders and vidding communities are female. There are men in our community, but I feel like sometimes there's some awkwardness about that. I was discomfited to see this raised as an issue in laurashapiro's post. Perhaps it wasn't meant that way, but in our community men are the minority, and I think we should respect that fact and remember that they may feel even more out of place than other newcomers.
4. We're not all in the US. This one has the biggest consequences for me personally. And perhaps for that reason (we're all biased!) if I had to name the biggest blindness of this fandom it would be geography. Closely followed by language. I understand that most people in the community are in the US, but would it pay people to stop and check sometimes before assuming that? And stop and think about what that means. There are many aspects to this. But the hardest one for me personally is Vividcon and how central it is to this fandom's self-definition and to relationship building within the community. 'You should come to VVC!' people say. I'm sure they mean it kindly. But to me it translates as 'spend thousands of dollars to fly to my country for a weekend and see how awesome we are'. Well you probably are awesome. And I probably will do that! (If anyone remains friended to me after this post!) But please, please remember that I and anyone in my position is taking a massive risk here, and that it's a lot bigger commitment to make than for someone that lives in the States. Even the VVC registration process makes it hard for me to come: at the time registration occurs, airfares are still high because companies hope to fill planes; I have to either buy a VVC place and risk losing the money later because I don't get a cheaper flight or buy a flight at double the price I would if I could buy some months later. I can't be the only person out there with this issue. They probably just don't even consider going! You might say 'well you don't have to go' or 'well, this fandom started in the States, what did you expect?' and you are right to a point. However I've found there is a kind of glass ceiling in the community--you can hang out and talk vids to a certain point but after that if you don't take the next step and meet in person (i.e. in the States, at VVC) then you're always a bit on the outer and online friendships only go so far. I've even been told that I don't 'really understand' vids because I haven't seen them in the context they are meant to be viewed. *points back at 1*
5.Stop pretending to a diversity we don't have. It's admirable to encourage diversity, but often I find the efforts to do so--like this year's Vividcon theme--tokenistic and embarrassing. We're not inclusive! (See the points above.) I think we encourage diversity, but only within certain parameters (i.e. not true diversity). For instance, we celebrate different vidders within the community, particularly those with certain status or in the 'in crowd', but we collectively look down on other vidders, like, for instance YouTube vidders (some of their vids are awesome! and they may not even be part of ANY community, they may be self taught). We encourage vids of Characters of Colour but we're working (mainly) from biased source. American and UK television and movies are rife with racial stereotypes--sure we can reclaim those, but just making a vid about a character of colour doesn't win you a gold star in race relations. Sometimes I feel like this fandom wants a pat on the back: 'it's ok, we made that vid about how the show we love has really fucked up politics, how deep of us to notice, now we can sleep easy'. I'm sure the vidders have the best of intentions in doing this, and of course it's admirable to open up discussion about these things, but I just wish we'd admit that we're a really small, Western, English-speaking subculture with particular obsessions and particular aesthetics. That would be more honest. And from that place of honesty we might be able to open our minds to other kinds of vidding and try understanding them in their own contexts.
On popularity, criticism and the fannish middle ground
I should acknowledge that this fandom is the most wank-free fandom I have ever been in. *glances at Smallville and BSG* Mostly people are super-polite and careful to avoid upsetting people. However there also seem to be a lot of unspoken, unacknowledged politics.
For instance, criticism is not allowed ... except when it's allowed. I think most people feel it's 'not ok' to give concrit on a vid, let alone outright criticism. In some ways I feel this limits the community, in the same way that the same issue is limiting to fic writers. But I think it's far less discussed in vidding fandom and I'm not sure why. There are lots of vids I'd love to write crit of: thinky, reflective crit, because sometimes I find the reasons I don't like something or the reasons something doesn't work for me as interesting as the reasons I do/it does. It's also limiting in the sense that it gives a skewed perspective on what a good vid is. If 100 people comment and it gets 5 recs, then it probably is pretty good, right? But what if there are heaps of people out there thinking 'er, I found that really problematic' but not 'allowed' to talk about it?
And then every so often, usually post VVC, there is this sudden unleashing of crit. Only it is usually led by people who are very secure and established within the fandom and who feel free enough to talk without fear of ostracisation. I gather that's pretty much what happens at the con itself (I have no idea, really, it's amazing how hard it is to work out!): there is some discussion and criticism of the vids but it is dominated by particular people. Is there an unspoken rule that if you submit to Vividcon you should be prepared for any sort of criticism? If so, that needs to be made clearer. Also, it only adds to how intimidating the institution is. Since most of us are functioning, for better or worse, in a crit-less space, I'd find the leap a bit of a shock to the system, especially as it would also be my first in-person experience of vids. It also feels like you have to 'earn' criticism, by attending. And that attending or submitting you have to be a very confident vidder already. This is one of the main reasons Vividcon comes across as not welcoming to newbies and as exclusionary.
Every time this happens I feel how silent most people are. Myself included. When the 'big names' start making posts on issues, I tend to stay quiet out of respect. But I've concluded more and more than I'm not doing myself or anyone else any favours by doing so. Let little voices be heard too!
In reflecting on these issues I've inevitably hit the issue of the construction of status within the community. Some people have greater status than others. I think that is natural in any community, and is certainly not specific to vidding. As with all such communities, those people often become the 'voice' of the community--their tastes and their views dominate because they are most comfortable speaking their minds, most sure of themselves. It's natural and I'm not blaming anyone for that. However, I do wish people would stop and remember that being a newbie can be REALLY SCARY. Especially when you see the people you look up to as experienced and talented criticising things you do (like aspect ratio issues in your vids) or things you like (like shmooshy het ship vids). Often, the people making those posts don't even intend them to come across as saying 'people who do this are bad' but the subtext is there and suddenly a little excited newbie with all sorts of budding creativity feels crushed and feels sure they'll never fit in. I don't see that as constructive at all. As for the people that call themselves 'bitch elite vidders', well, the very fact that there is such a term says volumes about this community. Volumes and none of it pretty.
There are certain ways to become popular in vidding fandom. They include: vid popular fandoms; vid the 'right' way (follow the guidelines of those who've gone before you); make vids that have a point, but not too complex a one or people won't understand it; make your vids accessible to people that don't even know the fandom that well. There are heaps of other things that could be added. However, what I find problematic about this is not that this occurs but that 'popular' becomes conflated with 'good'.
Some of the best vids I've ever seen have only a handful of comments as feedback. Some of the best vids I've seen are on YouTube. Some of the best vids I've seen are in really, REALLY niche 'genres' or fandoms, and are not accessible to those not predisposed to like that particular genre/fandom. I may be alone in this but what I see happening is that there is a kind of vidding 'mainstream' of populist vids. The equivalent of blockbuster movies. They can be, like blockbusters, really really well made and eminently enjoyable. They can be moving, intelligent, funny and sometimes even groundbreaking. But they're not the only type of vidding.
As with films, I find that I like a lot of niche areas. I like martial arts vids (just as I like martial arts movies). I like esoteric or very meta-dense vids, vids that demand the audience is intelligent and engaged (though they are rare). I like trippy, disturbing, fucked up vids. I like vids that capture something about the source absolutely 'perfectly' (and that's their sole achievement--no popular 'point' or 'narrative'). I like really, really lightweight escapist vids. On top of that I have a whole bunch of fandom likes and dislikes that are often unpopular themselves (either unpopular characters or very small fandoms). What I don't much like is that vidding 'mainstream'. So even as a vid viewer I feel pretty marginalised. And I have done the community no favours by tending to rec things that I think other people will find 'good', assuming that the vid viewing community is homogenous.
That's not the case and I am personally resolving to respect and acknowledge good vidding wherever I see it, as defined by ME. I'm an intelligent, articulate person, I can 'read' visual sources well, and my tastes are as valid as anyone else's. I don't care if no one else agrees with me. As a reccer this means I'm going to have to think more about how I describe who the audience of a vid is--so that people that really will like the vid can find it and other people don't get irritated because I 'sold' it as something it wasn't. That's tricky, especially as all genre names within vidding fandom are debated and confusing. Regardless, I'm making a personal vow to spend more time with what I love and less time worrying about why I don't like what everyone else does.
What can we do?
The only person I can really speak for here is myself, and I've been trying to define for myself what I can personally do to make a difference. This is the list I've come up with:
1. Stop deifying people. It's a big crime of mine. I think the world of the vidders I love and I had them a whole lot of power over me. But objectively I know that even though I may think they are the most amazing vidders in the whole wide world, they themselves probably don't think so. They have their own issues and struggles and are just people.
2. Speak up even if it makes you unpopular. I'm making this post. I apologise to the people that had to hear about this privately before I had the courage to speak publicly. It means the world to me that you listened. Thank you.
3. Be generous with your time and attention. Recently a vidder approached me and asked me to watch their vid because they liked/respected me as a vidder. It's the first time this has happened to me and it was a weird moment of role reversal for me. Except I've never been brave enough to ask another vidder, one I really admired to do that. At first I felt uncomfortable--all my issues about not 'really' being that great came pouring out. But then I thought about how much courage it would take for me to do the same with someone else, and how everyone's taste is valid, and I really respected that person for approaching me. I also got to watch a really great vid. So I vow not to dismiss someone else's taste because it makes me uncomfortable, and to be welcoming to anyone who may feel nervous around me because I've got a few more vids in my collection or because they particularly liked a vid of mine. I know there are a few people out there who are very famous vidders, who are generous with their interactions. To them, I say: it is noticed and greatly appreciated. It is people like you that make this fandom a welcoming place despite the issues described above.
4. Don't assume. *waves at five things above* I need to remember them too. I'm sure I'll slip up but I'll keep correcting myself and other people should feel free to do so also.
Related to that, I thought this suggestion was wonderful. I think we as a fandom should be more encouraging of newbies. Yes, their vids can be clunky and annoying, yes they can make clumsy awkward social faux pas, but we were all newbies once. Without new people how will we ever grow as a fandom and as artists? That suggestion was specific to Vividcon, but on a broader scale it could be practised online as well. Even if only on a decentralised basis. At the moment I think a lot of newbies are left to find their feet on their own and they only get attention if they've either already got friends who are vidders (e.g. someone who is in a fandom with vidder friends and then decides to start vidding themselves) or do the hard yards on their own to begin with (and even then they probably feel the glass ceiling that I feel). Some lucky few may attract someone who acts like their mentor, but that's an uncommon case, I think. We could all be a bit more supportive, understanding, forgiving and welcoming of newbies.
ETA: There is one more thing that people can do--and it is the most important one I think. Claim your place in the community! I have done this in speaking collectively, including myself in the community in this post. But so often--most of the time, in fact--I don't feel part of it. And I think an awful lot of other people don't either. We all downplay things telling ourselves we're not a 'real' vidder yet, or we're not really part of the community until XXX. Well that's rubbish. When challenged recently to answer the question 'how would you define the vidding community?' I realised I define it very broadly. If you make or watch vids, even just one, once, and you interact with someone else who makes or watches vids (or a vid!) then you're part of the community. There are various levels of involvement, and all are legitimate--there is no hoop you have to jump to to gain membership. So this is me, claiming my place in vidding fandom.
I think that's quite enough from me, don't you? ;)
ETA: It may be too late to ETA with this, but since this post is about inclusion/exclusion and issues of silencing in fandom: if you don't feel able to speak publicly about this issue but wish to talk to someone about the issues, you are welcome to PM me or email me at bopradar at Gmail dot com.