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DIY video: what is it, how do we understand it, and so what?

I’m at the DIY video summit at USC, watching some fantastic videos and listening to some great people speak. Today’s panels have discussed state of research, state of art, and the intellectual property dilemma.

The first day  centered around two sets of questions. This post deals with the first set:

what is DIY video? why is it important to study?  what method do we use? and what do we want to know?

What is DIY video?

 DIY video is a mass movement (David Buckingham), it is a culture and a community (Michael Wesch), it is a form of participatory culture (Henry Jenkins), it is widening the public sphere (Yochai Benkler) and it is a product capturing consumer attention (Eric Garland). 

 Some points of contention:

  • Is DIY by definition amateur work?  DB comments that much of citizen journalism, particularly the best of it, is done by amateurs looking to become professional.  Are we moving to the ‘pro-am?’  Mimi Ito has found otherwise, that amateur vidders are motivated by becoming ‘locally’ famous – recognized by ‘people that matter.’
  •  Is DIY content intrinsically critical of the establishment?  Alexandra Juhasz points out the term ‘DIY’ comes from 1970s and 80s American Punks self-publishing movement, one that was overtly anti-establishment in its message.  Does DIY video lose political power if the content is not politica?  Or is DIY video already political in that is other than mass media?  I would argue for the latter…the issues of triviality (and even stupidity) that Juhasz brings up found on YouTube among the most popular videos..the issue to me seems more about why are these the most popularly viewed videos?  That’s largely why they are being created, and that’s where the issue lies.

why is DIY Video important to study?  what do we want to know?

 DB:  To understand if, how and when it is a tool for empowerment.  To understand how people learn skills, and what motivates them to learn.

 MW:  To understand what kind of culture and community is emerging, will emerge and can emerge

 EG:  People are watching it – it is current and future of entertainment.

 HJ:  To understand how to create ‘a world where everyday citizens can take media in their own hands and create media, good, bad and indifferent.’

 YB:  To understand how to create legal, social and technical platforms that facilitate the cultural pushback that is DIY video – to empower users to create and pushback, widening the public sphere.

 Thenmozhi Soundarajan:  To create media justice, and give disenfranchised a voice.

Sam Gregory:  To understand how to use video to motivate political action.

Alexandra Juhasz:  To see what we can learn.  (Not much, Juhasz claims)

Juan Devis: To learn how to best empower people to tell their story.


What methods do we want to use?

 David Buckingham weaves together a theoretical context through which to understand DIY video, bringing thought together from

         media creating as social and cultural practice

         space and role of the amateur

         participatory culture

         creativity in the everyday

         learning  and communities of practice

Buckingham further points to the importance of looking at the different subcultures of DIY video (such as skateboarders, video diarists, and citizen journalists) in their own right – and the danger in understanding them as a collective political movement – as politically, they function in different ways. This is really important in keeping the questions of Soundarajan and Gregory, of how we turn DIY video into concrete political action:  understanding the DIY video movement to be political as a whole hides the differences in different types and cultures of DIY video that are important for us to acknowledge and be aware of as we start to think about questions like “how do we use video to motivate action?”  We need to understand how discrete cultures of DIY video function politically in order to make the most of the possibilities.

 Michael Welsch, together with his students, adopted an anthropological approach through the use of participant-observation.  Entering the world you YouTube by posting videos themselves, students experience first hand the negotiation of identity and the distance between audience and creator. 

 Eric Garland reminded us of the importance not only of examining creativity, but also dissemination.  The viral nature of dissemination of video via internet changes the power of the medium.

 Henry Jenkins traces the history of media, understanding how culture travels and morphs as it moves among different media formats, DIY, mass, and in between.

A few points really stood out to me:

  •  Can we separate the mode of the message from content?  Juhasz points to the loss of ‘anti-establishment’ message in much of YouTube content – or at least in the popular content.  But what about the mode?  Do content which mimick the mass media have no cultural/political value?  Or does DIY video not constitute anti-establishment in itself, in that it is not mass media?  Benkler points out the although Wikipedia started as something that was simply mimicking Britannica, through collaboration it evolved into something Britannica could never have imagined.

In thinking about method David Buckingham made a comment that really resonated:  the method of study must depend on what you seek to learn.  DIY video can be an interesting lens to look at bigger issues, such as communities and social networks, identity and representation, or creativity and agency.  It seems important to understand DIY video as it functions in terms of [insert chosen subject of inquiry here (community/agency/identity/public discourse)] rather than in and of itself.  This will enable us to see the true power of the medium.

– Miriam Simun