Video Vortex #9: Protest and anti-protest, hero and anti-hero, amateur and pro





Friday, March 1, 2013

Web video has lost its innocence and incorporates notions of subversions and empowerment, says Sascha Simons. Web videos function as a medium of testimony, of the witness. A witnessing that needs to be repeated and confirmed again and again. The video as a testimonial medium of course raises the question of authenticity. We need to research an aesthetic of authenticity, of empowerment and of innovation. Video is in this way standing in a tradition, but also breaking with these traditions.

Video plays a huge role in modern day protests, like the Indignados and the occupations of squares around the world which can be found all over YouTube. Coverage of the protest would be impossible without the footage of the people being there and filming what they see with their phones and flip cameras. Like Margarita Tsomou showed in her talk about the Syntagma square occupation in Athens. It was prohibited for journalists to film on the square, so there were only images from above, filmed from the luxurious hotels. Journalists were talking more about the conditions of filming than the actions themselves. They were not wanted there by the protesters, who bullied them away with lasers. For this reason the only pictures from within were captured using mobile phones. Most pictures are of the fights when the square was cleared and for privacy reasons the footage is still limited, as is the case with material from the square before the police came.

Tsoumos shows how she put all the videos next to each other to get a multiple point of view: ‘Simultaneous multimontage’. This differs notably from a montage put together to form a narrative. It is personalized instead of objective or representational. Befitting the slogan ‘Everyone speaks for himself’ and the ideal of direct democracy. Moreover, the film is not edited, which leads to another concept of time in the video. Perhaps, she says, even comparable to time on the square? The boredom there is a counterpoint to our short attention spans which should lead the videomakers in their decisions. Tsoumos also asks the question of the database and indexing and archiving. Can YouTube do the job for such protesting testimonies?

Protesting may be huge in the video sphere, but the biggest video platforms consist mostly of comedy – including the humorous genre that is broad, multifaced but in the end, male. Also the most popular video makers are funny men, so to speak. In China, like we saw in the great talk by Nan Haifen, just as well as in Germany, as Boris Traue demonstrated.

When you’re funny, you just turn on your webcam and start your career, right? Not completely so. There is a clear trend leading away from ‘the rise of amateur’ to the demand of professionalism. At least that is what Jo Cognito, video blogger avant la lettre from 1995 on, says. In 1995 you could sit at your computer, and start producing and no one could tell you what to do. Now all the time you need more of everything, more technique, more light, more gadgets, more filters, plus more television to be visible. YouTube made available studios for users to film their own videos in television quality. Or is it the other way around? YouTube is way bigger than television. As a video blogger you need to keep track of television, but also television can’t ignore YouTube anymore. Television is on YouTube, and YouTube increasingly invades television programs.

Thinking back to the talks yesterday, it leaves me wondering where the future will lead. Will it be a windy road, switching from the animated gif to semiprofessional YouTube-shows, from humorist male antiheroes to peace and aggression on squares and streets? Is there also a middle way – where did the ‘middle of the road’ go?

Pavlos Hatzopoulos and Nelli Kambouri talked about the Greek neofascist party Golden Dawn and their use of YouTube to bring forth their cause, showing horrifying videos of violence against migrants and disruption in the parliament: truly the dark side of social media. Here explicit ‘amateurism’ is used as an aesthetic, the medium of the witness put to use in a completely different and conscious way. Opposed to the ‘accidental’ testimonies of the protesters, and opposed to the professionalism of the YouTube-studio described yesterday. Please also see Pavlos’ and Nelli’s thrilling essay about social media on Syntagma Square in the Unlike Us Reader.