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Fan-Made Music Videos

Supplemental Research by Weiwei Ren

(created 2/21/06; version 1.0)
[Status: Draft]

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Original Object for Study description

The basic concept behind fan-made MV (music videos) is to match the rhythm (and lyrics, if using a song) of a piece of one music with the pictures from a different visual object, such that the music and pictures vitalize each other, in order to initiate a fresh mutual understanding. The resulting hybrid work offers a distinctly different art object from either of the original pieces, one that can function paradoxically as both as satire and homage.

To fully understand the future of this burgeoning global phenomenon, many more questions need to be raised and addressed—especially questions related to issues of copyright, collective and individual authorship, and digital appropriation and reconfiguration of analog works.

The amateur MV-making circles began to take shape at the turn of the 21st century, which shows again what is always true: “the greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation” (SOURCE?). In their original form, films and television programs inserted with advertisements are cultivating an increasingly passive audience that seeks only distraction. The digitized world, however, offers a new mode of participation possible that requires an attentive—rather than a simply passive and bedazzled—spectator. Fan MV making enables the participant to assume not only the role of passive receptor, but of engaging lay director/actor.

Examples taken from the US and China will help exemplify to what extent Fan MV makers can use this convenient and powerful vehicle for publicizing their opinions, especially those contradictory to official propaganda:

1) The Ipod Flea (a fake advertisement for the Apple Ipod)

Following Apple’s continued effort in shrinking the size of its mp3 products (Ipod, Ipod-mini, Ipod-shuffle), the narrator advertises a “new”? product, the so called “Ipod flea.” In an exaggerated way, the self-shot Music Video shows how people are increasingly entrapped in the new media vogue and to what extent we beome slaves to the commercial products that claim to bring mobility to our lives.

2) “Bloody Murders Initiated by A Steamed Bread”(Scenes taken from the movie The Promise (wu ji 2005) by Chen Kaige)

This 20-minute MV was made right after the movie was released. It adapts the film story into a televised official inspection of a murder case. The narration is modeled after the CCTV news channel program China Jural Online, with easily recognizable rhetoric of the Chinese propaganda, as well as the journalistic cliché used in the report of a police survey (sensationally detailed but not actually informative).

The MV even includes a couple of program-related advertisements. In everyway it resembles the official TV program of this sort. Almost certain a product by skilled hands, it casts a profound joke on film itself and gives a comprehensive satire on the dominant journalist practice in ridiculous seriousness.

3) “Broke Back to the Future”—Scenes taken from the movie Back to the Future (1985) by Robert Zemeckis

Using the music of Brokeback Mountain(2005), with video and speech from Back to the Future, the MV interprets the relation between Marty McFly and Doctor Brown as a love story.

4) Broke Back Water MVs
Scenes taken from Chinese TV Series Backwater (Ni shui han 2004) by Ju Jueliang.

The following pictures are often “quoted” scenes from the TV series.
This shows the same pictures are subtitled differently in two MV narrations.

In the moving pictures, the man desperately throws the sword on the ground, when he realizes that his loving wife has intentionally caused his defeat. The original subtitle in the TV series reads: “It is you (his wife) who drives me to the death!” (Note the framework made by the fan MV makers to cover the original subtitle.) These words are reconfigured in the fan MVs:

A) from the Song MV “The Hero Suffers” (nanwei nan’er han) by Lele.

(Singing lines of the background song)
Left: Try being heroic I dropped not my tears.
Right: Instead I drank wine, a bosom of bitterness turning hurtful sour.

B) from the narrative MV “Duel On top of the Forbidden Palace” (Juezhan zijin zhi dian) by Xiguocha.

Left: Qi Shaoshang (his rival in the original story, here made his male lover), I have warned you earlier!
Right: Do NOT go out for girls without money!

Research Context:
The fan-made MV fits well within the history of sound-image entertainment, beginning with the first sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), and evolving from MTV to MVs of the present day. A brief, selected time-line of audio-visual landmarks may be useful to illustrate this progression:

1980s—MTV (Music Television) programs spread from America to Asian countries.
1980s—Karaoke (Kara-OK) became popular in East Asian (Japan and China).
Commercial applications by entertainment companies offered “Personalized Karaoke.”
2000s—groups of unprofessional (unpaid) fan MV makers create new artforms in China.

Technical Analysis:
There are many things that fan MV makers can play with: trimming, speeding up, slowing down, reversing a shot, or inserting a scene from another video. The access to fundamental cinematic technique of montage–juxtaposing, superimposing, overlapping, transferring shots–puts them almost at the same starting point as the professional film editor, though they use the professional’s product as their raw material. Moreover, they create new materials. For example, they can draw or modify several pictures, and then animate them to make a pictorial composition. The following breakdown summarizes some of the raw materials and tools at the fan music video maker’s disposal:

a) Source of raw materials include TV and movie products; music and songs; self-shot videos; self-drawn pictures.

b) Video Editing Software: the following three softwares are presently most popular.
1. Ulead Vedio Studio—handy amateurish software
2. Sony Vegas (Sonic Foundry Vegas Video)—quasi-professional
3. Adobe Premiere—professional film editing software

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Topic:
Digitalization offers by far the greatest level of compatibility among different art forms. Not only does the computer provide a platform for net-meetings of various converted videotapes, CDs, scanned paintings, animated pictures, it also—more importantly—provides provides a way for the masses to (re)create interesting sound-image combos.

The audience of fan-made music videos is sometimes global but always, ultimately, unknown. In an effort to make their fantastic “stories” understandable, MV makers often patch up pictures and sounds and subtitles to render the target information in a more clear format. In any case, the spirit of the work is against the domination of any single linear narrative. The fan MV produces the voice of the audience in the age of electronic reproduction, not so passively receptive as have been anticipated by the government, or other political and commercial entities.

Fan MV makers’ conscious or unconscious practice of quoting from existing media puts forward a series of questions. The problem of authorship identification and possible accusations about intellectual property infringement that fan MV-making incurs, point directly to our shifting understanding of the nature of control we wield over a text. Can we quote moving pictures or songs the way we quote texts? Fan MV authorship suggests that the concept of quotation itself should be reconsidered.

I take fan MV-making, together with other practices such as game editing, as signals of the fact that an older system of sound-image reception (broadcast, film and TV)—which was primarily authoritarian, government/institution-centered—is being gradually intervened by a new democratic system. When the technological wall that used to block our sight has been lifted, we shall find that the fixed entities of text, image, or sound as we have imagined them might not exist at all.

Resources for Further Study:

Points for Expansion:

  • Slash Fiction

  • Fan Fiction

Note on “Doujin Literature/Culture”
[broad meaning] derivative literature
[narrow meaning] literature on boy-love (or girl-love)

Originated from Japan, “doujin” is really becoming a global cultural phenomenon. The Japanese word “doujin” literarily means “same-people.” It gets its name from “doujinshi” (fanzine, short for fans magazine), referring to a group of people who have the same idea or interest in literature writing. Basically any original or derivative story that uses characters in an earlier work of literature or manga (comics) can be called “doujin” literature, to which a lot of fan MV belong.

Some Asian youth choose the word “queer” to translate “doujin,” but “queer” is not the proper equivalent in meaning in most cases. The word “danbi” means absorption in reading, emphasizing a willing indulgence in the pure sublimed state of mind while reading (nowadays, we need to update the word with writing, watching, MV-making as well). It gets equivalence with “queer” because at least eighty percent of doujin/danbi literature is on the topic of boy love, although their authors and receptors are seldom gays/lesbians–In contemporary China, they are girls and young women. This is exact the mainstream of the members in the Chinese fan MV maker group, whereas the male doujin literature lovers are rare.

  tl, 02.26.06

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