This week, Variety ran a story about Disney and Marvel’s partnership with YouTube to create a video remix toolkit, including 32 short clips from the film and excerpts of 4 songs from the film’s soundtrack (each track under a minute long), along with clips of dialogue, and a variety of SFX and transition options. The title of this article?
“Disney, Marvel offer do-it-yourself ‘Avengers’ vids: YouTube software allows fans to craft legit remixes from pic”
There are myriad problems with both the toolkit and Variety‘s legitimization discourse that I’d like to get into, but first let me say this: Generally, I love the idea of giving fans HD raw materials to create their own remix videos. I love that these tools might allow some fans who tend to think of themselves as consumers rather than creators an entry point into other forms of fan production. I love that these “authorized” remix contests/tools at least begin to acknowledge both the creative and promotional value of fans to the success of media franchises.
Here’s what I don’t love:
– Of the 32 clips provided to me to work with (and they appear to be changing daily), here’s generally how they break down in terms of visual content, with the Misc. category composed of things like the obligatory group shot, Loki looking menacing/sexy, etc.:
I get it. I do. They wanted to stick with images from the trailer (hence, no spoilers for fans to get testy about), and the trailer is designed to sell the generic action of a superhero blockbuster. These are clips of promotional materials from which fan-produced promotional materials are designed to be generated. As the Variety piece championing the move by Disney and Marvel tellingly notes:
“[This] marketing move is seen as the latest way to make moviegoers, especially younger ones, feel as if they’re part of a film’s campaign.”
Not part of the film, or a community surrounding the film, but part of the campaign. Thus far, many of the remixes made with this tool are quite impressive in terms of their professional polish and their ability to mimic the aesthetic language of promotional paratexts, but the lack of any character interactions provided as raw material inherently limits what’s produced. More diverse clips would inevitably lead to more diverse creative uses, and while the diversity of explosions offered here is laudable (Jets! Buildings! A Cafe! Taxis! More Taxis! And hell, why not make a taxi explosion clip trilogy while we’re at it!), it also feels like a none-too-subtle attempt to overdetermine what “narratives” people use the tool to tell. At its core, The Avengers is about relationships, but you wouldn’t know it from the range of clips provided. Save for a pair of nano-second long clips of various male members of the team exchanging blows (not enough to construct anything slashy, trust me, I made a valiant effort), there are virtually no shots where two characters interact, and the limited character shots that are provided tend to be interrupted immediately by those pesky explosions, making it difficult to create a video that ruminates on the relationships between members of the team.
[NOTE: I just checked back on the site and they seem to have swapped out some of yesterday’s clips with more character clips, so perhaps some of these complaints can be dialed back depending on which stable of clips you’ve been given.]
– The obligatory terms of service stranglehold, which as usual forces the remixer to waive all rights to their creation. To wit, see the load page for the remix interface, and a selection from the terms of service this main pages links out to:
My central concern is one that won’t surprise anyone who has read my work, or Julie Levin Russo’s excellent work on Battlestar Galactica‘s videomaker toolkit. Not only do these “authorized” efforts fail to meaningfully reach out to pre-existing fan vidding communities, they seem to aggressively dissuade the forms of remix that have been historically created by women. This isn’t to say that many female fans aren’t using (or enjoying using) this new Avengers remix platform, simply that if this is a model towards “legit” fan remix video that implies that this is a potential effort to displace or dissuade those “illegitimate” forms. Those that stage an argument or a counter-reading, ruminate on the dynamics between characters or queer them, or take the narrative in a new, unexpected (e.g. unsanctioned) direction.
There is also something to be said here about the fallaciously gendered construction of both comic book readers and the audience for franchise films. In both cases, women continue to be treated as surplus audiences, and perhaps are considered surplus remixers here as well. Efforts like these from Disney and Marvel are tend to be discursively framed as a decisive break from the industry’s prior prohibitionist response to fan production (commonly manifesting in the form of cease and desist letters and other methods of legal censure), taking a more collaborationist approach to fan culture and fan production. While this might mark a step in the right direction, we need to continue to be critical of what modes of creative censure come attached to these collaborationist gestures, and which audiences they court. The big issues here: industrial cooptation of fan labor, ownership/authorship within copyright culture, ideological censure, seem to recur with the release of each new video toolkit, and to my mind mark an ongoing need to consider how prohibitionist efforts evolve, become more covert, or create legitimizing discourses around “sanctioned” modes of fan engagement.
The Avengers video remix toolkit ultimately speaks to the growing popularity of remix culture, and the shifting cultural and technological landscape that is facilitating it, without meaningfully engaging with those communities of practice.
In my next post, I’ll show you what I created with the Avenger Remix video toolkit, and discuss what I hoped to convey…
Spoiler alert: I didn’t skimp on the explosions.