Mash-up trailers and YouTube: “birth” of a new media object
You have probably already seen them and maybe you have not even noticed them. Some people describe them as ‘trash’, as ‘gosh awful bad’, as ‘YouTube spam’, and others might describe them as ‘(amateur) art’. A more neutral way to describe them is: mash-up or remix video’s. While opinions about the quality of these audiovisual objects may differ, analyzed from a cultural perspective, these mashed up pieces of visual and auditory culture show an interesting change in the consumption and (amateur) production of audiovisual media objects.
The mash-up video, the mash-up trailer in specific, is a relatively new phenomenon within audiovisual culture. It’s a type of video wherein different types of media objects are being brought together, reconstructed and remixed within one ‘new’ media object. The following will focus on the ‘relationship’ between mash-up trailers and YouTube.
There is not an official name for the mash-up video (yet). Names that are often used for these types of media objects are remix, re-edit, mix-up and recut. A mash-up video is a video, which is composed out of various elements, derived from various audiovisual media. These elements can be movie fragments, fragments from television shows, fragments taken from radio, sound snippets, images, trailers, music, et cetera. In general, mash-up videos are characterized by the fact that there are no (or hardly) elements used by the makers/users themselves.
The creator of the video, author as you will, is the person (or group) who composes and uploads the audiovisual material. He or she is not the author of the original material that is being used. He/she is the author/director of his/her own work of compilation. These (amateur) creators do not own the copyrights of the products they use. The creators are assemblers of copyrighted material and create their own versions/media objects by using the products of culture. In Remix, Lawrence Lessig calls these culture products the tokens of our culture: ‘The images or sounds are taken from the tokens of our culture, whether digital or analog’ (74). Recycling or reusing other tokens of culture to create new tokens of culture is the base of remixing.
Three types of mash-up videos are particularly present on YouTube. The most common kind of mash-up is the music mash-up. A type of mash-up where music (and videoclips) are being remixed or re-edited. An example of the music mash-up is the work of Hugo Leclercq, an electronic musician also known as Madeon.
The second type is the mash-up wherein actualities are being used. Political satire or political parodies are the most well-known kinds of the actuality mash-ups. Examples of the second type of mash-ups are the mash-ups in the Read My Lips series, made by Johan Söderberg, and the political mash-ups made by Sander van Pavert in the LuckyTV series. In both cases music fragments, film fragments or statements are being combined with archive-material from news and actuality programs. Through the combination of varying sets of media elements, new interpretations of existing material is being created.
The third type is the mash-up trailer. Mash-up trailers are specifically made out of elements derived from the medium film. By editing footage from (original) movies and/or trailers, ‘new’ trailers are created. It is the cultural product film, what makes this type of mash-up stand out. An example of the latter is Titanic: Two The Surface (sequel): a 4 minute and 30 seconds during mash-up trailer that is composed out of 23 movies.
After seeing (maybe your first) mash-up trailer, you might not be impressed (or ever will be). So what makes mash up trailers special or stand out and what has YouTube got to do with it?
The multimedia platform named YouTube
Following are some basic characteristics of the media platform YouTube. These features play a key role in the production, consumption and exchange of mash-up videos. One might argue that the mash-up trailer derives its existence from the multimedia platform named YouTube.
To begin with, YouTube is a website where anyone with access to Internet, can place content or watch content on. The content is placed on the website by the users, therefore referred to as user-generated content. The user-generated content may consist of photos, videos, music and/or text. From this point of view YouTube can be described as a multimedia platform that supports a wide variety of media objects (Kavoori, Reading YouTube: the Critical Viewers Guide).
Secondly, YouTube’s internal programming, the web architecture, is based on a complementary relationship between data, data structure and algorithms. The user-generated content forms the data on which the database is constructed. All these data are connected and function through a certain set of formulas/algorithms, made visible through the interface. The interface provides access to the underlying database (Manovich, The Language of New Media). In this way, based on its structure and functionality, YouTube can be described as an archive/database consisting out of the user-generated content.
The platform has been designed in a way that the data generated by the users, the audiovisual objects, can be supplemented with descriptions and tags. The users decide what the search terms, tag clouds, are. The process of data-indexing, the hierarchical classification of an archive/database, is an action that is performed by the users themselves. The users take part in the expansion and indexing of the database. Therefore YouTube is also a participatory-medium.
To end this YouTube introduction, the social features of the medium will be addressed. The medium shows forum-like qualities. Users can create their own account(s). Using these accounts, users are able to comment on videos or communicate with each other through comments. Users are able to send messages and receive messages from other account members or subscribe to YouTube channels or YouTube accounts. These options, to participate in a digital community and perform social and communicative actions, make of this medium a social medium. Or as Tim O’Reilly famously coined the participatory and social properties of digital mediums on the internet: Web 2.0 (What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software).
One of Web 2.0’s key features, is what O’Reilly calls its ‘remixability’. It is this remixability, the ability to write and rewrite, which comes to notice in mash-up video’s and the functionality of YouTube. The mash-up, or remixing itself, is now even facilitated and stimulated by YouTube. In June 2010 YouTube introduced the experimental version of the browser-based video editor: an application that allowed users to edit videos on the website. When first introduced, the YouTube video Editor was part of TestTube. ‘This is where YouTube engineers and developers test out recipes and concoctions that aren’t quite fully baked and invite you to tell us how they’re coming along.’
However, since January 2012 the YouTube video Editor has been officially launched. It offers users to carry out numerous editing processes online without the need to purchase, download or install software onto their computers. Editing your own material, or material from the archive, is an integrated feature of the platform. By adding a video editor to its feature set, YouTube is making a (big) step towards the remix-community.
The YouTube video Editor:
Though anyone with an account can posts videos, it must be noted that YouTube is owned by Google Limited Liability Company. All data present on the website can and will be deleted if considered necessary.
Read/Write, Read/Only culture and media convergence
This final part will focus on film and its transition onto digital media. In Remix, Lessig describes two kinds of culture, he calls them Read/Write (RW) culture and Read/Only (RW) culture. Lessig uses the following explanations for the names: In the language of today’s computer geeks, we could call the culture […] “Read/Write” (“RW”) culture: The analogy is to the permissions that might attach to a particular file on a computer. If the user has “RW” permissions, then he is allowed to both read the file and make changes to it. If he has “Read/Only” permissions, he is allowed only to read the file. (28)
In RO culture consumers/users of cultural products are not able to edit or (re-) produce these cultural products. In contrast, RW culture is characterized by the possibility for consumers/users to edit, (re-) create and (re-) produce the products of culture with the same ‘tools’ used by professionals. The remix, in this case the mash-up video/trailer, is a product of this cultural form. Or as Lessig puts it: ‘Remix is an essential act of RW creativity. It is the expression of a freedom to take […] and create […]’ (56).
The transition from RO to RW culture starts with the cultural products of RO-culture, the tokens of RO culture. For almost the entire twentieth century these tokens were analog products. Film, for almost its entire existence, has been based on analog technology. The production and distribution of these products took place with the aid of machinery and analog technologies. According to Lessig these analog product shared two important limitations: ‘[…] first, any (consumergenerated) copy was inferior to the original; and second, the technologies to enable a consumer to copy an RO token were extremely rare’ (37). Mainly because of the technologies, the studio systems and the specific knowledge and skills, the production of film has only been accessible to the professional sector. The media objects that the production companies produced could only be consumed. In this case consumption means that consumers of the media objects use the media object in a way that was intended by its producers. Using the cultural products in a different way was (almost) impossible. With the advent of digital media, and the convergence of media, the boundary between the (professional) production and consumption of cultural products has strongly faded.
In Convergence Culture Henry Jenkins postulates what the consequences might be when old and new media collide. He states the following about media convergence: ‘Media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences. Convergence alters the logic by which media industries operate and by which media consumers process news and entertainment’. (16).
The mash-up trailer is a media object that derives from these changes. Film is a cultural token that has been part of RO culture. New technologies and digital media have made the digitalization of film possible. Through media convergence the properties, but also the content of other media can be acquired by the digital medium. YouTube is such a medium, and film is one of the many types of media that has been acquired by YouTube. These transitions contribute in the fact that film is now part of RW culture.
The judicial, economic and cultural constructions, which are constructed on the basis of the (previous) analog media, have been/are changing because of qualities/possibilities that lie within the digital media. This results in a new situation and a new way in which media products are consumed and reproduced by amateur producers. Remixing is part of a vastly growing digital community on YouTube. And following the recently added editing functions on YouTube, the media platform seems to support this community.
For the years(?) to come, it will be interesting to see how professional production and consumers/amateur producers will deal with these changes and what role YouTube will have during these transitions.
Center for Social Media. Center for Social Media. 2008. American University School of Communication. <http://centerforsocialmedia.org/>
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
Kavoori, Anandam. Reading YouTube: the critical viewers guide. New York: 2011.
Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
LuckyTVMedia. YouTube. 9 Mei 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/user/LuckyTVMedia?feature=chclk>
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001.
O’Reilly, Tim. “What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.” O’Reilly. 30 September 2005. O’Reilly Media, Inc. 4 april 2012.<http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=1>
Soderbergtv. YouTube. 24 September 2007. Maart 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/user/soderbergtv>
YouTube. 2005. Google, Limited Liability Company. <http://www.youtube.com>