This was not the first time I’ve worked with digital video, but it is the first time I’ve ever made something even remotely similar to a mash-up. Recording how-to videos, vlogs, or video game-related videos and editing those is one thing, but looking at hours of media and trying to process and synthesize them into a video is a very different animal.
To be frank, I dislike the idea of mash-ups, both in video and otherwise—I had to write a “multi-genre” piece in another class that was a similar idea of combining various styles into one thing, and I disliked that, as well. I like telling stories and I like making statements, but I’ve always been very particular with how I do things: Why buy a computer when I can make one myself, why buy a Halloween costume when I can sew, why put together a video that is a stitched together version of other videos when I can make something myself?
With that in mind, I had to really rethink how I approached this assignment. At first, I had the ideas sketched out, much like the storyboard rough draft we were assigned to do. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted to find things that fit right so, but when you’re not working with your own creations, things simply do not work like that, so instead of trying to find videos that fit my story, I ended up scrapping everything and finding videos that had images I thought I could work with, editing those videos down to the related sections, and then seeing how those could fit into a greater story. I needed to tell a story, but I could not do it by looking at the story in a linear fashion and hoping what I had would fit. Instead, I started to look at it as a puzzle where I had all these pieces, and if I put them together just right, there would be something there: It would no longer be a mass of colors and lines, but a fully-formed image (or in this case, idea).
Another challenge while creating the mash-up is that I do not think—or make any sort of art—with semiotic theories in mind. I think, “Putting that clip next to that will be powerful,” or “Speeding up this clip will create a sense of urgency” without telling myself that I’ve used this-or-that theory. These theories are things I assign to what I’ve done afterward, when I look into my motivations and reasoning, and this is also why I know I have trouble discussing my work in relation to these ideas. I can tell you why did something in this process, but to say it was a conscious choice to relate one clip to another in an active attempt to represent the idea of truth of falsity is not how I think, and in that way I approached this assignment like I approach any story I write, thinking about what I want to say and how to get there without getting bogged down by concepts. I worked on giving it meaning before searching out ways to add to develop the little nuances that would make or break my point.
And while, through all of this, I still dislike the mash-ups as a whole, I have come away with more respect for the medium: To tell a story without using your own words and/or images, with content you had no hand in the creation of, is a strange and arduous task. It required thinking in ways that I rarely do, and to some extend helped me make realization about my own story-telling. Although not related to mash-ups, often I would look at non-linear stories, or mysteries, and think of how I would never know how to put together a plot myself, creating something that was not more tradition in form, but through my many mash-up trials and errors, I have figured out this: That sometimes it is best not to see a story as a linear thing, but as a puzzle waiting to be solved (or taken apart). Puzzles make an image, and images tell stories, but they are not given to you with the pieces numbered 1 to 1,000, and the ability to think of stories in this way has opened many doors for me, writing was (although I do still expect many errors along the way—after all, it only took me scrapping one whole draft to finally get this project on track).
Perhaps the most apparent of semiotic theories used in my mash-up is metaphor. When I sat down to think of less obvious imagery for breaking up parts of the video, I thought what could lead the viewer to make certain connections and assumptions. The most obvious of this is my use of flowers: I used flowers in bloom both to show innocence, and the idea of flowering sexuality. Flowers can be symbols of both sex and naivety so the duel-nature worked perfectly in this. I also used images of spinning flowers that, like women, are often on display. They are there to look at, but not touch, but can also so easily be “plucked” and abused (please forgive the cliché nature of that statement). There is a final flower in the mash-up, as well, used when tension is mounting – one that has died, the final petal falling off. It is meant to be a darker, sadder image. It is a flower whose life has been eaten away, just as the skin of the decaying fox is eaten away, or the weird torn skin-cell-looking image that is repeated is broken. Working in any form of the sex industry can destroy a woman, not because of the job itself, but because of the treatment these women suffer at the hands of people who view them as no better than that dead fox.
This idea of purity and decay was not limited to more esoteric images, though. The choice to use the image of two men drowning a woman that is repeated through the mash-up was also carefully chosen. Being forced into water, of course, recalls thoughts of baptism and purity. It’s as though the men are trying to make this woman clean, passing judgment for her unknown acts, or, in this case, her known act: Being a woman and being sexual. She is a stand-in for all the other confident, sexual women in the mash-up only unlike more obvious sexual violence (the images of rape through the mash-up) is represents the moral judgment that is passed, which is important to remember because without that moral judgment there would be no acceptance of violence against sex workers.
I also found that, more than any other concept, I relied on contrasting images to make this mash-up. I had various types of images, but in my mind they were divided into four types: Women being sexual (and in turn powerful, either through their beauty or through gaining money using only their confidence), atmosphere images (namely the flowers) that were more peaceful and feminine, images meant to unsettle (decay, dark alleys), and, finally, violence (images from the Jack the Ripper murders, “casual” violence taken from older educational films, and then more graphic images from modern film and television). In the beginning I would use this to try to lull the audience into a moment of beauty and power before adding a more violent image (generally more subtle). As the mash-up goes on, however, the frequency and intensity of the violence increases, with the more elegant clips being the uncommon moments. I wanted tension to increase as the mash-up went along, giving viewers less time to “relax” between violent moments.
In a similar manner, even as violence in mounting after the two minute mark, as the music goes on without vocals, I switch to black and white for the clips. Black and white has an older feel, and in many ways I find that black and white does allow the viewer to distance themselves from the content, even as the violence continues. When the vocals kick back in so does the color. In some ways I wanted this absence of color to also represent the idea of a desensitized viewer of violence. “It happens every day,” Emilie Autumn sings in my background music, and as a society we are often unsurprised about violence against women in sexual jobs (or who are sexual in general). The color shows that we should not be this way—that it’s still real, even when it does not seem like it is.
And this mash-up very much would not exist if not for the music. Emilie Autumn is a fairly controversial singer herself, and “Let the Record Show” is reportedly about the Jack the Ripper murders or the murder of a sex worker in general. But more important is the ire and disdain in her voice—not for the woman she sings about, but the man, willing to be a participant in the job of the sex worker, but unwilling see that if he chooses to judge the woman, he needs to judge himself, too. And should he judge himself, perhaps he needs to judge society’s thoughts on sex as a whole.