Reflection 1: On Video Composing and Writing
Creating a message within new mediums always creates new and unexpected challenges. I have been writing all my life, honing and crafting the various ways to create meaning for audiences. Composing a mashup took me out of this comfort zone as I learned to make meaning in new ways. Through my struggles I learned the specific ways that creating a mashup was like writing and the ways that a mashup was a unique medium.
First, the process of composing is very similar to the process of writing. My video editor of choice, MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, needed to become another type of tool just like the pencil. The video editor was only a method of composition, but I couldn’t depend on it to make a message for me. I needed to be fluent in knowing how to use the editor, until I could use it without thinking about it, just like I could use Word processor without thought.
This was the first time I had used a complex video editing program to compose, but MAGIX offered a relatively user-friendly alternative. I first resisted the new technology but soon realized that I needed at least some of the new features, like manipulating time in clips or mirroring an image. I allowed time to just learn the software, cutting and merging clips, rearranging them, and adding effects. I didn’t create anything that made sense but I had a good handle on the things that MAGIX could do. Working without goals first gave me time to enjoy the medium for all that it could accomplish.
In creating the mashup, I sometimes couldn’t find how to create a specific effect. If I couldn’t find it in MAGIX itself, I would simply describe what I desired in Google. Someone, somewhere was more knowledgeable. For example, this tutorial showed me how to create ending credits after I struggled with the speed.
All in all, MAGIX wasn’t frustrating. Most of my trouble came from intellectual problems rather than technical ones. I can’t say that I have a mastery of the program, but I know how to find the answers that I need.
Elements of video creation also parallel the writing process. I gathered my sources by watching clips, similar to searching through books or academic articles for the perfect quote. It was more difficult in searching for the videos. Images aren’t processed on search engines the same ways that words are, and my keywords had to be on point for any success. I found myself recalling the videos I had watched for something that would be useful, like “when have I seen swarms of bugs?” I simply had to remember, or ask around, until the answer was revealed.
One of the images I knew I wanted to employ from the beginning was a child playing alone on a playground. This spoke to me as a clear message of isolation: innocence should not sit alone in public. YouTube search brought me to the short film “Awake,” where a teenager played alone on the swings. This wasn’t particularly useful because he wasn’t innocent and seemed to prefer isolation. However, the discovery wasn’t useless because it led me to two very relevant short films that I used extensively in my mashup: “Identity” and “Plastic.” Just like a list of sources can lead to more relevant articles, the YouTube related videos brought me to images that I could use.
I needed to revise as I continued through the mashup as well. Just like when, in writing, I realize one of my arguments is weaker than the others, I realized that I needed more footage to make a sufficient point. For example, images of being excluded through family didn’t appear until the third draft of my mashup, but was a necessary contrast to home deconstruction. Finding the Harry Potter footage was like finding the new, perfect source that should have been in a written composition all along: once it was there, the rest of the composition fell together nicely. I did more research and kept revising until my mashup, like my writing, felt succinct.
When it came to making meaning, however, creating a mashup was vastly different from writing. In writing, I chose each word and sentence carefully to argue my point. Each choice, and most importantly, the thesis, are meant to guide the reader into my own opinion.
The mashup, however, left the meaning in the reader’s hands. The viewer doesn’t know what my intentions were in including a section of video, so my argument is muted. I have the swarm of bugs as a symbol to show that these creatures, in parallel to the problem, survives in various environments. The viewer make read it differently: maybe they are disgusted by bugs and become uneasy about the rest of the video, or maybe they read the swarm like there is no containment to the problem.
In a mashup, the viewer determines what they take away from my work, and their interpretation makes the difference, like reading a poem. Yet I definitely wanted to get a point across. I began to think of the mashup as creative writing: we argue for a feeling and an overall message rather than a strict way of thinking. Just as a poem can be read in many ways with vastly different moral outcomes, the mashup can be interpreted in multiple directions.
For example, T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” has one famous line, “these fragments I have shored against my ruin.” Readers interpret this line as either he is protecting himself with the fragments that he has collected, or that the fragments are a showcase to his downfall.
My mashup can be read in the same style: in many ways. Viewers may see it as the community gives you a place of respite when all others abandon you, or that each person is hiding their identity no matter what. This may not be my point, but in using incorporating juxtaposition I have created something for them to see. My message doesn’t matter because viewers will still have formed some conclusion about othering that they didn’t have before. I only wish I could hear the interpretations.
Creating a mashup, therefore, was a form of creative writing for me, in which I used a tool to create meaning left open to the interpretation of the reader. It is a tool I hope to employ in academic projects and personal life in the future.
Reflection 2: My Mashup, Semiotic and Remix Theories
Othering Mashup: At First Glance reveals the ways that people are othered, both from their respective communities and from each other, by enhancing the isolation of each individual in and among specific communities. This meaning is created by the interpretation of the reader. More importantly, the mashup can be read in light of many semiotic theories about how meaning is made.
A majority of the meaning in mashups is made through juxtaposition, or the intentional placement of two images next to each other to create meaning. As Jason Palmeri, in his article The First Time Print Died: Revisiting Composition’s Multimedia Turn, explains, mashups must be read in a associative manner, “looking not just at how everything on one page or in one chapter is connected but rather looking at how fragments from diverse pages might be reassembled to create new compositions” (101). The message of the mashup becomes dependent on how the reader determined that each clip related to the others.
In my own mashup, I carefully juxtaposed clips to give the audience a specific message. At 1:26, the image of a bug burning under a magnifying glass is juxtaposed with the image of a girl covering her face with a mask. The message to the reader is that the intentional harm to another creature is a reason to cover your true identity: letting anyone past the mask you present to society will become dangerous if they do not value your life, like they do not value the life of the bug.
In order to completely understand the juxtaposition, the viewer must first consider the various semiotic theories at work. The mask itself is a metonym, or, according to Sean Hall, in his book This Means This, This Means That, “when one thing is substituted for another” but that the reader can interpret based on associations made in their society (56). The mask is a metonym for identity: when people try to create a new identity, they put on a figurative mask of the new person that they want to be. With this image, I brought in the idea that the way a person identifies him or herself depends on how they believe society thinks of them.
The viewer then must also consider how the bugs act as a symbol. According to Hall, a symbol is “any sign where there is an arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified” (32). Each image recalls another larger idea that may or may not be obvious. To me, bugs are a common symbol of perseverance and outliving all modes of destruction. In this specific clip, the bug squirms, but lives, under the heat of the focus of the magnifying glass. Even with the specific intent to burn the bug, the bug never dies.
If the viewer also considers the intratextuality of the image of the bugs, the idea of survival is reinforced further. Intratextuality, according to Hall, is the way an image relates to itself when it appears multiple times in the same work (126). The image of the bugs transforms from being uncontained at :31, to withdrawn from at 2:50, to studied and scrutinized at 3:21 and 3:18. No matter what environment they are placed in, the bugs still survive. Even though the bugs appear weak when being burned, isolated and vulnerable, they are surviving just like in any other image. The fact that the magnifying glass appears to dominate makes no difference when compared to the rest of the images.
In between these two images is a gutter, what Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, explains as a place that the “human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea” (66). The image of a bug burning and a mask do not have an obvious relationship to each other. But because the human mind wants to create meaning where we believe there should be meaning, we relate the two images together into one whole unit. Even if the viewer does not understand the various forms of meaning like the metonym of the masks or the symbolism of the bugs, they can still understand that the violence done to the bug – by killing it, by burning it – is a reason for a person to be afraid and hide who he or she really is.
At another moment in the mashup, at 3:48, each of the faces that have been seen throughout the mashup, looking in different directions, come together to all look at each other. A young boy alone on a playground looks left and begins an exchange of glances in which each person in each clip looks in the proper direction to return the glance. The message behind this selection of glances is that the communities of each of these individuals, while outcasting them, also forces them to outcast each other. In other words, the othering that is developed in a community reaches farther by othering anyone that is not exactly like you.
The looks of each of the individuals is an example of Hall’s idea of center and margin. In this theory, the object in the center is the most idealized, but creates a margin of things that are not the focus and therefore have less importance and less status (98). Because none of the individuals are the central focus in this montage, each one of them becomes marginalized. Their juxtaposition allows the reader to see each of the individuals looking at the next one in a circle, where no one is happy and no one has found a true sense of community.
These glances depend upon their intertextuality, when the context of the original clip adds a new level of meaning to the clip itself. Chuck Tryon, in his article Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, notes that “movie remixes, through a complicated renegotiation of intertextuality, illustrate the degree to which texts work in constant dialogue not only with other texts but also with audiences themselves” (173). In other words, when the audience understands the context they will be able to pull more meaning from the mashup. For example, the young boy, Ben (at 3:47), is a clip from Daddy Day Care. In this moment in the movie, other children are playing on the playground beside him, but not with him. He isn’t necessarily discontent with his loneliness in the movie, even though he does want friends. Knowing this context would add to the sense of isolation: Ben is more lonely because he cannot connect with others, no matter which direction he looks in trying to find friends.
Other glances can be read in the same way: each of the individuals is outcast from his or her original social circle. Harry Potter (at 3:54), from the Harry Potter franchise, is othered by his foster family, the Durselys. Castiel (at 3:50), from Supernatural season 7, episode 1, is othered by members of a church group. The young girl wearing a mask (at 3:52), from the short film Identity, is othered by the other students at her school. If the viewer can understand the intertextuality of all of these moments, he will have a true sense of the isolation and othering created when all of them look at each other.
However, as an example of noise, in which the message is not transmitted with the writer’s original intentions, the reader is likely to not understand the context of all of the clips. Luckily, they will only need to read so far as interpretation of gesture to create the same meaning that the intertextuality defines. In western society, a frown is generally a closed gesture which does not welcome others into a conversation. When all of the characters share similar expressions, all of them are excluded from each other, highlighting the ways that they are each marginalized. The prominence of each of these faces throughout the mashup leads the reader to this moment, to the epitome of loneliness. The girl with the mask, in particular, even draws the reader back to the symbolism of the bugs and survival under all conditions, so that they don’t have to know the context of the original image at all to understand her purpose in the mashup.
As a final point for this moment in the mashup, the glances also reflect Hall’s concept of sameness and difference. In this theory, Hall argues that the only thing that separates one face from another is the viewer’s own perception of difference (74). We can chose to see one as different because she is a woman, or because one is wearing a mask, or because one is significantly younger than the others. At the same time, we can also choose to see no difference at all, relating each person because they are human. With this theory in mind throughout the mashup and exemplified in this moment, I urge the viewer to see that there is no need to other people that are different because there is always at least one similarity that links two people together.
These are a scarce few examples of how Othering Mashup: At First Glance can be seen through semiotic and remix theories. The associations and theories are endless in application, but I hope that the few examples of specific moments that I have outlined here create a clear picture of the thought process behind the clips in my mashup and the complicated way meaning is created in mashups in general. These associations argue for the general acceptance of all people, and the careful consideration of the communities that build identity.