video in the desert; youtube in the cities

As you probably know if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’m fascinated by indigenous media use as a model for community media practice. Whatever that means. So I was struck by this bit of a book I’m reading at the moment:

It was costly and difficult to bring hired videotapes almost 300 kilometres from Alice Springs to Yuendumu and to stop them from being scratched or damaged in the sandy desert camps and few commercial videos in the video shops in Alice Springs were attractive for the Warlpiri to hire. So the community came up with the idea of connecting all the video recorders in the camp a low-frequency, low-powered community television ‘station’ and using it to distribute a single videotape to all the sets in the community (Bell 80)

Firstly, I thought, ‘This is Youtube – this is what Youtube does for dancers.’ Before Youtube, dancers would distribute edited bits of archival film (featuring dance, of course) via video, and later as digital clips on CDs. Then Youtube happened, and suddenly all those locally distributed clips were online, available to everyone. Previous networks of exchange and the associated hierachies of knowledge and supply were dismantled. Everyone could watch archival clips, could see the original lindy hoppers (and balboa dancers and blues dancers and charlestoners and black bottomers and…) and experiment with the movements they saw. In my thesis I wrote about the way this upset hiearchies of knowledge in the local Melbourne scene, and how it had the potential to disrupt the commodification of dance (and knowledge) by dance schools and teachers.
Of course, the results weren’t quite so radical. Learning moves from grainy, downloaded Youtube clips is difficult, and many people would much rather just be taught the moves by some dood in a class. Many people don’t know where to begin when searching for archival clips online – you need to know terms (black bottom, lindy hop, charleston, Al Minns, Frankie Manning…) before you can search effectively. And of course, dance classes serve a range of functions beyond the transfer of dance knowledge – they socialise new dancers, they provide peer groups for the lonely, fellow addicts for the junkies and so on.
But Youtube is fascinating for the way it changed how dancers acquire and watch archival footage. Within a year, things I’d written about in my thesis were changed, utterly. And in the last year, Faceplant has changed things again. The most important part of faceplant for this particular community is the way it’s integrated and conglomerated a host of different media. Audio files, youtube clips, online discussion, blogs, newsletters, event notices, email: all of them centralised in one site. Facebook, though it is effectively a gated community* has also suddenly connected thousands and thousands of dancers all over the world. And in a very public, collaborative way. I’ve been fascinated by the way ‘being friends’ with a few key, well-traveled dancers can connect you up to a host of international scenes.
This was proved most clearly in the recent passing of Frankie Manning, just a few weeks before his 95th birthday. I’d like to write more about that, but I don’t feel up to it, really. And I think Frankie deserves more than one poorly written post on my blog; I’d like to write something properly. But this one event illustrated most clearly the connectedness and sheer speed of communications within the online swing dance community. It has also pointed out, thoroughly, that my ideas about localised communities are still very important: we might all be online, but we are still thoroughly grounded, embodied and localised by dance.
Of course, we can still make the point that this sort of media use – as with the Yuendumu example – is not like traditional broadcast media. The difference is not so much that we aren’t really working with the ‘few-to-many’ model of distribution, but that these are smaller groups taking up ‘new’ media and adapting them to their own particular circumstances. Wether those circumstances require dealing with dust or a way of seeing elders.**
*Thanks for that term, D4E.
**And of course, here is where parallels between Yuendumu and swing dancers arise again: the Warlpiri media collective has been very concerned with filming and then distributing the filmed image of elders. Just as swing dancers have been focussed on distributing filmed images of elders – swing era dancers. Both, of course, are managed by extensive social and pedagogic networks. And both rework ‘pedagogy’ for their particular contexts.
Bell, Wendy. A Remote Possibility: the Battle for Imparja Television IAD Press: Alice Springs, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.