"Pop Culture Hacker" Jonathan McIntosh on "Buffy vs. Edward"
We love fan-made, mash-up videos. Whether they're anime music videos or strange juxtapositions of beloved TV shows, the creativity, humor and technical skill involved continues to impress us. But, when vidders, or fan video editors, use their skills to highlight criticism of various media, things start to get really interesting.
Last Thursday, we headed to Cal State Northridge for its Remixing Pop Culture panel. Organized by video blogger Anita Sarkeesian, the event focused on mash-ups that specifically critique gender roles in mass media. (Check out her video game commentary set to Flight of the Conchords.) Featured on the panel was Jonathan McIntosh, a vidder, media literacy educator and fair use activist who might be best known to the YouTube-viewing world as the person behind the viral hit "Buffy vs. Edward."
A "pop culture hacker," McIntosh has previously used vidding as a medium for critiquing media responses to war in Iraq and the 2008 presidential debates. With "Buffy vs. Edward," McIntosh zoomed in on the often-criticized behavior of Twilight's romantic hero, Edward Cullen, by piecing together scenes of the blockbuster movie with those from the hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the video, he asks how a female lead like Buffy deal with the domineering vampire.
We spoke with McIntosh prior to his engagement.
What kind of mash-up videos were you doing when you first began to learn the technology?
I actually started recording the build-up to the war in Iraq, so I was recording TV-- CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC-- and me and a few friends of mine were horrified at what was going on, what seemed to be cheerleading for the war. The reporters were really excited about the military weaponry, but there was really very little discussion about what happens when those things land on people. So, we were recording all of this. For the first two days of this war, or any war, they don't have commercial interruptions, but after that they bring commercial interruptions back in. We ended up just sort of scanning through all of this footage that we had from days and days and we notice that the ads started to blend in with the coverage. They would be talking about a weapon or a certain product through part of the newscast and then there were be an ad. I guess in early 2003, we thought to mix those ads with the news footage and some documentary footage, sort of like repurposed ads.
Is part of your goal to start a conversation?
Definitely. I don't think I have anything specifically unique in my analysis of the situation. I didn't make up a critique of Edward Cullen or a critique of McCain and Obama on foreign policy [see "So You Think You Can Be President"]. What I was trying to do was use a humorous and fun video in the style of a remix to further that conversation and to push that conversation outside of political blogs and academic papers into a place that's more of a public arena. I think that humor is a great way to do that and I think that repurposing media and repurposing characters that are already familiar is a great way to open up that conversation. With "Buffy vs. Edward," that definitely happened. I was able to spark a conversation that was there under the surface, it was waiting to happen in a broader arena. It was certainly happening in Bitch Magazine. It was already happening in the academic arena and so on, but it wasn't happening on Twilight blogs. After my remix, it was.
I read that you're a fan of bell hooks. With the "Buffy vs. Edward" video, were you drawing upon how bell hooks tries to engage people who might not consider themselves to be feminists?
Yeah, definitely. I actually really appreciate and admire how she's able to take issues like feminism or other political issues and points of view that are marginalized and she's able to use pop culture, or pop culture icons, to have those conversations with people who may not be otherwise familiar. She has some fantastic books that I love and I was really inspired by that. Part of her approach, which is a very human approach, a pop culture approach, is that she's not dumbing down her analysis, she's framing it with things people are engaging with on a daily basis.
I'm not standing up and doing an academic analysis necessarily, but I am using the same pop culture world to frame those ideas.
It's interesting to see people's reaction to the word feminist. It says somewhere in my description on YouTube that this is a pro-feminist remix video. There have been a handful of comments, not that many, there's 9,000 comments or more and there are probably five or six mostly young men, or I think are young men, saying "This remix is awesome. I love it. But feminism is bullshit, so now I don't." What? You like the content but you're offended by this word in the description? I don't understand.