[ Reflection ]
One of the reasons that I decided to take the graduate course, Visual Rhetoric and Multimodal Composition with Dr. Bill Wolff, is because the course assignments allow me a unique opportunity to to compose a multimodal statement on an issue that I feel a deep sense of conviction about. The theme of my remix is how our contemporary culture is shaping the sense of self and identity in little girls and ‘tweens’ through the exploitation of their sexuality engineered by the media and fashion industries.
For quite some time I had wanted to explore a topic via the medium of videography as I am very visually inclined person. (However, I have to confess that I felt slightly hesitant when approaching the idea of doing a video remix as I did not have a base of prior experience of using video software.)
I created my video, Little Beauties, A Visual Remix with Windows Movie Maker 2.6. During the initial process of creating my remix I was grateful that WMM is relatively uncomplicated to use, especially when compared to more sophisticated software such as Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas. The lack of learning curve made the mechanics of editing easy for me to pick up as a videography neophyte. I very much enjoyed the process of editing cuts and synchronizing them with the song I had chosen, RockStar by Prima J.
However, it was during the final step of rendering the clips and sound track to play on YouTube that I encountered difficulty with the program crashing several times and giving nebulous alerts that were extremely frustrating to troubleshoot. (Dr. Wolff had warned us prior to beginning our remix journey that WMM is infamous for such issues and therefore he highly recommended purchasing software such as Pinnacle Studio HD or Movie Edit Pro.) Looking back, I feel the process would have been more fluid had I purchased one of the programs in lieu of using WMM. Despite the challenges, I was very pleased with the overall quality of the final video–especially since it was my first remix.
The process of creating my remix involved a tremendous amount of research and online scouring through literally hundreds of videos and documentaries. Dr. Wolff provided us with a wealth of resources to search ephemeral, educational, and archived footage via his course page, and so I began pouring through sites such as Documentary Heaven, adViews, LIFE Magazine Photo Archive, spending hours downloading videos via Zamzar. Thankfully, shortly into the project, my fiancé led me to the Google Chrome YouTube Downloader Extension which saved me a significant amount of time vs. using Zamzar to convert videos.
The ratio of videos that I downloaded, compared to the ones that I actually used in my remix is probably 10 to 1. I wasn’t exactly sure at a brief glance which videos might have that ‘priceless’ 5 second clip, so I ‘went for broke’ initially and collected whatever seemed to have potential. In my experience, this stage of the remixing process–the ‘shopping stage’ as I like to call it–is both exhilarating and challenging, exhilarating because of the diversity of footage available yet challenging because there is so much it can seem overwhelming trying to locate exactly what is envisioned.
Relating to the composition process in terms of how the multimodal medium of video and the medium of print share common ground lies in the aspect that they are both forms of narrative.
To illustrate how narrative is fleshed out in a video remix, before my class began working on our videos, Dr. Wolff assigned us to create a storyboard for the first third of our remix, (I like to think of the storyboard as a ‘visual embodiment’ of the narrative thread of the topic.)
Locating a central conflict or ‘message’ for the remix is paramount–as in writing any essay or a piece of fiction) as it provides anchorage as well as clarity and focus during the composition process.
[ Technique + Visual Rhetoric ]
When I first began my remix, I wanted the first cut to capture a sense of childhood, beauty and innocence, yet with deliberate overtones of sexiness and glamour. I had this all in mind, but it was far from easy to locate. How does one actually find footage with so many shades? That was my challenge. While searching all night on YouTube, around 3 or 4 a.m., I finally stumbled upon a talent video of Isabel Saige, a nine year old–going on 25. In the video Isabel is donned in a low-cut, red sequined dress, while dancing in a field holding balloons. I used just a few seconds of the video to open my remix narrative, as it set the tone perfectly. I like to think of the first few cuts as being a kind of ‘gestalt’ for the visual narrative as a ‘whole’–they are representative of the sum combination of nuances and tones which are portrayed throughout the video.
Once the opening was established, my intent was to show images which captured innocence and simplicity–specifically ones that did not have sensual, sexual, or ‘glitzy’ overtones to them, (so as to allow the tension to build.) For this, I used a combination of contemporary, journalistic-style footage coupled with footage from the 1950’s. The beginning images are modern; we see two little girls in princess-style dresses wearing tiaras playing with a toy castle. This footage is juxtaposed with two vintage cuts from television commercials and we see little girls playing with dolls–in a similar innocent fashion. I wanted my viewer to get a clear sense of a type of play, behavior and interaction that is not nuanced or influenced with ‘adult’ or glamorous themes. My objective here was to portray how ‘childhood’ has been carried on through societal eras–up until now.
In terms of rhetorical devices and icons, early on we see the two little ‘princesses’ both wearing crowns. The crown evolves to become an icon that takes on a dualistic meaning. First, we see the crown used to represent little girls interacting in the role of a princesses–in the sense that they are the embodiment of beauty and royalty, (i.e., value based intrinsically.) Later on in the beauty pageants, we see how the crown become an icon representative of an external, glamorized sense of power–representative of the girl’s glamour and sensual charm. The visual use of the crown throughout the remix is meant to convey a shift of value in identity.
Relating to cultural icons as Scott McCloud says in his book, Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art, “Ours is an increasingly symbol-oriented culture. As the twenty-first century approaches, visual iconography may finally help us realize a form of universal communication” (p. 58).
Choosing a song for my topic was a journey. At one point, I spent an entire afternoon sampling songs from Jamendo. Originally, I planned to opt for a song that had a meditative, nostalgic feel. After much searching and feeling at a loss, I decided to proceed with the video and come back to finding my song. It was only after I started the remix that it became apparent to me what the song needed to exhibit. I felt it needed a sense of motion and energy, so it needed to be fast paced with a sassy, sexy, ‘in-your-face’ quality, yet a distinct youthful flavor. Additionally, as far as the musical composition, it was essential for the song to have a solid hip hop beat, which would allow me to ’emphasize’ images during the visual narrative that were most the intense and disturbing in terms of exploitation. I came across Rockstar by Prima J on another video that was quite different than my own concept, yet when I heard the song I instinctively knew it was the right fit for my remix.
I also chose the song for its lyrical content; the ‘rockstar chorus’ is synchronized to highlight images that our society collectively deems ‘powerful and sexy,’ and I juxtapose these images with visuals depicting the disturbing reality of what it looks like when children and toddlers are sexualized. For example, early on I show a ‘tween’ girl in a dance contest who is imitating Lady Gaga. She is singing and dancing to Bad Romance. The result is that we get a very clear picture of what it looks like when a child takes on the identity of a woman, capitalizing on her sex appeal as a female. Later in the video I show images of the glamorized world of toddler beauty pageants and dance contests, juxtaposed with the dark reality of what is actually occurring behind the stage smiles and glitz.
As the narrative unfolds, many of the images are at once intensely ‘mature’ because of the sex appeal and exaggerated glamour, yet the females depicted are unmistakably children–thus their innocence hits with acuteness. This is meant to create a sense of cognitive dissonance in the viewer, and give the impression that something macabre and unnatural is at work.
In conclusion, regarding the composition process of creating a visual narrative, as Sean Hall asserts in This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics, ” It appears that all human beings, whether ancient or modern, feel the need the need to tell stories. That is why we find folklore, fairytales, legends, proverbs, sayings, and riddles in all societies, whether they end up as anecdotes, novels, urban myths, soap operas, or ‘reality’ television programs” (p.7).
Reflecting on writing and composing, storytelling is something that is so deeply embedded in every human being. It is part of our nature; the diversity of forms in which it manifests is reflective of the kaleidoscopically magnificent design of the human soul. Narrative is inherit within us.
Hall, S. (2007). This means that: A user’s guide to semiotics. London: Lawrence King.
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: HarperPerennial.