This would be our new videographic project (which we started scetching out late 2009), and I got to say, I am quite happy to push the paintball-related video clips off my editing table for now. Seeing the same material over and over again, from the conferences to my doing-the-Edward-Scissorhands on the editing table – well, its stating to finally become just a bit stale… So, on to new and better things it is, then, and what will such things entail?
For us, an exploration of the consumer community partaking into the growing ‘dubstep’ electronic scene is the answer. We needed an interesting and a highly audiovisual cultural phenomenon, and a great deal of access. Dubstep gave us all of the above.
Coming this far, we have come to understand the role of access and autoethnographic accounts when going after an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon and rich material for its representation. This time we did not have to search far and wide. Our initial impulse came from the ‘Illicit Pleasure’ JCR article (Goulding, Shankar, Elliott & Canniford 2009), even though what we consequently set out to go after is quite different, except for taking an interest in consumption cultures revolving around electronic music. As it happened, I used share a student flat with Risto Roman (going by the alias Desto), and at the time we got together to experiment with music production. I might even post up some of our work dating back to the days of yore, but I’ll need to summon some more courage before you’ll see that happening. With all the other things on my plate, my musical ambitions (or dabblings) had become comprehensively afterburnered. Meanwhile, Desto had gone on to establish himself as an internationally known dubstep producer and DJ.
In this project, he would thus be the autoethnographic member, Joonas would look at the phenomenon from a somewhat less acculturated perspective and I would initially be the fence-sitter with some experience in producing (and obviously partying out to) electronic music, albeit not so much specifically related to the dubstep genre.
Before we entered into the contexts where dubstep happens, we held (quite) thorough conversations about the curiosities of dubstep culture with Risto. Additionally, he provided us with a wealth of internet resources in the form of forums (e.g. Step Ahead), blogs (e.g. Blackdown) and insider documentaries (e.g. Dubfiles) all revolving around dubstep. At that point Risto had already set up interview sessions with renowned DJ/producers as they came over to Finland to strut their stuff at dubstep parties. At present, we have already conducted some interesting filming with a couple of DJ/producers of international fame in interesting backstage settings and the like.
This time, in order to not spend as long pondering on what the hell we are actually doing, we decided to focus on uncovering the perspectives of cultural agents, specifically the DJ/producers, who, through their actions, shape and reproduce the culture. At this early stage we are primarily interested in (still hanging on to the practice theory as a foundation),
- The practices that drive the evolution of the dubstep culture
- Agency and authentication in dubstep culture
- The marginal/mainstream tension regarding this genre of electronic music
Next we are looking forward to visiting some of the most interesting international settings where dubstep has a central role. This would, at the very least, entail two trips to UK (Croydon and Bristol) and a hop over the pond to the states (New York). We will keep you all updated about our progress (and all unplanned slapstick-like outcomes during the process) on this same bat channel, so please keep reading this blog in the future as well.
While this project is still at quite an early stage (we are going after a rich ethnographic immersion, not a few quick & dirty interviews), we have already submitted some early scribblings to the CCT 2010 conference. Hopefully we get accepted, and I hope to see all you guys there.
Dubfiles – Dubstep Documentary. Directed by G. McCann and G. Jugdeese. Dubfiles 2008.
Goulding, C., Shankar, A., Elliott, R., Canniford, R. 2009. The Marketplace Management of Illicit Pleasure. Journal of Consumer Research. 35, 5, 759-771.
After the great experience in ACR, there was still one more round of editing to do regarding the ‘Brothers in Paint’ project. After winning the ‘Juror’s Prize’ we were asked by Rob Kozinets to send the same video to the EACR 2010 conference in London. We still felt quite unsatisfied with many aspects of our film, and so we decided to give the material one more extensive treatment. The film was still excessively long, too much of what was said in the interviews was muddied by background noise (all our material was captured in situ, and with paintball that obviously entails people frantically shooting each other in the background) and the overall soundtrack was in need of a professional touch.
After seeing our videos ad nauseum in presentations and the editing table, slicing off more material was not as painful as it had been before ACR. The final cut for EACR thus became close to 35 minutes in length. Still not particularly short as far as videographies in ACR go, but getting closer to what can possibly be viewed without the need to pitch up a tent. To tackle the background noise, we added subtitles to everything. Finally, the artist responsible for the background music, Desto, took the whole video soundtrack (speaks and everything) for a final mix down. On the whole, the outcome for me is satisfactory, granted I would like to redo the whole thing from scratch now – the outcome would be quite different (then again, when is this not the case?). Yes, the outcome is still very much just descriptive in nature and the theoretical point needs further sharpening, but overall, I guess it can defend its place
Obviously, we were again guilty of the classic mistake of thinking, “It’s a matter of a few touch-ups and a little cutting, I’ll have it done in a couple of days.” Well, it took over two weeks, as ideas seemed to pop up as we went along. Even the subtitling alone took almost a full week. Add the typical blue screen here and there, and my laptop came close to a tragic accidental ‘falling to the ceiling’ more than once. Video editing, folks, is some orders of magnitude more unpredictable and demanding than journal writing, believe it or not. Perhaps one day I’ll get this point to such a degree that I’ll actually have my calendar planned properly. I’m not holding my breath though.
We, as self-appointed anarchists, are always looking to question existing structures. Therefore we wanted to become the worlds first to openly showcase our material to everyone. Videography, for me, can be a powerful tool for popularizing science and to be more popular, it has to be public. Therefore, here is our EACR 2010 submission in its entirety. Please enjoy!
More than two years have passed since the first time Joonas crashed into my office with but a glimmer of an idea. Now the first project is complete, and were quickly branching out towards new endeavors. Our work using videographic methodology is certainly not over. Actually, its only really getting started.
- A diverse research team peppered with an autoethnographic angle works great – it’s all about access. Traditional ethnography is difficult in and of itself, now you have the added desensitizing and obstructing thingie called a camcorder. Plan for this, ensure a welcoming access (for each member of your research team)!
- Doing all filming in situ is the way to really bring out the effect of the video – even if it means background noise and a somewhat shaky shot. It’s the entire context you are going after, not just a talking head, which leads us to…
- …always asking, whatever you do, “Why video? What does it (in every particular instance you are shooting) add to traditional textual representation?”
Even when facing adversities, never ever give up! Instead, do your best to anticipate and remedy hardships before they happen. They will. Don’t let them stop you
Fortunately I had two things going my way, 1) a relatively intimate relationship with Photoshop and a background of having been involved in electronic music producing, and 2) a friend and a team member, Raffe, who already knew many of the tricks of video editing. Thus I picked the same software (Premiere) and pleaded him at his doorstep long enough to soften his heart. Finally letting me in, he discovered his mistake. When it comes to software, I’m of the trial-and-error type, that is, trying and erring at a considerably fast and sloppy pace. You probably guessed it, he was of the more organized type. Yet, he managed to ram the fundamentals into my head with admirable grace (though I think the reason why he went to the restroom so often was, rather than relieve himself, to swear at my incompetence while muffling his voice with a towel). Our videography crew was now definitely in business.
I remember that self-learning Photoshop at quite a young age was a tedious and frustrating exercise. It seemed that there was an excess of unfathomable things that ‘you were just supposed to know’. Oh, how the memory of these days of yore returned when I strarted to dig deeper into editing with Premiere. The basic editing tools themselves were quite straightforward, it was the bottomless abyss of video formats that got me. Never before have I read through so many user forums (and called Raffe when all else failed) and help files. Somehow however, we started to have a rudimentary skeleton of a piecemeal of a frame of a videography. We were on our way.
And on that way we certainly did collide with the ACR 2009 Film submission deadline with quite a momentum. The ACR 2009 Pittsburgh had been our ultimate aim. To get a film accepted there was the goal, and this goal we had to achieve. What we did not anticipate, however, was how poorly we were prepared to finalize our material into something that could bear, even in passing, a resemblance to real videography. With multiple problems encountered with adding graphics, choosing acceptable target formats, and even fighting with the ‘credits’ tool, recording and mixing in a commentary seemed easy enough. And indeed, after two uncooperative audio interfaces and one broken laptop, we finally managed to squeeze my shaky voice on the film (at this point it was 5:30 in the morning, after all).
The outcome was still clunky and quite unfinished (and today I certainly wonder if anything will ever really be anything else), but after two work-oriented nights, the deadline was upon us. We actually had to finally ship the finished submission DVDs in double-triple express mode (or alternatively the post office just decided to play a joke on us, you decide). Feeling a little dazed and incomplete (perhaps somewhat nauseous too – well I had been up for close to 48 hours), it was done however, and we felt comforted by the opportunity to rework some of the film if an ‘accepted’ with revision’ were to be upon us.
The cover of the DVD we shipped off to ACR
And that was what we came to receive. The comments were brief, pretty much only suggesting us to shorten the overall length of the video. This was hardly surprising, as the original DVD we shipped out was a massive hour+ long. The final version came out to be a somewhat more manageable 47 minutes (still quite a mouthful). Yet, for us, it seemed difficult to cut parts away, as our study was intended to be a descriptive visual account of the social practices of tournament paintball culture. Ethnographic description (as anyone familiar with CCT ethnographies in JCR knows) needs substantial amounts of material to show as much as possible of the cultural practice, and we simply felt that every piece sliced off decreased the descriptive power of our argument.
Anyhow, then we were off to Pittsburg to present our video at ACR 2009.
There once was a time when I did not have the faintest of notions that academic research could (or in some cases should, as we wish to argue here) be conducted on video format (and some might, to a large extent quite rightly, still hold that position). Actually, there was a time when I really did not consider consumerism or consumer culture a viable option to take interest in regarding a potential academic career. This all started to quickly change, however, on an interesting (and quite faithful) day in early 2008.
That day Joonas crashed into my office, and I remember there was an air of enthusiasm and urgency about him. He said we should immediately begin to plan how we could start researching my long time hobby, tournament paintball, from the perspective of consumer tribes, utilizing an ethnographic approach (myself as an autoethnographic member of the research team). Culture, from the inside, is obviously and extremely elusive concept – actually, at the time, it felt altogether utterly ridiculous to think there was something so interesting in the phenomenon of tournament paintball. I had lived and breathed it for too long. In retrospect, it was naturally exactly this that had peaked Joonas’s interest – my deep commitment to my team members and my readiness to ‘hook my wallet’ onto my paintball gun every time I set out to gather the next batch of bruises to decorate my skin.
Joonas had been recently introduced to and become increasingly fascinated by the work of Russell Belk and Robert Kozinets regarding videographic methodologies in researching consumer tribes and collectives. He must have reasoned, “Paintball teams, family-type love for your team members, blood, sweat, tears, and boys (sometimes also girls) with expensive toys…what’s not to research this from a consumer tribe perspective!” We figured that this extreme sport spectacle would be an ideally visual context for trying our hand at videography (even as we, at the time, knew relatively zippo about it). Here’s some pictures of the author’s team, Helsinki Cyclone, just to give you a tickle…
In terms of initial interest, we are especially indebted to one particular JCR article, the in-depth ethnographic study of Celsi, Rose & Leigh (1993) into skydiving communities. Hell, reading it at the time almost felt like I could just control+replace the word ‘skydiver’ in the paper to ‘paintballer’, and the story would still remain accurate to a substantial degree. Immediately we felt passionate about starting to work on a context that could potentially bring about something similar.
Early on, we thought that my autoethnographic take could become an interesting starting point for this research. I had, at the time over 10 years of experience in tournament paintball. All in all, the first time I had held a paintball marker was in 1995. Joonas had, around the same time, become acquainted with Kristine De Valck, who had also expressed an interest in this research form the very beginning. We figured that a research team with varying levels of involvement in the research context could potentially bring about a very rich understanding of the consumption culture of tournament paintball. If I was the man ‘inside’, and Kristine the girl ‘outside’, then Joonas would have to become the fence-sitter. Therefore, it did not take long before Joonas was dragged to a practice session, a marker shoved into his hands, and politely told to shoot the guy coming at him ‘guns blazing’. This was the day Joonas received his first scar. He carries it still.
I myself had been playing paintball on the international scene (amateur level) since the late 90’s. Therefore, an international perspective to our research on the culture of paintball tribes came very naturally to us. The department head approved our wishes to purchase cheap equipment and go about it (excluding the laptop, all the equipment, software included, cost less than 450 Euro for the entirety of this project).
I started by myself in Spain as my team Helsinki Cyclone had a tournament coming up (Millennium Malaga 2008 – http://www.millennium-series.com/). It was a typically tentative first time. I went about testing our flunky equipment in various settings, attempting to capture the overall feel of the international tournament setting, and going about filming our first interviews while strenuously trying to be ever ready to kit up and play when our moments on the field were upon us. The interviews gave me hope, even if many players seemed somewhat reluctant to showcase their innermost thoughts in front of the camera – something which would come as less of a surprise today. Another thing that certainly seemed to put people off, was me trying to be overtly transparent about our research. Telling people, “This is an academic videographic study for an academic institution with an academic purpose at academia-scmemia” may be taking research ethics a bit too far. At the very least I seemed to be very gifted and successful in confusing/boring/horrifying the bejeesus out of people. Yet, as a test and a preliminary attempt at research it did seem to go well. Thanks should especially go out to Gus (today a member of the the Nexus organization) and Jeff (from Dye Inc.).
After Malaga, without much further ado, I packed Joonas into my luggage, and we set about to continue exploring the scene, now at the second leg of the Millennium circuit in Toulouse. At this point we were still holding on to a very abductive mindset. We wanted to speak to tournament paintball players on many levels, find out what was on their minds, and only afterwards start thinking about a theoretical approach to this study. In retrospect, I have to hold myself back not to smirk at the naivete of our initial enthusiasm. A highly abductive outlook may be all well and good for traditional ethnography into consumption culture – not to the same extent for using a videographic methodology where you ‘either got the shot or you don’t’ (Artis, 2007)! Yet, there we were, in sunny Toulouse waiving a video camcorder in our hands. What a we must have been.
Remember when I just described our first attempts as overtly abductive? Well they were, and suddenly we felt like we had conducted a dozen interviews without anything really sticking out in terms of theorizing. A thought of going to Malaga for next to nothing really stated to loom over us. And yet, just as we were beginning to doubt the whole project, a remedy came from the interviews with Oliver Lang (a professional paintball athlete – one if not the biggest name out there in the paintball world) and something of a group interview with Johannesburg Dynamix, a divisional team all the way from South Africa. Capturing their varying views on their personal passions in the sport certainly gave us the first twinkle of a half of an idea. Thus we began to focus on a descriptive exploration of the entire social practice of paintball, predominantly drawing thereafter on the work on ‘practice theory’ by Schatzki (1996, 2001, 2002) among others.
So it was time to continue on, heading to further Millennium events (Nurburg, Toulouse, London, Paris), and then finally the World Cup in Orlando.
Artis, A.Q. 2007. The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide. Oxford, UK: Focal Press.
Celsi, R.L., Rose, R.L., Leigh, T.W. 1993. An Exploration of High-Risk Leisure Consumption through Skydiving. Journal of Consumer Research. 20, 1-23.
Schatzki, T.R., 1996. Social Practices: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Human Activity and the Social. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schatzki, T.R., 2001. Introduction: practice theory. In: The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, (eds.) Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina and Eike Von Savigny. London and New York: Routledge.
Schatzki, T.R., 2002. The site of the social: a philosophical account of the constitution of social life and change. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.