The Struggles and Ethic of a Response
by Justin Hodgson
I really wanted to respond to this video by making a video remix—by selecting key shots from the production and weaving them together. First, I wanted to bring together only the clips of the father because his presence seemed to be the major force in this video. But I also found the grandmother to be beautifully engaging, and so I tried weaving clips of those two in an attempt to reveal a snippet of a lived experience. But the mother and daughter were also insightful in subtler, but no less important ways. And so I kept trying other remixes.
But even in my fifth attempt to create a condensed, rearrangement of key passages—an attempt to highlight what I felt was the very essence of this oral history narrative—my production simply was not good enough. And it wasn’t because the production quality was poor, nor was it because I lacked some particular skill in video editing, composition, etc. Rather, it was that every single one of my attempts introduced something I wasn’t comfortable with. They all somehow kept presenting the subjects in a way that simply was not fitting. The remixes kept unintentionally reducing these lives to video loops, to sound bites, to compositional elements, and in doing so my drafts became horrifying to me for that was simply not my intention.
So, I took a break from the video response and just played with my son (a welcome break). He and I were hiding together while his mother was searching for us—hide and seek being a staple among his favorite games—and during one round he kept whispering to me while his mother looked for us. In that moment, much in the way of eccentric diagnostician Gregory House on the TV series House, I realized that what my remixes were failing to do was to recreate the sincerity and intimacy in this video project.
The subjects of this project are not revealing themselves to us, nor to the camera/machinic-audience, but to someone very close to them. Their tone and style of conversation, their gestures and humor, their very presences are dependent on their closeness with the interviewer. And every remix attempt on my part some how reduced that intimacy, took advantage of that closeness, or turned the sincerity here into kitsch. Rightfully so, I just couldn’t do that to this project.
What’s more is that I hesitated including these statements about my remixes in this response as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to reveal the possibility of having done those things, even in drafting practice. But I think what my experience and process reveals is both the central essence and the central brilliance of this project: it isn’t just an oral history video, but rather a glimpse into the lived experiences of this family, from the perspective of a loved family member. We are not just viewers or voyeurs, continuing to gawk at these people; we become friendly; we become family; we come to feel, even if only in minor, empathetic form, what some of these moments must have been like for them.
One of the most telling moment of this closeness, this familiarity, is when the daughter talks about the mother telling her the only time she remembers the father crying is when he learned that the daughter would have to wear braces on her legs. The daughter speaks in a low-volume, making us feel the message is somewhat secret, somewhat sacred. We get pulled in close to her because of this, and that closeness, coupled with this most telling of human moments, of what it means to really love one’s children, is something that is too precious and too wonderful to be sampled and mixed. It has to happen in this way, at this point in the production, because we have to build to this closeness; we have to have the history before, the connections before, in order to feel the full weight of this moment. Then, only then, does it subtly find its way into our souls.
This video and the oral history assignment itself open so much up for us to talk about, and there were about 15 different angles I wanted to take, but none of them seemed as fitting, nor as important, as creating a response that talked about my own struggles to respond. Not only is this approach personally revealing, but I also think it showcases something of profound importance: we need to understand that despite our abilities to mix, remix, sample, rearrange, recompose nearly at will, that those practices are not always the best option. We must consider the integrity and spirit of the projects we sample and ask if our attempts to respond to them and/or remix them are in keeping with those qualities—and/or what might be the ethical implications of those kinds of remix creations.