The Scared Is Spread

Jason Mittell's picture

I have a video to share with you:

If you haven’t seen it, take the eight minutes to watch & enjoy. But there’s a good chance you’ve seen it, as it’s been viewed over 72,000 times (and counting) in the three days it’s been online. It’s been written about on BuzzfeedJezebelCBS NewsCBCYahoo!, Mashable, and many other blogs & Tumblrs, not to mention hundreds of Facebook shares. In short, it has become spreadable, the term that Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford & Joshua Green offer as an alternative, more active concept than “viral.”

My perspective on this video is unique, as it was made by my student Bianca Giaever as her final project at Middlebury before graduating last week, and I was the project’s adviser. Middlebury has a Winter Term every January where students enroll in a single intensive course or do an independent project, and Bianca approached me to make a video over the month. I’ve known Bianca for a few years, teaching her in class and helping to guide her independent-designed major in Narrative Studies, The bulk of her creative background was in audio production for radio, and oral storytelling in creating a Middlebury branch of The Moth live storytelling performances. In the fall semester, she made “Holy Cow Lisa,” an excellent project in her Video Production course that took an audio interview and “visualized” it through creative & playful video footage. She wanted to see if she could make another project in that vein as a kind-of “proof of concept” that illustrated audio stories could work as a format – the result was “The Scared Is Scared.” Consider the concept proven!

One of the very best parts of my job is helping facilitate my students’ creativity. Although I’m scholar by training and practice, Middlebury’s Film & Media Culture is a hybrid department mixing critical studies and hands-on creative work. I occasionally teach courses that are creative in focus, often mix creative projects into critical studies courses, and regularly advise students’ creative projects in video production, screenwriting, or other media. I love to listen to a student’s ideas, give them some feedback to push them forward or offer a critical perspective, and then get out of the way to let them create something.

In the case of “The Scared is Scared,” I feel particularly invested in the project because I saw it develop from nothing to a spreadable hit over the course of a single month. A project adviser’s role can be quite variable, but if things are working well, an adviser’s contributions are necessary but insufficient aspects of the final product – in this case, it was definitely true, as I introduced Bianca to Asa, the video’s storyteller and my son’s friend. Without that necessary introduction (as well as giving Bianca the water wings that Toby Mouse wears), the video would not be what it was – but obviously the journey from that introduction to the final work was all due to Bianca, Asa, and their many collaborators. Throughout the month, my role was primarily to assure Bianca that there was potential in her ideas and that the audio and video she was putting together was excellent – in fact, she quoted me saying “This might work” as the blurb for the video’s poster around campus!

So I’ve watched the video spread (up to 78,000 views in the time it took me to write this post!) and receive glowing acclaim with the pride of a coach & teacher (and a little bit of the ownership you feel at the wedding of two people you introduced!). I also watch it spread from the meta-perspective of a scholar of digital media, which raises numerous questions. What does it mean to traditional educational hierarchies to have a student’s work seen & enjoyed by thousands of people? Does spreadability matter when assessing and grading students’ work? Should we encourage students to seek spreadability as a goal, or just facilitate it as a potential byproduct of creative success? How do such accomplishments impact the reputation of the department and potentially benefit other students’ opportunities? And most immediately, how will this success help Bianca make a living after Middlebury? (Please contact her if you have any answers to the last one.) I have no answers to these questions yet, but they point to some of the new dimensions of teaching film and video that I would not have anticipated mattering when I arrived at Middlebury ten years ago.

But in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy watching the video and its rippling wake, and relish in my own favorite moment: the way Asa says the word “merengues.”


Filed under: Academia, Middlebury, New Media, Not Quite TV, Teaching Tagged: spreadable, viral video

Jason Mittell

Publication date (from feed): 

Thu, 07 Feb 2013 19:38:25 +0000