1.1 CREDO: I believe
Any study involves a certain amount of critical decision-making before it can even begin. An approach has to be found that will best represent the subject, or shed some new light on a particular part of it, This approach has to take into account problems with a lack of resources, or access to resources. It may have to not just present a case for the subject, but also defend it against a prevailing academic stance. The topic may be too large or too small, or too ill-defined even for any accurate assessment of suitable boundaries to made. This chapter is intended to describe some of the more problematic aspects of studying music video and to outline the methods I have adopted to, in some way, counter their effects.
One of the first difficulties, in any subject of study, is deciding just what the subject is, how much ground it will cover and what it will seek to uncover.
With the subject of Music Video, one of my early discoveries was that it didn’t seem to be able to approached from any of the established angles of English Lit. analysis. A chronological approach became too confused; music video seemed to have come from a hundred places at once, in differing areas of development, often unrelated, and had failed at any point to converge significantly enough to provide a center from such a structure. Straight text analysis was interesting but failed to bring into sufficient view the often critical factors of production and function that determined its content. Case studies again became confused as aspects overlapped and contradicted each other, and generally failed to reveal anything coherent enough to draw conclusions from. The major problem I decided, after months of struggling to find a useful approach, was that the genre it extremely difficult to pin down.
Music video in many ways refuses definition. There is little that can be said to accurately describe the entire family. Music video’s parentage is so rich, diverse, and confused that it is not possible to create any form of useful genealogy. There are many different genera of music video, with a wide range of different species in each group, all created to fill different needs, or the same needs in different ways. Inbreeding is as common as mixed marriage. As a marketing tool for the so called Generation X, as well as a piece of artistic expression, it has a driving need to be continually reinventing and redefining itself as unique. With music video the only certainty is change. The problem of definition is such a fundamental one to me, that I have decided to give it a chapter of its own.
Given such a topic, that not only has no clear limits but positively defines itself by this, I have found it pointless to try to (a) focus on one particular aspect of the form or (b) to attempt to cover every aspect of it.
Option (a), in a subject that is only defined by its changeability can only uncover information that would become irrelevant almost as soon as it was uncovered, revealing only such a tiny part of what is an ever expanding canvas. With music video it is the links and connections between facets that seems most interesting, the puzzle pieces by themselves are often small, dull, or of little apparent influence..
With continually expanding boundaries, option (b) is impossible and any attempt at it suffers much the same result as (a), giving only a limited view. At the same time, such an approach would be so necessarily vague and general as to offer almost no real view of what it did manage to rope in.
The buckshot solution
For me the only solution to the problem of structural approach was to create something similar to Walter Benjamin’s ‘Passagen Werk’. Collecting together as many different perspectives as possible, from other texts, interviews, and my analysis, to present a textual view of music video that would mirror the visual structure of the object under study. By combining multiple ‘shots’ of some of the near infinite number of images available in the world of music video, cutting fast and loose, and stringing them all together without necessarily definite relation between shots except through that created by their juxtaposition, I hope to create a kind of ‘text video’.
This text video should relate, in a complex and to some extent obscure way, an idea of what music video is about, in its content but also by way of its structure. It is hoped that this structure will replicate, and thus help to illuminate, the way in which music video offers, in a complex and to some extent obscure way, an idea of what the world around it is like.
The adoption of this method has meant that some sections are perhaps too brief, some deal with topics that may appear quite removed from the topic of study or irrelevant to it, some are unabashedly personal experiences, others almost wholesale recreations of other people’s experiences, some sections may seem unusually obsessed with the pure text or with pure context, some will (I hope) appear quite academic, and others quite possibly frighteningly amateur.
A complication that arises out of this approach is that in many instances I have been forced to examine aspects of music video that might be better left to experts in that field. The economic history of the rise of multinational capitalism is quite obviously a topic that would be better left to a student of economics, politics, or history than an English student. In my defence however, it is my belief that students of these disciplines are unlikely to be interested in the links between these subjects and the study of the music video, I consequently feel obliged to enter into this area of knowledge (and many others) in which I can claim no special expertise, in order to bring these connections to light. Having demonstrated the links it is my hope that those with greater authority in the subjects at the other end, will then proceed to correct the analyses I have made on their behalves.
The problem of subject definition is not limited to this study. Many subjects seem to be increasing the boundaries of their field. In response to this, ‘range and focus’ has become something of a catch-cry as a definition for the student’s aims in structuring his or her academic pursuits. This is admittedly partly out of a timely recognition that focusing to intently on detail without giving any attention to the wider corpus of context can lead to serious errors of perception and understanding. The scale of the problem arising out of the fact that, in many disciplines the range of what may be studied has expanded exponentially in even the last decade cannot however, be denied.
This is English?
In the study of English Literature, not only has the term literature been stretched to include such newcomers as film and television, but the recent interest in ‘low’ or popular culture as a valid area for academic inquiry, has opened up a whole new range of texts for consideration. Even within well-established areas of study such as the novel, newly considerable old texts and rapid developments in its modern post-modern form, have stretched its boundaries to more than a degree’s worth of papers. The study of English can now cover nineteenth century detective novels, 1930s' science fiction, television soap opera, and the lyrics of Michael Jackson as well as more traditional fare such as Shakespeare, old Norse poetry and Samuel Beckett. It is now quite possible for a student to complete a full major in English without gaining any specialised, in depth knowledge of entire periods of literary history.
The structure of this thesis is intended to in some way address this problem with range and focus. It gives a broad, if at times not very expert, view of the genre, and at points focusses in on it in detail, illustrating various key points. The intention is that the structure will not only of itself help to reveal something of the essence of music video and its post-modern upbringing (you connect the dots, you pick up the pieces) but also that it will serve in a more traditional vein, to shed some light on the ways in which music video may justifiably be studied as a part of English literature.
Having struggled to find a solution to the problems of definition, I was then confronted all the more starkly with the difficulties associated with this topic’s newness as a field of study (to English studies at least).
There has not as yet, been any substantial amount of study done on the subject of music video, almost none that approaches it from a directly textual angle, as an object of study in itself. There is precious little even, that deals obliquely with music video as some part of a wider discourse on a separate topic. In the reasonably numerous sociological texts that cover youth culture, rock music, and TV culture, music video is mentioned surprisingly infrequently, and even then, only from an angle of cause and effect.
In a situation like this the work becomes that of scanning the ground, looking for a suitable site on which to start building foundations, putting a stick in the ground and waiting for someone else to come along and tell you why it ought to be moved a little more to the left or right. Not until sufficient numbers of people, all looking from different angles, have decided between them on the best position for it, can the first stones of solidly constructed foundation be laid. It is my view that although some fine work has been done on the social causes and effects of music video, that to some extent the object of study, the text, has become unnecessarily sidelined, and part of the purpose of this study is to move the stick a little.