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RISE OF THE SUPERCUT


The term “supercut”  came into being sometime  around the summer of 2008, coined by blogger Andy Baio,  and was initially defined as “a) genre of video meme, where some obsessive-compulsive superfan collects every phrase/action/cliché from an episode (or entire series) of their favorite show/film/game into a single massive video montage.”     In collecting and re-presenting trimmed cuts of video,  supercutting is a natural adaptation of the evolution of the accepted remix form  but also represents a return of sorts to the  fundamental practices of  formalist film theory,  using the basic principles of montage and non-linear editing to establish visual concepts and derive a sense of action from the pace of editing, as opposed to the actual movement on the screen.

In the pre-YouTube age,  the supercut was typically regarded as the work of collage by video-artists and underground tape-traders as eclectic additions to the counter-culture.   What took hold in galleries under the stewardship of  collagists  migrated into the commercially burgeoning film festival circuit of the late nineties beginning with  “Telephones” (1995) but it was not until the proliferation of desktop video editing software like iMovie and advent of online video sharing that the supercut was able to enter the bloodstream of the internet and quickly  grow to poise itself as a dominant meme.


Whereas the remix has been popularized by virtuoso talents and the fanatically obsessed, the supercut as a  form of video-meme holds a unique, populist potential for greater social-commentary, capable of accommodating a wider range of interests and skill levels.  The long-form remixes which tend to focus on a liner narrative (exemplified by the work of first-wave remixer Jonathan McIntosh)  Supercutting is the perfect meme for the uninitiated as it is for the seasoned blogger.  All it requires is a determined focus ( a genre, show or public persona), access to a high-speed internet connection and the patience to endure a few brief tutorials on basic video editing.  The migration of data to cloud servers and dropbox accounts is relieving the burden on  physical computer hardware and making a once exclusive tool set available to all.  The tools are available to all that are willing to contribute and with shared authorship, there is no limit to who and what can be cut.

The potential social commentary is one that is far more cutting  and honed  when successfully implanted. In Tom McCormick’s consummate blog post detailing the origins and precursors of the contemporary supercut he concludes with saying,   “As a vehicle for social critique, though, the supercut as such may have limited potential. Mostly the form translates a cliché into an experience of duration; the best supercuts are indeed durational affairs, offering a way of knowing that can only be achieved through time.”.  McCormick is absolutely correct in determining  the mechanics of the supercut as it is experienced would call the overall assessment pessimistic.   As the blogger himself points out, the supercut is not necessarily limited to solely examining clichés, but all manner of platitudes and he even goes to mention in the same post the effectiveness and positive feedback of the first mass-media adoptee of the supercut, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

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The Daily Show has mastered  the supercut  and used it so devastatingly well, it is almost certain to me re-appropriated into the slew of  campaign attack ads coming this fall.   In the hands of the observant deconstructionist,  the supercut can, one three minute piece, obliterate  the narrative façade of culturally iconic narratives that have been in place for years if not decades.   Beth Stabner’s “Ugly Betty”  a one minute reel of Mad Men’s Betty Draper ( January Jones) snapping at her children, reveals not a clichéd character of narrative but an aberration of such a  complex character denied her own complexity ( Kreisinger).   Just as astute and undeniably is ‘ The real James Bond”  a highlight reel of the character’s misogyny,  playfully treated and counter weighted in the film with the necessary heroics.  Removed from the context and stacked atop each other the effect is comically dark and wincingly evil.


As a task of social change, all that is needed to make supercutting into a collective effort is a consensus of what to look for and where, in almost the exact same way the supercuts used for the Daily Show are aggregated by, and then assembled for air (the definitive guide for the first time cutter exists here)    As leaders, supercutters must pose the question and give the editors indications of what to look for, ranging from tropes and idioms that could be as basic as  buzz-phrases on talk-shows or as nuance as  the camera angles in reality –TV.   By dispersing the workload across an army of the obsessed the supercutter could reap from literally any field sown in the media, environmental impact, the role of capital,  the exploitation of stereotypes – past, present and future, all of it is open to the mass-editor.    Again it would be pessimistic to believe that we will run out of things to extract through editing, the playing field is vast and the victories are mounting.   There is nothing lost in confronting the banal or stereotypical and occasionally, it does work to release the choke hold induced by a hyperactive online culture. The tasteless, hurtful  rape jokes  made by comedian  Daniel Tosh, which went viral hours after being uttterd on stage,   were given a tacit, metered response through a supercut, something that the rest of the blogosphere seemed linguistically incapable of creating.   Combing movie files for tropes and cliches might not instantly make for a better culture but at least it can serve as a visual prompt to raise our collective aspirations.

So far the supercut has been proven in creating artful, often metaphysical  works of soft-critique in restructuring genres  but the applications of the meme can still capably reach further into any filmed medium.   At their worst, supercuts at least raise fundamental questions about media-diet. What, in fact, are we seeing?  Are the films and television shows we watch  actually growing our understanding of the world?  Or are we trapped by our own sensorium, endlessly responding to same stimuli without ever fully realizing it. Perhaps, as our lives are increasingly videographed and posted to walls we might start supercutting  the digital record of our lives to reveal our own personal nature ( it’s already a  straight to video Robin Williams movie ).


 

 




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