Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium
Michael Z. Newman
Since the days of early television, video has been an indispensable part of culture, society, and moving-image media industries. Over the decades, it has been an avant-garde artistic medium, a high-tech consumer gadget, a format for watching movies at home, a force for democracy, and the ultimate, ubiquitous means of documenting reality. In the twenty-first century, video is the name we give all kinds of moving images. We know it as an adaptable medium that bridges analog and digital, amateur and professional, broadcasting and recording, television and cinema, art and commercial culture, and old media and new digital networks.
In this history, Michael Z. Newman casts video as a medium of shifting value and legitimacy in relation to other media and technologies, particularly film and television. Video has been imagined as more or less authentic or artistic than movies or television, as more or less democratic and participatory, as more or less capable of capturing the real. Techno-utopian rhetoric has repeatedly represented video as a revolutionary medium, promising to solve the problems of the past and the present―often the very problems associated with television and the society shaped by it―and to deliver a better future. Video has also been seen more negatively, particularly as a threat to movies and their culture. This study considers video as an object of these hopes and fears and builds an approach to thinking about the concept of the medium in terms of cultural status.
interactions with a microphone and sound frequency amplifier produce the image on a CRT set. Viewer participation and manipulation of the TV image was a possibility of video art that ordinary uses of the TV set would never permit. Video art’s emergence is often linked to the release of new videotape recording technologies such as Sony’s CV-2000, a camera-recorder unit for field use that went on the market in the United States in 1965, and its more portable successor the DV-2400, released in
had been regularly rereleasing theatrically to appeal to successive generations of children. Disney’s chairman testified at trial that the company was protecting its intellectual property from tapers by refusing to allow some of its films to be shown on cable systems such as QUBE, in Columbus, Ohio, where perhaps a dozen subscribers were known to be owners of videotape decks. He claimed that such preventive measures had cost his company $2 million.60 The quick and broad adoption of home video by
Through the application of technology, such imagery suggests, the male video hobbyist can achieve an upgraded experience of cinema. This visual rhetoric further distanced video, as a technology of active and sophisticated connoisseurship, from the feminized domestic medium of broadcast TV. CINEPHILE ANXIETIES For the cinephile connoisseur in particular, video would be a mixed blessing at best. In addressing the value of video as a means of viewing theatrically distributed feature films, movie
N.J.: Rutgers UP, 2014), 49, argues that a medium is not only a technology but also “a set of articulated social relations, values, institutions, and gadgets.” 2. James W. Carey and John J. Quirk, “The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution,” in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, ed. James W. Carey (New York: Routledge, 1992), 113–141. 3. Thomas Streeter, “Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The Discourse of Cable Television,” in The Revolution Wasn’t Televised: Sixties
conveying a utopian mythos of redemption through technology.2 Thomas Streeter refers to a blue skies discourse of the new technology in his discussion of cable television in the 1960s and 1970s and its potential to open up mass media to society’s benefit.3 Vincent Mosco speaks of the myths of cyberspace in terms of a digital sublime, particularly as these myths promise to overcome the challenges of time, space, and politics.4 And Evgeny Morozov dubs the reigning ideology of twenty-first century