Through our entire beings, we live and breathe the age of video. As Norman Denzin (2005) already put it some time ago, “the dominant cultural form of the twentieth century is, and has been cinema and now video”. What we interpret through calm consideration and our imagination has been continuously been brought closer to enjoyments we simply feel in the moment that is there to entertain us as media. Indeed, in the everyday frenzy of audio-visual information, this idea does not seem very hard to accept. But that raises a further question: what is that which makes video so powerfully compelling as a medium – and what about using it in the context of research by both academic and commercial researchers? Why do we ‘believe’ it in such deep ways, and what might be some of the possibilities and threats related to this deeply engrained ‘belief’?
In this PART III of our series of short films on videographic research, Joel Hietanen (University of Helsinki, Finland) casts light on the ways in which videographic research can be re-imagined in powerfully evocative ways – not as a mirror of a real reality but as an equally if not more powerful producer of fantasy that indeed is reality itself. Look to cinematographic experiences (crying during a flick) or advertising (how everyday desires are suddenly intensified), and it is not hard to fathom the porousness of the threshold between imaginary reality and the truth of fantasy.
The ‘truthfulness’ of the image can be seen to have taken a center stage throughout the whole history of the moving image. In research and documentary practices, the moving image has generally been thought of as straightforward reproduction of reality. The origins of research-based video work, for example in anthropology and visual ethnography tended to follow such a representational mode, that is, where the recorded video material is treated as an “objective” representation or “transparent” replication of reality, an unfolding authentic slice-of-life that is seemingly uninterrupted and interfered by the researcher. This way of thinking is trapped in some problematic assumptions. There is an inherent fetish in such a view to consider that video can effectively “capture” realities on film. However, as we have argued earlier (e.g. Hietanen et al. 2014; Hietanen and Rokka, 2018; Rokka and Hietanen, 2018), despite the authentic and compelling allure of film, authentic representation may be better off seen as impossible – for example, in representing consumers’ or employees’ experiences or viewpoints. Videography for us is thus better to be recognized as a collective ‘performance’, where it comes together as a momentary and necessarily selective and politically charged part of video culture. It is productive of culture, not an objective image of it.
Instead, we see the power of video can be found in its emotionally evocative and emphatic capacities and thus as its relationality – the ways in which it provokes new relations, thoughts, imaginations. On the one hand, the video gains its power not because it is rendered or analysed as a “text” or “discourse” but precisely in its nonlinguistic and emotional/affective capacities. An emotionally powerful video ‘grabs’ you and pulls you in by constantly moving away. It does not wait for it to be fully understood. In this way a video is also naturally ‘manipulative’, as it has the capacity to overwhelm you with affective excess and at the same time make you believe in the reality of fictions, as our embodied beings fully react to video emotionally even if we know it is fiction (also Žizek, 2006). While videographic research is still often seen as straightforward and simple remaking of realities, our view necessarily makes video a part of the production of worlds. This means, that a lot more emphasis and pressure is put on the videographic researcher: she/he is always a political actor – giving shape to new visions of the world.
This is equally an opportunity for commercial interests. But commercial interest beware, this opportunity may be one of communications catastrophe if we do not recognize that videos are illusions designed to make you believe, or “teach you how to desire” (Žižek, 2006). Video does indeed produce worlds, but is reduced to a cliché when thought of as a simple (interview) recording device or an advertisement. Perhaps this is why some of the best corporate videographies have concentrated on internal management and workplace relations. Here too, video is a performance, an audio-visual moving image outside of the truth or what is real, but what needs to be understood is how it produces powerful ‘truth-effects’ in its potential emotionality.
In this sense, we agree with Žižek (2006) in his psychoanalytic documentary of cinema:
“Cinema is the art of appearances, it tells us something about reality itself […] There is something real in the illusion, more real than in the reality behind it […] Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously. It’s, on the contrary, not to take fictions seriously enough.”
Yet, with all the appeal and allure of the assumed ‘reality’ of the fantasy that is the flickering screen, it should be approached as any fantasy should – be careful what you wish for, because actually getting what you truly want marks disaster (also Hietanen and Andéhn, 2018). This means what we as researchers should become rather interested in the disruption, not intensification of these flows that can potentially fill our life-worlds with deceptive but exciting and engaging video content.
We thus see video and inherently unpredictable, but a potentially powerful “shock to thought”, following Deleuze’s (1986) theory of the cinema. Due to the powerfully emotional and excessive potentials of video, it can produce shocks to our entire beings, forcing us out of our comfort zones and into new ways of thinking. Video also requires courage to engage with it – as conventional ways of thinking about the role of research – data collection, analysis, and dissemination – still are likely to resist and push back.
The three short films resonate with this view; first looking into the power of video, then the courage to envision video differently, and finally, reflection of the characteristics of powerfully resonant videography research.
Session 6: The Power of Video
Session 7: New World of Research Needs Courage
Session 8: Characteristics of videographic research
Hietanen, J. and Andéhn, M. (2018) More than meets the eye: videography and production of desire in semiocapitalism, Journal of Marketing Management, 34 (5-6), 539-556.
Hietanen, J., Rokka, J. and Schouten, J. (2014) Commentary on Schembri and Boyle (2013): From representation towards expression in videographic consumer research, Journal of Business Research, 67 (9), 2019-2022.
Hietanen, J. and Rokka, J. (2018) Companion to Videography ‘Monstrous Organizing – The Dubstep Electronic Music Scene’, Organization, 25 (3), 320-334.
Deleuze, G. (1986) Cinema 1: The movement image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rokka, J. and Hietanen, J. (2018) On positioning videography as a tool for theorizing, Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English edition), 33 (3), 106-121
Žižek, S. (2006) The pervert’s guide to cinema: Parts 1, 2, 3. A Lone Star, Mischief Films, Amoeba Film Production.