Up to this point, we’ve explored the ways various independent video movements succeeded and failed from the dawn of home video to the modern day. These people were individualists working towards a vision of DIY media, and I have alluded to the idea that a better world is possible. I am calling that better world “Community Media.”
Community Media isn’t New, but it is changing. The means of producing media are more accessible than they’ve ever been, and communities are embracing that with gusto. We’re seeing a revival in the production and distribution of zines – Hand bound, cheaply made magazines, often made with photocopiers or laser printers –, alt-comix (independent comic books produced using the same techniques used in zine making), hand made websites, and even independent video games, and we are seeing these things treated with the same respect that is often reserved for larger productions.
Increasingly, people who consume media want the people who make the media they consume to be to be real people and not faceless corporations. This can be seen through the proliferation of crowd funding sites, and through online marketplaces like etsy and gumroad. More than that, however, there seems to be a trend towards ensuring that these real people are fairly compensated, and treated well. This trend can be seen in 2020’s Shorter Games With Worse Graphics bundle, distributed through itch.io, which was inspired by the viral tweet, copied and pasted by dozens of accounts “I want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and I’m not kidding”, in response to dozens of stories of the horrible working conditions in game studios across the country.
This movement is growing organically. It is in the air. People are dissatisfied with the current state of major media productions, and they are looking for a new way forward. It is up to us, as media creators and producers, to shape what that new way forward might be. We have to choose between embracing the libertarian silos of the capitalist zero sum game that brought down so many of the DIY media movements that predate us, or embracing a communal approach that enables our movement to control large parts of both the production and distribution of our media.
If we can effectively seize the means of the production and distribution of media, we can build an independent media movement– a community media movement– that can sustain and outlive the cannibalistic tendencies that are currently devouring modern major media institutions. We will not be overnight sensations, no one will get rich, and that’s the point. We must strive to build a media environment that can sustain.
Community Media is independent media made and distributed by a community for a community. Sometimes these are the same community, sometimes they different communities. The important thing is that it’s groups of people coming together to tell stories for one another. Community Media can take lots of forms: Music, education, entertainment, games, books, magazines, etc. It can be serious or silly, or both or neither.
At it’s best, it is licensed in such a way as to allow reuse and redistribution, and to require derivative works to follow the same terms. Whether or not it is open licensed, it exists in a way that does not directly enrich any multi-billion dollar corporation.
Community Media doesn’t mean a specific style of production, or a specific kind of content, or a particular subject matter. When I say Community Media, though, I am referring to videos produced under a certain set of values. Specifically, Community Media stands for treating the people who make media fairly, compensating them when possible, treating people with compassion and dignity. Community Media stands in opposition to the astroturfed, vitriolic, hate filled rhetoric of right wing fascist propagandists masquerading as grass roots alternative media. There is no room for Joe Rogan, Charlie Kirk, or Tucker Carlson in this movement.
Community Television is TV made by people, distributed through channels and networks made by and controlled by people.
Community TV doesn’t have to look like traditional TV, it does not have to be watched on a television. It can, however, look like traditional TV and it often is watched on a television. This is fine and good. Sitcoms? Sketch comedy? Interviews? Documentaries about the horrible treatment of Native Americans in your community by your grandparents generation? All of these things and more can be community TV if they are produced and distributed by members of a community to members of a community. Community TV might be news, educational content, talk shows, live music, entertainment, sitcoms, horror, science fiction, or anything else. It is video made by people who wanted to make video to be shared with people who want to see it without giving money to any billionaires in the process.
Importantly, Community TV must be distributed. It’s not TV until someone else can view it far away from were it was created. Until then, it’s just sparkling video with intent.
The battle for the future of this country is happening at school board meetings, in city council rooms, and in courthouses across the country, every day, and yet most cities no longer have a local newspaper– or, if they do, it’s owned by a faceless conglomerate that produces articles from four states away and doesn’t even send a reporter to cover local events– much less a local television station. Most local news organizations, regardless of what major network they are affiliated with, are owned by a single vitriolic and nationalistic organization. This organization has a tendency to file lawsuits in the face of truthful statements, and the state in which I live does not have a strong anti-SLAPP statute, so I will not call them out by name. Search: Local News and “This is very dangerous to our democracy” for an example of the kind of control they exert. This organization editorializes and controls the content that is broadcast on these networks. They fearmonger, they serve as a corporate mouthpiece, and they spread hate.
Our media infrastructure is concentrated in the hands of an ever shrinking number of players, all of whom have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and telling stories that promote their ideology, and in making as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, no matter the consequences. It has been this way, essentially, for as long as it has existed.
Today, for the first time in the history of industrial society, we have the tools, technology, and distribution channels to actually do something about it. The vision of Guerrilla Television, that video would bring about some significant cybernetic shift? We have the opportunity to bring it to life.
Right now, if someone makes a video, they’re almost certainly going to put it on youtube (or tiktok, or instagram, and the point is valid no matter which multi-billion dollar tech empire you slot in to the madlib). Youtube is going to make money on it (the creator might too, but less than youtube does, and youtube can decide not to pay the creator for a huge number of almost entirely arbitrary and opaque reasons), and youtube is going to use that video as a gateway to indoctrination. It algorithmically suggests followup videos “based on your views” which serve as a feedback loop, constantly directing you towards more and more extreme content.
Youtube (like most other tech companies) makes it’s money by maximizing engagement, and it maximizes engagement by producing outrage. Outrage drives eyeballs, so facebook and youtube and most other content platforms will consistently recommend to you things that people who watch the things you watch will find distasteful. The American right has learned to weaponize that feedback loop, using the stream of ever more extreme content to take people from seemingly beginning starting positions such as “that one Star Wars movie was kind of bad” to “Wow, I really hate All Women and people of color.” The fact that they can make money on the grift is a bonus, but the real victory is the mindshare.
Youtube is an indoctrination machine that also enriches a small group of far away millionaires and billionaires. Put simply, youtube is a tool of oppression.
If I want to watch video and I’ve decided that I won’t give my attention to youtube, I can turn to traditional media, right? Disney, WB/Discovery, and a small handful of other companies control 90% of American media production. These corporations produce the vast majority of the rest of the media that it is possible to consume in this country. They collectively control so much of our political and economic landscape that it’s difficult to effectively understand, or begin to trace, the breadth of their influence.
We are constantly bombarded with entertainment and news media from these few companies, to the point that it is nigh inescapable. Even if the companies that feed us our news and entertainment were benign, it would be nearly impossible to keep their biases out of our media. Simply put, we cannot afford to have such a vital part of our society controlled by so few.
But these companies aren’t benign, and their biases are explicitly overlaid on the works that they produce. There’s a reason so many American movies paint the American military in a positive light, for example, and that reason is that the US Government pays them to do it!
Every second I spend watching a Disney or a WB owned property through legal means I directly enrich the people who stoked the outrage machine that led to, among other things, the election of Donald Trump. The economic story is dire, but it’s about more than economics.
Our media shapes our perception of reality. Studies have shown time and again that when people experience fiction about people, they identify and empathize with those people. We experience the world through our media. We use it to contextualize and understand our environment. When the most popular TV shows and Movies are about renegade cops and violent vigilantes that take the law in to their own hands, we internalize and normalize that. This is deadly, as was unfortunately demonstrated by Gregory McMichael, among others.
Every second I spend watching a Disney or WB owned property through illegal means increases my investment in the stories that they are telling, and my acceptance of the way that they tell those stories. CSI and Law and Order and Brooklyn 99 increase people’s trust and goodwill in police, regardless of their lack of basis in reality.
Beyond the simple indoctrination through media that these companies practice, Disney, WB, and their ilk also exert almost complete control over modern American folklore. Copyright law means that they get to decide not only which stories featuring figures from modern folklore are the Canon, but also which ones are allowed to be told at all. Modern copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. The only people that a 70 year posthumous copyright protects are these megacorporation publishing conglomerates and their executives.
Want to use a Starfleet story to explore the concept of commerce in a post scarcity society? Too bad! CBS/Paramount can sue you out of existence, and bury your story forever!
A healthy DIY TV movement must concern itself with rebuilding modern folklore, creating a new canon of stories and characters divorced from this oppressive copyright system that was designed to specifically enrich and empower the already rich and powerful.
Guerrilla Television suggested this symbol meaning Do Copy, which was cute and clever.
Today, we have a slightly more powerful legal tool in the Creative-Commons-Attribution-Share-Alike license. This legal tool can be applied by an author to new creative works, making it legal for other people to redistribute and share them (a core principle of DIY TV) and to incorporate them in to new works (a core facet of folklore), but it carries the requirements that 1) the original author must always be credited, 2) any new works that incorporate bits of this original work must be distributed under the same terms.
CC-BY-SA means that Anyone can remix or re-write a work, including people that we’d rather did not. That hasn’t been much of a problem so far because anyone who produces a derivative work must also release that derivative work under the same terms. Disney probably won’t sign up for that, and if they do it means that we get to liberate something they produced for the commons.
CC-BY-SA does allow for redistribution. This scares some people off. I like to share this quote from Cory Doctorow, specifically from the introduction to the eBook edition of his novel Little Brother:
Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?
For me – for pretty much every writer – the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s
obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. […] I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.
Giving away DIY TV, making it explicit that we are giving away DIY TV, gives us the best shot of being seen by the most people. Being seen by the most people gives us the best shot of eventually becoming sustainable, or perhaps even profitable.
CC-BY-SA does not prohibit charging for re-distribution. I think this is an acceptable trade-off. Anyone who is charging to redistribute a CC-BY-SA work has to have that work clearly labeled as CC-BY-SA with credit to the original creator, presumably the work would be freely available from that creator (or elsewhere on the internet, able to be searched through the name of the work and the name of the creator.) If someone is willing to pay for it anyway, it’s likely as the result of some manner of transformation (did you make a physical copy? Great! You should be paid for that. Did the original disappear, and now your archival copy is the only one that’s left? Thank you for your service, I’m glad to help cover your bandwidth costs.) If it’s not the result of some transformation, and someone is still willing to pay for something they could get for free elsewhere, at least they will still get the work and a link back to the original source.
We revisit copyright in the Small Things section below.
If we’re ever going to actually affect social change, we’re going to need to provide home grown, community alternatives to the media produced by the entrenched power structures represented by these mega-corporations. We need to hit them at their bottom line, we need to reduce the mindshare that they have, and we need to tell our own stories, which means creating (and consuming) compelling community made television.
Independent media production and distribution is among the most significant and necessary acts of protest available to most people today. The simple act of creating and distributing any media outside of the control of a multi-million dollar corporation is a radical act.
We can and must liberate the media.