Das ÜberNub

Given the last post on this blog before it went quiet was a year ago, we missed the whole of 2012 so far. It seems like it would impossible to restart without acknowledging the most successful viral video of all time, which hit Youtube at the beginning of this year.

Yes, you guessed it: Kony 2012

Kony 2012 may not really qualify as a nub, mainly because it is half an hour long. We prefer short, pithy videos, but there’s no specific rule for length when it comes to nubs so what the hell. It qualifies in the sense that it takes an issue and seeks to make it understandable and accessible to a huge audience. By the sheer numbers, it achieved that goal with spectacular success. It therefore cannot be ignored.

But it is exactly this simplicity that made K2012 so controversial. Most of the extremely heated debate centred around this question: at what point does the necessary simplification mean that a nub, or a campaign loses its actual value? Does simplification always do a kind of violence to an idea or an issue? This question goes to the heart of what it means to make nubs.

The usual defence is ‘awareness raising’, but how should we weigh the value of the awareness raised? There are several schools of thought here. The first, or ‘better than nothing’ school says that awareness is  always good – people now know a bit about something they never knew before. It’s a crowded world out there, and if you manage to win some attention at least something can happen.

The second school says that its good as long as there’s a clear call to action. This ‘clicktivism’ school argues that although social media and the web have massively increased the audience you can reach, you can’t expect people to do much. You need to find ways to convert awareness into a simple, low threshold action that aggregates to something bigger. Avaaz.org is a good example of this tactic (they, too, nub).

Invisible Children (who made K2012) took this approach – creating a ladder of actions, from sharing the video on facebook, through more time-consuming actions like writing to Congress, all the way up to things like plastering your town with posters and banners. (Their Cover the Night event fell a bit flat).

The third school of thought says that awareness raising is not worth much unless it is anchored in a serious analysis and a meaningful program of work that tackles the issue in a credible way. This was one of the biggest criticism of Kony 2012 – that the movement was essentially a massive placebo without a very convincing or sophisticated analysis or prescription behind it, which did not really represent the ‘beneficiaries’ and therefore lost momentum.  For these critics, the test of awareness raising is how well it can be channelled and aggregated into actions or donations that lead to measurable change which takes in to account the complexity of a situation. (A look at how the ‘Girl effect’ campaign evolved is an interesting example of this – I will tackle that in another post).

So, so much has been said and written about Kony 2012 that I don’t think I can add much to the debate by giving my opinion. You can probably already tell which way I lean, but here is a piece by Dinaw Mengestu in Warscapes that expresses it better than I could.

Aaaand we’re back.

The blog has been quiet for a year as people drifted off to different things. But I still think there’s a place out these for a blog that documents the fascinating and ever evolving world of short videos and visual communications online. So where to now?

I still think the nub concept has legs, but the challenge is always one of categories. How to fit a huge variety of products, with almost infinite variations of intent, content, producer, style and target into meaningful buckets? Well, that’s what this blog will keep trying to do, along with trying to usefully critique what’s out there and what’s new.

So although we’re keeping the nub name, it’s probably time to broaden things out a little bit so that nubs are one of a number of types of video out there. One thing will stay the same – whatever video we’re blogging about, it has to involve an issue or an idea. That means some adverts count, but many don’t.

And most precious of all are those nubs that take something difficult and make it simple.

the kids of skateistan

This beautiful little film looks at how a project set up in Kabul called ‘Skateistan’ has helped some of the poorer kids get away from the war and violence that they see on a day to day basis in their city. What really struck me about this film was how empowering the project has been for young girls. I think it’s great how the girls don’t care about the annoying comments they get from people in the street when they go skateboarding outside.

Find out more about the the Skateistan project by clicking here.

my dangerous love/clothes/body/face

I came across this interesting cross-platform project called ‘my dangerous loverboy’ by the director Virginia Heath at the last Feminism in London conference. It aims to raise awareness about the sex trafficking of young girls. I’ve posted the main flagship video below, which was shown at the conference and elicited a pretty strong emotional response from me. It upset me in a number of ways, but what struck me the most was the inherently problematic narrative behind the video.

Sex trafficking is obviously a very sensitive and complex subject to tackle in a four minute film but I think that makes it all the more important to be careful about the kinds of messages that you are sending out. I think the effort made here by Heath is admirable and is one of the few initiatives that is trying to go some way in helping raise awareness around sex-trafficking. This is however at the cost of putting some important issues at stake, which can sometimes inevitably be the case when being the first few to deal with such sensitive subject-matter.

First of all, the way that the young girl is shown to be sort of flaunting herself and wearing sexyish clothing and make-up, dancing and drinking at a party, and as a result is taken in by nasty sex trafficking guy. The danger here is that it enforces other sexist double-standards about women having to restrict their behaviour just in case they get raped / trafficked / attacked / looked down upon. It then runs the risk of seeing the girl’s ultimation as a sex slave as coming about because of her careless behaviour, rather than the result of the illegal and downright sick activities of the sex traffickers she becomes ensnared by.

I understand the way in which the film, in it’s music video format, tries to appeal to the everyday girl who wants to be a pop-star and ‘just be loved’ and thereby demonstrate that ‘it could even happen to you’. However it is appealing to this very stereotype that partly results in the problematic nature of this video.

A friend of mine recently sent me this fantastic nub that tries to do the same thing as Heath’s one below but looks at the issue from a much more positive, solution-focussed stance, ‘we can save the world’ sort of stance. Have a look and see what you think.

Some of the other stories on Heath’s cross-platform project provide a very real backdrop to this nub, look here if you are interested in watching one of those too.