What happened before YouTube?
It's a question we've addressed here many times before. Many different histories lead to our current moment of video sharing and DIY media-making -- some subcultural (the history of fandom and a range of other communities of practice which are generating new content), some economic, some technological. Lucas Hilderbrand, author of Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright, holds some critical pieces of the puzzle, writing with historiographical sophistication about the emergence of video as a technology and as set of cultural practices, about the debates it sparked especially around shifts in control over production and distribution, about the communities which formed around the sharing of tapes, and about how all of this looks forward to contemporary digital practices. It is a book which raises vital questions and provides a rich historical context for our current debates.
As someone who lived through the era when the VCR was launched, the book brought back many memories of things I had almost forgotten about the dramatic adjustments which the culture made to this transformative and transgressive technology. Working through the book for an interview, I was struck by the fact that I, like many other instructors, have had very little to say about videotape in my current course on new media and culture, something I will work on the next time I teach it.
Given my enthusiasm for this book, I was delighted to be able to interview Hilderbrand and share with you his own reflections on the ways the history of video can help us to understand some contemporary media developments.