Starting with an urban myth about a collector’s shelving the first half-inch videotape used by Nam June Paik in 1965 for his Sony Portapak, Rogers considers the history of video — how it seemed to have a history even as it was emerging — and its potent political uses and inclinations throughout. The collector’s story reveals:
“…there is a specter that haunts the history of video, a residual belief that impedes us from cultivating an alternative approach to history based on social practice rather than archival preservation. That specter is the construct of medium specificity…” (17).
The medium was affordable, fairly easy to use, and easy to distribute, and so it was a tactic against the spectacle: “video had an unsurpassed capacity to deliver nimble, targeted strikes against the corporate despotism of television, and to engage in guerilla counter-measures against all forms of cultural hegemony” (19). And so, the process of institutionalization and historicization of the medium was inevitable. Rogers wonders, what if we look not for the history of video through the video itself but through the attendant “practices, cultures, communities, economies, projects, and events that have come to be oriented around this figment?” (30).
Freewaves, “less an organization than it is a network” (38) gives us clues. For Freewaves, the work was never the video for something but something — namely questioning the civic realm, and promoting intercultural understanding, social justice, connecting, and so on — through video. What we learn, then, is this:
“What needs to be retained in video history is not this technological, medium specific, object-based view prepped for the collector and the art historian, but a social and cultural one used to forge new networks and experiences of community” (40).