What isn’t a video essay?
If you’ve given this website just slightly more than a cursory glance, you will have noticed that it is very (yes, very) liberal in what it deems worthy of the denomination “video essay”. From doctored video games to an online annotated notebook, from fan edits to a GIF generator, from a filmmaking bot to a short fiction film, from a command line tool to a musical mash-up, from a series of maps to many pieces of video art: all of those have been featured on this website ostensibly dedicated to video essayism. Why? Because imposing a more strict definition upon a relatively young form such as the video essay, still constantly evolving and finding new ways of expression, is counterproductive. Too often, definitions are used to exclude things, not include them. To close off paths instead of opening up new ones. And although definitions and categorisations may well be a useful tool from an academic viewpoint, they rarely are from an artistic one. Since I believe the video essay is more beholden to (and advanced by) artistic modes of knowledge generation than academic ones, that is another reason to forgo overly prescriptive classifications.
Grace Lee of What’s So great About That? wades into the morass that is the video essay definition discourse with this great and very entertaining video essay. In her typical fashion, she combines smart insights with irreverent asides and lighthearted humor. This proves the perfect topic for that approach, because it preemptively defuses some of the tension that often comes with the territory. (Believe me, I have on occasion been caught in the academic crossfire of such classification wars). Grace Lee makes a reconciliatory case: using labels with moderation can also serve as a way to liberate our thinking, not confine it to categories. This generous approach can help us achieve the full potential of the essay, that “wonderfully tolerant form“.