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The joy of the work of others

The Process Genre. Cinema and the Aesthetics of Labor
DO IT YOURSELF /  Author Salomé Aguilera Svirsky dissects and refines a visual genre we know but have not learned to appreciate.


«Neeeeeei! Why?!?" We had come to scene three in the barely six minute long video The Most Unsatisfying Video in the World ever made when my partner couldn't take it anymore. It had been painful to watch from the very beginning, when a cake was slowly divided into meaningless, uneven pieces. When a bag of colorful Skittles candy appeared on the screen along with a bag of equally colorful M&M, she guessed (quite rightly) that they would be mixed together in the same bowl – they have a slightly different shape and size.

Everything was done to the same monotonous, optimistic and typical background music we hear in many "do-it-yourself" videos. [If you want to see sloppy division of tomato into slices, fumbling with a deck of cards and people who are unable to draw straight lines with a ruler, peel an egg or cut paper, this is the video for you, editor's note]

Process genre ability to penetrate the mind of the spectator is something that can be mobilized for political purposes on both sides.

The video is, as author Salomé Aguilera Svirsky describes it, "a parody of the presentation of a process" – a parody of a do-it-yourself video. All the 20 scenes in the said video show a «relationship to design activities, of work», and some of the clips show that in a way «get the job done», but it is done with poor technique, failing skills, wrong choice of materials and tools and a wide range of coincidences that are the opposite of what cinema, media and documentary researcher Svirsky calls the "process genre" – a phenomenon that has not been named and thus not theorized until now.

Seemingly simple

The process genre is – from industrial cinema in the early 1900th century to modern do-it-yourself videos on YouTube – by and large a "sequential arrangement of someone making or doing something". The genre includes technique, skills, knowledge, experience, and finally someone who performs the work until a final result that often looks easy for the viewer, even when it is anything but easy to perform in reality.

Screenshot of "the most annoying video of all time".

Skvirsky recreates the genre's most fascinating features in his new book. She guides the reader through the steps in her own thinking about the phenomenon. The analysis develops seamlessly, thoroughly, skillfully and logically surprisingly – one can not predict the next step, but when it comes, it makes sense. Not least, she does so with an ease that hides the dramatic amount of complexity involved and the fantastic chaos that must have arisen prior to the final form of the text.

The text goes in depth on five questions:

How old is the genre

How the relationship is between genre and medium

What effect it has on the spectators

The socio-cultural and political significance of the genre

Why the genre is experiencing an explosive popularity right now

The search for the answers to each question takes the reader unexpectedly far to various points, which ultimately map out the most interesting problems of our time.

A transformative potential

The process genre's ability to penetrate the spectator's mind is something that can be mobilized for political purposes on both sides. It both shapes and is shaped by the understanding of what work is (and what is work) and why it matters.

According to Skvirsky, the "dissatisfaction and joy" of watching The Most Unsatisfying Video in the World Ever Made (even though my partner thought it was too disturbing to be funny) "results from a simultaneous invocation of the joy of the process genre and the possible denial of these pleasures ». Here she follows one of her most important tracks, namely why it is so fascinating to look at something that is (skillfully) produced, transformed or achieved through a targeted human activity.

What the process genre can do is to "show an aesthetic that makes the fantastic transformative potential of human work tangible", as Skvirsky puts it. Although every step of the book The Process Genre is exciting reading – not least because of the excellent analysis that makes even the smallest details seem indispensable – one of the most interesting parts of the book is Svirsky's reflections on what the genre can tell us about the importance of work, and whether work as a concept of "productive effort" must be reduced to a specific social condition, such as wage labor under capitalism.

For example, as Skvirsky shows, one of the genre's potentials is to reproduce forms of work that are generally not perceived as work, and to make visible the skills in various forms of work that are perceived as unskilled. As such, the process genre has the potential to preserve and revolutionize the way we view "work."

Translated by Iril Kolle

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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