"Mission Report": The Medium Is The Message

Curator's Note

This vid was created in response to a challenge in the Stargate: Atlantis (SGA) fandom to create a mission report documenting one of the team's intergalactic adventures. Given the show's identification with a military point of view, most respondents created prose narratives addressed to a commanding officer. In contrast, Lim's multimedia "Mission Report" imagines a typical Stargate adventure as told by one of the show's "native" (i.e. alien) characters. The vid not only imagines the way an oral culture might tell history, it also contradicts the show's heroic narratives and tells a story of exploitation and entitlement. "Mission Report" articulates the point of view of Teyla, the Stargate team's only woman as well as a "native" of the galaxy the team is exploring. While the show typically marginalizes her position (its point of view is firmly aligned with the Earth explorers) Lim literally gives Teyla voice by composing and singing an original song from her perspective. The song is sung in the round, demonstrating a way of remembering that is collaborative and communitarian, the very opposite of an individually-authored military document. Beyond the musical form, the lyrics reframe the show's heroic narratives of exploration as colonization: "Ragged and thin they took us in/And washed our bodies from their water skins/We took their comfort and gave them toys/We kissed their girls/And beat their boys." The repaying of kindness with trinkets, as well as the sexual exploitation of native women, are, of course, classic colonialist tropes. While it is unusual for a vidder to compose her own music, Lim's song also serves the traditional function of vid music: to provide a lens for interpreting imagery. Lim intercuts footage from SGA with the Blue Planet—in particular, we see schools of fish menaced by the occasional grinning shark. Since the explorers' main adversaries are a species of predatory alien vampires called the Wraith, it's easy enough to read the sharks as Wraith preying on communities of humans. But as with all vids, the song is the key to unpacking the visuals, and so a second reading emerges: that the show's protagonists—the colonizers from another galaxy; our intended identification points—are the true predators, and their cult of white western individualism makes their toothy, movie-star smiles terrifying.


I found the vidder's use of her own song a very intriguing one. Was that part of the challenge brief, or did Lim decide autonomously? If the latter, her choice raises all sort of juicy questions about the narrative uses of self-produced songs and its parallels with filking, self-produced fan songs about their favourite media sources, historically sung at fan gathering and circulated much as broadsheet ballads were--but  now of course available as mp3 online. Are vids and filking converging? If so, how and why?

A second point: this vid made me think of the Due South vid Icebound Stream by Sisabet, which uses nature documentaries footage as a metaphor for the main characters' relationship --do you think there's an element of hommage or quotation at work?  And I may be wrong, but I believe Lim and Sisabet collaborated on other vids, so this may be yet another example of collaborative, hive mind fan production.


I hadn't realized this before, but as you're laying out the various ways the show aligns good=western=military (albeit maverick :)=male=colonial that Lim's vid inverts and complicates, it's interesting how nature's understood here. I mean, yes, we have a traditional feminized, closer to nature colonial subject trope, but I think the body/mind dichotomy goes even further, doesn't it? From the ascension machine to the way bodies constantly betray and nature's threatening and scary, SGA is like a long commercial for experiencing our environment wrapped in plastic (or in humongous orange jump suits :). Maybe having the wrapped prepackaged sandwiches and water plastic bottles is less stupidity on the side of the production and more part of the ideological underpinning of the colonial project of taming nature and the (natural) natives...

Yes...while it has an otherwordly look to it (that rising into the sunlights against the colored windows moment), I think of The Storm, for example, where it literally becomes a bubble. And think of the dead plants versus Teyla's fertile living with nature home planet...

This is certainly one of those pieces that raises the question: "is it a vid?" Not that this question is always a fruitful one, but in the context of this theme week it might be interesting to consider what "vid" might contract to exclude as well as expand to include. In this case, the relationship seems mostly contextual, in that lim is a self-identified vidder who has made other (somewhat) more traditional vids and who created this within LJ fandom. Among its many aesthetic divergences, I'd like to remark on its emphatic non-narrativity, which seems to be another aspect of its critique of colonial teleologies. In refusing the sort of linear, objective account that "mission report" implies in favor of an impressionistic, almost unintelligible poetry of natural images, this critique operates on the level of media form as well.

See, I think it is a narrative--just a performative rather than a written one. The lyrics - <a href="http://community.livejournal.com/sga_flashfic/423729.html?style=mine">found here</a> - tell a clear story, much more so than the typical vid song, which tends to be poetic/emotional.  And the visuals also tell a story, integrating the Genii and other "alien" characters the protagonists encounter. 

I was still thinking about the song, and I was intrigued by the way its volume was rather low. Is this some sort of technical issue, or was there some sort of deliberate choice to indicate the prevalence of the image over the word in the alien culture, in line with the main thrust of the vid? In other words, the lyrics are some sort of background commentary on the main narrative (neatly paralleling the way fan fiction foregrounds its own retelling over the source text--what I called 'palimpsest' elsewhere).



Thanks for the links to the lyrics! Perhaps because I'm listening on a tinny laptop, the words faded into the background for me when I first watched; I experienced the vocals as another instrument more than a narrative themselves. Even so, the story as you descemerged with remarkable clarity, largely because the story of the fish and the shark is so familiar and so clearly mapped onto the characters.

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