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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Chin: I’m a Transnational Cyborg

Video editing reflects on the interconnected nature of modernity and art.

My favorite YouTube channel is “i’m cyborg but that’s ok,” named after a 2006 South Korean romantic comedy film called I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK directed by Park Chan-wook. The YouTube user edits feature-length films, mostly independent Asian or French new-wave cinema, down to two to five minutes and pairs the visuals with a song. Similar YouTube users who are less careful about acknowledging content rights have had videos removed. There is an art to splicing and editing, and copyright law should take into account the value of using found footage to allow for reflections of the fragmentation and intertextuality of modernity. YouTube edits create an aesthetic of transnational, transtemporal coolness — little-known gems of art from different parts of the world and different times that come together through a shared emotional core.

Video edits are a common phenomenon. At first glance, there does not seem to be any skill involved with splicing together found footage. Admittedly, some video editing is executed rather carelessly and with no intent beyond immortalizing cliché love stories; however, video edits can be done in a thoughtful way to create a new work of art. Well-crafted video edits are standalone pieces if they rethink the material in a unique way and bring attention to lesser-known works. Using these starting points enables the audience to discover something new. 

Finding the right material requires the ability to find and pair niche, dissimlar art objects to create the sense of cool. “i’m cyborg but that’s ok”’s “Cigarettes After Sex — John Wayne,” for instance, brings together two disparate pieces of art, observing a particular motif in American aesthetic production. The video pairs Vincent Gallo’s film “Buffalo ’66” (1998) with Cigarettes After Sex’s 2017 song “John Wayne.” Pairing an independent film from the late ’90s with a modern song demonstrates sensibility and an understanding of overlapping genres. The artist “i’m cyborg” pairs these two art objects because of their common theme of repressed masculine emotion. The film, in which the notoriously brooding Vincent Gallo plays a recently-released inmate who kidnaps a girl for a day but falls in love with her, uses washed out color schemes and images of the two characters hesitantly holding hands to capture a sense of morose, unwilling desire. “i’m cyborg” chooses these motifs to include in the video rather than major plot points. The sadness is further highlighted by song lyrics like, “He’s got so much in his heart / But he doesn’t know what to do / All he wants is her / Lying inside his room,” which create a new aural dimension to the film. While a film pieces together scenes to create a distinct story, editing footage and sound pieces together creates a distinct mood.   

Video editing can also illuminate emotional commonalities between artistic production in different countries, creating a transnational dialogue through feeling. One such example is “i’m cyborg”’s  “Men I Trust — Show Me How,” which couples the 2018 song “Show Me How” with a Shanghainese film called “Suzhou River” (2000). The edit creates cohesion between the band Men I Trust’s self-described “smooth sounds, calm melodies and simple rhythms that relax” with what The Guardian describes as Suzhou River’s “dreamlike quality of [a] swooningly romantic story.” Indeed, the montage and overlay scenes that are featured in the video as well as the motif of the main character closing her eyes synthesize seamlessly with the soft, echoey guitar and breathy voice of the singer in “Show Me How.” “Art is the universal language” is a trite saying, but this mode of production comes the closest to making it true. The video transcends language, synergizing Chinese films with English songs to bridge different audiences.

Several channels that pursue similar projects have had their videos taken down for failing to adhere to copyright laws that protect “original works of authorship” with certain rights, prohibiting third parties from reproducing the works. For YouTube videos, the term “reproducing” walks a fine line. The video for “Show Me How” demonstrates why edited footage can exist as a creation of its own. YouTube commenters have noted its value. One commenter writing, “I can’t describe how this makes me feel but I wish I could feel like this forever.” 

The inability to describe what the video makes one feel is why it is difficult to understand editing as a standalone art. This kind of editing requires  attention to technical details and an ability to find cohesion in visual and aural motifs. The technical skill of synthesis allows people to find connections across forms, regions and time, thinking about emotional currents in their primordial past and inner psyches that remain constant.