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TITHEAD video selection causes upset

By Kelly Pyzik

The acceptance process for this year’s Titular Head has been stricter and more editorial. Organizers Colin Brooks ’13, Nora Kostow ’13 and Justine Turnbull ’13 hope that the shortened event will be able to hold the audience’s attention for the entire show. In past years, all videos that were under a five-minute time limit and not found to be horribly offensive were included.
“People always seem to complain bitterly about Tithead, so we’re trying to address all those complaints and make it a better show. This is the first year Tithead has had an actual selection process that chooses videos for at least some degree of quality,” Turnbull said.
Many students who submitted videos, however, have not been pleased with the new selection process. Will Jackson ’13 and Clint Williamson ’13 submitted a video which re-worked clips from a “The Grinnell Experience” admissions promotional video. This video was not accepted and the two received an email explaining why.
“The response we took issue with was that they’re only accepting original content this year, and I’m very skeptical over their bounds of what constitutes original content,” Williamson said. “Essentially their claim is that it needs to be shot with a camera by a Grinnell student in some capacity, which hasn’t been the case in the past. It also defeats the notion of what can be a video for Tithead. It has, in the past, seemed to be a very open space that’s really encouraging to not just a specific kind of video.”
A video submitted by S&B editors with unoriginal content—clips from a popular music video—was accepted pending required edits.
Will Elsas ’14 was similarly displeased with emails he received accepting his submitted videos, under the conditions that certain specific changes were made.
“I felt that they had good intentions in suggesting editing and making the videos a little bit more concise, but I think the intentions sort of backfired and I perceived them as kind of condescending and slightly biased,” Elsas said. “It just seemed to say to me, maybe they didn’t, but maybe they wanted credit for the videos. I was thinking about putting ‘Edited by The Titular Head Committee,’ sort of passive-aggressively, but I didn’t.”
“It seemed weird that a committee of a small population of Grinnell is able to decide what is funny or okay for a film festival. I think that sort of defeats the purpose of the film festival itself and undermines the judging aspect that occurs during the festival. The point of the film festival is to see what everybody has done and then to judge it.”
Many students have felt that specific suggestions stepped too much into a creator’s autonomy, and were surprised by the new scrutiny of the acceptance process.
“I was under the impression that the only reason a video wouldn’t be accepted was that it was too long or extremely offensive. There has been almost an invasion into the creative process in a strange sense,” Jackson said. “I have had friends submit videos which were rejected without a particular reason, other than ‘This video would be funnier if you did x, y and z.’ There was never any existing, written or stated set of criteria or instructions. Block Party, for example, has a giant rule book. There has never been a set of rules [about Tithead] passed down. There is almost no communication between organizers of different years.”
“I wasn’t expecting to have any feedback, based on the past two years, so I was a little bit surprised, more than anything,” Elsas said. “I think that would be something reasonable, to sort of warn the student body that edits might happen or be suggested; to be ready, after submitting a video, to change it up a little bit, as long as the recommendations are constructive. That would make it a little less frustrating.”
The Tithead organizers stated that they were not trying to step in on the creative process, but simply trying to improve the overall quality of the show.
“Most of our suggestions were just, ‘Can you make it shorter?’ A lot of our suggestions were not because the videos were bad, but that they could be better,” Kostow said. “If they showed promise, we were like, ‘We don’t want people to get bored because we think it’s a good video.’ We see it as helpful changes. We weren’t trying to infringe on the creative process. We tried to make it explicit that we wanted them to have the final say, but as it stands, the video could be better.”
Some students wish that a specific set of criteria had been laid out before the submission process began, and that selection had been more objective.
“The selectors now get to curate the show in accordance to their own taste. Generally when some sort of submission process takes place, I think the Bucksbaum art exhibit is a pretty good example, there is a specific list of criteria for acceptance, which I think is a fairly standard model for a film festival or salon-type exhibit, which Tithead has always been and advertises itself as still,” Williamson said.
A long-time tradition of Tithead is bad videos and booing. “Part of the experience is that some of these videos you just don’t like, but ultimately it was made by a Grinnellian and you’re getting to experience that, and I think that’s what Tithead really is,” Williamson said. “It’s an open space for Grinnellians to exhibit videos they’ve worked on and I would like to see that maintained.”
The organizers felt that there was a differentiation that needed to be made.
“There’s good awful and bad awful. Bad booing is when people get bored and angry. Good booing is like, ‘Yeah! I really don’t like that and I’m going to boo it in good fun!’ We don’t want to get rid of booing. We just want the booing that occurs to be fun and not because people are annoyed,” Kostow said.
The consensus among all parties was that host banter had not been enjoyable in the past.
“Usually it’s not the videos I’m complaining about, it’s the hosts and the time wasted with people on-stage explaining things,” Elsas said.
“A lot of hosts in the past haven’t prepared anything and sometimes people have quickly gotten bored of their schtick. We’ve chosen several hosts this year and asked them to prepare something ahead of time in order to keep people’s attentions up,” Turnbull said.
Despite any controversy, this year’s organizers are excited for the event.
“I think it will be interesting to see how these changes work out. This year is really an experiment. If next year it goes back to the way it was, then great. If it can improve at all, then great,” Kostow said. “Either way, the event has always been fun. To address everyone’s question, I’m sure, there will be Harlem Shake videos, but they’re not your average Harlem Shake videos. We also are adding a t-shirt gun portion to sort of get the audience hyped up again. I think that will be a fun extra thing we’re doing this year that people will enjoy.”

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