We spoke to the ‘Cuse artist whose cult video pissed off Greek life

Her art video project has over one million views in two days

Victoria Valentine from Syracuse University recently created a found footage project for an art class. It was posted on Vimeo two days ago and garnered over 800,000 views before being taken down for allegedly violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It has been re-uploaded on Streamable and currently has an additional 200,000 views.

Who filed the claim? Gamma Phi Beta and Kappa Delta, two large national organizations of sisterly love, whose houses and members were featured in the video. This was highly suspect.

To avoid being petty and in my search to figure out if we are dealing with the 21st Century’s Heaven’s Gate, I went to the artist herself.

So for those who have not seen the video, could you sum it up in a few sentences?

This piece uses footage published by many sororities at various universities around the country for recruitment purposes, and suggests a paralel to a video Mind Control Made Easy by Carey Burtt. It highlights and satirically critiques the absurdity of how these organizations choose to represent themselves and how members of various sororities often internalize their role as a “sister”.

By positioning their public representation alongside an instructional video made to train a “cult leader,” this video has created a dialogue about these institutions, group-think, and the perpetuation of stigmas associated with their organization.

What was your initial message with this video, we are aware that you are an art student and this was an assignment involving the use of found footage, but aside from that?

It’s of the utmost importance to me, first off, that the individuals in the footage I used and the individuals who have been offended by the content know that this was not my intention. When I first received this assignment I knew exactly what I wanted to work with. I had been fascinated by sorority recruitment and bid day videos on YouTube and wanted to play up on the fact that these videos are all so strangely similar to each other, even when representing different sororities in different parts of the country. The concept evolved when I found Mind Control Made Easy by Carey Burtt, also published on YouTube. Burtt’s video gave my concept an outline in which I placed footage I thought was appropriate.

What has the general response been to your video?

I am so excited by the general response to my video, I’ve seen a lot of positive comments facilitating discussion and I’ve been in contact with many other artists, peers, and graduate students who have reached out to me in response to my work. People are having unique reactions to it: whether it be scary, humorous or weird to them, it has provoked thought in ways I did not expect it to.

In two and a half days it received over 885,000 views on Vimeo, and over 100 comments before it was taken down Sunday night. I did not expect this kind of exposure, but as a result of it I’ve gotten a unique experience and more insight into who I am as an artist and how to conduct myself in the public eye. I feel supported; though there has been some negative coverage, the positive interactions, comments, and conversation that has come out of this piece outweighs the negativity.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to articulate my appreciation for the many people who have shared, supported and defended me, but I really can’t explain it. I’ve never had an experience with the internet / media like this and it’s scary and wonderful at the same time, but would be impossible without the support of so many.

Did Gamma Phi Beta or Kappa Delta attempt to contact you before issuing a removal request?

I was not contacted by Gamma Phi Beta or Kappa Delta before receiving notification that a removal request was issued. I received an email from Vimeo on Sunday morning that it had been removed.

Have they reached out to you in any way shape or form (including members of said groups commenting)

I have not had any private conversations with anyone associated with either group, though I did have an exchange with a girl named Kelly from Kappa Delta at Texas A&M in the comment section of my video.

It was an amicable comment commending my artistic vision (she herself is an art student at A&M and had filmed some of the footage I used) but with a warning to be careful who I make work about (I don’t have her exact wording because the video is currently removed and the comments can’t be viewed.)

“ Be careful who you make work about”, that sounds pretty ominous. Do you feel that you violated any copyright or used the footage in anyway other than for satire (which is protected under the doctrine of fair use?)

My use of this footage is completely legal. I have not received any compensation for this video, I made this for the purpose of an educational assignment and the intention is completely satirical. I have filed a counter-notification with Vimeo, a request has been sent to Gamma Phi Beta – Zeta Rho at Texas A&M asking to remove their removal request.

I have been nothing but professional in handling this, I have not set out to slander anyone or anything. I’ve created a dialogue that I think is interesting and necessary and I hope they can understand.

I have friends in frats, but that there are certainly some valid criticisms of the Greek system. What is your view of the Greek life system in general?

I also would like to say that if I could’ve made this video about fraternities I would’ve. I searched for usable footage but could not piece them together as effectively as the sorority recruitment videos. I’m planning on revisiting that concept in the future.

As far as my outlook on Greek life, I’ve never rushed, and never desired to be a part of it. It has no appeal to me, personally. But I attend Syracuse University, where 28 percent of women who attend this school are a part of Greek life (according to College Board). I have friends who are in sororities, my roommate and best friend is in Gamma Phi Beta here.

I am an open-minded person, I understand the appeal and the affect sororities can have on women in college and I do not personally believe they are cults, but I also do not agree with everything they stand for. My view on Greek life has never interfered with how I perceive and interact with my peers. When I was a freshman here, I had a really hard time adjusting and was in the process of filling out transfer applications in the beginning of the second semester. Rush comes at a time where freshman are..well, fresh and wanting to belong to something after their first semester of walking around aimlessly trying to find frat parties to get into (if their girl-boy ratio was just right).

I abstained from rushing, though about everyone I knew was busy those two weekends walking around in business causal attire in 20 degree weather. I threw myself into my school work, making art, the Syracuse University Outing Club which I still belong to and love dearly, my job at a restaurant downtown, and honestly, the development of myself. I don’t think I would be the same person if I had joined a sorority. I wouldn’t be me. But that is a choice open to everyone and they are entitled to associate with whatever club or house that appeals to them in an effort to find themselves.

The use of samples from Carey Burtt’s work, Mind Control Made Easy, was very clever (I’m not sure if you’re aware of Captain Murphy’s usage of the same video for his feature length music video, Duality), would you go as far as to say that greek life groups are full-blown cults?

Thank you! I became aware of Captain Murphy/Flying Lotus’ use of the same track after I uploaded my video. Duality was mentioned a few times when I showed rough cuts to my peers, I kept seeing comments about it so I decided to look it up! pretty cool stuff. To reiterate what I mentioned above, I do not believe greek life groups are cults. The exaggeration was a satirical attempt to draw parallels on group-think and what these institutions choose to represent themselves with.

Lastly, if you were given the opportunity to appeal the DMCA violation in court (via pro bono legal services), would you do it? I know this is just a school art project, but would you fight the claim for the good of future artists and free speech itself?

I absolutely plan to defend this work. I currently am – I filled out a counter-notification through Vimeo on the basis of satire and the doctrine of Fair Use. I think it’s important that I do, for future and fellow artists, free speech, etc.

I did nothing wrong and my intentions were nothing more than satirical. It has become a catalyst for discussion; I think myself, my peers, and others who are affected by this video would benefit from the perpetuation of the discourses created.

University of Connecticut