The Velvet light trap

Title The Velvet light trap
Location Austin, Texas
Publisher University of Texas Press
Periodicity Biannual
ISSN 0149-1830
URL VLT University of Texas Press
Published Since 1971-
Indexed Holdings 2000-


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Periodical's Overview

"The Velvet Light Trap is a journal devoted to investigating historical questions that illuminate the understanding of film and other media. It publishes articles and interviews written with the highest scholarly standards yet accessible to a broad range of readers. The journal draws on a variety of theoretical and historiographic approaches from the humanities and social sciences. The journal welcomes any effort that will help foster the ongoing processes of evaluation and negotiation in media history and criticism. While The Velvet Light Trap maintains its traditional commitment to the study of American film, it also expands its scope to television and other media, to adjacent institutions, and to other nations’ media. The journal encourages both approaches and objects of study that have been neglected or excluded in past scholarship."[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Advertising - United States
  • Audio-visual education
  • Auteur theory (motion pictures)
  • Blaxploitation films
  • Cinéma vérité
  • Critical pedagogy
  • Deviant behavior in mass media
  • Digital cinematography
  • Dubbing of motion pictures
  • DVD-Video discs - economic aspects
  • Electronic surveillance
  • Fans (persons)
  • Home theaters
  • Inuit Broadcasting Corporation
  • LSD (drug)
  • Mass media - audiences
  • Motion pictures - sound effects
  • Music videos - history and criticism
  • Pornographic films - history and criticism
  • Public-access television
  • Sensationalism in television
  • Sex instructions for lesbians
  • Talk shows - United States
  • Teenagers in motion pictures
  • Voyeurism on television


The Velvet light trap has been publishing rigorous scholarship about film since the early 1970s. Initially published from Madison and with close ties to the intellectual ferment provided by the University of Wisconsin and its Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research, i.e. a steady stream of visiting scholars and graduate students, it appears that its initial focus was on film, specifically American film and the formal and genre specificities of different Hollywood’s studios.[2]

In 1989, the journal shifted publishers and has since been published by the University of Texas Press, in Austin. The Velvet light trap is now collectively edited by graduate students from both universities[3] and as is bound to happen with such an editorial arrangement, the journal is an accurate barometer to measure the ever-evolving state of media scholarship in the United States.

We write media scholarship, rather than just film scholarship, as even though film analysis is still the main focus of the journal, The Velvet light trap was astute enough as to open its field of inquiry to related media, like television or radio, and importantly to the oftentimes-neglected economical, historical and sociological factors that shape the media products making up the soft envelope of our consciousness.

Following a monographic template, and with a rich book reviews section, each issue is dedicated to a theme that is explored in depth. A selection of the different topics chosen for exploration or reassessment reads as follows: Images and interpretations of the real; Religion and media; Diverse audiences, changing genres; Children, teens and media; Science fiction and the fantastic; Subculture, deviance and normalcy in post-1969 film and television; Sounding off: film sound/film music; Advertising and promotion; DVDs; Pornography; Authorship; Narrative and storytelling; Documentary now; Remakes and adaptations; Media spaces and architecture; Censorship and regulation; Failures, flops, and false starts; Celebrity!; Seeing race: the enduring dilemma; The materiality of media; Useful media: industrial, education, institutional; On sound; Early Cold War media and so on.

As it becomes evident from the above list, normative modes of narrative film production--genres, theories of authorship, narrative, or issues of adaptation--are carefully assessed or reconsidered as decades pass, but what makes The Velvet light trap a journal worthy of our attention is that this analysis of mainstream cultural production is complicated by the attention given to other forms; these forms might somehow not be considered dominant as they are so pervasive as to appear invisible in our media saturated reality: documentary or journalistic modes of image and sound production, educational, institutional or corporate media output with all its ideological resonances, and specially, with the advent of the Internet, the gigantic explosion and development of media forms directed at colonizing the subjective core of the audiences: both advertising and pornography attractively easing the post-Fordist mandate to actualize the self with the exploration of an almost infinite template of self-desiring machines to be broadcasted from, but also consumed under, the bluish cold glow of computer screens. Odorless visual stimuli, available for “free” or for a price, a seemingly remorseless shedding of selves; a collective experiment not of our design culminating in the ominous harvest of our data exhaust, affecting in ways theretofore unknown our social relations, our reality.

For this reason, scholarly endeavors like The Velvet light trap can help us navigate these uncertain terrains; for more than forty years the journal has provided sound historical research, media archaeology, detailed accounts of economic conditionings as well as a sustained interest in the effects of all the media apparatus on us, the audiences. All this through a scholarship savvy of theoretical literature and discursive ebbs and flows, but diverging as well as complementing other academic endeavors like Camera Obscura, by the journal’s willingness to focus on what has been produced by artists and cultural producers during the last 150 years of image and sound production but importantly, how these productions have been able to take place amid the socio-economic structures and historical contexts that allow them to come to existence.

Shadows and signals, an assorted web of endless images and sounds, analog or digital, the trap captures. These interest us, no less than the endless potentialities opened by being aware of what’s in between.

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[1] From Project Muse’s overview on the journal.

[2] There’s a dearth of secondary literature about The Velvet light trap. For this brief sketch, we have relied on the Wikipedia entry on the journal.

[3]University of Texas Press’s description of the journal.