Sometimes, the inordinate amount of time that I
waste spend on the internet pays off, and I stumble across gems — tonight was one of them. On a whim, I went to a presentation sponsored by I+C+i in the Mirador space in Barcelona’s CCCB, and ended up experiencing three of the most interesting and inspiring hours in my own recent history. The presentation, by self-proclaimed “pop culture hacker, video remix artist, new media teacher and fair use activist” Jonathan McIntosh, was on La Remezcla como Ecosistema Cultural, or in English, “The Remix as Cultural Ecosystem”.
Having just written a final paper for my Critical Methods class at Carleton that was basically an impassioned treatise on how new media and visual studies should involve media manipulation, specifically music video mash-ups, as a form of critical academic analysis, this talk was right up my theoretical and creative alley. In fact, the only thing that is keeping me from sitting here all night and making my own remix and then writing a paper or two about what Derrida would think of remix culture is the fact that I am writing this blog post, and that Professor John Schott has planned an incredibly full day of class, a guest lecture, a visit to Sagrada Familia, and an exhibition opening at Arts Santa Monica. (See how cleverly I used this semi-academic blog to inform my friends and family of my activities while abroad??)
But the talk — after being introduced lengthily in Spanish (of which I am proud to say I understood a fair bit), Jonathan dove right into an explanation of his work and the philosophy that supports it with his favorite quote:
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
While potentially inflammatory if you’re talking to a physicist (unless your physicist likes to view the paths of atoms as interpretable texts — a physicist after my own heart), this quote speaks to me as it does to Jonathan, who sees his work in that universe of narratives as “telling alternative stories from mass media culture”.Jonathan’s work builds on a tradition of subversive responses to the mainstream like anti-art and appropriation art, drawing inspiration from two specific sources: culture jamming (ala Emergency Broadcast Network) and vidding (think the video form of slash fiction at its finest and Kirk/Spock-iest). In the talk, he shared three of his most recent works, all of which are incredibly well-crafted, well-received, and take the basic re-combinatory principles of the remix to a level that really interrogates political, social, cultural issues raised by the media they appropriate.
The Remixes / Las Remezclas.
“So You Think You Can Be President?”
This one takes a satirical view of the 2008 presidential debates by mashing up footage of Obama and McCain with footage from the reality TV series “So You Think You Can Dance?”
“Buffy vs. Edward”
“Buffy vs. Edward” deftly combines clips from over 140 episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with bits of the Twilight films to expose the problematic and stalkeresque nature of Edward Cullen’s character and to celebrate the comparatively feminist tendencies of Buffy — Jonathan himself goes by “aspiring feminist”. 🙂
“Right Wing Radio Duck”
This seamless and clever juxtaposition of Donald Duck and extreme right-wing pundit Glenn Beck was described by Beck as “some of the best, well-made propaganda [he] had ever seen” — almost as good a compliment as this response remix from Martin Leduc starring Mickey Mouse.
Check out more of Jonathan and his colleagues’ work and writings here!
In the post-presentation Q&A, someone asked why Jonathan doesn’t simply get a studio and film segments that tell the same narratives, so as to have greater authorial control of his content. The I+C+i program takes as its motto the words of Roland Barthes: “culture is an infinite palimpsest” — but is Barthes still successful in having killed the author? In response, Jonathan stressed that the value of the remix lies precisely in its use and re-appropriation of the ‘original’ media (whether this is ‘original’ in the Benjaminian sense is debatable, but very interestingly so…). The remix is in fact the only way that his style of critique can achieve its greatest success.
The question also arose as to whether all remix must be political — “all remix must be transformative” was Jonathan’s response, and I couldn’t agree more. The power of remix to critique, to inspire, to interrogate, to entertain while educating, lies in how you use it. Of course, as a tool, remix can be misused to multiply the racist or sexist discourses of many media, but when used thoughtfully and intelligently, it is an amazing tool indeed. According to Jonathan, mass media have a responsibility to hold power accountable, and when this responsibility is not met, we have the power critically and creatively take over that responsibility by taking over those very media with the cultural remix.
Inspired as I now am (to remix, to write about remixing, and to do my darnedest to get Jonathan as a convo speaker at Carleton next year!), I am still fascinated by the notion of whether this can be not just a form of cultural critique and creative production, but a legitimately recognized aspect of academic work, just like the paper published in a journal or a full-length book. As a student of visual culture, I am constantly looking for ways to actually use the media we interrogate to interrogate themselves. I doubt that we will ever abandon words (especially me — if you’re read this far, you have your proof of my love of the linguistic…) as a form of anchoring the image, anchoring the sound, anchoring anything that is not a word — but Jonathan’s talk and his work have reminded me how much potential is left to be mined in this field.
And that, dear reader, is truly exciting.