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February 8, 2010

Remix As Social Activity

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Boingboing pointed to a very interesting YouTube video on "The Evolution of Remix Culture". The video is, in lovely recursive fashion, also something of a mash-up of previous videos. In a short eight minutes, the author identifies a generational change in how remixes are being used.

First generation remixes involved the appropriation of pop culture material for the creation of new work, as has been done since oral storytellers sat around a fire listening to each others' tales and improving on them. Second generation remixes, the argument goes, are "social" remixes, in that the purpose of the remix isn't just to create a new work but to provide a response in a conversation or other interchange. Social media sites such as YouTube facilitate this by providing things like video response links as well as by popularizing user-created content across thousands (or more) of likely respondents.

This is nice, but not particularly revolutionary. What gets added here is that the creation of the remix itself performs social functions. People choose which video they want to remake for themselves - check out the vast number of groups of people redoing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, for example. And in the way they stage their own productions they're also making statements about themselves and often their own locales and local social networks. It's not a hugely revelatory thing for someone (or a group of someones) to say "Yes, we're like them" for some particular them depicted in pop media. What's new is that this statement becomes embedded in a conversation and also itself becomes fodder for further remixing by others down the conversational line.

In about the last 1:30 of the piece, the author (called "Normative" according to boingboing) touches on some of the copyright problems that influence this kind of thing. And, shockingly, he identifies control as the central issue. No, really, I did not pay him to say that. The Copyright Wars that have waged for the past 12 years or so really are about control, over expression, over technology, and ultimately over the shape of the culture in which we live.

I continue to be bored and frustrated by the grinding, trench warfare-like nature of the conflict these days. But videos like this give me hope that precisely because the war has ground on so long we may see it end. We've raised up a generation that sees its self-expression as intimately tied to the appropriation and reuse of... well, everything. Remix culture has become normative culture and trying to suppress that is just patently doomed to fail.

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