Saturday, March 14, 2009

Remix/Mashup at Ohio State panel 3

Panel 3: Mashup as Political and Social Expression

Lee: What does all this have to do with democracy, as in actual participation and change rather than just feeling good about living in a democracy?

Julie Ahrens, associate director of Stanford Fair Use Project, representing Shepard Fairey in the suit with the AP: Deep conflict between copyright and free speech, where owners get to tell other people what they can’t say. Fair use is the essential lubricant to resolve the conflict. The real risks come from copyright owners trying to silence messages they don’t like. In 2008, McCain used a clip of himself at a debate in an ad; Fox News sent a takedown notice and C&D letters to the campaign. Fox was supporting Giuliani at that point, sending takedowns to all the other Republican candidates: exemplifies the use of copyright to silence.

One thing that people sometimes say is that mashups aren’t specifically commenting on the underlying work, just used to reach a public. But fair use goes beyond commentary to transformativeness generally, and creating a political message/radically different message is a form of transformative use that should be protected.

Coppa used her time to show two vids, The Glass, about what happens when you take away the glass that separates characters, and Handlebars, about the dangers of Doctor Who. In the first, the vidder takes blockbuster shows/films and shows how to watch them for intimacy and barriers to intimacy, including homoerotic tension. In the second, there’s a critique of the character—the song is perfect for the character and shows how a friendly, warm persona is actually wielding dangerous and destructive power. These remixes are like essays, but in a different medium.

Liv Gjestvang, coordinator for Ohio State’s digital media and filmmakers: We expect young people to learn to read critically, analyze and develop arguments; we need this in visual media as well, and it’s frightening how little is happening on this in schools.

Access is also a big problem. People are too blasé about this: kids all have cellphones, they say. But there’s lots you can’t do with a cellphone, especially in terms of intervening in culture. Huge population lacks broadband access.

JD Lasica, writer/blogger/consultant: Pre-YouTube, the internet was different. He has experience with sites trying to sort through content and trying to decide what’s legal and what’s not; sympathizes with YouTube’s decision not to make any judgment calls. He thought that people would put up their own works, and that would be it. We need to find a way to support journalism, which is under assault.

Jonathan McIntosh: Showed a portion of So You Think You Can Be President. Pop culture is an important part of our political language: “who’s going to be voted off the island next?”

Xavi Macias, remixer: He’s interested in the process at least as much as the product, for what it does for the remixer. He also echoed the call for attention to access, the precondition for participation. He showed portions of several different remixes by different participants in the remix institute, some of which seemed banal to me and some of which I loved—and the banal ones were just as fair and good; even if I didn’t like them, and even if nobody else did either (which I doubt), it’s still Sturgeon’s Law again.

Ben Relle: There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad out there, but the awesome thing about internet culture is that lots of different people get to decide which is which instead of bottlenecks. Examples: Barack Obollywood.

Lasica: Authenticity as a value: social media seems handmade, the product of effort and not a factory process.

McIntosh: Don’t fetishize number of views/appeals to the broadest possible audience. Sometimes that’s a race to the bottom. Works that criticize racism/sexism will not necessarily circulate as widely as ones that reinforce dominant ideas. There is value in the subculture.

Coppa: Cautionary note: so much community conversation is being hosted on for-profit networks; if the companies fold or decide they don’t want certain kinds of users, conversations can be disrupted at the drop of a hat.

Relle: With the election, entertainment was more popular early on, and later the highly critical stuff got more play. A video of a soldier without a leg addressing and criticizing Obama reached 12 million views.

Gjestvang: We need to figure out how to connect people in real life.

Macias: You can’t keep a social movement going on Facebook alone. You need to reach out into the physical world, as the Obama campaign did.

Prof. Peter Shane: But the “Yes We Can” video wasn’t amateur, and it had a lot of power and effectiveness in the political world. Knows someone who hadn’t voted before s/he saw the video, then decided to vote for Obama.

Coppa: She cringes when “amateur” is used in this sense. The video was done as a labor of love; amateur is not necessarily about training—many vidders have artistic training.

Q: What tech do we need?

McIntosh: Tools can be used by big corporations or small artists. Coppa spoke of trying to build public space, not owned by corporations. But that’s space and not tech.

Coppa: A lot of these spaces started out small, local, open-source; when amateurs (for love) cleared out the roads, then companies came in with the big tractor trucks. The OTW is a nonprofit to give the community longevity and avoid buyout. Tech improvements can be problematic when they come with changes in governance and structure of the community—YouTube’s automated takedowns, eliminating fair uses with an algorithim.

Q: She’s disturbed that someone would make an important political decision based on what an entertainer like says. Shouldn’t we look for balance in information?

Ahrens: Well, the example was someone who hadn’t voted before—the video got them to vote. You can’t do in words what you can do in video and music, and this election created broad grassroots support, a lot inspired by these kinds of videos and Shepard Fairey’s poster resonating with people. Once people get involved, then you can try to get them to read the articles they wouldn’t otherwise have read.

McIntosh: Also consider why people don’t vote. If CNN isn’t speaking to them, why should they watch CNN? If can tell you why Obama matters, that’s useful.

Relle: In aggregate, online video had more content than the candidates’ own messages. Ads would do things like show a picture of John Kerry and then some wolves, with the message “people are trying to kill us!” That’s ridiculous.

Shane: Does this have payoff beyond remixing your favorite TV show? Do people go further?

[intervening here: I have a complicated and intense set of reactions to this. I will set aside the valuation of engagement in popular culture as obviously less than engagement in “real” life. But I never understand why people ask this question: how could there not be spillover? Look, I’ve always been mouthy, starting from a place of privilege. But once I started blogging, I became a lot more confident that everyone was entitled to my opinion—and nobody even comments here! And what was I doing here? Well, a lot of summarizing of other people's words. While I wrote down my insanely detailed notes of conference presentations, or summarized false advertising cases, I realized I had things to say about them, and I put them in.

For people who aren’t sure they have things to say, experience saying them, and getting feedback, is liberating. “Who do you think you are?” is most often a question asked to suppress contribution; sometimes it doesn’t even need to be asked, because people have already internalized the message that they aren’t worth listening to. Making something, especially something that comments on an artifact that other people will know and have opinions about (and likely be willing to share same with you), gives people their own answers to that question. I’m the girl with the tablet laptop; I love copyright and trademark and advertising law; I love fanworks; I love transistors. (Boom de yada!) Who do you think you are?]

Lasica: It’s already happening in how people are getting their information, from their friends and their personalized news streams.

McIntosh: Something happens when you’re analytically or literally deconstructing and reconstructing media: when that’s the norm, cultural practice changes.

Gjestvang: Mashup isn’t necessarily countercultural or counterhegemonic, but it is speaking, and we need to consider that a good. Obama Girl was successful because it’s political and because it draws on sexist images and tropes. There needs to be opportunity for people to learn to think critically and create, but we’re not sure what they’ll do.

Coppa: Women are learning tech skills—Final Cut, Photoshop, coding, etc.—so they can make sites and banners and vids for their favorite shows. This is serious play. We are really writing, in order to communicate to an audience, which is very different from writing for a single teacher’s assignment. Remixing teaches important skills that work elsewhere.


cofax said...

nobody even comments here


Shane's comment strikes me as akin to the discussion we had last week on my LJ about Authoritative Voices: only approved voices are allowed to speak or have value. Additionally, as you say, it ignores the value to those who may not be reacting in that context, but who may be internalizing and using what they've learned in another forum.

RT said...

::waves back!:: That was totally not a complaint; the blog is a different form than the LJ, and I wouldn't expect most of these entries to generate comments. I don't think Shane was directly worried about authoritative voices (though the unnamed questioner later was), but he was expressing a Meiklejohn-like focus on political speech: he would feel better if everyone was talking politics in the sense of Obama-McCain, not gossiping about The Hills. Of course that perspective easily tips into judgments about the people who want to talk about other stuff, as you note.