Am I making myself clear?

In the section “Remixed Media” of Lessig’s Remix, he discusses a lip synched video of George Bush and Tony Blair made by Swedish film director Johan Soderberg. The entire video is over a minute long, but you need only to watch 10 seconds or so to understand its concept:

After praising the videos technique and style, Lessig concludes that “the message [of the video] couldn’t be more powerful: an emasculated Britain, as captured in the puppy love of its leader for Bush” (74). While I agree with Lessig that the video is well done and amusing, I take issue with his assertion that the video’s message is powerful and clear.

For Lessig this message may be clear and powerful, but only because he possesses a certain level of cultural literacy that allows him to interpret the video in light of other circumstances. So while Lessig is right that “a remix like this  . . . delivers its message successfully to a wide range of viewers” (74), not all of these viewers are going to interpret it in the same way. So can we really count this delivery as successful?

Without knowing not only who the two figures are but also the complicated relationship between the United States and England during the time the footage was taken, you would not be able to garner any message from the video, let alone a clear and powerful one. Moreover, the message particular viewers receive is also contingent upon their political and cultural associations. Certainly a liberal from America and a conservative from Britain are not going to take away the same message from the video, even if they do possess the same cultural literacy as Lessig.

The issue that I take with Lessig’s interpretation of the video is one that appears more broadly in our discussion of the possibilities of video over text. According to Lessig, “a mix of images and sounds makes its point far more powe fully than any eight-hundred-word essay in the New York Times could” (74). I believe, however, that while videos have the capability to convey messages that texts simply cannot—such as the reactions of the various student’s describing how they felt when Dobby died—they do so at the risk of these messages being muddled or misinterpreted in a way that text explanations can avoid. It is much easier to use text to fully explain concepts and provide evidence for arguments. Lessig asserts that this video “doesn’t assert the truth. It shows it” (74), but, in my viewing, this video is only showing a humorous and well lip synched parody, and not any “truth.”


One thought on “Am I making myself clear?”

  1. Heather,

    I think you make a good case for the efficacy of textual argumentation as superior, in some ways, to visual/video argumentation. I, too, found this video humorous and entertaining, but I don’t know that it has more “truth” than another form of rhetoric, and possibly less.

    Have you seen NFL bad lipreading? Even if you aren’t a football fan, it’s pretty amazing.

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