When is spoken word a remix?

On Saturday night, I went out to dinner for a friend’s birthday.  In the space of dinner, drinks, and the car rides to and from Baltimore (about six or seven hours all told), we quoted at least nine or ten different movies or shows- probably more.  Archer, Parks and Recreation, Lord of the Rings, Anchorman, Futurama, and The Godfather all found a way into our conversation, usually to make a humorous point or affectionately mock one of our party.  Four out of the six people present are serious gamers, so quotes from video games made their way into the discussion as well. Someone even asked the waiter if he could make the “James Bond cocktail.”

None of us had invented those phrases or ideas, but we had requisitioned them and incorporated them into our daily life – the ultimate remix and integrated RW culture.  Lessig notes that digitization had “removed the constraints” that kept media tied to it’s physical files in the analog world (38).  Experiencing different types of media and then passing it along through spoken word until it becomes a part of mainstream life even further removes certain types of media from the digital equation.  They just become part of our collective psyche, making our culture into a remix like the ones that Lessig talks about.

I guess what I was thinking about is, at what point does this happen?  When does something become so deeply ingrained in our everyday culture that it is no longer considered as being “remixed?”  When do phrases or media  from copyrighted works stop existing as  “stolen” or “easily available” (44) and start just existing as things that are a part of culture?  I don’t think that there’s a copyright law against spoken word unless it’s preserved on film or in a sound clip, but we were technically adding those things to our conversation and claiming them as our own for that moment.

When I was a final-semester senior  here at Delaware, I served as a Writing Fellow at the  Writing Center.  I worked with a class of fifteen Chinese students (I think they were first years), and one of the first and most pervasive issues we encountered was attribution.  Evidently, schools in China teach what sounds like a more extreme form of the way that Lessig’s friend Ben wrote– a  “collage” that utilized quotes, proverbs, or phrases that were the words of others with little or no attribution.  They were, in effect, remixing the words of experts, leaders, and other individuals to support their argument and have a new meaning.

It particularly struck me, because not only is that behavior accepted, but (on all accounts) seems to be encouraged and is a practice that applies across much, if not all of Chinese culture.  Oral tradition and stories are very important, and have become an element of Chinese culture that is simply regarded as that: a contributing part of their national identity, heritage, and history. Using someone else’s words is seen as a mark of respect to the original creator.  Comparatively, in the western world, people can become very upset if they aren’t given the proper credit.

I apologize for the fact that this likely didn’t make a whole lot of sense- I had a lot of problems making coherent long-form connections to Remix.  On a side note,  has anyone ever been sued or had copyright infringement laws leveled against them for using movie, song, or TV show quotes in regular conversation?  I’d be curious to know. I imagine the corporations and lawyers would make an absolute fortune every time someone did.


3 thoughts on “When is spoken word a remix?”

  1. Gab,

    As someone whose vernacular is saturated with pop culture references both old and new, your post resonates with me quite a bit.

    I always thought of co-opting certain phrases from “Mean Girls” or “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” as a mark of my strange personality, my own way of “enhancing” conversation, just as you and your friends did on your trip to Baltimore (although most of the time it’s just me and mother quoting “Legally Blonde” back and forth for shits and giggles). Without recognizing it, then, I’d say I even considered this co-opting a personal form of remix, even when my willingness to attribute sources for some of my jargon was at odds with my desire to look like I had come up with something *that* quotable all on my own.

    But you make a good point: just because most of our conversations aren’t captured on film or recorded in some way, does that exempt us from copyright? Should it?

    Awkwardly having to record all casual conversation among friends aside, I’d say that these spoken word remixes should absolutely be free of copyright infringement. I think that one of Lessig’s main arguments about pop culture is that it essentially needs to thrive with less strict boundaries—that so much of what we do, say, and are is on some level influenced by another piece of media, so it would be nearly impossible, and indeed crazy, to try to reign everyone in under copyright infringement.

    And in the words of Elle Woods, after stating she feels “comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life” and promptly gets catcalled on the street, “I OBJECT!” to the idea of not being able to incorporate such memorable hallmarks of pop culture into MY everyday life.

  2. And what makes quotation all the more fun in daily life is the absence of citation. We want our friends and family members to get the joke, not to look up the reference. As an example of an everyday quotation gone wrong, by needing,/i> to be cited, here is a scene from one of my favorite movies. (Although of course you all already know it.)

    Bull Durham.


  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I think this daily conversational remix of which you are talking is one of the basic reasons of our tendency to talk with specific people , who are usually called friends, more than the others. Our mutual interests would lead to mutual remixing and then to mutual understanding! I grew up with two older brothers who spoke with each other using a complex mixture of movie quotes and taglines to convey a wide range of meanings. They had their own language. I could decode their language easily but it could not be understandable to any other third party, as each quote was a sign, a personalized proverb, not really a quote any more.
    However, in social networks, we should face the flow of overused quotes that seem to be there just to attract more attention, get some likes or be re-shared. I usually have my doubts whether the person who is quoting something is even familiar with the resource or not. I still enjoy conversational quoting, I see each one as an original remix, but I feel exhausted of digital quoting’s pointlessness. .

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