Tag Archives: Lessig

Class, Fri, 3/28

Virtual 685, Lessig, and CCCC

Fastwrite: Since we did not meet together last week, I’d like us to spend some time thinking about the work we did online. Please jot down a few lines about what most interested, provoked, or amused you about:

  • #4C14
  • #685dw
  • Lessig, Remix
  • x5

Miller, Fitzpatrick, and the Undead of Academic Writingnosferatu

Fastwrite: Find a passage in one of the following texts that helps you formulate a question for Richard Miller (and the rest of us):

  • Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence
  • Miller, text2cloud
  • Miller, “Habits of the Creative Mind”
  • Your x6s, and the various texts mentioned in them.

Proposals

Your proposals will count as x7 and will be due on Tues, 4/08, at 11:59. Unless people feel uneasy about doing so, I suggest that they be posted online, so you can get feedback and advice your colleagues in seminar as well as me.

Your proposal should address the following issues:

  • What texts or other materials do you plan to work with?
  • What question or problem will your writing address?
  • What sort of format are you imagining working in? (E.g., WordPress, Tumblr, video, podcast . . . )
  • Can you identify a text that could serve as an approximate model for the sort of piece you’d like to compose?
  • What questions do you have at this point for me and your colleagues?

A proposal is not a contract. I expect that your ideas for your piece will evolve over the next several weeks. Your aim for now should formulate a sense of your project in terms that are specific but open to revision, that describe what you want to do in ways that allow the rest of us to offer you advice.

To Do

  1. Tues, 4/08, 11:59 pm: Post your digital essay proposal to this site.
  2. Thurs, 4/10, 11:59 pm: Post advice and feedback to those proposals you feel you can help with.
  3. Fri, 4/11, class: Be ready to discuss Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle.

 

 

 

Academic/Online Writing/Responding: A Bricolage

In reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, I found myself most drawn to her chapter on authorship and the ways in which she is forwarding some of the ideas we discussed last week in relation to Lessig’s Remix.

As academics, we generally (and in turn tell our students) that there is a “right” way to critique scholars with opposing viewpoints in one’s own written work (with respect, fairness, tact, etc.). Likewise, most people would acknowledge that there is an etiquette to what sorts of comments are “appropriate” to online writing, images, video, etc. (trolls and flamers not withstanding). Yet, if we consider Fitzpatrick’s proposition that “we come to accept remix as a mode of scholarly authorship, a form of academic bricolage” (79 in Kindle), what then would the hybrid responses to such hybrid texts look like? Naturally, there are some blogs or other online publicity organs associated with scholarly journals that do allow for some amount of commenting, but I cannot think of any online journal in Victorian studies (my field) that does anything more than approximately reproduce the print journal format in pixelated form—they embrace a new technology without also embracing any of its other affordances in soliciting reader responses.

Fitzpatrick notes that it is “important to recognize that even if we never return to an article and revise it after it’s been published online, the article’s meaning will nonetheless shift and change depending on the ways that other writers interact with it” (71 in Kindle). She admits elsewhere that this is of course true of most texts, but with online texts there is the expectation that this sort of shifting, negotiating, and revising will not only happen, but will do so to a visible extent and under the eyes of a readership that will proceed to not only comment but sometimes even steer the conversation.

So then, a thought experiment: just for a moment imagine a combination of the scholarly/online modes of response, for instance, a scholarly article that allowed “comments” akin to the form of say, those on a YouTube video. Anyone would be able to see that so-and-so many people gave a piece a thumbs up or thumbs down, what people had to say about it specifically, as well as what conversations/conflicts it generated (whether thoughtful or not)—to a certain extent, perhaps this is what we have been doing all along in our class blog/Twitter feed. In any case, this approach would likely generate some productive comments, but might also…not (as is so often the case with even the most seemingly innocuous videos).

A Spirited Internet Debate
The future of academic discourse?

To give an example from YouTube (which happens to be oddly fitting in light of Fitzpatrick’s discussion of academic publishing as an “undead” form): in response to the “Bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one commenter going by the moniker TheFalafelRaptor responded “46 people aren’t dead yet but got thrown into the cart anyways,” which anyone who has spent any amount of time on YouTube recognizes as a fairly standard template response (taking the number of people who have given the video a thumbs down—46 in this case—and combining it with some statement that relates to the fact that these users did not align themselves with what most other people liked about the video). Yet, imagine the uproar if academic texts were treated in this way: “46 people aren’t ready to remix with Lessig.” I find myself halfway between horror and amusement at the thought.

Perhaps this type of mash-up is not quite what Fitzpatrick (or Lessig) had in mind in advocating for bricolage or remix, particularly as it pertains not only to the creation of texts. But what about responses to them? And why not?

x6: Fitzpatrick and Miller (and some thoughts on CCCC)

I’ll be interested to start our conversation next Friday by hearing about your impressions of our “virtual”—and admittedly diffuse—class this week. What impressions did you have of the #4c14 twitter feed? How satisfying (or not) was it to discuss Lessig through the medium of posts and comments alone?

Let me offer two quick thoughts about attending the conference while trying to keep in touch with this group. First, I both enjoyed tweeting the conference and found it distracting. It’s very different from simply taking notes, which are a far more expansive genre, both in terms of how much you can say and their expressive range. Which leads me to my second thought: I attended one session which I did not tweet, because it was a “big-name” panel  that I found very annoying when it wasn’t simply tedious. But the conference twitter feed did not seem the right forum to make such a remark (and still retain a number of people as friends). Which in turn made me think about what seem some pretty striking limits of Twitter as a space for critical conversation.

From a distance, I was struck by the tepid responses to Lessig. Upon rereading him, I think I can see and feel why. Lessig is important for his advocacy of an open culture and his critique of expanded copyright. (I think for many of us oldsters he was the person to make that argument.)  But his tone now feels off—more combative, more dichotomizing, less willing to recognize  and build from the non-RO aspects of our culture. (In that vein, I continue to find Standage’s emphasis on continuities appealing, even if he doesn’t like TV.) My hunch is, then, that for the purposes of this class, we can probably acknowledge what Lessig contributes and move on.

Which will be, to my mind, toward a much more engaging book. I am reading Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence for the first time and enjoying and admiring it immensely. So I’d like us to try to read through the whole of her book for Friday—but given that I am only halfway through it myself, I’ll understand if you need to make an “in progress” post on Tuesday. (Remember that our new deadline is 11:59 pm.)

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This will be a free response, but I suspect it might prove useful and interesting if you can scan Richard Miller’s text2cloud (or some other online academic writing you admire) in relation to Fitzpatrick’s book. In any case, please  keep in my mind that we will have Richard in seminar with us on Friday, and that he will giving a public talk on Thursday afternoon (3:30, 111 Memorial). Richard is a very engaging speaker; you’ll want to hear him if you possibly can, and I will be counting on you have some questions and thoughts for him in class.

I apologize for the impromptu and rambling form of this post. It is being composed directly in the text box at a lunch table in Indianapolis. That is, of course, precisely the sort of thing I warned all of you never to do—but I felt it was urgent to connect. I look forward to seeing all of you in person next week!

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.

“Sorry About That”

I watch a lot of fanvids. Videos Lawrence Lessig would categorize as “remixes” – similar to AMVs (76). In preparation for this response post, then, I went to my favorites playlist on YouTube to find a couple videos to draw our attention to. Going through my list, every 10 or so videos (…let that say what it will about how many videos I’ve favorited) there would be a “Deleted video.” I’ve made a screenshot collage of the main reason offered:

CR1

Copyright claims and infringement.

The two claims on the right were (from top to bottom) a section of the BBC Proms and an artist’s work named Kim Beom where the art was him screaming as he painted with yellow paint. The reason I watched both of these pieces on YouTube was that it was the only site where I could access them – access being a key issue Lessig drives home in his work (46).

The other two videos, however, were fanvids. I couldn’t reliably say what the work on top was, but I do remember the bottom. To summarize it briefly, a youtube user set audio from the film Step Brothers to visuals from Thor – turning the destructive and violent relationship between Thor and Loki into something funny, remixing the two works. It did not replace either film, but brought forward an amusing connection between the work. As Lessig writes of similar videos, “Their meaning comes not from the content of what they say; it comes from the reference, which is expressible only if it is the original that is used” (74). Only actual audio and visuals from both films would create the effect; furthermore, it is an original effect coming from recycled materials.

I thought it would be fun for this post to look at two fanvids about the current television show Hannibal. The first is just two minutes long (and of a serious tone) and I’ve edited the second down to approximately thirty seconds (and it is ridiculous).  I imagine that there those who don’t watch the show will view the videos differently from those that do, as a common, shared knowledge is part of the game with these videos, but for background’s sake, Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) is the good guy and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is not so good – as I’m sure you know.

And, as I talked about netiquette last week, a content warning here – Hannibal is a very graphically violent show (really gruesome murders and whatnot & all the food is people), so consider yourself warned.

Hannibal – Disney Crack Edition

I thought I would add these videos to our discussion because they serve as illustrations of youtuber’s editing and remixing capabilities. The first, a (I think) beautifully edited and mixed video, draws on the initial statement from FBI profiler Will Graham, “Don’t psychoanalyze me; you wouldn’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed,” and basically does just that. It explores the darker elements of this character’s mind as he recreates/lives other murderers’ crimes. The song brings forward the seemingly futile effort Will makes to bury this darkness in his desire to save lives and build relationships and friendships (but he is relying on Hannibal as a friend – not the best idea).

The section from the second video flips this serious investigation of Will and the dynamic between Will and Hannibal on its head. Its darkly funny in putting together Hannibal with The Little Mermaid and it relies on viewer knowledge of both to make its point. The production value is lower and the purpose is humor. At the same time, it does have a point, which is that in the show Hannibal does put forth this sincere attitude that he is helping, in his unique way, Will Graham to become his true self. Unfortunately for Will Graham, Hannibal’s version of him is a brutal and vicious killer…

I have absolutely seen videos like these two pulled down after copyright claims have been made. So, while I think that there are certainly limitations to Lessig’s work (for example, his alarmed rhetoric around the moral ramifications of branding a generation as pirates), I think that a focused look at some of the work that people do on YouTube supports his more basic point about copyright in the digital age.

 

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice: That’s What Lessig’s Perfect Remix Is Made of

Back in high school before I came into my musical own, I didn’t understand the appeal of remixes.  My thought was, “Why tamper with a song that’s already great on its own?”  I especially couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of remixing a dance song because doing so seemed redundant: how could a dance song possibly get any dancier or a pop song sound any poppier?  My younger self was clearly a subconscious yet nonetheless firm believer in the “Read/Only” (RO) culture that Lessig attempts to extend in Remix.

As an avid connoisseur of remixes nowadays, I can say with conviction that not all remixes are created equal, that chances are a “majority of remix, like the vast majority of home movies, or consumer photographs, or singing in the shower, or blogs, is just crap” (Lessig 92).  Lessig is right in his assertion that very little follows from this criticism, but I would also stress how crucial it is for us to be aware of how much such a criticism sounds like and essentially is a value judgment, one that is undeniably subject to our individual, capricious tastes.

What I’m unsure of, though, is how self-aware Lessig is of how his own value judgments cloud his argument as he tries to parse out the “differences in value” among remixes, value he qualifies with the rhetorical question, “Is it any good?” (90) His bias is especially apparent, not to mention problematic, when he argues in favor of remix: “I want my kids to listen to SilviaO’s remix of fourstones’ latest work—a thousand times I want them to listen. Because that listening is active, and engaged, far more than the brain-dead melodies or lyrics of a Britney Spears. Her work draws on nothing, save the forbidden and erotic” (95).

Yes, not all remixes are created equal—that fact seems self-evident.  But what makes SilviaO so special, and what is it about her remixes that warrant “active and engaged” listening?  And more to the point: what should a remix have to do, say, be, or sound like in order to foster the kind of listening that Lessig advocates?

And besides, what’s so bad about Britney??

Although Chris Crocker’s impassioned outcry for greater respect for Britney dates back to her Blackout era drama, his sentiments nonetheless apply here as well (especially since Remix was published within a year of the album’s original release).

I’d argue that Lessig’s praise for SilviaO stems from his implicit (explicit?) approval of her involvement with Creative Commons because it shows that she takes an active role in generating creative communities.  But I’d strongly disagree with his implication that “popular” music, with all of the ideological and linguistic issues that Stuart Hall once critiqued intact, like Britney Spears can never be generative, that we should therefore automatically relegate it to a passive, RO listening experience.  Not to mention how Britney Spears is an entirely different kind of artist/chanteuse than is SilviaO.

Such an implication on Lessig’s part ignores a crucial trend in remix culture, one that can be gleaned from even a cursory glance at iTunes: pop music is one of the most heavily remixed genres.  And just like every remix is not created equal, neither does every remix set out to achieve the exact same project.

Because every artist cannot or does not want to be SilviaO or Girl Talk, then, Lessig’s argument begs the question of what needs to be at stake in a particular remix for it to demand our critical attention and thus enable it to transcend the realm of RO culture and enter that of RW.

Last Bastions of Read Only Culture?

“RO culture speaks of profesionalism. Its tokens of culture demand a certain respect. They offer themselves as authority. They teach, but not by inviting questions.” (Lessig 84)

Like Michael has already pointed out on his blog post, the dichotomy between Read Only and Read/Write culture Lawrence Lessig portrays in Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in a Hybrid Economy is a flawed one.

For me, the final breakdown of Lessig’s definitions of RO and R/W occur when he mounts an apologia for some places in our society that necessitate Read Only content. RO culture, Lessig writes, “is critically important, both to the spread of culture and to the spread of knowledge. There are places where authority is required” (85).

So what are his ironclad examples?

Congressional laws.

Guidelines for administering medicines.

Flight plans on commercial jetliners.

Um. All of those examples, while content created by “professionals” or “authorities” in their field (84), quickly reveal the very collaborative remix qualities from which Lessig tries to protect them.

For example, what texts carry more power than legislative documents? Very few. But legislators draw up laws with input from other elected officials, advocacy/lobbyists/special interest groups, lawyers, and political constituents. Congressional law does not live “on a wiki,” but it also does not appear on stone tablets from a higher authority. Frequently it mashes up pieces of other laws piecemeal. This (often frustrating) process requires several hundred elected officials to make laws, but hardly ever original material from scratch.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The example of writing guidelines for medicine dosing seems less Read Only than Congressional law, but not for people who see the underbelly of pharmaceutical research and development. We trust the dosing information on the Tylenol bottle we give our children, but even so we must take into account what we know about our own child’s health, weight, and previous history with the drug. Additionally, the research that goes into such guidelines changes over time and medicines are frequently pulled from the market when we know more. Hardly a great example of unwavering authority.

Finally, flight plans, like Congressional laws, take into account a tremendous amount of data in order to plot an ideal route. But ultimately, pilots and flight crew can and should have the power to improvise and respond to new information. It may be tough to make that argument with the ongoing mystery of Malaysia Air Flight 370, but it doesn’t change the fact that Lessig’s three supposed best examples of firm RO culture are neither as authoritative nor as unremixed/remixable as he indicates in his book.

In short, traditional content providers and artists are already complicit in remix culture.

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By Ryan Shaw

A more compelling argument Lessig makes in Remix: we must reimagine our relationship to R/W cultural practices and habits because the change has already come. College-aged students and their younger siblings have never experienced a world without highly visible remixes. If companies and lawmakers cannot figure out how to benefit from and encourage the current and continuing trend of remix/collaboration/R/W creation, the future is indeed dire. But not for the reasons they say it is.

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Dawn Endico on Flickr http://bit.ly/1gyP3yh