Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

Just like this pic and thought it applied to the class. So here you go.

Reading through the article, the word cryptomnesia first interested me. I searched online and found the definition that it is a memory bias where one person though one came upon something new or original but actually is forgotten memory that one did not recognize. It is really common in the filed of art where people come up with similar ideas and one cannot be sure is it really plagiarism or cryptomnesia.

Due to some cultural differences, some of the examples I cannot relate and this may have effected how I understood the article a little bit. I first became aware of the difficulty of examples when the film The Lineup was introduced. Some of the examples really went over my head and even I research it I still cannot gain full understanding.

And people can grasp that it is plagiarism but what if the author never realize or recognize it and take his or her production as original? If there is to be a law written about plagiarism, what is the line between plagiarism, quotation, manipulation? When I come up with a new idea, I often write it down in my notebook and sometimes I found out that the new idea that I thought is new is already written and next to it I also wrote where I got the idea from. Should this be considered plagiarism or cryptomnesia?

This also kind of reminds me of learning history. Everybody tries to be original but once one find out the ideas are from history, how should one take it? My father tells me that no matter what, humans are foolish and that things and events just rotate. Even though it happens in different time periods and seem to show in different context and reasoning, events, things and ideas in history show up again and again and just make me think is there anything that is considered original? Everything seems to be a manipulation or quotation of anything possible and it is hard to prove it.

Take Disney cartoons for example. The one I totally find familiar is Mulan. It is taken from the Chinese folk tale Hua Mulan and gave it a twist to make the story more heroic and funny. In the original story, nobody found out that Mulan is a girl until she dressed into her own clothes when she returned home and approach her friends in the army. She never did something as heroic as going to the palace and saving the emperor. The only part taken from the original tale is that she did take her father’s place in the army and trained like all soldiers. This should be called manipulation or plagiarism, as some of the story comes from original ideas, some from the folk tale and some form traditional Chinese customs.

Plagiarism is so hard to identify and the issue of copyright never goes away.

As I read through this article, I took notes/thoughts along the way, which sort of fall in order of appearance.

My first thought regarding Lethem’s mentioning of movies and their use of appropriation, was the use of music accenting a movie. Actually, music can sometimes play a crucial role to a movie as it commonly succeeds to add an atmosphere to the experience with a strong emotional grab. If a movie chooses to use a song that was prior created to the production of the movie, they often try to apply this song as an alluring aesthetic to the events that occur in the story so. A clear example I thought of off the top of my head was the soundtrack to the movie “A Clockwork Orange”, where director and producer Stanley Kubrick choose to blend contemporary instruments of the era with classical compositions written by famous composers. This obviously was a vision that Kubrick saw to add a significance of emotion to the movie, and because of such a selection, it obviously had an impact on the cinematic world.

Moving further along in the essay, the topic of Jazz and Blues music were presented. When we listen to Blues and Jazz music, often we sort of sink into the sounds because of our familiarity with the loose direction of both genres. Most of the time, Blues and Jazz music maintain an openness throughout their play. If anything, we as listeners can picture such compositions going on and on, infinitely, because of the act of improvisation.  Musicians grab from any sound or source that can blend or transition into another realm of the song so that they can keep the melody going.

Two lines really struck my attention later on:

“Most artists are awakened by the work of a master.”

“Inhaling the memory of an act never experienced.”

Both lines seemed to compliment one another in a way of describing inspiration as a powerful, perhaps unstoppable force. There are certain stages of absorbing inspiration, and it can also depend how engulfed and true you are to the original source material.

I also thought is was interesting when Lethem dated back to Walt Disney, and his first published character Steamboat Willie who came to life after Buster Keaton’s act of Steamboat Bill Jr. in the 1920′s. This was an obvious representation of a parody; however, the cartoon gained popularity because of the audience’s prior familiarity to Buster Keaton’s act. The new art of animation allowed the possibility to insert more imaginative ideas because of the capabilities of cartooning vs. real life. Walt Disney probably saw Steamboat Wilie as, what we call today, a “demo”; or a pre-interlude to his future career as an animator.

Reading further along, the mentioning of YouTube culture caught my attention. It undoubtedly has become an open-source pool which viewers take on sub-cultural roles remixing music tracks, putting videos to music, or just re-arranging a music video, reinterpreting something that is well known to the world and filtering it through your own perception as a viewer. You could then possibly declare yourself as an artist, but this statement could be widely objected to amongst the rest of the world’s standards.

The allowance of open-source and hacking culture provides artists with a new hope to bring their remixing ideas to life instead of being restricted to create them by an authoritative demand.

To me, I draw the line somewhere with appropriation. If I sense an overly abstracting nature from an artist’s delivery, then I see their use of appropriation as an insult. Before winter break began, there was a show at the Art Institute Museum’s Modern Wing, which I found myself troubled to understand and appreciate due to the crudeness of the artist’s choice to messily cut and paste photos of male models from Japanese magazines to blank surfaces, and then around them, applying illustrative lines, and smears of colored paint. To me, this was hard to declare a professional status, or even deserving of a large gallery space. The message wasn’t clear, and the evidence and absurdness of directly applying magazine cut outs to a surface did not suit the concept of “remixing” per se, but rather embraced the bare bones act of thievery from a publication.

Re-envisioning is the key to remixing or remastering. It’s a responsibility, once you have the original source in your hands, to do something of your own will with it.

However, the allowance of modifications done to that original source provokes a scale of judgement amongst viewers and listeners.

Also, the idea of “commodity” and tainting of a previous work of art is something of the artist’s choice, and perhaps, their own prejudgement. Remix culture branches in a couple different directions. Either one could adoringly admire the original creation of an artist and want to use their ideas as an ode to their utter genius, or one could think to remix or recontextualize a past artwork and give it a whole different meaning, most likely insulting or distorting the artist’s original vision.

Anyway, these were some of the thoughts I had through reading this article. If the act of appropriation is becoming a more common theme in the art world, I think it may open up to new categories that maybe none of us have even imagined yet ourselves. There is a lot of exploration to be done through this new culture in which we refer to as “New Media Art”, but the resonance of the past will forever remain, and evidence of it is hard to eliminate through the culture of remixing.

-Nicole R.

Hah. What an epic twist at the end. I tip my hypothetical plagiaristic hat to you, Mr. Lethem. Through out this entire essay I was thinking, yes, this guy makes some good points, but they are a bit lost because the entire structure is a bit nonsensical. But I completely forgive him, even though it makes commenting on the many points he makes (or is it really him that makes them?) a bit difficult.

Here is what was going on in my mind: Firstly, I liked that the MPAA “You wouldn’t steal a handbag advertisement!” ad was mentioned, because frankly, if I could download a car, I would do it. Secondly, I’m not entirely convinced with the gift economy theory as it applied to original work. A gift implies that I do not get anything tangible in return, which, in this consumer culture, means that there will be no economic incentive to create. In turn, it also means that if everything is a gift, the concept of “worth” will be eliminated, which means that there will be no distinction between what is good and what is bad. This does not present a good outcome. Finally, I feel like it’s just a matter of time until the old corporate Disney-esque generation will die out, and the newer generation that is more acquainted with remix culture will control the copyright patents, and will be more lenient with them.