Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

After reading this essay by Lethem my first instinct was to become quite concerned with my own future. As a student who is interested in animation and film I know that the industry is built of thievery. If you look back at the history of animation you will find the fields are littered with stolen and copied characters and stories. Disney alone pillaged through the stories of the past and rebranded them as his own.

As a hopeful future animator I could only hope that someone would copy or steal my ideas just as long as I had put it out there first (or at least my version of it). I was just watching an episode of the Power Puff Girls entitled “Meet the Beatalls” in which the writers used Beatles lyrics to convey the story. This is by far one of the most creative cartoons that I have seen in quite some time, yet it was some one else’s “words”.

What I have noticed is this is an issue of the past fighting to keep their power. With the Internet and blogs and new affordable film and music equipment it easy for everyday people to entertain themselves and others, it is easier to make our own movies, record our own music, and publish our own writings without some big corporation backing us. This frightens the corporations who see their influences slowly vanishing before their eye. The problem is they have the recourses to litigate and chase do anyone who dares to ignore the sacred rules that they lobbied congress to obtain.

The goal as a creator should be to make life better for all not to obtain wealth. Yes if people enjoy what you create then the money will follow but that should not be the objective. I guess what I am trying to say is that your idea is your idea until you put it out in the world. Then we cannot help but influence others. At that point everyone that hears or sees it can and will take from it what they want. So if you cannot handle that then you will never make it as a creator of ideas. Things are changing and will always be changing and we all have to learn to adapt or we will be left behind.

Aaron

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.