Remix etc.

Here‘sthe dilemma and confusion. Asking students to conform to a print based logic in an electronic world is not teaching anyone to think on one‘sown. Indeed, this kind of pedagogy translates into a continual academic stubbornness, a refusal to recognize the communication shifts we have experienced and are experiencing currently. Telling students to write according to the logic of print (whether the writing is on paper or not I am talking about the logic not the medium) is to force students to reject the communicative practices around them: IM, the Web, Film, TV, music, etc.

The other serious problem here is that the refusal to recognize the remix is also a refusal to recognize the nature of texts we often value and admire in English Studies (and the university in general). The Wasteland? Remixed. Shakespeare? So remixed. Las Meninas? Remixed Velasquez. Pick a Medieval text at random. It will be a remix. Newspaper stories? Always remixed (I remember my own newspaper experience at several publications? we would go through other papers looking for ideas). Literature reflects a Borges universe where every story is remixed and mixed. Spun around on a literate turntable and wondered over. —JRiceRemix etc. (Yellow Dog)

It’s true that one’s own ideas only come after one has filtered through many other ideas. I think the problem I see in the classroom is that students find it difficult to trace details back to the source. It’s one thing to read Shakespeare, and then write a creative work that riffs on Shakespeare. It takes perhaps a bit more skill to read, say, The Jew of Malta alongside The Merchant of Venice, or any of a number of standard revenge tragedies alongside Hamlet, and note what elements of a common story Shakespeare kept, and where his artistry made the common story into his own dramatic work. It’s something else entirely to be shown a creative work, or a marketing pitch, or a political speech, and — without an authority figure telling you what sources the author consulted — independently seek out the influences that were remixed and remediated in order to produce the new result.

So students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture — and it’s certainly possible to recognize remix culture and design assignments that ask them to think critically about it, without rejecting it out of hand as plagiarism.

One problem with remix culture is that the products of remixing are meant almost exclusively for audiences that are familiar with the sources. I had a roommate who sometimes wrote poetry or short stories that quoted long passages from popular songs. Since I usually hadn’t heard of those songs, they didn’t have the emotonal effect my roommate wanted them to have, so they fell flat for me and I wasn’t really able to get the full impact he wanted his creative writing to have. Since he was mostly writing for himself, he didn’t need to cite and explain every cultural reference, but if he were giving a speech to a local city council meeting or writing a proposal for a scholarship, it would be his responsibility to make sure that his audience understood all his references. One way to do that is to identify the source of those references.

I don’t know much about music, but I have heard on NPR references to composers who “quote” each other. You can’t interrupt a symphony to identify the source of a certain passage, so I recognize that some media are better suited to the kinds of explicit citation that college composition courses require.

In the early 90s, Johnny Carson did a comedy bit about psyops campaign against American troops, where the troops were warned that back home, their wives were being seduced by movie stars like Homer Simpson. A serviceman overseas must have heard about or watched that show, but changed the name to “Bart Simpson,” and passed the story on to a reporter. A legend was born.

I don’t expect students to arrive at college knowing everything they need to know — if they did, none of us would have jobs.

Remixing is one thing when it comes to the creation of cultural artifacts — but when it comes to examining facts about the world, and making decisions that may affect people’s livelihoods or even their lives, the culture of the remix is sloppy and dangerous.

I certainly don’t feel that students should never, ever remix — but if we graduate students who can ONLY remix, and have never been forced to trace an idea back to its source and critique its validity, but instead settle for riffing on it and referencing “” as one of a handful of “Works Consulted,” then we are doing them — and our culture at large — a great disservice.