Bonus: What's With the Remix Disrespect?

So
I’m sitting at Julie’s place, right, having some rather delicious
cherry M&Ms (which my momma could alphabetize in her belly!), when
she pops up this blog by Dennis Jerz wherein I spy this quote, in response to Jeff Rice:

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.

I hate to take up the position of the Jeopardy judge and simply say “bzzzzzz, wrong!” but… that’s just wrong.

And
I don’t mean to hurl an insult at Dr. Jerz, but… this is a case of
looking in at something from the outside (I would assume, based on the
admission later in the post that Jerz knows little about music)
attempting to critique something without ever getting the insider’s
perspective.

I
would argue the exact opposite of the first portion of the quote
(before the dash). But let’s also be realistic; if Jerz has
encountered, or thinks he will encounter, a student who can only remix,
he’s failed to keep track of public high schools in America.

Where to start with this one?  The “about” page says “Who am I? I’m just a guy. I’ve got a story like everyone.”   The author claims to be “someone who spent four years teaching–and three prior to that as a TA/writing tutor–at an open admissions college” but that doesn’t really help me figure out whether I am writing to a grad student who is struggling to figure out the professional landscape, a very bright undergraduate who could use some gentle instruction in tone and focus, or a professional college instructor who should know better.

Here is the comment I posted…

“that’s just wrong.”

Could you clarify what part of my statement you mean? Are you reacting against the part where I say “students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture,” or the part where I say that it *is* possible to design remix assignments that ask them to think critically?

“And I don’t mean to hurl an insult at Dr. Jerz, but…”

Let’s have a conversation instead, shall we?

“he’s failed to keep track of public high schools in America. Every student who makes it through that system with any success–meaning 95% of our trad students–will know how to write a five paragraph essay.”

I regularly teach freshman who are fresh out of high school, and I know for a fact they can’t all write a five-paragraph essay — because if they could, they would not be in my “Basic Composition” class, they would all be in “Seminar in Thinking and Writing” (I think about a third of our students skip Basic Comp, not 95%). Perhaps the public schools where you are are much better than those where I am, or perhaps we simply disagree over what level of writing counts as acceptable. Regardless, I applaud any effort to break students out of the high-school five-paragraph-essay box, and I won’t dismiss your conclusions as “wrong” simply because the experiences that inform them differ from mine.  I will, instead, ask you to clarify.

For the record, here is the thesis of my blog entry:

“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.”

And here is the conclusion:

“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 “www.somehomepage.com” as one of a handful of “Works Consulted,” then we are doing them — and our culture at large — a great disservice.”

Your defense of remix culture is a very good example of the thinking that makes me shake my head. I am not writing against remix; I am writing about a willingness to settle for the creative expressions of personal reactions to a text, without demonstrating the ability and willingness to explore those ideas more fully.

Before I go any farther, let me first state that I recognize that a blog entry is not the same thing as an academic paper. The rhetoric of blogs is rougher, and sometimes the invitation to rumble is what motivates us to post our ideas online.

And I also note that in the remix culture, creating and publishing that initial response can take on the role of the discovery draft, sparking conversations that help the student develop a more accurate, more thorough, more nuanced understanding of an issue.

I’m responding because “What’s with the Remix Disrespect” does not merely engage with my ideas; it makes several global statements about my competence, both directly and implicitly, which I find personally distressing. This entry presumes to judge my whole career based on what I wrote in this single blog entry from 2004. It assumes a superior rhetorical stance — first dismissing the idea of being a game-show judge, then promptly performing exactly that role; then rejecting the idea of hurling an insult, and promptly doing just that.

I find it interesting that in one passage where, instead of taking on the persona of an expert, I prefaced a statement about music by citing my source (since I can’t rely on personal knowledge of what classical composers do when they quote each other), that detail surfaces in your blog as evidence of the claim that I am a cultural outsider who can’t understand remix culture (which, as you know, involves far more than music).

So… my critique of the remix culture lies specifically in the convention that assumes the author’s personal expression of reactions can substitute for investigating the issue.

If you would like to get a greater understanding of my attitude towards the remix culture, I invite you to search my blog for terms such as “remix,” “open source,” or “modding.” I invite you to sample my own remix of Teletubbies and gothic poetry) or some of my found poetry exercises (poems comprised of lines taken from student blogs), or this blogger’s account of a 2007 CCCC panel I co-organized, “When Student Experts Remix the Discipline: New Media in the Composition Classroom,” or some of my recent articles on the blogosphere, video game history. You might also look at the websites for the courses I teach in Video Game Culture and Theory, or “The History and Future of the Book” or the 400-level studio course I teach in “New Media Projects,” or the student work that you’ll find via links on those sites.

While your entry refers to “a terrible fear of plagiarism,” please note that my blog entry only mentions plagiarism once, in a sentence stating that remix is *not* the same thing as plagiarism — thus, my only reference to plagiarism *agrees* with your position.

Were I writing this entry today, after four more years of watching the impact of the remix culture, I would not have written “students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture.” I would have said something about how a student who remixes *well* has to understand the raw material, so a good course built around remix will have to include analysis and fact-checking.