remix culture course starting today

This semester I’m teaching a new course I’m really excited about, on Remix Culture (DIKULT204 or DIKULT303).

The course is organised as a research group rather than as traditional teacher-led lectures or seminars, and the students and I will work together to gather scholarship about remixing, mashups and appropriation in art and culture and examples of remixes and mashups. The end result of the course for each student (and what gets graded) is a 15 page research paper on a topic within this area, and a 2-4 minute YouTube video presenting the research to a general audience. Additionally, we’ll be putting together a collaborative report. Here’s the current version of the syllabus, which is constantly being tweaked.

If you’ve read about any of Mike Wesch‘s courses or heard him speaking you’ll recognise that I’m heavily inspired by his work. Here’s an explanation of how his Digital Ethnography classes work, and here’s an example of a final video that s made for that class – their theme was anonymity, and Katie’s video on ended up going viral and getting 156,000 views on YouTube – that’s a lot more readers/viewers than most student projects ever get!

For students it’s very useful (and encouraging!) to be able to read Katie’s blog, and see some of the previous drafts and ways in which she thought about what she wanted to do – or you can see the trailer she created at the start of the semester and notice how much more developed the final version is – naturally. This excellent final video wasn’t pulled magically out of a hat – a lot of slow and careful work went into it, and a lot of trial and error.

The first class (which is Tuesday at noon) we’ll focus on getting to know each other and we’ll talk about what we’re going to be doing this semester, of course. I’m expecting most of the students have not been required to make a YouTube video to convey their research before, so looking at examples of what these might look like seems sensible. We’ll also look at examples of remixes. If you’re coming to class, you may want to not watch these in advance! I’m thinking of showing some visual examples, like the many variants of the Mona Lisa and the recent photoshopped Obama as the Joker images (with many variants) that Whitney Phillips wrote about recently. Then some videos – certainly I’ll show Bush and Blair’s love song, and the Vote Different video (which plays on Apple’s 1984 ad) and I think the Edward/Buffy video as well. We should do some music and literature as well – I think I’ll just load up Spotify and oh, there are thousands of examples, but just at random, let’s play the first bars of Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” followed by Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, and maybe Prokoviev’s “Romance” from the Lieutenant Kije suite (starting at 10 seconds in) followed by Sting’s “Russians” (at 1:24). I should have a really old example… (check out this wikipedia entry)

Literature has remixes too – William Burrough’s cutups, of course, or Tom Phillip’s Humument, a “treated” Victorian novel. There’s works like Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Brian Chapman… ‘s Impermanence Agent that take text from the websites you’re surfing; there are simple juxtapositions of existing texts as in Two Origins by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and there are writers who ask readers to remix their work, as with Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back from the War. Writers may copy code and structure rather than the exact phrases, as with Vadin Epstein’s version of “My Boyfriend”, or in Scott Rettberg’s Tokyo Garage, which uses code from Nick Montfort’s Taroko Gorge. And of course literature is saturated with reinterpretations and appropriations of more traditional kinds – Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story, for instance, or Shakespeare’s own borrowing of stories. Games can be remixed with mods that actually rewrite or modify the game itself (Quake is a great example, with lots of mods) or in machinimas, videos made by “taping” actions in the game. Have I forgotten any artforms? I think all have examples of remixes, anyway.

The examples I’m showing span across art, political commentary, fan fiction/expression and references that carry some kind of cultural meaning often not expressed explicitly (“intertextuality”). Edward/Buffy is actually probably more political/ideological commentary than fan fiction, so I guess I’d better also show a “purer” fan remix from Pirates of the Caribbean as well.

Homework for Thursday will be to set up blogs (whereever they like, Blogger or WordPress are fine) and Diigo accounts so I can add them to our class Netvibes page, and to find at least one example of a remix to show the rest of the research group on Thursday. By the end of the week we’ll all need to be learning to use the video editing software so we can get to work making trailers!

18. August 2009 by Jill

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