Instructor Reflection – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ — A Remix Video about Remix (1.2)

By Christopher Schmidt

The assignment for this video essay was fairly open, so long as the essay contained an argument that could be easily paraphrased. While many students submitted successful video essays with arguments unrelated to the course topic of technology, I was impressed by how Clark and Avni’s video managed to synthesize so many class readings and discussions about digital content and copyright regulation into an essay that was persuasive without being dogmatic. Clark and Avni make their claims in a voiceover that is as poetic as it is declarative, and they support those claims using primarily visual evidence—often with great wit and invention. In this sense, the video is truly multimodal, with text, imagery, video, sound, and music each integral to the larger argument.

The essay itself would not be half as effective were it written in a traditional print form. What makes Clark and Avni’s argument against copyright regulation so convincing is that the form they have chosen—the video remix—embodies their position. Reproducing found imagery and video footage from YouTube, along with musical samples ranging from Steve Reich to Beyonce to Lady Gaga (all artists who dabble in appropriation and cultural sampling), Clark and Avni argue that there is no true originality, but rather, that “all creativity requires reproduction.” In their recycling of found imagery, music, and ideas from class (with some marvelous modifications, including the surprising inclusion of Darwin), Clark and Avni achieve a creative synthesis that is persuasive in part because it is self-reflexive. One of my favorite moments in the video occurs when the voiceover informs us that “the music you are hearing right now is illegal.” This moment is arresting not only because it is “meta,” but because it powerfully engages the viewer in the debate. Are you willing to criminalize activity that is this creative, this thought-provoking, and that gives this much pleasure?

While the multimodal elements of the video work well in concert, they are equally effective on their own terms. Clark and Avni achieve a stylistic consistency and a compelling visual rhythm by returning again and again to circular imagery (the earth, the cell, the wheel, the copyright symbol, the helix). Aurally, subtle vocal modification in the voiceover lends a sense of dimension to the essay, often underscoring the text. (Note how at 0:15-0:19, reverberation and a multiple voice tracks reinforce the video’s claims about reproduction by reproducing the voice itself). But it is ultimately on the musical track where Clark and Avni’s work is most impressive. Like Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) and DJ Earworm, Clark and Avni have taken samples from existing songs and transformed them into a new composition that is at once fresh and uncannily familiar.  As the video barrels toward its conclusion, these samples become more and more identifiable, until the music itself becomes the subject, rather than the soundtrack, of the essay. Brimming with American cultural touchstones, the music suggests on an emotional level what is argued on the discursive level: that the Internet, because it allows for the sharing of digital information and creativity, ultimately fosters human connections and community.