By Amanda K. Booher
“Only cannibalism unites us…”*
Some use me to write books. Others put me in a beautiful dress full of musical notes. And I live inside of music. Sometimes I’m naughty, sometimes I’m quiet. But everyone who uses me is a poet. Try and create your own verse. If I were you, I would do it!**
When sitting down to write this review, the logical initial step seemed to be to turn on some Girl Talk. This presents a couple difficulties for me. First of all, I’m incapable of listening to music and not dancing; this can impede typing, or at least make it very rhythmic. Second, this music is distracting—not necessarily in and of itself (though I can rarely write with lyric-ed music), but because my nerdy, trivia-enjoying self intrudes: I want to identify the clips, note the legacies, feel the interplay of the allusions. Girl Talk has a good beat, you can dance to it, and it’s like an extended (if potentially illegal) game of “Name That Tune.”
“The music industry refused to evolve, so we evolved for them.” (Brett Gaylor)
To me, and many others, such as our author here, this is brilliant. The art of the remix is not new; Austin points particularly to artists like Duchamp, though the history is far more extensive. We might visit Burroughs or Picasso; DJ Spooky or Ulmer; or, as suggested in another publication in this issue (“The One”), we might consider our parents (and, thus, the genetic history of life itself).
“Originality is when you mix two things that haven’t been mixed. That’s the future of music and the human race.”
In his video, this author offers a relatively concise overview and critique of remix culture, Girl Talk (a.k.a. Greg Gillis), and “Fair Use.” To do this, he has engaged with this debate as an object of post-criticism, constructing his own remix through Girl Talk’s songs, footage of Congressional debate, numerous images, and his own insights and narration; while he doesn’t directly cite this, he’s also giving a nod to Brett Gaylor’s 2009 film RiP! A Remix Manifesto. Austin has borrowed and repurposed like a champ.
“Sharing is the nature of creation, it doesn’t happen in isolation. No one creates in a vacuum. Everything comes from something else.” (Gilberto Gil)
Certainly the structure of Austin’s video references RiP!, which is appropriate, both conceptually (how else ought one discuss remix if not by remixing?) and directly: at the end of his film, Gaylor calls for others to rip and remix his work, noting that “this is only the beginning of this movie; build on the past: that’s the future” (it is, after all, a manifesto).
It’s a chain reaction: music, literature, and cinema like you’re doing. How many people had to pick up a camera so that you could do what you’re doing today? (Gilberto Gil)
Using dry humor and traditional persuasive appeals, Austin constructs a new angle for the remix argument. Perhaps most academically engaging is his application of the four rules of “fair use” in light of Girl Talk’s actions, and his consideration of how a legal case might emerge (or fail) based on these. While he notes that this is speculation, he speculates well, adding an additional commentary by interspersing a few Girl Talk clips. These two lyrics intercede:
“…lemme search ya, to find out how hard I gotta work ya…”
“…the rhythm, the rebel. Without a pause, I’m lowering my level. The hard grammar…”
The interplay of Missy Elliot and the Beastie Boys here work logically, as the lyrics suggest investigation, construction, rebellion, and measurement—concepts clearly important in a legal analysis. But they also give Austin’s argument a distinct edge in a few layers.
Layer one: both artists deeply engage in remixing cultural referents in their own work, contributing to the ethos of Austin’s work.
Layer two: in their original contexts, the lyrics work quite differently (Elliot’s in particular), creating humorously vulgar allusions.
Layer three: these artists have already been repurposed by Girl Talk, and now (obviously) again by Austin.
Thus, in one seemingly small turn, Austin reveals a Baudrillardian structure: where is the original, unique idea that has (not?) been fairly used? Right. It’s turtles all the way down.
“Culture is threatened.” (Gaylor)
Austin has played his hand well. His remix lays ground for his final (and arguably most interesting) claim, which highlights the complexity and the heart of the issues he’s explored:
“While I think the creators of the originals should be credited for their contribution, I believe copyrights are crippling artistic and creative growth.”
This is the crux. Austin identifies the desire to be fair, to give credit where credit is due. But, perhaps more importantly, he suggests what could be lost: “artistic and creative growth.” This, as Gaylor notes, was the originary purpose of copyright law—protection and compensation to allow artists to create. Austin has done this in his video: mashing up, appropriating, culture jamming to give us his view, his twist, his perspective, his critique. And he’s done it well.
Lawrence Lessig has offered an answer to Austin’s conundrum with Creative Commons—a concept worth far more discussion, but not here. But Lessig seems the right place to end this. And while many of his words could provide inspiration and insight, I’m going to go with some of the most basic, uttered to describe the situation at hand:
“What’s the word? That’s fucked. This is remix.”
* My title is taken from the following quote: “Only cannibalism unites us socially, economically, philosophically.” (from “The Cannibalist Manifesto,” Oswald de Andrade, 1928; shown inRiP!)
** In a modest attempt to play a bit, I’ve interspersed quotes from RiP! (all italicized) attributing them to speakers as was possible.
*** For further consideration, see:
RiP! A Remix Manifesto http://www.hulu.com/rip-a-remix-manifesto
Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” (Harper’s Magazine, Feb 2007).http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/02/0081387