Why Remix?

While studying copyright laws, Lawrence Lessing’s book Remix inevitably showed up. While I think his opinions on copyright are worth reading, I want to focus on something else that he talks about and which played a part in my understanding of remix. While it is not exactly my ethics of remixing, it does answer the question: why remix? What is important about it? How is it useful? I really liked Lessing’s definition and discussion of remix Remix is more than just re-writing a text. It is, “great writing without text. It is creativity supported by a new technology.” (Lessig 82). This definition surprised me. I had thought about remixes as a cover of a song, or as switching the genre in a movie trailer. What I had not considered about remix was its ability to take something from one medium (painting) and remixing it to be a song. Or, for an example from class, the remix done in honor of David Bowe. The artist took the lifetime of a person and remixed him into a montage of paintings.

When Lessig says that “no artist works in a vacuum” and that is it very hard, if not impossible, for art to be original, he also says “it doesn’t mean you can’t make original content” (15). I think that Lessing believes originality to be harder, but there is a possibility for some originality. For example, I read some Charles Baudelaire poetry last semester and one of the things that he strove to do was be original.  The genre he worked with–seduction and lovers’ poetry–was not an original genre, however. So in order to make his work “original” and stand out, he said he wanted to make his work more erotic than previous works. This meant that his work was new. While the ideas he presented may not have been “original,” some of his content is arguably original. He had to make his work more graphic and descriptive than those poets before him. Even when artists attempt to be original, their works still copy and imitate previous works. In this way, every art is a remix of something.

This brings up an interesting point. If every art is a remix of something, how does that work? How can you cite something which might be accidentally remixed? In her article, Patricia Aufderheide addresses this question. “Merely incidental use,” she writes, “is available for fair use consideration” (Aufderheide 275). In contemporary culture, Beyoncé has done a bit of remixing—I am not sure whether it was intentional or unintentional—but she incorporated ideas and themes from Pipilotti Rist’s, “Ever is Over All”, into her car smashing escapade. Would Beyoncé need to cite Pipilotti? How would that work? Did Shakespeare need to cite Greek and Roman myths?


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