Warning : a little bit of a harsh critic of the Remix Culture

Ok, first : I love the Remix culture ideology, but there is always two sides to anything…

As I attended Craig Balwin’s lecture, I got a bit frustrated. First, I’d like to say that when a lecture makes me react like this, it’s usually because there is a strong proposition behind it, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother staying and listening. Craig Baldwin’s lecture was so rich and so interesting that I attended two times ;). If I thought that it was not deeply interesting, I probably wouldn’t have gave it too much attention, because giving attention to something is feeding its power.

The “attention creates power” is actually the main paradox of the Remix Culture, because there are two things in it 1) the cultural elements you give attention to 2) the way you manipulate them.

We could almost see it as quantity vs quality. The problem is that, even if the remixologists use détournement, irony or cynism, they give a power to what they manipulate. If we do many derisory remixes of the Trololo, like the ones Baldwin showed at the beggining of his lecture, it gains on popularity and becomes a strong element of the new culture. We have to think of our actions as they become public… That’s why I see the Remix culture (from what I’ve seen now) as a culture that oscillates between praise and derision. This dichotomy creates, I believe, three big paradoxes that are very related to each other: 1) Ethnocentrism : The praise of the past or the present repressed culture in America, creates a fragmented American remix culture(s) 2) Nationalism : opening the culture to some extent creates, paradoxically, a new ‘type’ of nationalism 3) Phallocentrism : (the word is strong, but I don’t have time to play around today!!) : a culture mostly built by men and now, mostly criticized by men…ERGO…a remix culture that is poor in elements about strong women.

I’ll go through each of the paradoxes quickly (which is unacceptable, so please react, criticize, contradict me if you feel like it!)

1-Ethnocentrism ?

When I first read Lessig’s Remix Culture, I found very interesting the fact that it was inspired by oral traditions. This idea of opening to other cultures and modes of creation is a strong aspect of the remix culture ideology. Remix culture is also very linked to hip hop culture, as to say, afro-american and dj culture in a more general way (see Copyright Criminals). The whole idea of sampling and recreating history through elements of culture is very productive and is, I believe, a celebration of the present moment at the same time. It is great to see artist like DJ Spooky remixing Birth of a Nation in a critical way, or, in that sense, Djiga Vertov’s Kino-Glaz. I can see a « mixed of cultures » as well as a Remix in his works and songs. But I couldn’t say that it is usual in Remix culture’s applications.

The level of autocritic that we can make about our own culture often reflects the power this particular culture has. If you are from a “repressed (sub) culture”, you will probably not make remixes to critic your own culture, but rather critic the dominant one in which you struggle living in. Paradoxically, creating derisory remixes about a culture shows that it is strong and not threatened. In most of the Remixes that I’ve seen until now, it looks more like everybody is on the side of its own « ethnicity » and not really trying to find a common ground in all this. Everybody is defending a territory that doesn’t seem to blend with the others. The sound “mix” is strange here. Remix culture is not about mixed cultures, it’s about remixing our own culture and, therefore, having a very limited definition of culture. I’m not talking of theory about Remix culture, but its application. I don’t see openness. All I see is other kinds of borders, and, therefore, a new kind of ethnocentrism or even micro-ethnocentrism.

2-New nationalism?

Is this a new nationalism? Remix culture, as I said, praises the American culture but integrates a critical aspect, which is, I believe, a little dangerous. This creates a culture that is difficult to penetrate as it is, in a way, closed on itself. You have the thesis and the antithesis. The critic comes from the inside and with the material of what has been found in it, that is why it remains a praise…

Wouldn’t be interesting, to do just like Aby Warburg did a 100 years ago? To look for the pathosformels around us, meaning searching for the culture productions that comes from all cultures and all times, put them together and see what comes out of it : what are the common elements? What survives through the different cultures? Instead of deciding what must survive, for a specific culture, we could look at what survived in all cultures despite any repressive power. The shift is very subtle, but we would have a mixed of cultures in the remix!

3-Where are the women?

Ok, I understand that the cultural background is mostly made by men (cinema for example) because of a contextual context, but do we need to perpetuate that context? Can I see something else than a terminator woman who makes her boops bigger to defend herself against a policeman or a woman that sings how it would be nice to have a new living room? I know, they put this in the remix to be critical : but it gives it relevance in some way. I’m worried about that.

For that matter, it was kind of frustrating to see Matthew Barney’s video being compared or criticized through Terminator! For me, Barney’s Cremaster Cycle is one of the first attempt to overcome the binary aspect of genre. I can’t say that he succeeded but at least he tried!! Yes, we have the right to criticize it and not like it, but at the same time, why choose to deconstruct this video in a remix? Does it mean that the Remix Culture cannot support an absence of borders? I see this as a strong choice and it’s not meaningless…

Thinking of women’s presence in the Remix culture is a vicious circle in two different ways. Firstly, of course, because there is a “dominant” male aspect in that culture that is out of our control now, we can’t really change what has been done, (but we can still change the way the past is constructed today and anticipate tomorrow). For that matter, the quantity of cultural elements plays against women, cause there is not much material that we can use. Secondly, it’s a vicious circle because as a woman, when I see these remixes, I feel like I have to defend a territory in that culture. This attitude creates, in return, a remix culture with more borders, which I don’t think is interesting at all. The problem is that « strong » women are often define as such in comparison to…a masculine model! 😉 But it’s worth trying :

Wings and Fists : A Short Remix About Strong Women from Effet de présence on Vimeo.




Well, as tomorrow doesn’t seem to become another day, I guess we’ll have to make today another tomorrow! Translation : as the remix culture grows really fast, we have to anticipate a little bit in order to change the “tomorrow”!

I wish I’m wrong…

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