Creation requires influence. Ideas are not property. Discovery belongs to us all.
These are just some of the ideas we’ll be exploring in our next unit on appropriated narratives. For perhaps the first time ever in your academic career, I am requiring you to plagiarize.
In doing so, remember Kirby Ferguson’s mantra: Copy. Transform. Combine.
Your task, for this unit, will be to create something that remixes, mashes-up, or heavily samples from existing narrative material or spaces, a narrative that is built from as little of your own original content as possible.
Here are some basic working definitions as I see them:
- A mashup basically juxtaposes two or more existing pieces, and allows them to speak to each other. Mashups usually leave the burden of interpreting the mix to the reader or viewer.
- A remix is a newly-expanded, altered, jazzed-up version of existing material.
- Sampling uses bits and pieces of multiple works in service of the author’s own vision.
For the purposes of this unit, I want you to think strategically about what you’re hijacking or copying, and how you will copy and combine those elements to transform them into something entirely yours. Basically, you may either:
- Steal the source material: Creative a narrative (in any medium) composed entirely of existing work. This may take the form of a mash-up in a single medium (like a video mash-up), or a remix of any existing narrative by retelling it in a hijacked narrative structure (like Shakespeare on Twitter), or create found poetry from your friends’ text messages.
- Write the narrative, steal the medium: In this case, you would author the content of the narrative, but would hijack the space to house it, by, say, hiding a narrative inside a series of posts on YikYak. If you go this route, I want you to challenge yourself by appropriating a medium that isn’t naturally designed for narrative (specifically, I’d ban Twitter and Facebook). You should work to adhere the conventions of the medium you choose but should also appropriate the medium for your own nefarious purposes.
- Do a little bit of both: Maybe you write a new text, like a song, but then record an audio version of it composed entirely from clips of other songs or videos; maybe you take an existing narrative like a short film and remix it by adding or editing the voiceover or soundtrack.
The goal of this unit is to build a narrative the way a bowerbird builds its nest: by hoarding scraps and detritus from the world around you, and cobbling those pieces together into something new that serves your purposes.
Since you will be working with a variety of technical resources, and in a variety of forms, my evaluation of your work will be focused on how well you’re exploring and embodying the concept of the remix, and the nature of appropriation, with the acknowledgement that some of these exercises will be more successful as experiments, and others more successful as narratives.
I want to see substantial effort: if you’re taking an ‘easier’ technical route like found text, or basic image editing, I’ll want to see a body of work (like a Tumblr with more than a few entries), whereas if your project is more ambitious in technical scope (an audio/video mashup or regenerative remix), I’ll care more about the polish than the length of the project.
For this unit, you have the option to work individually or in groups. During class time on Wednesday, those of you with ideas that might be more productively achieved in groups will have a chance to pitch the class and get others to sign on.
It’s important to remember that remixing is inherently collaborative, so try to think about what lessons you can carry from your last project into this one: how can you be respectful of the work you’re using while transforming it? How can you honor your unwitting participants?
Whatever you choose, your challenge in this unit will be to create something that feels like it belongs to you, while using as little of your own material as possible. I want you to be thinking critically about what you are sampling, which elements are being remixed, mashed up, or otherwise transformed, and why. Playful, funny, weird remixes are encouraged, but should be doing something focused and purposeful. Hopefully, this will make for an interesting dynamic, and will pose some significant questions about the role of the author, and the notions of originality or creation, especially in the digital world.