Saturday, December 4, 2010

Remix Writing

What is This?

What you’ve just seen — if you watched the video — is a fictionalized story we created using first-person video diaries from students at Kansas State University (Curtis Schwiterman @ Twitter, YouTube, here and here; Becky Roth @ Twitter, Youtube, here, and here). We didn’t ask if we could use their work, although we didn’t have to because of the copyright license they used, but we did trade phone calls with their professor.

We just grabbed and remixed. But we did so with a purpose.

(Note: We've subsequently gotten their premission, and Becky has told us, she might begin doing some remixing of our remix. And so the mutation begins!)

The Genesis

This project grew out of a discussion about Remix Culture, particularly as Larry Lessig and Henry Jenkins have described it.

The idea of Remix Culture is one that’s been floating around for roughly a decade. There’s been much talk about the “neat-ness” of it; however, what’s been lacking is an effort to deconstruct the elements of this culture into component parts, ones that can be taught.

The more we talked about these ideas, approaching the topic from our different backgrounds — script writing, technology and storytelling and rhetoric, the more we realized the potential to explore Remix Culture beyond the traditional spheres of mash-up culture or comparative media.

Before long, we were delving into topics such as how to emerge a narrative from found materials, the effects of copyright on free culture, and the control of self in a digital and public world. It quickly became clear that we needed to explore our project from these angles if we were to teach the skill of creating story in a Remix Culture.

The question was how.

The Project

The first thing we needed to do was find materials licensed under the Creative Commons, which would allow us to remix the content legally. Having come across Professor Michael Wesch’s digital anthropology work, we decided to use content his students had published while they waded into the world of YouTube.

That the work was distributed under the Creative Commons was great. That it was uploaded to YouTube, which wraps such work in a digital rights management package, making it illegal for us to download, was better.

First person narratives and locked free culture were ideal for the project.

After we downloaded the work, Matt and Brad watched all of the footage, transcribing the work so that we could discuss the potential narratives while Brian tracked our process.

Matt was in charge of the narrative structure, which he built using iMovie, and the final technical tweaks were handled by the fine staff at the Ball State University Center for Media Design (where the three of us are part of the Emerging Media Initiative).

After a few months of tinkering, the narrative was completed and uploaded to Vimeo, another video sharing site, and displayed here.

The Goal

Of course, we’ve added this little disclaimer to the project to let you know that the two Kansas State University students whose video posts we remixed are not the “characters” depicted here.

But it wasn’t inevitable that we did. As we move deeper into the Remix Culture, there will be emergent story forms that rise from the primordial ooze of digital bits. Much of what is created will be amazing and wonderful, but some of it will raise difficult questions.

One of the ideas we hope to explore is this: in a world where we project our real selves digitally using text, images and video, what happens when our lives become remix fodder for others? What are the artistic, sociological and political implications?

Had we not written this disclaimer, for instance, you might think you’d come across a narrative of a kidnapping — or something more subtle — that could damage the reputations of those we remixed, something we do not intend.

The Paper

We present the first part of this work at the Pop Culture Association conference in St. Louis on April 2, 2010. Once we are finished with that, we will link it here.

The next phase is to write a grant to develop a Remix Writing course at the university, where we can begin to explore with our students how to create art and story within the digital culture while understanding the pitfalls that come with creating narratives from already published work.