Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Age of the Remix (For Real This Time)

I and others scoffed at William Gibson when his July 2005 article posited that we're firmly within the Age of the Remix. In a way, he's right. These days, it's easier for your run-of-the-mill pro-am artist to release a book, movie or album thanks to the proliferation of computer technology. DJ Dangermouse's Grey Album showed that with a nice software set up, you don't even need original content to make...uh, original content.

But surely no one would think that "the record, not the remix, is the anomaly today." For the most part, people consume art and don't put more art back in the system. (Let DRM get entrenched and it will stay that way, but I digress.)

Since his article was published, however, a few interesting steps have been taken towards finally entering this much-lauded era of prosumerism, where there's not a clear differentiation between those who make art and those who "use" it.

Linked is Slashdot's new feature known as Backslash. Contrary to Slashback, where updates on previously posted stories are grouped in one big "update" post, Backslash takes a selection of insightful and varied comments from a previous post and summarizes the discussion in a brand spanking new post. Now, frontpage Slashdot stories are composed entirely of Slashdot comments.

While not as convincing as Backslash, YouTube has introduced an NBC-sponsored Make Your Own "The Office" Promo contest. Using a (notably limited) supply of promo materials from NBC, you make your own promo for The Office, and the winner will be aired nationally. Nice contest, not a great example, though.

I even touched on the Age of the Remix meme in my thesis defense, pointing out that video games are works created by both the producer and the consumer, since the user's input results in a different playthrough each time. This is especially apparent in games like Oblivion, The Sims and Second Life, where user-created content fuels the game experience (Second Life), and open-ended game mechanics help the user to either select their actions from a broad spectrum (Oblivion/Sims).

The fact of the matter in all of this is that, despite The Grey Album, despite Backslash, despite Second Life and despite cult remix favorites like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Takeshi's Castle/MXC, there is too much of an IP cold war in American culture. The fear of rights-owners unleashing lawsuits on parody/remix artists (even when it's actually legal, like in the case of Weird Al Yankovic's Amish Paradise) creates a chilling effect on really cementing prosumerism into the American culture.


hannah said...

i think this argument can be expanded somewhat to the stranglehold that older media outlets use to crush blogging. i don't want to get into the issue of quality v. quantity of bloggers, but i think it's silly to maintain that bloggers can't be journalists as well. You know i am a big fan of DKos, and it's interesting to follow the site's evolution from one guy's personal rant to the one of the largest political blogs in America.

While i don't think that DKos is going to stop global warming or cause a popular revolution in Kansas, it's interesting to compare the diarists there (since anyone with an account and half a brain can write a post that can attain front-page status and thus international readership) to the musicians who use public-domain material or nebulously public information to create something new. Sure, quality is often spotty, especially compared to what a major studio/well-known journalist with a thick Rolodex can produce. But the fact that people are given the chance to take their own initiave, to get involved in an issue or a field that makes them passionate is too significant to ignore. The way many of the traditional media outlets (as much as i hate that term) squash, deride, ignore, or smear blogs and their readerships is indicative to me of an industry that's running scared.

Perhaps it's in poor taste to paraphrase George W. Bush on this, but DKos is an ownership community: it matters so much to the people who read it precisely because they have a stake in where the site goes next. i think we're seeing a move slowly away from passively received news to interactive media. Where it goes next is largely dependent on where its most passionate followers take it, which is precisely what should happen.

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