Rewrite, Reuse, Recycle: Some Cool Recent Developments on the Remix Front

Okay, finally, as promised, more stuff on the remixing, revision, re-composition, and reconstitution issues that have been on my mind of late…

For those of you who are behind the curve (sorry, don’t mean to be insulting, but, seriously, have you been living under a rock?), this video, Buffy vs. Edward: Twilight Remixed, has become a minor online sensation in the last few weeks. It concerns one cool California chick, Buffy Summers, and terribly pale emo kid named Edward Cullen (apparently from some popular series of romance novels!). Created and posted on YouTube by rebelliouspixels (aka Jonathan McIntosh), this mash-up of clips from the classic television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the first film outing of the Twilight series, does a brilliant job of exposing the neo-Heathcliffian, stalker-y subtext at the heart of the Twilight romance. Edward’s possessiveness and obsession here are not “protective” and romantic. He’s just creepy and gross and Buffy gives him what he deserves – a proper staking!

This is what good mashups and remixes do: they provide commentary, make an argument, shine a light on a dark corner, present a new perspective, a new way of looking at a text or group of texts that helps us to see something we might otherwise have missed. This is why remix is such an important genre and textual practice and why we need to ensure that writers, vidders, and artists and critics of all stripes have legal right to the fair use of the creations of others in order to provide these fresh perspectives and creative transformations. Rebelliouspixels makes a point of noting, in the info section on the Buffy/Edward vid, that his use of the clips from Buffy and Twilight qualifies as fair use under current U.S. copyright law, and he provides a number of links to information about copyright and to organizations like Creative Commons and the Organization for Transformative Works that can help others navigate the tricky waters of current law.

I’ve also been fascinated lately by an event happening in an online fan fiction community I follow (but do not actively participate in – I’m a just a lurker!). The event was actually called a “remix” and it offered fan fiction writers the opportunity to rewrite a story originally written by a fellow fanfic author. [And, of course, fanfic is itself a rewriting of an “original” text in the first place, one that fanfic writers generally acknowledge via a self-protective pronouncement that declaims the derivative nature of their work.]  The rules of the game were pretty basic: fic writers let their fellows in the community know which of their stories they were willing to put into play (i.e., which ones they were willing to let others rewrite), writers chose stories on which they wished to put a different spin (i.e., by changing the narrative point of view or expanding details, but not changing the basics – the plot, the characters involved, the general setting), and finally the new stories were posted to a common space (in this case, a Live Journal community set up specifically for this remix challenge) so that everyone could see the results.

What’s been most interesting to me as an observer (as opposed to a writer who’s actually involved in the process of all this) is the resulting reaction of the fanfic authors to the revisions to their work. Far from being outraged or even merely vaguely disgruntled at what another writer did to their original creation, the general sentiment has been of gratitude and pleasure at the way another person was able to tackle a problem with the original text – livening up a story through the addition or subtraction of detail, untangling a previously knotty plot point, changing the reader’s whole understanding of a situation through a simple shift in POV.

Here’s the truly radical, revolutionary thing: these writers relished the rewriting of their texts. Seriously. Not only relished, but were grateful for the way their texts had been opened up and made more vibrant, more interesting, more complex. Henry Jenkins of MIT has written extensively on fan fiction and the value systems that arise in fanfic communities and has referred to participatory cultures (the neo-folk cultures of the Web world)  as often using a “gift economy” (Convergence Culture 136) model as their mode of exchange. I can certainly see that at work here in the recent remix challenge. There is no expectation of any kind of quid pro quo on the part of participants in the remix challenge, and the response of the writers struck me as particularly similar to the reaction of those who have received a gift: what a nice treat/surprise, thanks and gratitude, how lovely! The remix author asks for nothing in return (save that others might similarly gift them by selecting one of their own stories to rewrite; however, there is no guarantee, it seems, that all participating authors will be so “gifted” with a rewrite).

I think this remixing and rewriting and revision that happens in mashup vids, fanfic rewrites, and an internet phenomenon that has arisen only recently, the “re-Tweet,” all have a great deal to teach us about the important writing and literacy skills and practices that we need to critique, hone, and develop in order to produce writers and thinkers who are able to compose effectively in a culture that is going to be increasingly remixed and, thus, a culture that is, as Jenkins argues, one of convergence, participation and collective intelligence (2).

I want to talk more about re-Tweeting, but I’ll save that for my next post. Stay tuned…

Works Cited

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.

Leave a Reply