“In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles…The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.” -The society of the spectacle
For our last remix project, we made a video mash-up, so this time we chose to create a visual essay with images relevant to this week’s themes.
This week we focused on culture jamming, the manipulation of logos and images, and how juxtapositions of cultural ads speak to our cultural values and evolution. Our visual essay, “I Shop Therefore I Become” focuses on a series of culture jamming images that, when combined together, represent the driving force of the American lifestyle and détournement.
We began our project by exploring influential images in the cultural jamming movement. Delving further into our Internet searches, we came across a number of pictures that spoke to the same consumer-hungry nature of America and its evolution through the ages.
Our essay begins with Barbara Kruger’s quintessential image, “I Shop Therefore I am.” The second and third images continue in this vintage, black-and-white theme. The second represents the “all-American” products we are encouraged to consume from an early age. The third, illustrates the power consumerism holds over us. Images four and five depict the influences behind our consumerist nature, while images six-ten illustrate the detrimental effects consuming these products have on our world: global inequality and political struggles, catastrophic climate change, and ever-rising obesity. Next, images thirteen-fifteen represent the negative backlash and the dark side that these mass-consumption practices can create: eating disorders, loneliness, alcohol, drugs, and depression.
Our last image is a photoshopped picture of Barbara Kruger’s image with the word “become” imposed over “am.” With this, we hope to bring our essay full-circle and parallel the power of the culture jamming movement: we are brought into this world inundated with the message, “I shop therefore I am,” from an early age we are bombarded with quintessentially American products (Coke, SUVS’s, and fast-food). We are encouraged to shop and consume. To produce profits. We progress through life and—as these culture jamming images represent—realize the profound negative effects these habits can have on us. To deal with these darker elements, new products and new markets emerge that can supposedly help us to cope. None of these, however, focus on the heart of the problem: the belief that what we buy defines who we are and the notion that we can become what we want to be by purchase the things that we are supposed to (“I shop therefore I become.”)
Mark Dery defines subvertising as, “the production and dissemination of anti-ads that deflect Madison Avenue’s attempts to turn the consumer’s attention in a given direction.” Certainly Nike has been one of the most successful companies over the years in terms of their how they’ve been able to bolster their image with advertising. Beginning an aggressive tv advertising campaign in 1982, Nike has had two Emmy Award winning commercials since 1990 and has the distinction of being the only company to be named “Advertiser of the Year” twice by the Cannes Advertising Festival. These advertisements have not been without controversy, however. Nike has offended and been embroiled in commercial faux pas with the Beatles, the Chinese government, and the general public at large. Nonetheless Nike has continued steamrolling through the world of athletic apparel taking in revenues in excess of 19 billion annually. One of their most successful tactics has been to sponsor athletes early on and thereby gain big time celebrity endorsements. Nike’s 1984 sponsoring of Michael Jordan is perhaps the best example.
As the term “culture jamming” was first coined in 1984 we wanted a source from that era to jam or subvertise. Given the release of Nike’s Air Jordans in 1985, their subsequent controversy and tremendous popularity, we decided to subvertise an original Air Jordan commercial in a “retro” move. Within months of their release, Air Jordans had been banned from the NBA and any player who wore them during a game was fined $5,000. As with many things banned, however, this only increased their allure, and soon Air Jordans were all the rage. Nike even promote the fact that they were banned in their advertising. The popularity was such that there were even reports of people being mugged for their shoes. What Nike didn’t popularize, however, was their use of child labor and sweatshops in producing their merchandise. Nike has been criticized for using child labor in Pakistan and Cambodia and for violating minimum wage and overtime labor laws in Vietnam.
In our remix sought to redirect people’s attention to the more questionable acts on the part of Nike. We do so by remixing together an original Air Jordan Nike Commercial with audio from an anti-Nike documentary. We also spoof one of Nike’s most prized possessions: the Nike swoosh. Andy Payne says of the swoosh, "This is one of my favorite logos. It's one of the only logos without words accompanying it. Over time it has gained equity and confidence to set itself free from the word Nike and that is a very brave step for a brand to take. Again it is a logo that can be seen in any color and you still recognize it as Nike."
Here is the remix clip:
This week, our focus was on political remix videos. In the words of Jonathan McIntosh, “Political remix video can be a blunt tool that uses ridicule as a way to expose hypocrisy, illuminate tropes, and talk back to power”, and this is what we tend to see. These videos are usually created as a means of expressing one’s own political opinions and discontentment; this is evident in McIntosh’s remixes. The topics for these videos vary across most governmental issues and policy, including stances on war, poverty, employment, healthcare, and even drugs. While searching through some of these political remix videos, we happened to find a very interesting remix named “Reagans on Drugs”. This remix uses original video footage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, however, the remix artist cleverly splices audio from the Reagans so that it appears as if they are promoting the use of drugs. Whether or not the remix artist created this video solely for entertainment or to present their opinions of drug usage is unclear, but the remix is fascinating nonetheless.
After stumbling upon this remix video, we decided that we could add more to it; which, depending on the artist’s initial intent, could have either been to the betterment or detriment of the original purpose. Regardless, we set out to increase the video’s visual appeal, while simultaneously keeping inline with the drug theme. So, we first added some visual effects to make the video seem trippy. Then, as an added effect, we put the video over background music by Sigur Ros. It is our belief that our remix made the original remix more accurate, more authentic, and definitely more absurd. At times it is difficult to make out the people in the video, and as a viewer, you are lost in the mystique of the video effects. At other times, it becomes very clear that the two people are Ronald and Nancy Reagan, which highlights the absurdness of the whole remix (both the original as well as ours). This is where we begin to question the effect our remix has on the original. The visual clearly compliments the message, however, not being able to easily identify the voices of the Reagans lessens the political aspect of this remix. The original message regarding drug usage is preserved, but the political aspect that makes these videos so pervasive is sometimes lost.
After this week’s readings, I wanted to try my hand at making a fanvid for myself and experimenting with the ways that music and remixing can work to provide new interpretations of popular media. For my project, I decided to make a short video about the character Amy Pond from the British sci-fi drama Doctor Who, for two reasons: 1) I really love both this show and this character and 2) the series can be problematic in ways that benefit from a critical viewing and reimagining.
Like many mainstream genre programs that center on a male protagonist (in this case the time-travelling alien Doctor), Doctor Who is at times guilty of a less than progressive treatment of gender and its female characters – although it does better than many shows in having an ongoing cast of (awesome) female main and supporting characters, these characters are often written into plots and story arcs that leave them in the traditional roles as the love interest, the sex object, and the damsel-in-distress. One of my goals with this video was to try to address that problem by creatively rewriting it. Through selective editing and the support of the music I selected, a character who is often read by the audience as passive and in need of rescuing is reframed as the protagonist of the story. Other characters are narratively defined by their relationship to her and her story arc. Her agency and abilities are visually highlighted by showing multiple scenes (spread out originally over 16 episodes) in close juxtaposition. I think that one of the strengths of fanvidding as a whole is its power to reconceptualize media works – by using repurposed scenes, fan videos can emphasize themes and subtext already present in the original work, or provide context and authority for alternative interpretations or even alternative stories. This project is relatively simple compared to the work of more experienced vidders we’ve already talked about and watched, but I did want to at least try to give an example of how video remix can work in this way.
Since we talked briefly on Monday about how copyright attacks on fanvids often come because they use full, unaltered songs, I also wanted to talk a little bit about my choice of music. Jonathan Coulton is a popular internet-based musician who is mostly known for geek rock songs about giant squid and supervillains in love. Aside from fitting thematically with the story I had in mind for this vid, I wanted to use one of his songs because I think his approach to music fits in with a lot of what we’ve discussed in class. Rather than using a traditional record label to market his music, Jonathan Coulton has embraced the internet as an independent musician – all of his music is creative commons licensed, a lot of it is available free, and he has a donation jar for people who have downloaded illegally and feel guilty about it. He also actively participates in and encourages remix – several of his songs are transformative covers of other artists, and the music page on his official website includes links to fanvideos made using his songs.
For my remix project this week, I took inspiration from the "Yes We Can: How Online Viewership, Blog Discussion, Campaign Statements, and Mainstream Media Coverage Produced a Viral Video Phenomenon" reading by Kevin Wallsten. I wanted to create a media project that played with the way we now experience our political media since the 2008 election that Wallsten outlines. I wanted to take this experience and in turn contextualize it into an advertisement or digestible bite made for the 2012 election. To be even more specific, I wanted this to be done with a slant towards President Obama's reelection. I chose to focus on Barack Obama because of his commitment to having a thorough database of all of his speeches and activities online. Wallsten mentions in his article that he had 1800 videos online in 2008. This is a staggering number and it also implies that there is a viewership to support this kind of a mass vlog production. I also chose to do this because their is a large demographic of young people that interact in this way that happen to support his campaign, at least from my knowledge and the viewers I hope to reach.
Another aspect of my purpose was to transcend the normal constructs of the screen, really the computer screen. My having this viewed within a bigger screen, the ones I have created mimic the interface it is actually on. This creates an effect of seeming like the viewer is moving the mouse and controlling the activity on the screen. For some of my clips, I could have cropped the screen to only play the desired video, but I wanted to focus on the aforementioned interface image that one would see when looking at their own person computer. I see this as being both a persuasive tool and a defamiliarization that could be startling for the viewer by breaking what is thought to be powered by the computer-user and take this out of their hands while still making them feel that they are an active participant. This is an interesting concept to me.
My process was fairly straightforward. I used a series of long screen captures through the newest version of Quicktime and imported them into my iMovie. The websites seen in the screen captures are listed below, but they are all popular sites I have come across that are means of popular viral informational exchange involving the topic of Obama. I could only use a couple of sites because of the time constraints. I set the video to a remixed song that I felt would reach the audience most effectively. I edited the clips through cropping, filters, and speed. The project got to be a little bit longer than I had expected, even with my clips playing at 400% speed. Still, I feel that I succeeded in reaching my objective for the project.
- Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - "Home - RAC REMIX"
The inspiration for this remix/remake http:/
I have always enjoyed music and my creative itch has inspired me to create and produce my own music.
The remix itself was pretty simple to make. I took one of my favorite songs and listened to the underlying layers that are usually hidden to the ear to get the simple beat. I cut parts of the song that were the most recognizable by the ear and placed them in strategic locations inorder to keep the beat and to keep the flow. After relayering the music samples, I topped it off with a synthetic instrument from Apple's Garageband application to intensify the underlying beat itself.
The creative expression that this type of remake/remix represents is a controversial topic that prompts the question: is this a real remix?
We began this course by discussing Walter Benjamin’s "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," namely Benjamin’s point that the “tipping point” of the destruction of art came because of reproduction capabilities. With the ability to duplicate art came the demolition of a piece’s “aura” and the removal of the authenticity inherent in an original piece. Our video mash-up, “Beats Outside the Box”, challenges the notions of this claim. With this piece we hope to push the envelope of what it means to be “original,” questioning the concepts of sampling and noise, by examining these concepts through the lens of the hip-hop and beatbox.
The inspiration for our project came from a youtube video, the History of Hip Hop Through Beatbox: a clip we thought potently raised issues brought to a forefront in (Paul Miller) DJ Spooky’s "In Through the Out Door." Specifically, Miller states, “We see the lights in the sky, but we don’t hear the frequencies beaming through every nook and cranny of a world put in parentheses by human-made objects in the sky.” Until now, our discussion of remix has been made possible by strictly technical bounds: complex audio and technical software that allows artists to manipulate bits and bytes. We found this piece to be particularly compelling because it accomplishes the same mean through a different medium. With one human voice, it replicates sounds produced by humans through machines. Thus, in a sense, it remixes our notion of remix itself.
Using KeepVid and iMovie software, we made our project by sampling portions of the beatbox video that replicated recognize able hip hop songs. We arranged the clips in an order so that they paralleled the evolution of the hip hop industry itself: beginning with (the grandfather’s or remix itself) such as Grandmaster Flash and Rob Base, leading to artists like Jay-Z, Tupac, Lil’ Wayne, Dr. Dre, and Kanye West. Together, these artists constitute a large and powerful force in the hip hop industry and its evolution as a music genre with an often politically charged voice.
As a whole, we sought to have the video communicate DJ Spooky’s point that “to look for anything to stay the same really is to be caught in a time warp of another era.” Change drives the evolution of art. With these changes are challenged to extend the boundaries of what we considered art in the past and open our minds to our creative realms. These changes, whether technical, literal, or political, have helped make the hip hop industry into the influential force that it is today.
Music was has been shaped by the machines that play it (record players, CDS, ipods), the voice of the artists composing it, and the nature of the content itself (sampling, mash ups). Despite the forms and mediums used to create these seemingly different types of art, all music, however it is composed, reminds us “that we are warm-blooded mammals and that the cold information we generate is a product of our desires, and that it manifests some deep elements of our being” (Dj Spooky). Through the human boombox, and the recognizable songs it recreates, we demonstrate this powerful means for profound expression.
The concepts of this remix stem from the song, “Whoomp There It Is!” by Tag Team. We took the classic example of the hip-hop party song, known for its bass-heavy beat and catchy chorus, and extracted a message from the song that is applicable to many of our lives. The 1993 one hit wonder, “Whoomp there it is!” yields an important message. The message comes from the chorus of the song, which is simply “Whoomp There It Is!”. It relates to the idea of Dasein. Dasein is a German word that loosely translates to “being or the way of life” in a philosophical sense (used by Heidegger). Dasein includes the fact that we are thrown into this world as newborns forced to make sense of our surroundings. At many points in our lives, especially now as college students, we are thrown into situations with little or no preparation. We face unforeseen challenges that need to be dealt with. The chorus of “Whoomp There It Is!” is yelled repeatedly with an in your face intensity. Whatever “it” explicitly is (the obstacle we are faced with), it is in your face without warning. This is simply how life is. No preparation or expectation of events. Whoomp! It just is.
A second related concept present in our remix is one’s sense of time over the course of their lives. At certain stages in our lives, time flies; at others, we can almost feel the seconds slowly tick away. This concept is represented in the other songs we chose to mashup/remix with “Whoomp There it is”. We chose songs of different tempos that also have contrasting messages relating to time. For example, “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys is about the New York City lifestyle-- rushed but envied nonetheless. This song is juxtaposed with “Disturbia” by Rihanna, a song about an introverted struggle. In “Disturbia” the voice of the song is trying to make sense of their existence- a slow, and difficult task. Accompanying the time & Daneis-themed songs are pictures of people in the stages of life when these two concepts are especially prevalent. The editing techniques in the slideshow, such as different cut speeds between slides, speak to the fact that at different ages time seems to pass at different rates. At some ages we are hit with less of the “in your face”, Dasein-related obstacles than we are at other stages. Many soon-to-be graduates mention that college has come and gone in the blink of an eye. However, at some point in the future, their perception of time will slow, and they will think back on the days when time passed with such ease. The next “Whoomp There It is!” moment that many of us will face is one we have spent the past several years preparing for, yet we still might feel like a baby thrown into a new universe when it arrives. That moment is “Whoomp Finding a Job!”
This end note will send me over a word count, but I think it is important to note. “Whoomp There it is”, even though it is seen by many as purely a dance song with very little meaning, references hip-hop’s origins with its sampling techniques. “Whoomp” samples a synthesizer line from the 1980 Italo-disco hit “I’m Ready” by Kano. “I’m Ready” was not only an Italo-disco hit but it was also one of the songs that helped hip-hop develop as a culture. Breakdancers regard “I’m Ready” as an American breakdance classic. So while “Whoomp There It Is!” might seem to represent a controversial, yet prevailing trend of hip-hop of songs with no actual meaning (no political message, artistic critique, etc.), by sampling a breakdance classic in “I’m Ready”, “Whoomp is aactually taking the listener back to an age of hip-hop before rappers, a brief period during hip-hop’s inception when the DJ and the breakdancers ruled hip-hop culture. The sampling in the song that sparked our entire remix has proven to be very important to my personal view of many pop songs. The sampling that exists in a piece of art, especially where the sampled material and other appropriated materials come from, is often vitally important in judging the art’s value. Personally I used to hate one hit wonders like “Whoomp There It Is!”, but through this remix I now understand that sometimes for songs like “Whoomp” there is an underlying meaning. Whether one chooses to acknowledge that meaning, or whether one just wants to break it down like hip-hop’s old school did, it is completely up to the listener.
Here is the youtube URL for the movie: http:/
A huge theme that we’ve dealt with this week and pretty much throughout the whole course is the idea of sampling and whether it’s ethical to label a work as your own if it contains someone else’s work within it. Thinking about this issue we decided that a good perspective to look at this issue from is from a hip hop perspective. Through researching the history of hip hop and using the general knowledge we’ve obtained from being long time hip hop fans, we’ve decided that hip hop wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for sampling. From the very beginning of the hip hop movement to today’s most popular hip hop songs, it is hard to find an album or a specific song that has not used a sample or has in someway borrowed or appropriated something that someone else has created. In essence that is how hip hop came about. Hip hop started out as a communal movement, characterized by partying in groups, whether it be dancing at a club or cyphering (freestyle rapping) in a circle. A lot of the energy that contributes to those environments, that makes an artist create something special and worth listening to on the fly comes from the fact that it is done in groups.
Hip-hop is also an art form that is evolutionary. The 3 laws of hip hop are originality, creativity and innovation. If you look closely at the progression of the hip hop movement, you can see that everything sort of builds off of each other. It is actually a belief of many of the great minds of hip hop that if you can’t build off of something that is created, then it’s not hip hop. With the last two laws of hip hop, it is easy to see how one artist has the right to build off of another. Also, with hip hop a lot of the meaning of a song is put on the message portrayed the combination of a track and the lyrics. Any two unique combinations of lyrics and a track can be seen as original, enabling the idea of sampling to fall within the 3 laws of hip hop.
With all that said many artists have been involved in litigation over sampling without permission. This slideshow is a chronology of artists and cases of copyright infringement over the years:
1. This picture shows DJ Kool Herc, one of the fathers of hip-hop music, DJ-ing at a neighborhood block party in New York in the early 1980s. DJ Kool Herc was the first to take the parts of records which were most popular at parties - the fast-paced, danceable drum breaks - and loop them, using a simple two-record turntable set-up. In this way, he rearranged and remixed other artists’ original works to fit the wants of a new generation: high-energy, exciting party music. The very foundations of the hip-hop genre are thus seen to be rooted in the sampling of other works.
2. Biz Markie, late 1980s/early 1990s hip-hop artist. He released an album called “I Need A Haircut” in 1991, and was soon sued for a sample on track 12, “Alone Again,” by…
3. …Singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan, which was taken from his 1972 song “Alone Again (Naturally).” The lawsuit, Grand Upright Music vs. Warner Bros Records, was ultimately settled in favor of the prosecution. The judge ruled that Warner Bros use of the sample was not only unauthorized, but constituted willful infringement of the law, as Warner Bros obviously knew the sample copyright was held by someone, but did not attempt to pursue clearance before its release. The judge recommended criminal charges be brought against Biz and Warner Bros. However, it has been claimed in retrospect that this individual judge’s personal knowledge of trademark and copyright law was severely lacking, and his ruling was more based on his own personal moral condemnation of the sampling practice as “stealing” (likely a result of a lack of understanding on his part of hip-hop culture or history). The judge even cited the bible in his final verdict, telling Biz “thou shalt not steal,” a dramatic gesture which casts doubt on the objectivity and informedness of his ruling. The verdict resulted in the album being completely pulled from shelves and then re-released, minus the offending song. This set a precedent within the hip-hop community of little tolerance for sampling and harsh penalties for those who infringe on copyrighted material.
4. The Beastie Boys, another popular 1980s/1990s hip-hop group. They were also sued, in 2003, over their song “Pass the Mic,” which lifted a short six-second loop from a flute recording by…
5. …James Newton, a jazz artist. The lawsuit, Newton v. Diamond, hinged on the fact that the Beastie Boys had paid the record company for the rights to use the actual sound recording of the song, but had not paid Newton for the right to borrow the melody and note sequence from his original composition. The judge ultimately ruled that “the sampled portion is neither quantitatively nor qualitatively significant… We hold today Beastie Boys’ use of a brief segment of that composition, consisting of three notes separated by a half-step over a background C note, is not sufficient to sustain a claim for copyright infringement.” The marked a reversal in precedent from the Biz Markie decision; a scaling-back of the rigidness of copyright law and the harsh penalties for those who infringe even in small or unknowing ways. However, it also indicates a further nuancing of copyright law, indicating that multiple copyrights can be held on a given source material by different interests, each with their own respective rights and responsibilities. Even when a sample appears to have been cleared with one party, it may not yet be legally permissible.
6. Timbaland is a massively successful producer of modern hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. He was recently sued by Bollywood production company Saregama India Limited over a song he produced for The Game, “Put You on the Game”:
7. The sample was taken from this Indian movie, “Aradhana,” which Saregama produced. However, Timbaland was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing because of a loophole in local Indian copyright law: it is possible for Bollywood musical scores to be held by as many as three separate owners, all with different rights reserved. The company which actually held the right to license the score for sampling and outside use no longer existed, and thus had no grounds to bring a suit against Timbaland for his use. However, this incident raises more nuanced questions about where the responsibility for sample clearance lies. As the producer of the song, who made the beat containing the offending sample, should Timbaland have cleared the sample with its original owners before handing it along to The Game to record over? Or should The Game’s managers and lawyers have thought to look up the sample and investigate its legality before having the label press and distribute millions of copies of it? Either way, it seems that the infringement was relatively unwillful, a result of the sample “slipping through the cracks” between overlapping producer/artist/manager/label responsibilities.
8. Lil Wayne, one of the most popular rappers and overall artists in the mainstream music industry today. His well-known song, “I Feel Like Dying,” came under a lawsuit two years ago for its sampling of…
9. …”Once,” an acoustic guitar track by folk singer Karma-Ann Swanepoel. Her managers, Urband & Lazar Music Publishing, claimed he did not attempt to clear the track with them before using it for his own song. Wayne’s lawyers subsequently passed the buck, counter-suing the producers of the song, Rebel Rock Productions, for not clearing the sample before passing it on to him to record over. Again, we see a “slipping-through-the-cracks” effect in which neither artists nor producers want to take financial or legal responsibility for clearing a sample, and so either choose to assume the sample has already been cleared or simply release the music anyways, in the hopes that the sample will not be recognized by its copyright holders or that they will not take legal action in return.
10. The visual interface for listening to a song on Soundcloud, an online platform for artists and fans to share original works as well as remixes, mash-ups, DJ mixes, etc. Notice the parallels between this image and the very first image we saw, with DJ Kool Herc at a 1980s New York City block party, surrounded by fellow DJs working in collaboration, children and families playing in the background enjoying the communal music performance. Similarly, Soundcloud allows users to share and compare their music in real-time, building on each other’s work and even leaving time-linked comments on a song to give artists instant feedback: “That chorus drop was sick” or “This mix could get tightened up a bit.” Soundcloud and other online platforms like Pandora Radio may hopefully indicate a loosening of copyright restrictions, and possibly a future return to the sort of communal music exchange and mutual building through sampling which sparked the growth of the hip-hop genre at its very origin.
The arguments against sampling are many. Economic reasons are some of the most frequently cited: the original composers and producers should be credited and compensated for the use of their work. In addition, sampling songs could draw revenue away from the original source, as people will ostensibly have little reason to buy a work once they have heard a snippet of it in another song. But does this worry reflect reality? How many Biz Markie fans listen to 1970s crooners? How many Timbaland fans are also into 60s Bollywood films? Would Lil Wayne fans really be likely to buy Karma-Ann’s CD? If anything, wouldn’t they be more likely to investigate the original source of the sample, thus discovering Karma-Ann’s work as a direct result of her being sampled by Lil Wayne in “I Feel Like Dying”? Indeed, a quick Google Image search of her name reveals mostly pictures of Lil Wayne. In a digital world where the sample or remix can become more famous than the original, it would be wise for copyright holders to rethink how they distribute their music.