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Feminist Remix Culture
Transcript of Feminist Remix Culture
What do we mean when we say “Remix?” Collage + Appropriation:
Feminist Art Precedents Barbara Kruger Martha Rosler Hannah Hoch When we change the order and inclusion of units in a given system - for instance, words in a sentence - the meaning of that system can be radically altered. This basic tenet of language - that changed syntax begets changed meaning - is not just limited to the medium of our spoken and written words; in other mediatic forms, we know it as the Remix. Franny Corry
Feminist Media Theory - Spring 2013
Professor Jonathan Beller On March 1-2 of this year, Barnard College hosted its annual Scholar and Feminist Conference. 2013's theme was "Utopia;" the conference focused on ways of "imagining the impossible," and how these fantasies could influence real social change. Scholars, students, artists and activists with varying projects participated in the event. The digital and networked world was a large part of the discussion surrounding new spaces for collaboration, expression, and intervention.
As part of the conference, Elisa Kreisinger, who runs PopCulturePirate.com and Francesca Coppa, from The Organization for Transformative Works, organized a workshop entitled "Talking Back to Culture Through Feminist Remix." In it, they explored a growing online culture of remix videos, offering them as a site of intervention into dominant pop-culture narratives. The workshop included instructions on how to make one's own remix videos. Kreisinger, who runs "Pop Culture Pirate," works in this art historical vein of feminist collage and appropriation (note the Kruger-ian site design). By taking video from popular television shows and splicing scenes, she resituates dialogue, gazes and action to create alternative narratives for known pop-culture characters.
She publishes these videos on YouTube, Vimeo, and embeds them on her site. On YouTube, the "Queer Carrie Project" is her most popular series. It remixes "Sex and the City," the popular HBO show that ran from 1998 - 2004, which follows four thirty-something women as they negotiate careers, friendships, and heterosexual relationships. Carrie Bradshaw, the show's main character, is the subject of the remix's intervention. Barbara Kruger (b. 1945) is best known for conceptual works that juxtapose appropriated images, bold colors and appropriated or self-created text. These images create an intense and emotional irony; they are at once comforting in their aesthetic familiarity based in advertising/consumerist culture, and wholly difficult in their bold messages. These messages can be written, "My body is a battleground," or simply created at the level of juxtaposition. Martha Rosler's (b. 1943) photomontages often juxtapose commercialized images of female bodies, cut from magazines or advertisements, with disparate social contexts. The deconstruction (cutting) of an image and subsequent reconstruct brings the viewer's attention to an analogous question: what else is constructed in images we readily consume? Hannah Hoch (1889-1978) was a German Dada artist who pioneered the photomontage as art form. Images of the female body are cut and set together to form surreal new bodies, notably androgynous in their re-situation. The power of these images relies on our intimacy with them. As spectators and consumers of mass media, the image's affect lies in its dissociation from original context and its subsequent re-situation. Liberated temporarily through the act of the cut, they are again cemented in a still image, former meanings accentuated from new distances and new contexts. How do we react to remix videos? Most comments celebrate these remixes and congratulate the artist for offering new narratives. (Some in different words than others.) The technical quality of the edits often receives attention. While some express dissent. I'd like to focus on particular comments, however, that recognize these remixes' humor: Humor relies on expectation.
In "The Act of Creation," Arthur Koestler, the 20th century Hungarian-British writer, posits that jokes are funny when one "matrix" - a set of rules, or code of conduct - confronts another "matrix." An expectation is set up, only to be pivoted by a different code of conduct. Our resolution of these two matrices causes their confrontation to be humorous.
Knock knock jokes illustrate this concept (McNerney). The first part of the joke sets up one frame of reference; the second part plays on the established expectations of this frame.
No thanks, but I would like a peanut instead! The first matrix - that of a person announcing their name - pivots to include another frame of reference, that is, nuts. The humor of the joke arises when these two frames are resolved in the last line. The humor found in the "Queer Carrie Project" is likewise a function of two matrices confronting each other. Like the art historical precedents to remix, we rely on an intimate knowledge of one frame. The hegemonic, pervasive nature of mass media establishes the first frame.
First matrix: familiar narrative
Second matrix: remix narrative
Humor is elicited when the first matrix (our knowledge of the show; its heteronormative and consumerist narrative [Arthurs]) confronts the second matrix (a queer remix of the show).
The resolution unfolds as we watch the video, constantly aware of the first matrix while following the newly presented narrative of the second matrix. Re, used as a prefix, denotes an action done "before" and/or an action done "again;" a turning back and a repetition. The term "remix" is defined as:
A new version of a recording in which the separate instrumental or vocal tracks are rebalanced or recombined; (now also) a reinterpretation or reworking, often quite radical, of an existing music recording, typically produced by altering the rhythm and instrumentation; a commercial release of such a recording. (OED1) My use of the word "culture" in regards to feminist video remixes is not arbitrary. A growing community participates in the remixing of videos to offer alternative narratives or expose existing hegemonic structures. In this way, they share a common value set; in addition, their technologies of remix are similar. Many who participate by making these videos share their free or cheap methods at workshops or online to encourage the growth and participation in this practice. Feminist video remixes are intimately linked with these definitions.
The video acts as the original recording of the "remix;" its shots are "rebalanced" or "recombined" through editing. The rise of video remixes parallels the rise of cheap and user-friendly digital editing software, just as the idea of a sound remix paralleled the rise of digital recording (Serrano)(OED A1).
The practice, however, has historical, non-digital precedents. To better understand the work feminist video does in intervening with pop culture, I’d like to pick up threads from two television analyses: Tania Modleski’s “The Search for Tomorrow in Today’s Soap Operas: Notes on a feminine narrative form” and Jane Arthurs' “Sex and the City and Consumer Culture: Remediating postfeminist drama.” Critical Television Theory and the Remix Modleski analyzes the never-ending narratives of soap operas, arguing that this pop-culture form could possibly offer a model for feminist narratives. Rather than follow a “masculine” narrative, where the story is structured around a “controlling figure,” the soap follows multiple characters, its scenes cut so as to continue multiple narrative threads. Arthurs takes up Sex and the City as a pioneering work in television, that explores female sexuality in urban, bourgeois consumer culture. Indeed, it is a narrative that does not fit in neatly with “queer” culture. She writes: These women are of a generation old enough to have been influenced by feminism (in their thirties and forties) but too old to participate in a newly fashionable queer culture, despite their appropriation of camp as a style. They are resolutely heterosexual, despite occasional short-lived encounters with gays, lesbians, and bisexuals that simply reconfirm it. The characters of Sex and the City, in their consumer self-styling and financially associated independence, I would argue, are representatives of second-wave feminism, despite Arthur’s argument that these women seem caught between the generations. The remix of Sex and the City thus engages with this narrative of feminism by both “looking back” and “doing again,” the two sides of the prefix “Re.” It looks back at second wave feminism, using the pioneering cultural material of its past to resituate the narrative, in the vein of the third wave, “queering” Carrie and “querying” the dominant narratives of the show. We can thus turn to Modleski, when she writes: An analysis of soap operas reveals that ‘narrative pleasure’ can mean very different things to men and women. This is an important point. Too often feminist criticism implies that there is only one kind of pleasure to be derived from narrative and that is is essentially a masculine one. Hence, it is further implied, feminist artists must first of all challenge this pleasure and then out of nothing begin to construct a feminist aesthetics and feminist form. This is a mistaken position, in my view, for it keeps us constantly in an adversary role, always on the defensive, always, as it were, complaining about the family but never leaving home. Feminist artists don’t have to start from nothing; rather, they can look for ways to rechannel and make explicit the criticisms of masculine power and masculine pleasure implied in the narrative form of soap operas. The "Queer Carrie Project" and the structure of the Feminist Video Remix thus offer iterations of these utopic forms that Modleski discusses. As the Remix repurposes problematic material, it cannot completely escape those narratives that shape it. But the system and culture of the Remix allows a space for dialogue, for looking back and making anew. Well, almost. We must again recall the disclaimer of the Barnard "Utopia" conference: utopia offers a space for imagining, intervention, and striving - not necessarily a perfect solution to hegemonic forms and the negotiation of social difference.
Indeed, it does not exist even for the "Queer Carrie Project:"