Discussing Lessig, watching “RiP!”

Here’s where we can talk about the Lawrence Lessig reading, “RW, Revised,” and where we might as well also talk a bit about  Rip! A Remix Manifesto since Lessig is really talking about stuff in that movie– or, more accurately, Brett Gaylor’s film is really talking about Lessig’s book, Remix.

This essay is a chapter in Lessig’s Remix, which (as Adam pointed out!) is available at Scibd in a fairly annoying format– I don’t think you can easily just download this and read it, right? I think Lessig is a very straight-forward and approachable writer, and in the nutshell, I think he is answering here the questions “why can’t people just follow copyright laws and keep coloring in-between the lines like they are supposed to?” and also “why does any of this really matter?” We’re not really doing “remixes” per se in this class, but beyond their artistic, political, and educational values, I think you can see the ways in which this approach to media has influence on even less artistic/more practical uses of new media– like PSAs, for example.

Two other quick points: I think the part about blogging is a little dated in that I think that what blogging is and the extent to which it is still being practiced has really changed and/or morphed into things like Facebook and Twitter. The fact that Lessig doesn’t really talk about this stuff in a book that’s only about six years old speaks to the speed this stuff moves. Second, the Johan Söderberg stuff he references is pretty interesting. Check out “Audiovisions” and “Read My Lips” part of his web site, soderberg.tv.

The movie I’d encourage you to watch (let’s call this a semi-optional reading) is RiP! A Remix Manifesto. Like I said, it’s a movie by a Canadian filmmaker named Brett Gaylor that is about remix culture– it puts images and sounds to a lot of the ideas that Lessig is talking about in his work, and vice versa. It’s a 2008 film, so it too is already a little “long in the tooth,” as they say. But I think it’s a really engaging movie, one that I regularly use in my first year writing classes as a sort of “framing device” for the whole term– I make students do research projects about some aspect of the movie, which, as you’ll see even if you only watch part of it, means that there’s a lot of different things students could write about here!

This embedded video below comes from the National Film Board of Canada web site, but you can also watch it on Hulu or on Vimeo here.

34 thoughts on “Discussing Lessig, watching “RiP!”

  1. Adam Czarnecki

    (I was able to download this entire PDF and use it easily, but I had to log in with my Facebook account to do so. I suppose I could have made a Scribd account but I didn’t try!)

    I liked both of these pieces but I’m still hung up on something that I need some help thinking about.

    Lessig talks about how asking permission is not “weird” for visual and audio media like it would be for written text. But in all cases where I’ve seen this comparison it’s always been about non-fiction writing–legal briefs, academic journals, etc. But if we think about writing a fictional novel, suddenly it wouldn’t be so weird, right? Because if I set out to write a novel that tells a new story by remixing passages from, I don’t know, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, and Stephen King, even with citations I feel like it wouldn’t go over very well.

    So I guess my question is whether or not Lessig is trying to convince us that we should be able to borrow from audio and visual sources just as we do with written text? Was that the point of this reading or did I totally miss it? Because if that is his point, I need some help coming to accept the idea that we’re talking about the same stuff.

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    1. Danielle

      Adam, I think Lessig’s point is that we should be able to remix media in the same way we do with words on the page. On page 185, he argues that “remix with ‘media’ is just the same sort of stuff that we’ve always done with words.” But I think you bring up a good point about including fictional works in the mix; that does complicate things, doesn’t it? Maybe fictional writing falls outside that category of writing that Lessig defines as “the stuff that everyone is taught to do” (171).

      Still, I enjoyed this read because I had never really thought about how much I rely on the ability to quote other writers in my own writing. I’ve also never thought about the parallels between remixing somebody else’s words (perfectly okay in most instances) and remixing another person’s media (not okay).

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      1. Adam Czarnecki

        I suppose you’re right, in which case the answer is easier than I thought, i.e., “we’re not talking about fiction.”

        Then again, if a documentary is the equivalent of a piece of non-fiction, then what Girl Talk does (the artist from Rip!) would be the equivalent of fiction, and that’s where I get stuck.

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        1. skrause Post author

          I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t some more experimental pieces of fiction and/or poetry that do exactly that, actually. I’m guessing there might even be a few kind of mainstream pieces that do the same thing. But I would agree with you that this is a lot more common in non-fiction/academic writing, I guess because part of the point of those writings is to set your text in “conversation” with other texts on the same general topic. That is, if I write an essay about teaching with blogs (or whatever), I’ll quote other articles about this not only to support my point but also to place it in relationship with other essays about teaching with blogs.

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        2. Jonathan Furlette

          I found myself wondering the same thing, “Are we talking about fiction?” I agree with Steve’s point that there are probably some authors that do exactly that, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I guess the difference with fiction is that we are not taught to borrow from other author’s work when we learn to do it ourselves, though the stories that we know and love today did not just appear out of thin air. I can think of numerous authors and works that everyone seems to borrow from (Shakespeare, Poe, the Bible, Stephen King, the Iliad and Odyssey, etc.) to name some of the more obvious ones. In reality we have the freedom to copy or “closely borrow” anything that we want to, so long as we cover all of the bases in getting permission or at least making our creation different enough from the source. It is interesting to me to think of how this idea of “borrowing” applies to other disciplines/fields of study; and really what can be said about original thought. At this point it seems that most things must have been thought of at one time or another, and if you trace that thought back it is likely that it originated somewhere else previously. One could argue that there really is no original thought and that everything is essentially borrowed from someone/something else.

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          1. Molly McCord

            Jonathan, your point about original thought is interesting. When you mentioned that one could argue that everything is essentially borrowed from someone else, it got me thinking about the grey areas involved with “borrowing” work. I struggle every semester with my ESL students to explain what plagiarism is (it’s a very foreign concept to many of them), and they always end up asking, “how do I know it’s not plagiarism if I have an idea, but it’s also in a book or on a website somewhere?” It seems like it should be an obvious answer, but we inevitably end up in a long discussion about facts versus ideas versus word-for-word copying, etc…

        3. Tracey Sonntag

          What about artists like the Gregory Brothers who make such awesome songs from news clip remixes? So much of what ends up in their videos is taken straight from CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, and other TV shows; turning those clips and sound bites into musical political commentary has become huge for them.

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      2. Molly McCord

        I also found it interesting to consider how easily we can insert quotes into our writing without really asking for permission, Danielle. As Lessig says, “The freedom to quote, and to build upon, the words of others, is taken for granted by everyone who writes” (171). I know that citations are a way of “covering one’s bases” when using another author’s words, but oftentimes quotes are literally taken out of their original context to fit with a writer’s own words. I honestly sometimes find myself wondering if it’s really okay when I take a piece of a sentence or a section of a paragraph from a source and “remix” it into my own writing. Lessig notes that “the cite is always sufficient payment” (170), and I suppose citing a source allows the reader to discover the original context of a quote. But it’s interesting to think about the differences in what constitutes “sufficient payment” between text and multimedia remixes.

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        1. Seth Taylor

          Good point, Molly. This reminded me of Latour’s Science in Action when he talks about the whole “context of citation.” It seems we often forget how strategic and political the placing of quotes and citations can be, especially in academic writing. I think that’s one of the points where text citation really differs from sampling or remixing.

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        2. Jennifer

          Molly, I remember this phenomenon as well – and I also remember never having my contextual use corrected by an instructor, either in high school or college…which REALLY makes me wonder. I remember assignements being given out that had to included “x” number of quotes from the work. How valuable is it, or what is the learning experience if a writer borrows from someone’s work and crumples it to fit his or her own purpose?

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          1. skrause Post author

            The kind of thing you’re talking about, Jennifer, is quite common and there are some people in comp/rhet who do research on this. I might be misquoting/misremembering this (ironically enough!), but I seem to recall some research that said that some huge percentage of all quotations in both student work and professional work comes from the first 3 or 4 pages of whatever is being cited. That suggests there is a certain amount of a “I need x-number of quotes here” mentality behind citation.

            The other part of this that this makes me think about as a writer/scholar is that there is “value” (at least prestige) in being cited by others. In other words, if you write an academic article that is cited (and presumably read) by others, there is a sort of hard to define value to that. It’s not money, but it’s more “worthy” than articles that no one reads. I think this even figures into the whole tenure process at some institutions.

          2. Molly McCord

            Just to build off of Dr. Krause’s comment about the hard-to-define value attached to being cited by others, I suppose that kind of “worthiness” is what would constitute “sufficient payment” for authors of words-in-a-row texts. It’s really intangible, but I’ve often thought about how the act of citing another writer’s work in a research essay is kind of like paying homage to the author, which is why a seemingly simple citation is acceptable “payment” for use of someone else’s words.

  2. Adam Czarnecki

    I also liked what Lessig talks about on and around page 67 regarding the democratization/”Googlezation” of books. It made me think about how, using a Kindle, you can see what passages of novels many other people have highlighted. It gives you a sense of the kind of things “most people” find meaningful about the novel. Expanding this feature might turn the experience of reading a novel into something like listening to a song on Soundcloud, where you can visually see people’s comments at certain points in the song, as it plays through. It would be interesting to have the same experience while reading a book… using the same “voting” technology to weed out the “bad” stuff that Lessig talks about as it applies to other material on the internet. This would bring a welcome, democratic, open, even “communal” experience to reading.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Adam I’m surprised that you would find this “subtitling” welcome. But maybe that is a reflection of the world we live in today, we are so oversatured with the amount of media coming at us, it becomes an enormous task to filter what will really be of value. Boiling things down to “bullet points” is highly favored – even with fiction. Fiction is read is a few contexts that come to mind – reading for pleasure and reading for study. The highlighted version might be nice if one were headed to a lit class or book discussion group after, but outside of that, I’d like to have my own experience and responses to the text.

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      1. Adam Czarnecki

        Oh, definitely. As is, it’s an optional feature. I mostly leave it on just because it’s so unobtrusive and it’s kind of fun to see what other people have found noteworthy.

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  3. Adam Czarnecki

    Please forgive my multiple comments, but I spent an unreasonable amount of time searching for this answer and don’t want it to go to waste. :-) I’m also snowed in.

    All of this made me think of the character Bumblebee from the Transformers movies. (I know these are generally regarded as terrible but I’ve always liked them for what they are.) Bumblebee is damaged and can only communicate by re-broadcasting clips from movies and TV shows. Here’s a clip as an example: http://youtu.be/B6bxvcy1MUk

    I wanted to know what kind of permissions the producers had to attain to use the wide variety of clips, if any. Did it constitute “fair use,” did they pay thousands of dollars, or what? I couldn’t find much, but the closest I got was an interview with one of the sound engineers who said: “P.K. Hooker [one of the engineers,] took up the task to search through Paramount movies for lines that conveyed Bumblebee’s meaning.”

    So, it would seem the clips were all owned by the same conglomerate. Which means that if this movie didn’t exist and some indie writer/producer wanted to make a movie with a robot that talked like this, it probably wouldn’t happen and we’d likely miss out on what I think is actually a pretty endearing character quirk.

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    1. Jennifer

      Your comment Adam, and our other copyright reading makes me wonder how shows like “VH1 Behind the Music” get made. I wonder how the producer of a program like that can afford to make it if he has to pay royalties on EVERY clip and image used in the film.

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  4. Seth Taylor

    I thought the cultural comparisons with Japan were really revealing. In the US we tend to separate things like remixing from anything educational when it comes to kids (that’s changing, clearly). So this type of activity gets relegated to the extracurricular. The kids in Japan, on the other hand, come to “see themselves and producers and participants in a culture and not just recipients,” because more interest-based and creatively driven learning is fostered at younger ages. At least that’s what I think Lessig was getting at with “entertainment being separate from education” in the US.

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    1. Lisa Pignotti

      I also found this point very interesting, too. As a society, the US encourages children to be consumers of culture, not producers and participants of it, which is very disconcerting. One of the most creative times in a person’s life is as a child/adolescent. At that time, you are exposed to so many new things and are trying to process those things in terms of a growing sense of self. But at some point, it gets difficult to fight against the pressure to receive aspects of a culture, instead of participate.

      One of Lessig’s point about remix and education about children “copying preexisting media content” is a way children “develop cultural literacy” was a great point (184). It is part of the learning process, which should be encourages.I know this is something I did as a child, taking characters and stories that existed and sculpting my own story from them….either through play, stories, or drawings. It also made me think of fan fiction, where fans of various works become writers of it.

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      1. skrause Post author

        I can’t track it down right now, but it seems to me there is a statistic out there though that something like 2/3rds of all teens online (and that’s like 95% of them in the U.S.) have shared content that they have “made” online, be that content a video, a picture, etc. Sure, kids (and adults!) consume a lot of media online, but given all of the short form writing that happens with things like Facebook and Twitter, more people are doing more writing now than ever before. And it just keeps increasing.

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        1. Seth Taylor

          Yeah, that was another part of this reading that I liked. Even though “text is today’s Latin,” ultimately, more writing is being done. Even if it is in the “vernacular” of multimedia. A cool bit of irony I guess.

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    1. skrause Post author

      I think this is a good example– and pretty funny!– of what Lessig is talking about, and it also makes me think of this definition of “Rhetorical Velocity” that Ridolfo and Rife were talking about. I mean, this isn’t even close to what Perry was intending, right?

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      1. Molly McCord

        Oh, I love those Bad Lip Readings. I think they’re hilarious. I had never thought about how they might be ethically questionable, simply because they’re so obviously meant for entertainment. But I can see how they fit into Ridolfo and Rife’s discussion of rhetorical velocity now. Again, it just seems like it would be impossible to predict all the ways that a video or image could be remixed to produce an unintended message, especially if you’re a politician or celebrity.

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        1. Seth Taylor

          There’s a mash-up video on YouTube called Star Trek the Sexed Generation. It requires an exceedingly juvenile sense of humor (check), and at least nine minutes you’ll never get back. Some appreciation or familiarity with Star Trek might help too. Check it out if any of you are inclined.

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      2. Lisa Pignotti

        Definitely relates to rhetorical velocity. I think politicians need to expect that remixes like these are going to happen no matter what. It really is unavoidable.

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    2. Jennifer

      OMG, how funny. I’ll go even farther off topic than Lisa. Has anyone seen the movie “The Life of David Gale?” (which stars my secret husband, Kevin Spacey). In the movie, KS is a member of an anti-death penalty group and has a live TV debate with the Gov. of Texas, who, is almost the spitting image in looks and sound of Rick Perry. Just a little fun fact – and a REALLY good movie that never got much notoriety, IMO.

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    3. Tracey Sonntag

      This kind of tied back to the Cloud Gate concept for me. If the artist of that sculpture was annoyed at the world’s redefining his work, imagine how the actors parodied in bad lip readings must be feeling!

      And on Lisa’s comment about fan fiction, that’s another area where I think it’s so easy to come up with reasons why artists and writers should be allowed to appropriate characters and worlds, but it’s also such a slippery slope on where the original artist should be able to draw the line.

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  5. Tracey Sonntag

    I found the part on 64-66 or so where Lessig is talking about blog commenters and his relationship with Judge Posner very interesting. In part, I totally get what Lessig is saying about commenters. There are a few blogs I follow where the commenters are almost always of the “sycophant” variety, and no one ever calls the OP out on bouts of self-indulgence or faulty logic. I know of a few other blogs where the commenters can typically be seen laying wait in the tall grass, just waiting for a factual error or grammatical faux pas on which to pounce.

    I’m not sure I agree with his projection that everything will soon be available on the web for others to read and comment; I don’t think enough writers are willing to submit to that kind of torture. I know I wouldn’t care for it.

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    1. Adam Czarnecki

      I agree, Tracey. I can think of a few blogs I follow that have turned comments off. Typically these blogs have the most interesting content. It’s actually a more pleasant experience, and, by the looks of it, they’re doing quite well for themselves so I think an author’s choice to say “no comments” is still acceptable.

      Reply

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