Bonus: What’s With the Remix Disrespect?

Pack my car/and leave this town/who would notice that I’m not around?
-BNL 

So I’m sitting at Julie’s place, right, having some rather delicious cherry M&Ms (which my momma could alphabetize in her belly!), when she pops up this blog by Dennis Jerz wherein I spy this quote, in response to Jeff Rice:


So students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture — and it’s certainly possible to recognize remix culture and design assignments that ask them to think critically about it, without rejecting it out of hand as plagiarism.

I hate to take up the position of the Jeopardy judge and simply say “bzzzzzz, wrong!” but… that’s just wrong.

And I don’t mean to hurl an insult at Dr. Jerz, but… this is a case of looking in at something from the outside (I would assume, based on the admission later in the post that Jerz knows little about music) attempting to critique something without ever getting the insider’s perspective.

I would argue the exact opposite of the first portion of the quote (before the dash). But let’s also be realistic; if Jerz has encountered, or thinks he will encounter, a student who can only remix, he’s failed to keep track of public high schools in America. Every student who makes it through that system with any success—meaning 95% of our trad students—will know how to write a five paragraph essay. They will also try to do anything—including remix—in five paragraph form before they do anything else. And they will scream at us if we tell them five paragraph form is a thing of their past.

But beyond that, REMIX is a cultural rhetoric. I’ve taught classes with a number of texts (leading to research assignments, a practice I think first year college composition needs to abandon). With “classic” novels (The Grapes of Wrath, for example), students were less likely to engage with culture than with poetry (I taught a collection of Dickinson poems, a set of “minority author” poems consisting of Silko, Baraka, Hughes, etc., a book of Dylan Thomas), and were less willing to engage culture with the poetry than they were with film or comic books.

Then I started teaching using remix and the concept of comedy to shape how my students approached issues. If you show a classroom “Black Bush” by Dave Chapelle, and you discuss what it means to lampoon and remix a political situation in that way, the students will engage our culture on a profound level.

If you ask them to make their own remixes, you end up with things like the video below. Now I know some scholars would cringe at the idea that this reflects sophisticated thought, but let’s think for a moment about what a student would have to do to create this:


1.   Watch the Brokeback Mountain trailer carefully
2.   Scrape the music for use
3.    Find enough footage from the Star Wars films to create replacement shots
4.   Frame, edit, chop, screw, and remix

And while this is, on one level, very funny, there’s a sophisticated cultural critique that I think many traditional educators miss. The person who created this video has made a rather profound statement about our cultural understanding of same sex relationships by porting the issue from our expectations to something our culture holds sacred in a different way.

I realize there’s a terrible fear of plagiarism, and as someone who spent four years teaching—and three prior to that as a TA/writing tutor—at an open admissions college, I know it’s an issue we have to literally drill students about. This is not an excuse to avoid remix, though. That’s a strawman built by people who don’t want to embrace the changes digital media, web 2.0, and a whole generation of children raised on the internet bring to the table.

Quintilian, the sage of Rome, advised that we teach our students by having them copy the oratory (and writing, I suppose) of those who were highly successful.

Shall I charge him with encouraging plagiarism now, or does someone else want to get right on that?

Or should we maybe consider the highly valuable skills students of writing can learn from doing things that aren’t just standard researched essays, knowing that they aren’t idiots. They WILL understand that they still have to cite research. Give students a little credit. We all started in first year comp.

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2 Responses to Bonus: What’s With the Remix Disrespect?

  1. In case the formatting below doesn’t come across (there’s no comment preview on your site), I have also posted this comment on my blog.

    http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog/permalink/bonus-whats-with-the-remix-dis/

    Where to start with this one?  The “about” page says “Who am I? I’m just a guy. I’ve got a story like everyone.”   The author claims to be “someone who spent four years teaching–and three prior to that as a TA/writing tutor–at an open admissions college” but that doesn’t really help me figure out whether I am writing to a grad student who is struggling to figure out the professional landscape, a very bright undergraduate who could use some gentle instruction in tone and focus, or a professional college instructor who should know better.Here is the comment I posted…

    “that’s just wrong.”

    Could you clarify what part of my statement you mean? Are you reacting against the part where I say “students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture,” or the part where I say that it *is* possible to design remix assignments that ask them to think critically?

    “And I don’t mean to hurl an insult at Dr. Jerz, but…”

    Let’s have a conversation instead, shall we?

    “he’s failed to keep track of public high schools in America. Every student who makes it through that system with any success–meaning 95% of our trad students–will know how to write a five paragraph essay.”

    I regularly teach freshman who are fresh out of high school, and I know for a fact they can’t all write a five-paragraph essay — because if they could, they would not be in my “Basic Composition” class, they would all be in “Seminar in Thinking and Writing” (I think about a third of our students skip Basic Comp, not 95%). Perhaps the public schools where you are are much better than those where I am, or perhaps we simply disagree over what level of writing counts as acceptable. Regardless, I applaud any effort to break students out of the high-school five-paragraph-essay box, and I won’t dismiss your conclusions as “wrong” simply because the experiences that inform them differ from mine.  I will, instead, ask you to clarify.

    For the record, here is the thesis of my blog entry:

    “It’s true that one’s own ideas only come after one has filtered through many other ideas. I think the problem I see in the classroom is that students find it difficult to trace details back to the source.”

    And here is the conclusion:

    “I certainly don’t feel that students should never, ever remix — but if we graduate students who can ONLY remix, and have never been forced to trace an idea back to its source and critique its validity, but instead settle for riffing on it and referencing “www.somehomepage.com” as one of a handful of “Works Consulted,” then we are doing them — and our culture at large — a great disservice.”

    Your defense of remix culture is a very good example of the thinking that makes me shake my head. I am not writing against remix; I am writing about a willingness to settle for the creative expressions of personal reactions to a text, without demonstrating the ability and willingness to explore those ideas more fully.

    Before I go any farther, let me first state that I recognize that a blog entry is not the same thing as an academic paper. The rhetoric of blogs is rougher, and sometimes the invitation to rumble is what motivates us to post our ideas online. And I also note that in the remix culture, creating and publishing that initial response can take on the role of the discovery draft, sparking conversations that help the student develop a more accurate, more thorough, more nuanced understanding of an issue.

    I’m responding because “What’s with the Remix Disrespect” does not merely engage with my ideas; it makes several global statements about my competence, both directly and implicitly, which I find personally distressing. This entry presumes to judge my whole career based on what I wrote in this single blog entry from 2004. It assumes a superior rhetorical stance — first dismissing the idea of being a game-show judge, then promptly performing exactly that role; then rejecting the idea of hurling an insult, and promptly doing just that.

    I find it interesting that in one passage where, instead of taking on the persona of an expert, I prefaced a statement about music by citing my source (since I can’t rely on personal knowledge of what classical composers do when they quote each other), that detail surfaces in your blog as evidence of the claim that I am a cultural outsider who can’t understand remix culture (which, as you know, involves far more than music).

    So… my critique of the remix culture lies specifically in the convention that assumes the author’s personal expression of reactions can substitute for investigating the issue.

    If you would like to get a greater understanding of my attitude towards the remix culture, I invite you to search my blog for terms such as “remix,” “open source,” or “modding.” I invite you to sample my own remix of Teletubbies and gothic poetry) or some of my found poetry exercises (poems comprised of lines taken from student blogs), or this blogger’s account of a 2007 CCCC panel I co-organized, “When Student Experts Remix the Discipline: New Media in the Composition Classroom,” or some of my recent articles on the blogosphere, video game history. You might also look at the websites for the courses I teach in Video Game Culture and Theory, or “The History and Future of the Book” or the 400-level studio course I teach in “New Media Projects,” or the student work that you’ll find via links on those sites.

    While your entry refers to “a terrible fear of plagiarism,” please note that my blog entry only mentions plagiarism once, in a sentence stating that remix is *not* the same thing as plagiarism — thus, my only reference to plagiarism *agrees* with your position.

    Were I writing this entry today, after four more years of watching the impact of the remix culture, I would not have written “students who can only remix don’t get practice thinking critically about culture.” I would have said something about how a student who remixes *well* has to understand the raw material, so a good course built around remix will have to include analysis and fact-checking.

  2. alexa325 says:

    Before I get started, my sincere apologies if you felt I was making a comment on you as an educator. That was not my point. My point was that I didn’t think you understood remix culture from the inside, and based on your response I still don’t. I used what I saw in your text as evidence. I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to research your career (though I do thank you for pointing out what you’ve done since for context). If your feelings were hurt, I am sorry.

    The about me line, btw, if you were to Google it, is an REM lyric. It’s… a bit of low-grade remix.

    And now, then, onto the actual content.

    Thanks for the response. I’m always glad to see someone has read the ol’ blog. It means I’m doing something right, in the blog sense. I’m creating a dialogue.

    FWIW, if you did a little browsing across the blog you’d find that I’m a first year PhD student at a Big Ten university. Since I occasionally mention things that happen on campus in my blog, I try not to be super specific, though it’s not real hard to piece together where I am (and from that who I am, since there’s only one Phill here). If you figure it out I’d appreciate if you didn’t post my last name in the open on this blog, though, as the whole idea of not doing it myself is to create at least a tiny bit of separation.

    I see that you took my comments largely in the way I didn’t want you to (but that I suppose I expected you to, on some level, as I do know the blog/message board/usenet genres well enough to anticipate how someone will react to a joking critique). One has to understand certain genres if one wants to also work in those genres or comment significantly on those genres. My response to your blog was written as a blog response, akin to what you’d get if we’d been sitting in a coffee shop and you’d made such a comment but for some reason we’d decided to converse in long monologues instead of actual conversation. I don’t consider anything sacred in the blogosphere; had we met in a classroom, or at a conference, I wouldn’t have made a “home court advantage” move to speak with my own joking, jibing style. But I’m sure you know that, just as I’m sure you know your characterization of me was every bit as insulting as you feel I’ve been to you, and as you said yourself, a professional college instructor should apparently know better. :)

    Your quote was a jumping-in point for me to address a larger school of thought (just as I assume your comments about remix weren’t all pointed directly at Dr. Rice, though you did utilize his essay as your leaping in point).

    I was hyperbolic about the five paragraph essay, yes. It’s a composition instructor’s nightmare at the college level, and at three different universities (two Big Ten and one MAC, all in the midwest, in a little triangle around my hometown, if you want to try to figure out which), I have repeatedly seen the same problem from traditional open-admissions to 1400+ SAT students. They WANT to make that five paragraph essay.

    Were I writing an academic essay about this (and I have, and I no doubt will again someday), I doubt I’d include your voice (no offense) in the discussion. I’ve read experts on remix culture and I’ve worked for and with traditionalists who absolutely hate remix. I would, however, do a lot more homework. Again, though, we’re hitting on the difference between blog culture and research paper culture (just as there’s a difference between remix and a researched essay).

    So the clarifications you asked for:

    Your statement was wrong to claim that remix doesn’t critically engage culture. In fact that statement seems so outlandish to me that I cannot parse what you think it means. I think what you’ve done here is attempted in your response to build a fake position (as I said before, a strawman)– the student who only knows how to remix, as if remixing itself doesn’t involve the same skills that research and rhetorical analysis call for– so that you could make sweeping statements about the value of remix. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it reads to me, and that’s how it read to the person who showed me the post in the first place. Maybe you should clarify that in your own work (or if you have, toss a link to that up).

    The “terrible fear of plagiarism” is what I read as your implicit argument, since you seem to be worried that remix reflects some sort of neglect by students. And this is probably MY reading and not at all in your text, but I find it highly amusing that so many people (even you, here, in your response to me) utilize chunks of text in the same way that those who remix use audio, video, image or text but seem to not see the obvious overlaps in academic work. I’ve seen so many people who freak out about plagiarism attacking digital media. I didn’t mean you were all of those people, but I was speaking to all of them in my response to you.

    I think there’s a need to clarify something else, though. I was not, as you claim making a global statement about your competence. I was using that entry to talk about your apparent understanding of remix. And if my position distresses you, you can imagine how your position distresses me.

    This exchange does remind me of another issue I wanted to blog about later, though, so I thank you for that as well.

    I am glad to see that you do embrace and use remix culture (and I’m glad to see you teach a game culture class and a new media studio course– both are important to the future of the field).

    I still maintain my position, though, that in the post I was responding to you built something to kick. Perhaps there’s a part of the discussion between you and Dr. Rice that I’m missing which led to it, but in the context which it was written it seemed as if you were building a case that students don’t learn much from remixing.

    So let me pull out my one and only question, while we’re asking for clarification. At the time of that writing–or even now– had you devoted significant time to understanding remix culture from the perspective of an insider? I would hope from the title of your Cs panel that you have done such research if you hadn’t before.

    If you had, at the time of writing, why not point that out?

    I’m sorry that my post left you shaking your head, and I’m very, very sorry that you think remixing “assumes the author’s personal expression of reactions can substitute for investigating the issue,” as I think that’s a terribly shallow in incorrect reading of remix (it assumes that those who remix aren’t applying critical thought and investigation, and that doesn’t match with what the community produces or how avid remixers react to those who don’t do careful work).

    I’d love to see you unpack that. It sounds to me like someone who doesn’t understand remix speaking down his nose at a growing, evolving, robust internet culture. You claim to understand, so I’d love to see carefully thought out reasoning that leads to such a statement. To me, it looks like an attack on remix. And I can only call it as I see it.

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