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