Last night, Neil Sieling, Karl Fogel, Nina Paley, Francesca Coppa and myself gathered together to talk about Who Owns Popular Culture?: Remix and Fair-Use in the Age of Corporate Mass Media, as part of our panel at the Open Video Alliance at NYU Law School.
Below are my notes from the panel:
I want to show 2 short videos that remix the reality TV show, Real Housewives of NYC. For a conference that’s 90% men, I understand you all might not relate to the story lines in the original show. But I urge you to stay because remixing and fan vidding is all about making and editing existing pop-culture into something you can relate to. This is what makes media participatory, this is what separates the passive audiences from the active creators, and encourages talk-back culture.
Everyone wants characters and story lines that pertain to and are relevant to their lives. (An example of this is the “I’m a Samantha” , “I’m a Cary” t-shirt phenomena that followed Sex and the City. Fans identify with characters so much that they wore their identities on their chests.)
Commonality and community is discovered through shared storylines in popular culture, but not everyone can relate.
Keeping this in mind, I thought about what Real Housewives of NYC would look like if were re-edited to relate to a different demographic.
Instead of following a bunch of white, owning class housewives in a feminism-lite, low-calorie liberation, the show followed women struggling with their own internalized hetero-normative standards and made the decision to come out as queer.
While I debuted “The Queer Housewives of New York City (Real Housewives Remix)” Nina Paley presented a great list of who owns popular culture.
With the panel question, “Who Owns Popular Culture”, answered, we fielded questions from the audience.
Many had to do with copy-right and the distinction of Fair Use in remix work. Since remixs use copyrighted material in a transformative way to create a new, derivative work, they are easily classified as Fair Use. But, listening to the discussion brought me back to past negotiations of appropriation.
Artists have always appropriated pop-culture for use in their works but our current “ask for permission” culture tells us it’s illegal to appropriate media, despite the others who’ve come before to do it successfully. In particular, I think of Marcel Duchamp and his ready made urinal. When he displayed in at the American Society for Independent Artists exhibition, Kohler didn’t sue him for copyright or intellectual property infringement. (And it wasn’t even transformative! )
Other artists who appropriate pop-culture include:
* Cory Arcangel
* Marcel Duchamp
* Damien Hirst
* Jeff Koons
* Barbara Kruger
* Sherrie Levine
* Roy Lichtenstein
* Vik Muniz
* Pablo Picasso
* Cindy Sherman
* Andy Warhol
I reference popular culture in remixes because it makes the concepts, ideas, and theoretical frameworks I’m exploring relevant to a wider audience. Pop-culture is the spoon full of sugar that makes the medicinal socio-political critique go down. It makes complex ideas communicable because you’ve got a heavy backstory behind each piece of popular culture you use. That backstory gives you the ability to construct a new narrative that may be more applicable to audiences than the original.