I’m finding subtly and digging for meaning  two different beasts when it comes to remix works. And this isn’t anything new.

The commentary and narrative arcs found in vids are usually buried so deep that for me, an outsider to the community, I miss most of them. The one posted above is a relatively ‘easy’ vid; it’s pretty accessible.

This True Blood vid captures fan frustration at the character of Bill Compton. Bill, a vampire, is given to us as heroine Sookie Stackhouse’s primary love interest, but he’s a disappointment in many ways: a patriarch, a whiner, and a bore; or to put it another way: bloodless. – Francesca Coppa

Vids (and anything feminine or female-related) are often devalued in online spaces. I try to keep this in mind and follow through on the author’s narrative cues and begin to read into the comments left by a community of creators and scholars who bring a heavy theoretical background to the discussion. And in the end, I’m happy I did. I’m left with a much richer understanding of the author’s intent, the source material and the context. I leave fulfilled.

When I’m watching a remix, I, more often than not, have to dig down deep to find an alternative meaning. Sometimes I feel like I’m digging so deep, I’m fracking. This is a cause for concern. Let me give you an example.

It’s funny and ironic. It’s definitely a remix. But it doesn’t have a deeper theoretical purpose or meaning. (Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments). Does this even matter to remix? Should it?


I posted this “Who’s Afraid Of Julie?” remix before. Originally I thought it was a simple and ironic look at gendered toys, giving voice to female anger. Then I started digging deep into the source material.

The movie Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? (and original play on which it was based) stunned and outraged  American audiences because it contradicted the image of the happy family idealized on television shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

The irony of this particular Julie doll understanding you is that none of the couples in the original Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? communicate to each other and opt instead for excessive yelling and humiliating put downs to relate to one an other. Seen through the context of a gendered toy ad in this remix, we realize how often children are called upon to parent their parents, deal with their anger and negotiate patterns of abuse.

But you have to be familiar with the original source material (Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, in this case) to grasp this, or any, deeper meaning. For the first remix, Must Love Jaws, all I had to know was that these two main characters weren’t originally animal-lovers.

So how much emphasis do we place on the original source material in traditional remixes like these? Is a remix with a deeper theoretical meaning more valuable? Perhaps my contextual additions to Who’s Afraid of Julie? are mearly a byproduct of numerous Google searches and a late night surge of energy inspired by a delicious cheeseburger dinner.

I’d like to think not.

While we have been taught throughout our early schooling that being subtle is a more desirable quality in creative works, most of us have been turned off by any complexity found in remix and online video works. The ability to bury our ideas and themes, keeping them from being overtly obvious to a reader is valued in Western culture’s creative works, so why not in online video?


source material, context & remix


10 thoughts on “source material, context & remix

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Pop Culture Pirate.

    Jaws remix: “frack” – this is what this vid does to me. I’m not going to waste my time looking for deeper meanings. Throw cold cold snow on the meaning of the vid. Wake up. If remix can manipulate one’s mind to the extent where it becomes unhealthy, then it is not not worth it. Sooth me, enlighten me, guide me, but don’t shock and confuse me.

    • If remix can manipulate one’s mind to the extent where it becomes unhealthy

      I’m not sure what this means or that I was suggesting such.
      Shock and confusion are a big part of experimental film which remix does have roots in. I’d be interested in seeing what’s on your YouTube playlist.

  2. Bring it all on; enlighten me, inspire me, shock me and confuse me. The meaning comes from the particular place you are at that particular time. Does turning Jaws into a love story between two outsider males and a giant rogue shark completely alter the subtext of the original film? Maybe, maybe not – but it is funny. There has to be a place for humor.

    • The meaning comes from the particular place you are at that particular time.

      But doesn’t there have to be room – existing ‘legs’ or throughlines – for there to be meaning?

      And I totally agree that there must be room for humor. In remix is most always comes from an ironic pairing. Looking forward to seeing other versions of ‘funny’.

  3. Great Post!

    But I am gonna have to disagree with the Jaws remix, and respond to your call to comment 🙂

    I think there is definitely a huge theoretical purpose, meaning and value to the Jaws video! The kind of purpose or value Walter Benjamin had hoped the technologies of his time would bring to “the masses.” In his essay A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin proclaimed that the mass reproduction of culture, via films and news papers, would make possible the involvement of the masses in art and politics. Furthermore, this kind of new mechanically reproduced culture signaled the “death of the aura” or death of the “awe/celebrity” factor that comes with experiencing an “original” work of art. This created a kind of distance between audience and actor. The famous example being the difference between watching a film (mass produced) and watching a theater play (singular/original experience). There’s an “aura” in the theater play because the actor is always aware of the audience and the audience of the actor, this “distracts” the audience. Whereas with a film there’s a distance, there is no actor present really, and so the engagement is different.

    The mass nature allowed for mass involvement and the distance granted the audience a kind of critical perspective. I’m paraphrasing and butchering Benjamin’s argument a bit here to prove a point. Critics of the essay say that this kind of “critical audience” Benjamin had hopped for didn’t really come true. I think that mechanical reproduction (or allowing the masses to consume culture and politics) was step one, and step two and three were granting them the tools to create culture/politics and a platform for distribution. As you know, today we finally have something like this, and I think Benjamin’s “critical audience” is finally here, what Lessig calls “Read-Write Culture” and what Jenkins calls “Participatory Culture.”

    Of the various kinds of remixes, fan vidz and UGC I think Re-Cut trailers (the genre this Jaws video belongs to) is the best example of this. In order to make a re-cult trailer (like this one or this one) you have to be media-literate, and not just in the sense that you can edit video but that you speak the language of montage, of editing (in this case of editing commercial trailers). You have to understand that well enough to make a convincing case that a film which belongs to one genre can belong to the exact opposite genre.

    So while the remix on the surface presents no direct critique (the motivations behind creating it may have just been for the lolz) I think the act of creating it points to a particular kind of media literacy or “critical audience” in the Benjaminian sense. In the sense that when this audience (the re-cult trailer makers) watch trailers on TV or in the theater they are very much aware of the media techniques, tactics and tricks being played on them (because they play them on others) they have that “critical distance.”

    …hope that wasn’t too rumbly and incoherent 🙂

    • Thanks, Nick. That was great. I agree on many points but in speaking with creators, I find that, while I see remix an inherently political act, the intentions of the creator are actually opposite meaning that they are intending to recreate an industry standard (complete with misogynistic tropes or racist stereotypes) as a way to participate in a dominate discourse. So I would say remix isn’t an inherently liberatory act but has the historical roots and theoretical qualities to be if used ‘right’.

      • you’re right, I don’t think the singular act itself isn’t inherently liberatory, but the act does create that “critical distance”, by which I mean a “remix-culture” is a media-literate one, which can read (to some extent analyze the techniques used) and write (apply those techniques in their own work) media. It’s true, that at first we’re more likely to see works that perpetuate social norms, racism, sexism, etc. But a digital-folk culture (remix culture, participatory culture, RW culture) has the foundation (and language) already in place to seriously address the issue and are more likely (I think… I hope) to become “political” and “critical” (in the conventional sense).

        …but I guess that’s step four (continuing my step’s from before), that’s the present mission… I’m (like yourself) still working on that 😉

        the “value” or “meaning” is in that Benjaminian “critical distance”, i.e. the position from which one could become political.

  4. And you need that distance from your source material to be critical. One aspect of remix that I find somewhat harmful is the “let me show you/teach you how it really is”. It’s demeaning to the viewer, leaving the remixer consistently preaching to the already-converted choir.

    Political Remix Video specifically is often condescending in that way. I feel like sometimes it’s created to look down on the people not “in the know.” This is something I definitely felt as a creator of PRVs, too. Sort of like, “allow me to educate you on why this particular media phenomena is stupid/wrong/troublesome/racist/sexist.” Thankfully, I’ve tried to move away from that approach to remixing, but not without the appropriate criticism from the community.

    • DL says:

      Hi Elisa, Your early PRVs didn’t come across, to my view, as condescending or didactic. They weren’t nebulous, wishy-washy, or overly polite/all-inclusive either. They contained a political proposition, but relied on suggestion to present it. For instance, I’ve always appreciated your “You Can’t Vote In Change” video, particularly for its sign-off. After building a terse historical case, the ending you put together is a great example of subtlety in operation within a PRV. What you said was risky at that time, because the elephant in the room was that disappointment would come to the Democratic base if they solely relied on Obama to bring about the change they wanted to see (Unfortunately, the past 3 years have borne this out). In any case, you managed to arrange your materials in a respectful way, posing the problem with brevity and encouraging a particular audience to action.

      The “Sex and the City” pieces operate in a similar way, because underlying those works is a politic that laments the marginalizing of a particular type of narrative. The series never directly expresses that lamentation, but the sentiment is inferred if one ponders the function the works fulfill in providing a rare type of storyline. That type of subtlety is very powerful. Will every person who watches the videos online be able to draw such inferences? Probably not. If the works somehow sledge hammered the same types of ideas, would the viewer be more responsive to your stance? Aggressive types of work tend toward polarizing camps already committed to their views. So what is at issue when discussing subtlety is largely what counts or doesn’t count as a persuasive presentation of ideas. (And certainly online video versus museum or gallery venues further complicates how we might discuss what counts as subtle and complex.)

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