What is a remix, exactly?

IMO, A remix is made when separate media elements are joined to form a new, different piece of media with an entirely different meaning than the original. 

In a new media context, a remix is the combination of two different pieces of media to form a new piece of media. For example, a voiceover and Hollywood movie can be remixed together to form a new video. Remix works best when the source materials are totally different from each other, like Romantic Comedies vs. Biblical Dramas, or when they comment on or critique the other.

Why is this important? We have greater access to technology that allows us to pick apart media and put it back together again in new and different and hilarious and very exciting ways. This means we can talk back, make fun of and critique the media using their own language.

What remix means for pop culture and Hollywood.

I’d be a fan of a lot more stuff if I didn’t have to constantly compromise my politics to be entertained. With remix, we can reedit tired narratives into more subversive ones or pay homage to the awesome narratives that do exist. We’re remixing to show, rather than just tell, what we want to see in pop culture and Hollywood. When we see work that represents our values and principles, it deepens our sense community, closing the gap between  critic and fan.

What remix means for feminism.

Remix and feminism go hand in hand. For young women and girls, it’s a way to take back our identities from corporate commodification and the use of appropriation in the remix process allows for images of woman and femininity to be rearticulated and redefined by the author. As a result, women become authors, resignifying the practices, discourses, and institutions on which oppression is based in real time.

What remix means for copyright.

Part of the fun of remix is that it allows us to use our collective Fair Use rights. Fair Use is the portion of copyright law constantly under threat by corporate content creators like Warner Brothers and MGM. They don’t want us to have access to their content because it threatens a system of licensing fees that are a significant source of income. I’ve been told that copyright holders see fair use as a tax on their bottom line but I can’t confirm every copyright holder feels this way. Fortunately, we can reuse copyright content without permission for purposes of comment, critique, homage and media literacy education.

“Mashups, remixes, subs, and online parodies are new and refreshing online phenomena, but they partake of an ancient tradition: the recycling of old culture to make new. In spite of our romantic cliches about the anguished lone creator, the entire history of cultural production from Aeschylus through Shakespeare to Clueless has shown that all creators stand, as Isaac Newton (and so many others) put it, “on the shoulders of giants.”

In fact, the cultural value of copying is so well established that it is written into the social bargain at the heart of copyright law. The bargain is this: we as a society give limited property rights to creators, to reward them for producing culture; at the same time, we give other creators the chance to use that same copyrighted material without permission or payment, in some circumstances. Without the second half of the bargain, we could all lose important new cultural work just because one person is arbitrary or greedy.” – Best Practices in Fair Use

What remix means for activism.

Remix allows us to dismantle and  jam precious brand identities that companies spend millions on in an effort to convince us that buying their product will make us happier, slimmer, prettier, richer, etc. It allows us to see through advertising and put critical media literacy into practice.

What do you think remix is or isn’t? And how do you describe it to other people who ask?


35 thoughts on “What is a remix, exactly?

  1. DL says:

    This is a wonderful perusal, Elisa. I’ll definitely be passing it around to friends and my students as well. One tendency is to think of remix as a combination of two sources, but your work has often demonstrated that by recalibrating the content of a single source a great critique and alternative perspective can emerge. Under your influence, I had a fun time remixing just the ‘Bucket List’ into a different take on the film:

    • True, a combination of 2 – or infinite – sources also works. As with most creative pursuites, it comes down to what you want to say. That’ll determine the number and the type of source. I’ll take a look at your new remix, thanks, DL!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for apprising the masses on your opinions about this topic.
    My question: why are you stating a limit of two sources?
    Isn’t the human brain capable of absorbing more?

    • That’s true, it certainly can be more than two sources. For example, I started out remixing with multiple sources, then paired down to just one source.
      The goal of this post was to explain what a remix was in simple terms. Theoretically, and in another post, one could argue that everything is a remix. Oh wait. Some guy already did that.

  3. I sometimes wonder how the hell I became remix artist, and then just instinctively know that there isn’t anything else for me to be. You follow where the work goes. Since birth, we’ve been inundated with all forms of media and pop culture – it’s inevitable that expression reflects it’s environment. Remixing video is the most efficient, and most powerful medium I have to articulate how my brain works.

    W&S is doing a panel at the Combine in Bloomington, IN on this exact topic, tentatively titled, “Video Bullets & Media Triage”. We’ll try to video it.

    • “Remixing video is the most efficient, and most powerful medium I have to articulate how my brain works.”

      Wiser comments rarely posted.

      Good luck @ Combine. Much love to W & S. Please do try to video & pass it along.

  4. Mikhail Koulikov says:

    Remix works best when the source materials are totally different from each other, like Romantic Comedies vs. Biblical Dramas, or when they comment on or critique the other.

    That’s nice, but it’s important to remember that remix does not have to be subversive or critical (in the sense of both criticism and critique). Just because a remix work does not have an obvious goal other than pure entertainment, a pure demonstration of the remixer’s technical skills, or a pure promotion of the source materials does not make it any less important.

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  13. Eric Cooper says:

    Remixing is a genius idea. It’s a way of coming up with a morale or point and entertaining someone to keep their attention while teaching them. I’ve seen this on the john Stewart show and Colbert report but in the form of words. I thought the remix of the twilight was genius.

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