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Fan Remix, Appropriation, and Reproducibility
by Jason Lipshin `

Self-described by the filmmaker as a "multifandom metavid," this remix deals quite explicitly with the plight of fan creativity in relation to recent firestorms over fair-use and copyright. In beginning to tackle these issues, the video thus also begins to update many ideas from Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility,” for the digital age by explicitly tying the ability of everyday people to easily reproduce, appropriate, and manipulate images to a more democratic conception of art.


As with so many fan-produced works online, this video appropriates a popular song, Regina Spektor’s “Us,” in order to recontextualize the meaning of its remixed images under a new unity. However, while many fan appropriations tend to use music merely as a way to heighten emotional intensity, Spektor’s lyrics in this video seem to be given as much prominence as the images in commenting on the conditions of the video’s own production. For instance, the refrain “it’s contagious” could be taken to refer to the viral nature of Web 2.0 participation; the line about “living in a den of thieves” played over the image of Jack Sparrow is obviously a reference to the pejorative labeling of fan remixers as pirates; and the line “tourists come to stare at us” could be taken as a jab at academics who take an ‘anthropological’ approach to studying fans as specimens (although the way the filmmaker inserts an image of Henry Jenkins at this point may be a little harsh, as he is a self-confessed Aca-Fan.) Additionally, the video’s inclusion of many pop cultural texts commonly appropriated by fans (including Star Trek, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The X Files, etc.) serves to situate the video within larger, community practices of fan creativity, while at the same time demonstrating the artistry that that can be produced when “any well-defined part of any finished cultural object can automatically become a building block for new objects” (Manovich).

 

This transition to a period of infinite modularity and remixability that Lev Manovich attributes to the rise of consumer-grade, desktop tools for media production and manipulation is demonstrated most eloquently in the section of the video in which the Mona Lisa is shown being “copied and pasted.” Given that there is an almost identical sequence of the painting being reproduced in the first section of John Berger’s BBC television series Ways of Seeing, which in turn, was itself an explicit appropriation of many ideas from Benjamin’s essay, here we have another remediation of Benjamin, but this time for the age of digital reproduction. Thus, although Benjamin based film’s democratizing, aura-destroying quality in its theoretical ability to be infinitely reproduced (Benjamin), as Holly Willis points out in her book New Digital Cinema, in practice, analog film (and video) degraded with each reproduction, limiting the number of prints that could be made. Editing, recombining, and compositing found footage (although practiced by a few key players in the independent, moving image art scene) was likewise an expensive and cumbersome process with limited viability for the general public (Willis 5-7). Hence, in this short segment in “Us,” we have this image of the Mona Lisa being reproduced literally juxtaposed with images of revolution (from V for Vendetta). Although such remixing practices in film and video had existed for many years (and indeed, have existed for thousands of years in other media), the wide availability of digital video and tools for “desktop production” and manipulation have led to a boon in collaborative creativity and grassroots image production, contributing another step towards the realization of Benjamin’s utopian vision.   

 

Works Cited

 

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility.”

CTCS 505 Course Reading.

 

Berger, John. (1974). Ways of seeing [BBC Television Series]. Chicago: Film

Incorporated.

 

Manovich, Lev. “Remixing and Remixability.” CTCS 505 Course Reading.

 

Willis, Holly. New Digital Cinema: Reinventing the Moving Image. London:

Wallflower Press, 2005. Print.  

 

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Fan Remix, Appropriation, and Reproducibility by blimvisible (2007) Self-described by the filmmaker as a "multifandom metavid," this remix deals quite explicitly with the plight of fan creativity in relation to recent firestorms over fair-use and copyright.