You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Remix Culture: Remix as Commentary

In discussing commentary, I’ve focused mostly on blog comments and tweets thus far. These are the most obvious, and perhaps the most common, forms that commentary takes online. But there are a lot of other online activities that could be considered commentary as well. Videos, for one. Photoshopped pieces, for another. Tags, reviews, and “likes” or “diggs” for a few more. I’ll address all these in turn, but for now would like to focus on multimedia works as instances of “remix culture,” which allows people to take what’s already been done/said/thought and add their own perspective. That’s pretty much the definition of commentary.

To me, commentary at its best should be about remix: creating your own spin on an issue. It shouldn’t merely be evaluative, agreeing with or critiquing the original content, though that’s certainly valid. It shouldn’t just add new information, although that can be helpful. What it should do is take the conversation a step further, “remixing” the original idea with new ideas, and in so doing creating a new perspective that owes a debt to what it was remixed from.

Who gets paid for a remix–the remixer, or the originators of the remixed content, or both? It’s a fine line to walk. Take these music video that quite literally “remix” parts of faces to create fascinating new content. Does everyone who appears in the video deserve to get paid for it? Should they be paid each time the video’s played? What’s the ideal economic structure for collage of this nature?

Maybe there is none. Maybe the point should be to play, to remix, to create: to comment. The role of the “publishing” industry in the future, perhaps, will not be to copyright that content but to supply the channels that make it possible. It’s getting harder and harder to copyright content. The mode in which it’s created may not necessarily be copyrightable but it can, perhaps, be owned.

In Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Lawrence Lessig writes of “the freedom to quote.” When does quoting become “using”? Isn’t a quote a form of usage? So why, he asks, is excerpting a paragraph from a written work in making an argument about (also a “comment on”) that work less okay than using part of a music track to make a new one?

Remix is commentary. Commentary is creativity. It shouldn’t be falsely limited or discouraged.

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