March 13, 2009

Mashup culture and social media


JD LasicaJust left the final session of Remix/Mashup 2009: The Future of Creative Production and Ownership at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, which explored the implications of mashup and remix in the world of Web 2.0. They reached out to me last fall and I couldn’t resist flying out — this was the first conference I’ve come across devoted to the video mashup, a media form that straddles art, politics and entertainment.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys and law students in the audience to dissect the proceedings, but here are a few high points:

• I was deeply impressed by the keynote presentation by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, a multimedia artist, filmmaker and writer (“Sound Unbound”). Above is a photo I shot of him. (Feel free to remix; it’s under a Creative Commons license.) Some snippets from his keynote: “Artists no longer work in the bubble of a recording studio. The studio is the network.” … “The 20th century was the era of mass production. The 21st century is the era of mass customization,” with collective memories now dispersed and giving way to singular experiences culled from cultural motifs while plugged into an always-on ubiquitous network that lets us transform any media in digital form to our liking.

Miller channeled the Greek philosopher Heroclites, who said, “One can never step into the same river twice.” It’s a point he returned to several times: The traditional notions of a finished object — Picasso’s Guernica, fixed and essentially unchanged for decades — is giving way to digital media and art marked by “an infinite array of seletions” and “the culture of the copy — the idea of a copy that generates other copies rather than a linear medium with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Current copyright law is out of syn with today’s culture of people appropriating “open source media,” Miller said (a point I also made in my book Darknet). Not long ago Miller brought a sound studio to Antarctica during a 4-week stay to record a sonic soundscape at the bottom of the world. Antarctica is the perfect place to promote “open source environmental issues,” he said, “because nobody owns it.”

• Another talented remix artist, Jonathan McIntosh, deserves wider recognition for his video commentary. You’ll find his remixes and writings at Rebelliouspixels and Political Remix Video.

• Here’s a mashup called the Dark Bailout. You can see the possibilities of the form — and the tension with intellectual property law.

• I sat next to Ben Relles, the creator of, whose Obama Girl videos have had more than 100 million views. Obama Girl, alas, was nowhere to be seen.

• Mindy Faber, a filmmaker and director of Open Youth Networks, said she’s observed a chilling effect in film studies classes where educators are reluctant even to put together a video montage of Hitchcock films for fear of running afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against DVD decryption. “Everybody’s scared of this stuff. Teachers say, we’re not venturing into this area. So the result is that kids are doing it outside of school and the classroom is becoming irrelevant in some important ways.”

• Faber made the best point of the day when she observed that impact does not equal page views. “Having a local community screening where 200 people come out to hear a talk or see a presentation is way more impactful than a video with 2 million views on YouTube. The most important metric is: Does it cause any change?”

• And I talked about the progression of mashups over the past four years to where it has now become an accepted form of cultural commentary. In some ways it’s the ultimate expression of social media, wholly dependent on others works to build upon. Social media have played a central role in popularizing the mashup form, not only on YouTube (which, despite all the good it has done to support democratic media, should not be the only video hosting site we look to) but in Facebook, Twitter and the new attention streams that the digital generation are using to filter their media.

JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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One thought on “Mashup culture and social media

  1. Interesting. Though I'm not following the thinking on stepping into the same river twice. I always took that to mean the river is a metaphor for life that keeps moving, creating new experiences, and that you can't go back and relive an experience and expect it to be as it was before.