This week I’d like to share a short, four-part documentary on remix culture that I recently watched (for free) over on the ‘Everything is a Remix’ website. Not only is it brief, well-researched, entertaining, and well-edited, it also offers an excellent introduction to my own research, which focuses specifically on how studying remix culture changes the way we look at the things (art, history, and identity) it appropriates. Each video is about nine minutes long, with five minutes of documentary, two minutes of bonus material, and a two-minute message from the creator, Kirby Ferguson.
The first episode, which premiered back in September 2010, introduces the concept of a remix, using the traditional examples from the music industry – specifically hip-hop, as well as William Burroughs and Led Zeppelin.
Part 1: The Song Remains the Same
The second episode addresses the movie industry’s obsession with sequels, remakes, and franchises. It also uses the examples of Star Wars and Kill Bill to show how even (or perhaps especially) the most iconic cinema is heavily indebted to previous work.
Part 2: Remix Inc.
Episode three of ‘Everything is a Remix’ talks about the various elements of creativity (‘copy, transform, combine’), including the ‘myth’ of genius and original creation. It argues that ‘we can’t introduce anything new until we’re fluent in the language of our domain’. To make this point it utilises examples from American industry, featuring the iconic figures of Thomas Edison (the lightbulb), Henry Ford (the commercial automobile), and Steve Jobs (Apple computers).
Part 3: The Elements of Creativity
Who owns ideas? The fourth and final episode of ‘Everything is a Remix’ went up in February 2012, and mainly focuses on this question. It also addresses some of the challenges currently facing remix culture: namely sample trolls, patent trolls, and international trade agreements. Ultimately, it argues (powerfully if rather dramatically) that the evolution of our culture – and of our species – demands the ability to copy, transform, and combine, right down to the genetic level.
Part 4: System Failure
In addition to this four-part documentary, on the website you can find some additional case studies, shorts, and special presentations, as well as the first episode of ‘This is Not a Conspiracy Theory’, Ferguson’s newest serial documentary project.
My only real gripe about ‘Everything is a Remix’ is that it’s really just too short, even for an introduction. I would have liked to see Ferguson’s arguments unpacked and defended in more case studies, and also using examples from outside the Western world. Naturally, my wish for something a bit longer and weightier could also just be a sign that I’m getting old. Either way, this series is an engaging and very constructive way to spend 20-40 minutes of your day, and I highly recommend it.