“I liked the original better.” Even before we were throwing on beanies and listening to Radiohead records (you know, before they were cool) at the free trade coffee shop, we have been protohipsters. “The book was soooo much better than the movie.” While in most cases that tends to be true, you can’t tell me honestly that Upton Sinclair’s Oil! is better than There Will Be Blood, probably because this is the first time you’ve heard about Upton Sinclair since you took U.S. History in 11th grade. Humans generally fear change, but Generation Y has adopted a remix culture. We embrace sharing and that has led to some awesome creations that are far better than the originals.
You may know that as the remix to Ignition, but to most of the 2000’s kids, it’s the greatest song of all time.
Sharing is Caring
At some point in the early childhood of seemingly every twenty-something, we were told to share. Well this message definitely resonated with us, and our culture relies on it. This generation takes creative liberty when we choose; for better or for worse. This remixing creates a paradox within the culture. On one hand, the Internet absolutely revolts when the rights of Internet privacy are perceived to be threatened. But at the same time the Internet users simply don’t give a single thought to copyright laws, and use content without paying or asking permission. This cavalier attitude towards the law leads to Internet users rather asking for forgiveness as opposed to asking for permission. Some users have faced civil and even legal repercussions for violating copyrights.
These suits have caused backlash to form against copyright laws. There are arguments being made that the copyright laws are no longer useful, and that in fact, the laws have begun to stifle what at first they were designed to protect. Credence is given to this argument when looking at the history of the remix.
The origins of the remix goes way back. Way farther back than one would think. The original remixers were none other than the Romans, who were remixing culture since 200 B.C.E. The Roman Empire was renowned for taking aspects of conquered cultures, and mixing and perfecting those aspects within Rome. For example, Roman architecture is heavily borrowed from the Greeks. After conquering the Greeks, the Romans adopted their engineering from them. Examples are easily seen in the architectural style. But even further, the Romans modified and improved the Greek designs. An example of these Roman improvements are the aqueducts. The aqueducts have stood the test of time and serve as testaments to the Romans’ “remix” of Greek engineering.
After the fall of Rome, the Western world went through a dark period, but this period was ended by the Renaissance; when the Europeans idolized and harkened back to the days of the original remixers themselves, the Romans. Rome was viewed as a Golden Age in the Renaissance, and the art and advancements of the time were largely based off of what the Romans had already discovered. An example of this lies in the art of Michelangelo.
In this we see that Michelangelo, considered to be one of—if not—the greatest artist of all time had clear influence from the statues that had populated Rome for centuries. What Michelangelo had done was improve on the old Roman design. This was a microcosm of what the Renaissance was. A fascination with old ideas, and using those ideas as jumping off points for advancement—and it worked, for the Renaissance was the time of greatest cultural growth that Europe had seen since Rome.
The Remixing of the Roman Empire expanded far further than just the Renaissance. Across 3,000 miles of ocean, the ideas of the Romans were altered and put into practice. When forging the United States Constitution, the founding fathers looked no further than the Calvin Harris of cultures, Rome. Thus, the U.S. adopted many Roman principles in the government and legal system. The idolization of Rome was so complete by early Americans, that George Washington was often depicted as the “American Cincinnatus,” and one of the first true fields of American art depicted Roman architecture as the ideal. (Picture of Thomas Cole’s Consummation of the Empire and The Architect’s dream).
That being said, as products of a country that was essentially a remix of previous systems of government, it is no surprise that we look to improve upon what has already been put in front of us.
Remix culture has come to a significant crossroads. There are both positives and negatives with a pretty significant gray area to the remix. In essence, the argument is about protecting the rights of those who created the original work, and protecting the creativity that drives change and innovation. While there is definitely an argument that no content is absolutely original, and that the rights go to who gets to the copyright office first, there deserves to be some protection for the creators of the content. Let’s take the classic Broadway show, and best picture film adaptation of West Side Story. It is evident that West Side Story is a spin on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—but does this mean that no credit should be given to Arthur Laurents for writing it? Of course not. What Laurents did was take an old concept and put some fresh new clothes on it…adapting a timeless story to the contemporary time. In this way, Laurents did create original content. Copyrights help ensure that Laurents and his estate will get rewarded for the contribution that he made; however, the copyright dissuades the next generation from trying to do what Laurents did—that is taking the older content and improving it for a new audience.
Over the past quarter-century, the American educational system has come under fire. The main argument against the American educational system is that it doesn’t foster the students’ creativity as it did in the past. Instead, while we move towards systems of rigid standardized testing, the developing world moves towards systems that we once used. While the school system is apparently failing the students, we have laws that would stifle the creativity of those trying to exercise their artistic muscle on their own grounds. So despite the fact that a person could create a mash-up, or remix a song into something much better than the original—there is incentive not to for fear of being sued. Even if monetary gain was never part of the plan. The question of copyright vs creativity will heat up in the near future, and no clear end will likely be reached. I just know that I don’t want to live in a world where this can’t be created.