Remix culture defines the type of creative content we see in digital spaces today. From viral videos to music mash-ups and from news story voice-overs to memes, the remix culture we live in is increasingly harder to condemn. This height of remix culture that we see today, however, is not new.
Henry Ford once said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work…progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.”
Take for example, one of the fan tributes from the video above. Before YouTube created a platform for easy video sharing, it would have been extremely difficult, or nearly impossible, to create this piece of fan art to celebrate a beloved musician. Today, however, we see this all over YouTube but we also see them get shut down for copyright infringement quite a bit. Due to the copyright laws that are currently in place, we are limiting the creative potential for new artists, musicians, entertainers, and the like.
In his TEDTalk, Lawrence Lessig explains how Walt Disney, a cultural icon, built his characters and stories off the ideas of others and in his own way celebrated the idea of a remix culture.
In order to promote a creative society, it is essential that we open up these copyright limitations, not to ignore the original creator but to attribute the work to them properly as well as gain the ability to build upon the original in new and inventive ways. Lessig explains this best when discussing the goal of Creative Commons:
“So that we go from a ‘all rights reserved’ world to a ‘some rights reserved’ world so that people can know the freedoms they have attached to the content, building and creating on the basis of this creative copyrighted work. These tools that we built enable this sharing in parts through licenses that make it clear and a freedom to create without requiring permission first because the permission has already been granted and a respect for the creator because it builds upon a copyright the creator has licensed freely.”
Creative Commons is an excellent way for the original creator to have proper credit while also allowing for new creators to come in, build upon, change, and remix the original without having to explicitly request permission.
Now that we understand a bit about this remix culture and why it should be encouraged, let’s take a look at why people choose to participate in remix culture online, specifically through social media, and how these creations go viral.
There is a movement from a product-based economy to an experience-based economy. Where we once paid money to have music and movies and physical copies of artwork, we now take those products for granted. Everyone has access to these things whether it’s through streaming or downloading, there are a number of ways to have digital access to products that were once seen as special. Today what becomes special and unique is the experience. Concerts, festivals, flash mobs, and even groups like Improv Everywhere are “selling” an experience that people see online and then want to participate in.
Viral videos like the Harlem Shake, Nooma Nooma, and Gangnam Style were able to go viral because of their uniqueness and simplicity. People saw these videos as something new, different, simple to recreate, and a means of being able to participate in digital culture. While there are many explanations of the science behind these viral videos, the ability for remixing and recreating is an important factor that enables them to rise to popularity.
One YouTube channel, TheFineBros, has a series called Teens React that simply shows a group of teenagers’ reactions to content that has gone viral on the web. These reactions are genuine and are a playful way of examining why things such as Gangnam Style are able to grow rapidly in popularity.
In this Teens React video, it is clear that it is the “randomness” and visuals used in the video that made teens want to share the video online and with their friends.
Overall, the economy is currently in an in-between state where we want the freedom of creativity and remix culture to flourish especially in the digital world, but are still constrained by the traditional economy of dollars and cents that the physical world relies on for everyday activities.