Remix Literacies Project

I’ve been working a lot these days on 2 main things: 1) getting syllabi in order (for my professional writing class and for the FYC program’s online curriculum), and 2) getting my survey/interview project together for my remix literacies project. And after typing all kinds of stuff on it, I thought, “Wait, why not just post this language on the blog? That shows I’m not dead, and it’s actually pretty interesting.”

So, here are two bits of language from my main project site: the introduction text and the FAQ text.

Introduction

This site’s primary purpose is to house four surveys I’m conducting about the ways that fans creatively remix culture. I’ve picked four fan communities that I love (see main survey page to see which), chosen especially because I know that people there engage in some variety of fan remixing. Members of those communities are invited to respond to the surveys, and some will follow up the survey with an informal interview.

You can read more about why I’m doing this on my FAQ page, but the basic idea is this: I’m a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at the University of South Florida, and I’m a fan. I want to learn more about the opinions of people who participate in fan communities that i admire, so I decided to ask them about what they do. I’ll benefit by presenting this work at academic conferences and perhaps by publishing the results–but I’ll also benefit personally through the enjoyment that comes from respectfully participating in the cool things that people are doing in fandoms that I admire. And hopefully, the fans I talk to will feel that they will benefit as well: by having a space to explain their remixing to themselves and to the outside world.

To access the surveys, you can use the links in the left menu bar or head to the main survey page.

FAQ page

What do you mean by “Remix Literacies”?
Well, when we talk about literacy, we often mean “the ability to read and write words on a page.” If you are holding a magazine and I ask you to read an article but you are unable to do so, you could be called “illiterate.”

But a number of people apply the word literacy to other contexts as well. If I show you a visual advertisement and you’re unable to “read” and understand the different strategies that the advertisers used to try to grab your attention, we could say that you’re lacking in “visual literacy.” If politics confuses you and you don’t really have any idea how it works, you’re lacking “political literacy.” You can’t read what’s going on.

Remix literacy is a term that I and lots of other people made up (just try Googling it) to describe the ability to understand and create effective remixes. (Of course, “effective” varies depending on your setting, audience, and purpose.) People are creating amazing compositions all the time that grow out of found material; these people are extremely literate in the world of remixing one object into something new. I happen to think that fans are some of the best people at these remixing activities, since they are often so well versed in the worlds of their fandom. That’s why this project is called “Fan Culture” and remix literacies.

And literacies is plural to emphasize that there’s no single kind of remix literacy–everyone does it differently, using different kinds of material and creating different kinds of compositions. And I think that’s cool.

What do you mean by remix? Wouldn’t another word be better?
Yeah, I see your point. People are right when they point out that the specific activities that make up remixing a song are different than those when, say, covering a song or altering it in other ways. But I wanted a single catch-all term that in some way encompasses the wide variety of activities that I’m surveying people about. What I’m really interested in could be called “composing from found material,” as long as you think of “composing” in a really wide sense and “found” as a metaphor for “existing in some way before you got to it to do your own thing.” But remix is shorter, catchier, etc.

Who are you?

I’m Kyle Stedman, a PhD student in rhetoric composition, focusing especially on intellectual property, fan studies, digital rhetoric, and teaching writing. I’m findable on my blog, Twitter, Delicious, and Facebook, and I occasionally go by BasementWall (because I was staring at a basement wall trying to come up with a name). I’m a fan of (in order of most well-versed to least) Lost, Star Trek, Star Wars, the various Zelda games, and various video game soundtracks.

How can I contact you?
Email is best: kstedman [at] mail [dot] usf [dot] edu.

Why are you doing this?

The idea of surveying and interviewing fan remixers was germinated by an inspiring article in the online academic journal Kairos by Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss called “Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery.” Ridolfo and DeVoss describe the concept of a writer who knows that his or her work will be remixed in some way by someone else. Their example is a press release: the writer knows that journalists will take phrases and sentences from the press release and use them verbatim, mixed all around, added to and deleted from, in the eventual news story. I started to wonder how this applied to the creative work of fans, who “remix” ideas and images and sounds from their various fandoms all the time. What happens when fans create new work that they know other fans will take and remix again in a new way? What’s going on in these artists’ minds as they create?

Why don’t scholars stay out of my business?

I definitely recognize that scholars of fans have traditionally taken an us vs. them, anthropological role. (“Ooh, look over here and see what all the funny people are doing! How strange! I will now theorize about why they are so bizarre.”) But I also know that there’s a stellar tradition of scholars who are also fans stepping in to talk about themselves, represented most famously in Henry Jenkins‘ work, but also in the amazing collection Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet and in the work of the Organization for Transformative Works and its journal, Transformative Works and Cultures.

As much as possible, I’m trying to purposefully situate my work within the camp of the latter group by highlighting my own status as a fan and treating my survey respondents and interviewees as experts who are honoring me by sharing their perspectives with me, not as objects of my distant observation. In that, I’m trying to follow the position statement, “Fan Privacy and TWC’s Editorial Philosophy,” which describes its four “central ideas” as follows:

  • Fandom is getting mainstreamed, and there is no way to avoid that mainstreaming.
  • As fans, we prefer to control and possibly direct this mainstreaming, as well as the messages that circulate about us.
  • Academic work on fandom can be part of the explication and contextualization of fandom. In fact, that’s why the journal was created.
  • We think that fans can do a better job of writing academic works about fandom than nonfans can.

With that said, I admit that my role as fan could be seen as problematic by some, in that my fandom hasn’t led me to be an active participant in any of the communities from which I’m surveying and interviewing members. In other words, I listen to lots of music on OverClocked ReMix and I vote when streaming its music at Rainwave, but I don’t read the forums. Similarly, I love Zelda games and I’ve been working my way through one of the quests at Zelda Classic for a while now, but I don’t use the forums or create my own quests. I watch Lost rather more fanatically than anyone I know personally, but that only has led me to read lots of articles and blogs and occasionally update minor details on Lostpedia; I’ve never made a fan video. And I like a lot of the fic I’ve read, but I haven’t read much. (See my main survey page for links to all of these sites.)

So there’s a degree to which I could fall into the danger of becoming too academic and not fannish enough as I do this work. But at least I can say I’m aware of the dangers and am doing my best to keep my head above water.

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