TV, Movies, and Anonymous

| 10/23/2012 10:15:41 AM

 Photo by Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez 

If you’re the kind who ventures out on foot after dark, you’ve almost certainly noticed a hypnotic blue glow flashing inside windows throughout the neighborhood. And when you see people held captive by a box of moving light, you can’t help but think that humans seem complicit in their own capture—even if you’re no stranger to a great episode of Planet Earth or Arrested Development yourself. Does it matter whether they’re watching American Idol, Mad Men, or Real Housewives?

For decades, people have worried that television and movies would take away the public’s agency, the collective drive to do anything but work and buy things advertised on TV. It’s a justifiable fear. People do seem pretty entrenched in a lifestyle that revolves around working, eating, and watching TV.

Of course, there’s also a history of resistance to this prescribed lifestyle, and not just among academics. Ray Bradbury wrote his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, to caution against “the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news and the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids.” In 1967, Timothy Leary urged a gathering of 30,000 hippies to “turn on, tune in, drop out” (a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan). Such messages urged audiences to avoid a lifestyle of shallow entertainment and consumption in favor of unmediated experience and action toward positive change.

But money has a way of rendering its critics useless. Now the hippies’ peace sign is converted into profits at big box stores, where workers are underpaid and money is funneled to warmongering presidents. And the purchase of a tie-die rainbow dress from a popular bohemian concept shop might well further the career of a dogmatist politician. From hippie to hipster, attempts at cultural overhaul have been bought, sold, and used against those trying to change the system. What’s a rebel to do?

Some have attempted to fight fire with fire. While punks, hip-hop kids, and culture jammers didn’t invent the art of the remix, they popularized it. On the surface, remixing seems pretty innocent. Take a sample of culture—an instrumental hook, an image, or word from a magazine—cut, paste, and make it your own. Most memes (and their variants) do this for a laugh, but it can be seen as an act of defiance. Those who remix refuse to passively consume. They insist on answering the nebulous assertions of mass media, however small their voices may be. It’s a fine line, though, between remix and copyright infringement.

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