My first Comic Life project…definitely rough around the edges, but I hope it conveys my message about the importance of play in education. Enjoy!
What Is Remix Culture?
Remix Culture is the term given to a society that allows, and values, the combining of existing works into new forms. This is brought on by a lack of faith in traditional copyright law, as well as the breaking down of barriers between disciplines and eras. Although no society can be said to have truly embraced remix culture, many germs of this idea can be found throughout all societies. From the re-purposing of fables, to the emergence of ‘mashups’ in modern music, remix culture is a new term given to a very well-worn social and artistic technique.
The Inevitability of the Remix
As noted above, the remix is by no means a modern cultural phenomenon. Humans have been updating even the most sacrosanct of cultural artifacts for thousands of years. Hamlet has been fitted to every age and culture on Earth. The Coen Brothers remixed Homer’s Odyssey when they created “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Many musical artists have found their voices through the remix, like Girl Talk and DJ Danger Mouse. Social and political awareness have long been integral to remix culture, such as when Donald Duck shorts were partially overdubbed with excerpts of Glenn Beck’s radio show. This provided an unconventional commentary on Beck, and gives a snapshot of the importance of the remix.
Many in the various entertainment industries (music, film, theatre, and so on) view the remix as illegal and illegitimate. This is technically true, as copyright law in most countries does not allow for unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted material, for any purpose. Most remixed productions stand unchallenged – in many cases, as a direct result of certain caveats within those laws. Work that is undertaken strictly for artistic purposes (meaning, little or no financial gain) is from laws that have targeted other remix artists. Even in many of these cases, however, the remix has been seen as a threat to copyright and has been pulled off of various platforms – most prominently, YouTube. 
The Future of Remix
Remix, as noted above, is a word given recently to a very old phenomenon. Songwriters, particularly in the American folk tradition, have been taking (some argue stealing) melodies and basic harmony from each other for many years. Bob Dylan is estimated to have lifted two thirds of his early material from singers and songwriters within American music. The debate about originality and homage within art is contentious, with some contending that Bob Dylan (among many others) has essentially built his entire career on a fraud. Kirby Ferguson, on the other hand, has argued that all creative endeavour – whether or not the creator is willing to admit it – is a remix. The debate will continue to rage, at least until copyright law has been updated to deal with the burgeoning remix culture, but the impact of this idea cannot be understated or ignored. 
- Murray, B. March 22, 2015. “Remixing Culture and Why the Art of the Mashup Matters” https://techcrunch.com/2015/03/22/from-artistic-to-technological-mash-up/
- Rostama, G. “Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma” http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2015/03/article_0006.html
- Popova, M. “How Remix Culture Fuels Creativity and Invention” https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/14/kirby-ferguson-ted/
Part 1: “Whereas traditional literacy curriculum was taught to a singular standard (grammar, the literary canon, standard national forms of the language), the everyday experience of meaning making was increasingly one of negotiating discourse differences. A pedagogy of multiliteracies would need to address this as a fundamental aspect of contemporary teaching and learning” (Cope & Kalantzis, p. 166).
This quote expresses the key idea of multiliteracies; namely, that modern curriculum ought to reflect the whole range of literacy types. This means incorporating the many different modes of expression within a language, often at the same time. Video can be combined with text, and with sound, and so on. Within a single language, we must be mindful of the many different forms that language takes – acknowledging non-standard forms, incorporating slang, and so on. It also means disrupting curricular norms (like the literary canon) across disciplines, with a concerted effort to include the voices of marginalized groups.
Part 2: On the question of “why multiliteracies?” there are competing viewpoints across the political spectrum. Cole & Kalantzis offer the idea that there are two main sets of values around multiliteracy. On the ‘left,’ this is an emphasis on using multiliteracies to create social justice. This means addressing systemic inequalities through multiple ways of knowing, and using different modalities in that process. On the ‘right,’ multiliteracy has been interpreted as a pathway to equity, as opposed to equality. This conception of multiliteracy sees education less as an equalizer, and more of a ‘revealer.’ If people are willing to work hard, and are also endowed with talents and intelligences, public education will help them succeed. If not, that’s their problem. There are, of course, many differences of opinion within each ‘big tent’; regardless, these viewpoints offer a rough summary of the different ‘whys’ of multiliteracies.
So what, exactly, is multiliteracy? In the old social order, literacy was viewed as a more or less static process – a valuing of knowledge transmission and reproduction over creation and critique. Multiliteracies allow for more stakeholders to get their ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak. Instead of restricting knowledge to textual (and occasionally visual) forms, it can now take many different forms. From wikis and blogs, to indie filmmaking, to music released outside of major labels, there is more content, by more creators, than ever before. These new (or perhaps more accurately, newly valued) media forms allow for many different kinds of people to have their stories heard. Perhaps, in even small ways, this leads us to a more emancipatory future (Cole & Kalantzis, p. 175).
‘Multiliteracy’ gives a name and theoretical backdrop to a phenomenon that, at least for my generation, is as natural as breathing. From open-world video games that allow you to create your own story (within technical limits), to crowdsourced films and indie music, the Internet has facilitated a tectonic shift in the media landscape. There’s no way of knowing where these trends will take us, and danger of co-option is ever-present. Despite their potential, multiliteracies have not offered a serious challenge to global capitalism – quite the contrary, as the neo-liberal age has been marked by a ‘downloading’ of expectations (healthcare, education, transit) onto private citizens, obliterating the idea of a commons. Our different ways of knowing, however, offer us pathways toward freedom.