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Mashup Cultures

Mashup Cultures

by Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, Editor
Springer, 2010
256 pp. illus. 41 b/w. Paper, £26.99 UK
ISBN: 978-3-7091-0095-0.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


This collection of essays is a celebration of global, peer-to-peer participation in social media, which is certainly impacting culture and education, in its span of concerns from the classroom to the world. Mizuko Ito discusses post-Pokemon media for children in Japan, where there is a convergence of old and new media forms that encourage hyper-social participation, even a degree of authoring, through personalization and remix. The arenas that allow this most thoroughly are Yugioh and Hamtaro. Yugioh is a consumers' constellation of serialized manga, card and video games, movies, and miscellaneous chara (cartoon character) merchandise. One survey in 2000 found that EVERY Japanese student in the third grade owned Yugioh cards. Each child regularly purchased five cards—cost, about a dollar—and there exists a robust collectors' market for single cards outside of the five-packs. The culture of tournaments and new releases is covered in Shonen Jump Weekly, where the comic also appeared. Hamtaro is a similar arena, but catering to girls, featuring a little girl character's pet hamster. The hamster stories have spawned book, an animated film in 2000 and over 50 hamster games. Some games determine which pet is the right one for your friends, or matches couples much as would a horoscope, has contests for drawing the various chara (or the Pokemon characters). Hamtaro has also spawned an active amateur comics scene.

In Christina Schwalbe's essay "Change of Media, Change of Scholarship, Change of University" begins with a concept of Regis Debray, who so memorably divided the political planet into three worlds a generation ago during the cold war. More recently Debray has defined three mediospheres: the logosphere of words, the graphosphere of graphics, the videosphere of television. To that Schwalbe adds a now evolving digital mediosphere, containing the increasingly mashed-up scholarly research, publication, discussion, disputation, and function of academic disserations. To this she adds further comments on the European university and its evolution.

Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, the program director of a "Learning Intensive Society". His wide-ranging essay weaves together crowdsourcing, GPS child-tracking, social networking, bookmarking of blogs, RSS feeds, redefining new media literacy in the public and the amateur media artist. He cites the movie RIP as one digest of the issues. Ours is an era of culture hacking and civil engagement, from the culture jamming trivial flash mobs to the Pirate Party in Sweden and Germany, and looks to the philosopher Slovoj Zizek on complicity. Elsewhere, Wey-Han Tan condemns disruptive un-usability in some educational games, which devalues the game to zero once you don't want to play it again. Transmediacy in Japan is praised as giving a unifying experience to gameplay. The end result is a metagaming: awareness, sharing, hacking.

In "A Classroom 2.0 Experiment", Noora Sopula and Joni Leimu employ an interactive wall projection system, 3D scanner, video project of online participation. Technology allows the ancient tradition of the campfire storyteller to expand into virtual reality and (eventual, they predict) telepathy. Brenda Castro presents a Virtual Art Garden, online GUI collaboration produced as a learning community for study of historical images as "plants", paintings viewed for scholarly understanding between the digital foliage. Adobe Breeze, the virtual world Second Life, the data glove and light pen all figured in various experiments in an ubiquitous computing model enhancing and enlivening the classroom. In other chapters, Tere Vaden of Wikiworlds personal Finnish University is interviewed by Juha Varto, and David Gauntlett shares answers he solicited on Web 2.0 issues, finding its origins in 1980s bulletin boards.

Gauntlett notes an ongoing evolution of media manipulation into a hobby not a job. In one of the most theoretical of the essays here focused on transformations in the arts, Eduardo Navas' taxonomy of mashups breaks into discreet genera. The first is that of Regressive mashups, said to occur after two or more previously released songs are mashed. Frederick Jameson, J.-F. Lyotard and Theodor Adorno's theory of regression are all mustered in support, and the Macintosh graphic user interface introduced as mashup of a desktop metaphor. Reflexive mashup, such as a news feed, regulate constant change with respect to the work's remix history. Examples of this kind are Jamaican dub mixes, or disco remixes for longer stretches of nonstop dancing, that add and subtract audio elements. The Reflexive remix both require and showcases the track's history. Finally, Regenerative remixes are ahistorical updates that change the initial musical or audio data itself. But the mashup historian's question is: do Regenerative remixes mark an end to critical distance, in a youth culture where ahistoricity is the norm?

Doris Gassert brings up Fight Club (1999) content and form, questioning the aesthetics of narrative in its process to digital form. Torsten Meyer contemplates writers block and its solution when posed with the enormity of the world. The writer contrasts the art exhibition Documenta 11, which was multi-site, disorganized, not user-friendly, with friendlier books, citations, and cyberhistory (an examination of CERN and its role in creation of the World Wide Web). Meyer years for some organizing principle, like Brunelleschi's perspective, productively imposed upon the architecture of his Florentine Baptistry.

Axel Bruns calls the act of remixing mashups "produsage", a term which appropriately reads like sausage. A process dating back to 1920s Dada collages, it now flourishes in Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube and Wikileaks. It is encouraged under the Creative Commons standard, where media is considered open source, unfinish and continuous, common property, probably giving the originator more intellectual rewards and citation than financial ones. Guitarist Robert Fripp said the pop music industry is "founded on exploitation, oiled by deceipt, riven with theft and fueled by greed". Note that the online newsletter Rock & Rap Confidential often headlines articles under the category Who Needs the Record Industry?

Some mashup models call to mind the Museum of Jurassic Technology in California, a site of fiction that helps one to understand a greater truth about our understanding of science. Henry Jenkins - long interested in established and emerging artists' contexts - documents the Macarthur Foundation-funded Project New Media teacher's guide, and the use of Ricardo Pitts-Wiley's "Moby Dick: Then and Now" at Rhode Island Correctional facility. This remix might be compared to DJ Spooky's "Birth of a Nation" remix (or this reviewer's own 1990 "Hucklefine" Macintosh Hypercard reworking of Huckleberry Finn). Pitts-Wiley collaborated with young men in prison, who chose this classic to update because they were in agreement that the book was "All about the money!" Residents in the facility contributed metaphors of the color white, where the drug industry serves as whaling, Elijah sees the attack on New York on 9/11, and Ishmael is a Navy Seal with a dishonorable discharge for his drug habit. Jenkins laments that schools ignore other versions of a work in pop media of the classics, such as the myriad movie versions (which are watched intently in English literature classes in other nations, like Japan). One solution was that discovered by Tim Rollins and K.O.S., (Kids of Survival)in the 1980s, a struggling high school literature teacher and his students who painted upon the pages of a text. Melville's Moby Dick itself is often cited as a mashup, for its a raft of digressions, but what about the last two great whales of novels by James Joyce? Jenkins asserts that we all have the right - or obligation! - to revise, retell, remix the classics. A remix is then good if, rather than superficial or arbitrary, the new, ensuing work is aesthetic, meaningful and generative.

Last Updated 1 December 2010

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