While exploring the latest things my spiders have uncovered - often an interesting journey through the collective cosnsciousness - I found my way to a collection of inspired mashups. These artists have taken songs with a cultural resonance, and mixed them with video from another genre entirely to create something new and striking, but that partakes of both.
OK, that sounds pompous, especially when I'm talking about Star Trek characters acting the Camelot song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (also seen in a lower quality YouTube version), but there is a deeper point here. In Lessig's Free Culture, Chapter 8 Transformers, he writes:
In February 2003, DreamWorks studios announced an agreement with Mike Myers, the comic genius of /Saturday Night Live/ and Austin Powers. According to the announcement, Myers and DreamWorks would work together to form a "unique filmmaking pact." Under the agreement, DreamWorks "will acquire the rights to existing motion picture hits and classics, write new storylines and--with the use of state-of-the-art digital technology--insert Myers and other actors into the film, thereby creating an entirely new piece of entertainment." The announcement called this "film sampling." As Myers explained, "Film Sampling is an exciting way to put an original spin on existing films and allow audiences to see old movies in a new light. Rap artists have been doing this for years with music and now we are able to take that same concept and apply it to film." Steven Spielberg is quoted as saying, "If anyone can create a way to bring old films to new audiences, it is Mike." Spielberg is right. Film sampling by Myers will be brilliant. But if you don't think about it, you might miss the truly astonishing point about this announcement. As the vast majority of our film heritage remains under copyright, the real meaning of the DreamWorks announcement is just this: It is Mike Myers and only Mike Myers who is free to sample. Any general freedom to build upon the film archive of our culture, a freedom in other contexts presumed for us all, is now a privilege reserved for the funny and famous--and presumably rich. This privilege becomes reserved for two sorts of reasons. The first continues the story of the last chapter: the vagueness of "fair use." Much of "sampling" should be considered "fair use." But few would rely upon so weak a doctrine to create. That leads to the second reason that the privilege is reserved for the few: The costs of negotiating the legal rights for the creative reuse of content are astronomically high. These costs mirror the costs with fair use: You either pay a lawyer to defend your fair use rights or pay a lawyer to track down permissions so you don't have to rely upon fair use rights. Either way, the creative process is a process of paying lawyers--again a privilege, or perhaps a curse, reserved for the few.
After all, what is the impact of these amateur (in the true sense of lovingly made) remixes? I want to share them with people. I showed it to Andrew, and realised that though he knows Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he hasn't seen the original Star Trek, so guess what's on my Netflix list now.
I hope the Pythons and Paramount (or whoever owns Star Trek these days), are smart enough to turn a blind eye to this kind of cherishing of cultural icons.
I just finished reading Don Quixote. Not only was it a moving and subtle work, but I was amazed at the playfulness with unreliable narrators, and the way the characters meet people who've read the first book in the second one. Cervantes, 400 years ago, played the kind of games with storytelling that Charlie Kaufman does now. Our culture is truly built on interlocking references to itself, and we need ot encourage them.