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Remix, Reuse, Recombine Holding a Seminar on Mash-Up Culture
The Learning Network - Teaching and Learning With The New York Times
MARCH 25, 2010, 3:09 PM
Remix, Reuse, Recombine: Holding a Seminar on Mash-Up Culture
AMANDA CHRISTY BROWN
HOLLY EPSTEIN OJALVO
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Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.
See all in Media Studies »
See all lesson plans »
| How are the dynamics of the Web affecting how we read, think and create? What is a “mash-up,” and what does this trend mean for our culture? In this lesson, students reflect on the cultural changes being forged by digital media and prepare and participate in a Socratic seminar on the issues. They then create their own mash-ups and reflect upon what is lost and gained through “recombinant” or appropriation art.
| How do you address and incorporate contemporary culture, including digital media and mash-ups, into your teaching? How do you account for your students’ 21st-century habits, like multitasking and online searching?
Join the conversation.
| Computer with Internet access and projection equipment, copies of the image (see Warm-Up) and handouts.
| Display a copy of or project the image
and lead students through it. Elicit the names of the titles being spoofed, then discuss the following questions: Why is this cartoon funny? What cultural trend is Ward Sutton spoofing? What is a “mash-up”? (In a
2002 “On Language” column
, the late William Safire explained it as “a mixture of styles in a kind of creatively corrupt collage.”)
Next, as a class, look at one or more short video mash-ups, like the
that uses sound from “Avatar” over images from “Pocahontas,” or one of the others listed in the ArtsBeat post
“Mash-Up Culture: 10 to Watch”
. You might also listen to a famous audio mash-up, like
“Smells Like Booty”
(a combination of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and vocals by Destiny’s Child.)
Ask: Are these thoughtful reinventions with new purposes and messages? Do they succeed as works of art or entertainment in their own right? Do they make you see the originals in new, interesting ways? Or are they tired, recycled – even plagiarized – works? Might they simultaneously be both?
Then invite students to list all of the “mash-ups” of existing works, including reinventions (like
J. J. Abrams’s “Star Trek”
), they can think of across disciplines. Prompt them to think about film, music, visual and performing arts, literature, comic books, etc. Record responses on the board.
Ask: What do you think of
using somebody else’s ideas, words or images as fodder for art
? Is the resulting product “original”? Why or why not? Where is
the line between creation and plagiarism
? What, if anything, are the differences between a remake and a reinvention (including a mash-up)? Do you approach and see a reinvention differently from a purely original work, or do you not make any distinction between the two? How do these new works reflect our culture?
| In the article
“Texts Without Contexts,”
Michiko Kakutani discusses books that investigate the ways in which digital media are changing the way humans read, think and create, and meditates on the cultural consequences of these changes:
It’s not just a question of how these “content producers” are supposed to make a living or finance their endeavors, however, or why they ought to allow other people to pick apart their work and filch choice excerpts. Nor is it simply a question of experts and professionals being challenged by an increasingly democratized marketplace. It’s also a question, as Mr. Lanier, 49, astutely points out in his new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” of how online collectivism, social networking and popular software designs are changing the way people think and process information, a question of what becomes of originality and imagination in a world that prizes “metaness” and regards the mash-up as “more important than the sources who were mashed.” […]
These new books share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research. They examine the consequences of the fragmentation of data that the Web produces, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into bits and bytes; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our lives; and the emphasis that blogging and partisan political Web sites place on subjectivity.
Read the article with your class, using the questions below.
| For discussion and reading comprehension:
What does Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist, mean when he observes that the dynamics of the Web are leading “authors, journalists, musicians and artists” to “treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind”?
According to Mr. Lanier and others, in what ways is the Internet changing the way we read, write, seek and process information? What do you think of these observations?
How do the backgrounds of the writers who are examining Web-induced changes in thought and culture lend weight to their arguments?
What is “cyberbalkanization”? How could it be dangerous? What are the implications for the establishment of truth, “consensus and common ground”?
What is a “deconstructionist” approach to literary and other texts?
According to Neal Gabler, in what way is celebrity “the great new art form of the 21st century”? How does the article’s author, Michiko Kakutani, feel about this claim?
How does Ms. Kakutani assess the various remixes in the culture?
What does Mr. Lanier mean when he says “since the Web is killing old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock”?
RELATED RESOURCES From The Learning Network
Lesson: The Plot Thickens?
Lesson: Lyrics of Hazzard
Lesson: All Mixed Up
Idea of the Day Blog: The Context of Content
Magazine: Scan This Book!
Schott’s Vocab Blog: Literary Monster Mash-Up
Around the Web
Wall Street Journal: How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write
The Guardian: When Shakespeare Met Seuss
WBUR’s On Point: Literary Monster Mashup
| Tell students that today you are going to resist the cultural trend toward surface, disjointed treatments of texts by delving deeply into the ideas of this essay through a
Explain that a Socratic seminar is a method of discussion in which students work together to make meaning from a text by posing questions and building on one another’s ideas in a respectful way. The goal is to explore a difficult text, rather than come up with “right” answers about the questions posed. Instead of guiding the discussion, the teacher poses questions and explains the format and then gets out of the way. Students are responsible for the success of the discussion.
Give students the
(PDF) and ask them to spend some time thinking about and answering the questions in preparation for the seminar. (They might do this for homework, after reading the article, in preparation for holding the seminar on the following day.) It will serve as their “entrance ticket” to the discussion.
Choose one or two students to lead or moderate the discussion. Then, organize the seminar in one of two ways:
The class sits in one circle, and everybody contributes to the discussion. Best for small classes.
Two concentric circles:
Best for large classes. Divide the class into an inner and outer circle. The people in the inner circle actually hold the discussion, using the guidelines below.
The people in the outer circle take on observational tasks. They might focus on things like how many girls and boys talk, how many people pose questions (and whether they are merely rhetorical or generate discussion), what types of textual evidence are introduced, whether participants seem to be really listening to each other or merely waiting for the chance to jump in, whether the arguments are thoughtful and evidence-based or reactionary and feeling-based, which arguments seem most effective, whether anyone changes his or her mind and so on.
To ensure everyone gets a chance to voice their ideas, switch circles halfway through class or establish a “hot seat” in the inner circle that students can switch in and out of as they have ideas to contribute.
Establish the following guidelines for discussion:
No raising hands. Have an organic discussion – watch and listen for cues that indicate that others have something to say, and monitor how much time you spend on “the floor.”
Help everyone participate.
Listen and respond to one another’s ideas. Say things like “I agree with
and would add …” or “I have a question about something
Aim for quality, not just quantity, participation by offering textual and experiential evidence for your points, asking questions and moving the discussion forward.
Maintain a respectful, thoughtful tone.
Tell students you will evaluate the quantity and quality of their participation.
When the students are seated and ready for the seminar, point them to their handouts and suggest that someone initiate discussion by starting with one of the questions or issues they considered to be particularly compelling, interesting or thorny. Then let the discussion begin.
Afterward, discuss the nature of the seminar itself: What worked well? What didn’t work so well? Ask participants and observers to share their experiences. How did it feel to have a
deep, extended peer discussion
that wasn’t teacher-moderated?
| Students examine some of the issues raised in the article and the seminar by trying to create a piece of “recombinant” or appropriation art and reflecting on what is gained and lost in the process.
Hand out the
(PDF) for creating a mash-up and set students to work. You might establish parameters – for example, you might require that students mash up a text studied in class or that they work in a certain genre or format, like writing or film.
Those creating automatic mash-ups with text might use
Cut ‘n’ Mix
, a program that allows users to blend texts together to create a homemade text mash-up. There are other recommended (and free) tools and tips on the Internet for mixing
On the day projects are due, hold a “sharing day.” Bring the class together for a debriefing session based on these questions: In creating your mash-ups and viewing your classmates’, what did you learn about the original works? About the artistic process? About the nature of art? What is gained through “recombinant art”? What is lost?
Another follow-up idea is to have students reflect on their experiences reading a complex text, like the article they read in class or a chapter of a literary work, without any distractions or interruptions. The goal would be to focus students on this question: How is the experience of sitting and digesting something at once different from reading while multitasking and taking breaks? What is gained and lost with each type of reading experience?
To prompt students to consider the differences between immersing themselves in a text and experiencing it piecemeal, try this experiment: Divide the class in half. Tell students that you will be reading a passage aloud (or showing a video). Assign half the class to listen or watch intently, and the other half to listen or watch while texting, checking messages, using a laptop, talking to their neighbor or listening to music on headphones – simulating, as closely as possible, the way they might usually read or work. (Of course, some students may usually minimize distractions when they read or watch a film.)
Then, give a short quiz on the material you read or showed. Include questions that ask students to recall details and specifics as well as engage in brief synthesis or analysis of ideas. Debrief by comparing the experiences of the two groups. Did the immersed group do better on the quiz than the multitasking group? Did they catch more information? Could they think about the piece in a more nuanced way? Did this group enjoy it more? Did the multitaskers experience any benefits over the other group?
Take this thread further by teaching more about
digital media consumption
Finally, you might add one or more of
that Ms. Kakutani references in her article to an independent or summer reading list.
, for grades 6 to 12:
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
6. Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts.
7. Uses the general skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts.
8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
1. Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines.
1. Understands and applies media, techniques and processes related to the visual arts.
2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art.
3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols and potential ideas in the visual arts.
4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.
5. Understands the characteristics and merits of one’s own artwork and the artwork of others.
6. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to music and music performances.
7. Understands the relationship between music and history and culture.
Arts and Communication
1. Understands the principles, processes and products associated with arts and communication media.
2. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products.
3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings.
4. Understands ways in which the human experience is transmitted and reflected in the arts and communication.
5. Knows a range of arts and communication works from various historical and cultural periods.
Life Skills: Working With Others
1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group.
4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.
Life Skills: Thinking and Reasoning
1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument.
2. Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning.
3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.
3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society and the individual.
6. Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology.
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