Thoughts on Remixing

- Or In Which Emily Links You to Many Things -

I doubt I’ll ever pay someone to do a remix again, because there’s some amazing stuff just coming out of bedrooms.
- Trent Reznor

When I am displeased with how a genre is handling itself, I endeavor to write what I would like to see out of said genre. This, according to the video series Everything is a Remix, is remixing – the process of copying, transforming, and producing something new based on the work of others. In this instance, I am taking a genre, which has certain conventions and tropes associated with it, and reusing or transforming the tropes associated with that genre.

But what is the actual argument here? What is Kirby trying to say – because he certainly sounds negative. Well, that’s an issue of delivery, and we’ll return to that.

The point Kirby attempts to make over the course of four videos is that everything is the product of people accumulating ideas, playing around with them, and rereleasing those mashed-up and revamped ideas into the world as original products. This concept applies to music, movies, books, inventions, tv shows, and a myriad of other things that comprise our digital and physical culture. The problem is that American society has all but made remixing impossible by condemning copying.

Don’t get me wrong, simply reproducing someone else’s work without crediting the original creator is wrong (like, disgustingly wrong). However, as the remix videos point out, we learn by copying. Hell, that’s how genres become genres; someone writes a fringe story that doesn’t quite fit current conventions, someone else writes based on that fringe concept, and suddenly we have an All-Vampire young adult section at our local bookstores.

It is my belief that remixing – in it’s true, transformative role – fundamentally changes the concept behind the original work. It’s why the song The Warning by Nine Inch Nails sound completely different from The Warning [Stefan Goodchild Remix]. The remixed song conveys a different message; even though it contains the same lyrics, it tells a different story*. And if you change the story, you haven’t reproduced an exact copy. The story, for me (if you’ve been paying attention), is key to the ‘originality’ of something.

(As it happens, Nine Inch Nails runs an official remix site in which they release the tracks of all of their songs and encourage fans to remix to their hearts content. Trent Reznor has also released a nine-part album [four parts of which were free] to the world so that anyone could remix and change those tracks.)

I’m not going to get into an argument about copy right law here – though I want to, because copy right law is the most ridiculous thing – because Part 4 of Everything is a Remix makes the argument better than I can. What I will say is this – without remixes in music, we would have never had the ‘golden age’ of hip hop. We wouldn’t have an alternate interpretation of Year Zero (an album that went so far into storytelling, it created a universe). We wouldn’t have Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate. Society would have missed out on countless books loosely based on life, on genre, on problems with fantasy.

Let the world remix, because we’re missing out on that kind of originality.

 

Anya

- Or The Body  -

But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.
Anya; The Body; Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If I were petty, (or perhaps just lazy) I would simply post this quote and leave it at that. But it is unfair to rip quotes out of their context and just expect people unversed to understand why something, contextless as this is, can be so important to a character.

I have always admired Joss for how he writes his characters. Namely, his characters are people — though, with Anya, that is a little less than true. She’s technically a demon (is this a good time to shout SPOILERS? Okay, spoilers). To top is off, she is, essentially, a replacement Cordelia – not totally Cordelia, of course, but she fills the roll of blunt, at times inappropriate, and generally the fringe member of the Scoobies.

But this speech defines her. It is a fantastic bit of dialogue that I bet my bottom dollar most writers would never think to give a character like Anya. Anya is supposed to be the 1000 year old blonde girl who is a bit on the evil side – better not humanize her in any way. That’s what makes this bit of writing unique.

Anya is terrified. She has never had to deal with the mortality of those around her, because a) she was previously immortal, and b) has never taken the chance to get to know the women she previously avenged. She doesn’t know what to do, so she asks the most morbid questions because she literally does not understand. No one is telling her why or what to do and she literally cannot comprehend the idea the Joyce is gone. And how could she – death was never real to Anya. She asks things like “Will we see the body” and “Will they cut open the body” because she is Anya, and mortal things confuse her, but it is incredibly plain to see that she has no concept of how one operates in grief.

We are meant, at first, to react like Willow does – horrified and disgusted that someone would even say such things about a women they all knew. And that’s why this speech is so important. It humanizes Anya in a way almost nothing else can and carries through the scene (the worry in hr voice when Xander punches through the drywall and ‘could have hit an electrical thingy’ is clearly part of her emotional hangover).

People are never only one thing – they are always changing, always growing in some way. To give a speech like this to a character that most TV shows would treat as a one dimensional cardboard cut out is what cements Joss’ skills (to me at least) in character development. He used emotions we all know – aching sadness and grief – and applied them to a character that would not understand the situation and (much like a child), grows up because, in the end, know one really has the answers she seeks.

About The Process

-Or Visualizing the Writing Process-

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While reading through Toward A Composition Made Whole this week (it will never be finished. I will be blogging about this book until my dying day), I became enamored with the idea of visualizing my writing process. Perhaps it was because Shipka provides such an excellent example of a process map – done by a non English-y person, no less – or because it illustrated the idea that multiple things could impact your writing process, and that those things should be acknowledged, that I latched on to the idea.

So, here it is. Above is a scanned image of a hand drawn process map of my very own, tracking the vague writing process of a project I had in my Fiction class last semester. Now, to the explanations.

The project described here, a short story entitled ‘She Was,’ was one of the more difficult writing experiences I have ever put myself through. The drawing of my desk at home as the ‘production space’ was included because the idea was created there. I had been playing quite a bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and listening to the band Murder By Death at the time, so ghost stories and human augmentation were on the brain. I drafted a quick character study and left it up on my blog (warning: this post is an early draft and actually quite bad). Then, I forgot about it.

A month or so later, I started rearranging the character study and adding to it so that I could talk to my creative writing professor about it. He….was not impressed with my second draft. So I went back and, using his mark up, rewrote almost the entire piece in a night. Music was ever present, and tea was plentiful. The draft was finished at 4 a.m. on the due date.

The draft was read by my classmates. They critiqued it; later, I sat dow with a story that was too complicated and needed an extra 2000 words for my final portfolio, with critiques that were going to be of no help very rapidly. I put on a rap album on repeat and plowed through a fourth, and soon, a fifth draft. I rewrote that story from scratch about four different times over the course of the semester. I sat in plastic chairs and arm chairs, at desks and on the floor, and listened to rock, rap, and soundtracks over the course of 14 weeks, trying, desperately to get that story written. It makes me proud to see, visually, the conditions and places and things that helped me get through that particular project. It reminds me of how much work I put into that piece, and how much of myself is in it. It reminds me to be proud of it, even though (as I discovered today) it is riddled with typos.

Seeing a process is different than remembering it. I think it’s important to remind yourself of everything that goes into writing, and how not all of it is writing.

Silence is Golden

- Or How Stories Can Be Written Without Words -

The end of ‘Hush,’ the tenth episode of season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most brilliant endings to a television show I have ever seen. It seems sort of obvious, but it’s fantastic.

But let’s start at the beginning.

There are a lot of ways to tell a story, but when someone mentions writing, society has taught us to think of text. Everyone recognizes that Television, Movies, Plays, and even Oral Performance involve writing because it is understood that the actors had to read a written script, or the performer is reading off of a written piece. This leaves out quite a bit, if we are only considering what is written out as dialogue, stage direction, or flavor text (in the case of multimedia presentations, including video games). It leaves out game mechanics, for example, and simple silence. This definition of writing leaves out musical cues, the absence of music, the cinematography decisions, and a myriad other things.

“But E,” you say, “those things aren’t writing.”

No, they aren’t writing in the traditional sense. In the case of ‘Hush,’ nearly the entire episode is silent. No dialogue. Yet, there was undoubtedly writing involved. It may have been in the form of direction on the page, which inevitably gave way to direction on set. Then, at the end, when all the characters have their voices back, Buffy and Riley sit down to have a conversation. There is no music, and, after the initial ‘I guess we need to talk’ conversation starter, there is no dialogue. This is brilliant, and was possibly barely written down (I wouldn’t know for sure, since I don’t have a script).

But let’s go to a more extreme example – the game Journey by That Game Company. Journey is a multiplayer experience in which the two players involved cannot speak to one another. There is no dialogue, flavor text, or reading involved in this game, which provides an interesting challenge to the players. They have to communicate through the game mechanics – drawing in the sand, or ‘chirping’ at one another.

The game itself is based on The Hero With A Thousand Faces  by Joseph Campbell, and is a silent exploration of the stages of the Hero’s Journey. At first glance, it is easy to say that That Game Company did not employ writers in the development process. Yet, at the end of the game, you have most definitely experienced a story. So where are the writers? They are the programmers, artists, character designers, sound designers, composers, engineers, and so on. Each person on a development team must have been aware of the story and feel that the game was supposed to have, and, though they did not have a writer, they wrote metaphors into their mechanics, cut-scenes, graphics, and music.

They told a story.

Writing, I think, becomes synonymous with story telling, but, like most things, we have to think about it more complexly. Writing words is on thing, but people also write code, scripts, directions, etc. and you can convey a story without any written words. Storytelling is more than just text on a page – it is action in a movie, metaphor in game mechanics, silence on the TV screen, and it’s time we recognized the writing is not the sole driver of these things. It’s the story.

Enter the Bad Ass

- Or How Warped Has Our Image of Women Become -

As a writer, I pay a lot of attention to how people are portrayed in media. As a woman, I tend to also pay close attention to how women are portrayed because of how much of a Big Deal it is to me. Buffy, as a whole, does an excellent job of presenting characters that are human. They aren’t shamed, really, for who they are. Each character is well rounded and feels, you know, like an actual human being.

Buffy, in particular is fascinating to me because she is a ‘girly-girl’ – she’s into fashion, cheerleading, and boys – but the audience never once doubts that she is intelligent (just maybe not in a ‘public school’ sort of way), brave, strong, and empathetic. She was allowed to care about how she looked and also care about her physical strength. She is allowed to be caring and defensive and offensive and Bad Ass.

I wonder, sometimes, how girls in my generation would handle a character like Buffy today. I have seen arguments that would lead me to believe that, if they did not already associate Joss Whedon with feminist characters, they probably would not react well to Buffy.

There is this idea out there that a Strong Female Character must be Physically Strong, or Mentally Dominant, or Controlling. She must not care what anyone says about her, and must not care about others, except in a…leaderly way. She cannot be Motherly, Girly, or Conform to any Gender Norms.

But that’s a really limited definition of a ‘strong’ character, and perhaps strong isn’t the right word. In my opinion, Buffy is a strong female, but she is also a person. She has flaws and a personality that fluctuates as she tries to figure out who she is. She is simultaneously a typical teenager and a responsible adult in Band Candy. She is able to take charge and deal with Angel’s conflation of strength and cowardice (while crying, might I add) and she is not seen as weak. On the other end of the spectrum, we quite literally see two sides of Willow in Dopplegangland, and both, I would argue, are excellent representations of women. Yes, one Willow is Vampiric, and a little sadistic, but she’s still her own person, not a cardboard cutout side character.

Strong, I think, is the wrong word. Well-rounded is better, but that calls to mind ‘well adjusted’ for me. Buffy and Willow represent people to me – their personalities are malleable and they have flaws and they are not shamed for anything that they do. They suffer through the consequences of their actions, but they are never, ever, outright shamed. I think that is what makes Buffy and Willow great representations of women in the media; they were written, first, as people.