Another video4change Approach? Video Mash-ups

Technology / Transformation: Wonder Woman by Dara Birnbaum.

One of the earliest examples of subversive political remix videos. While it falls into the high-art category, this video inspired many video artists to work with pop culture imagery (McIntosh).

One of the approaches to video4change is change-focused video memes and mash-ups. This the remixing of existing video footage and clips to make new videos towards a social change or political end. Jonathan McIntosh, in his A History of Subversive Remix Video Before Youtube, says that:

Filmmakers, fans, activists, artists, and media makers have been reediting television, movies, and news media for critical and political purposes since almost the very beginning of moving pictures. Over the past century, this subversive form of populist remixing has been called many things, including appropriation art, détournement, media jamming, found footage, avant-garde film, television hacking, telejusting, political remix, scratch video, vidding, outsider art, antiart, and even cultural terrorism.[1]


McIntosh further adds that first political remixes happened during the 1920s in Russia when filmmakers began recutting Hollywood films to 'give them a sharper class commentary'[2]. Other examples of subversive political remix videos range from female fan groups remixing television and film footage to speak to female and queer communities in the 1970's, to 'video scratchers' from the UK in mid-1980s re-appropriating television footage to critique Margaret Thatcher's economic policies, to US-based media jammers remixing news footage and ads to in reaction against the televised footage of the 1st Iraq War in the the 1990s. [3]

"Before YouTube and other large-scale video sharing services came into existence, political remixers relied on community Web portals like the Guerrilla News Network (GNN) and Adbusters to find, share, and discuss remix works, as it was often too expensive for individuals to host video."[4] With the increase and ubiquity of internet access, the availability of video-editing software and the presence of large video-sharing sites like Youtube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, remixing video is fast becoming more accessible to larger number of individuals.


There are many issues to consider here, not in the least the efforts by big media companies and governments to stifle the re-appropriation of copy-righted content. In his book, Remix, for example, Lawrence Lessig suggests that it is only starting in the 20th century that we start to see serious attempts by the media industries to stifle and limit the use of past creative content by everyday citizens through lobbying for copyright laws and prosecutions [5]. Henry Jenkins’ supports this claim of a historical American remix culture when he says: “the story of American arts in the 19th century might be told in terms of the mixing, matching and merging of folk traditions taken from indigenous and immigrant populations”[6].

Another main issue with video remixing is related to looking at it from a human rights angle. Sam Gregory and Elizabeth Losh point out that while academics like Henry Jenkins and Larry Lessig have been instrumental in outlining the possible and existing positive impacts of participatory culture there are relatively undiscussed negative consequences as well, particularly from a human rights perspective. For example they consider video adaptions of Michael Jacksons 1996 song “They Don’t Care about Us” and find that “remixes have appeared on YouTube during the past decade that incorporate human rights footage shot in over a dozen countries” including Iran, Egypt and Tunisia. Many of these adaptions, they found, emerged during the period of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings and “one of the most watched videos from Egypt during the first days after the initial Tahrir Square protests remixed a series of images and testimonies and ultimately attracted over two million views.” While acknowledging the value of remixes in raising awareness, supporting solidarity, highlighting media and reporting inaccuracies and creating emotional connections to social issues and movements, the authors find that the problem with these kinds of remixes, even when they are created with the best intentions, is that they also often violate many practices deemed critical to human rights media including the need for authenticity (use of trusted and verified sources), specificity of the story and experience (over generalisations), codes of conduct for the treatment of victims and witnesses (in terms of their right to privacy and to informed consent) and the provision of context (to ensure accuracy and informed understandings). For example, the authors cite one mash-up music video where images of child soldiers located across Africa “to craft universal narratives about victimhood and vulnerability” and another where over one million people viewed and shared a video showing a Malaysian women being abused even though she had pleaded  that the video be taken offline, because it shows her “doubly humiliated in her nudity and her imprisonment”.[7]

While there is debate about celebrating video remix unconditionally, there are clear opportunities for activists to maximise digital technology (specifically, online video) and re-appropriate them for meaningful human rights, political and subversive remixes towards social good. This has motivated WITNESS and Storify to develop a Human Rights Channel on YouTube. Gregory and Losh also suggest a set of principles oriented around the creation and usage of footage from sites of crisis that could be promoted to remix cultures and integrated into digital infrastructures that support remix culture. “These principles acknowledge the value of many–to–many participatory video practices that are oriented around user–generated content, because these practices can create richer, more complex, more inclusive human rights narratives, but they also acknowledge the potential risks of including not only political bad actors from repressive regimes, but also careless researchers and insensitive gawkers”[8].

To consider:

Where do you stand on this issue? Does the practice of 'participatory culture' through remixing and mashing-up video footage for subversive political aims worth the human rights, privacy and consent considerations? Are there ways to balance the re-appropriation of video footage with an approach the respects the original video-maker's intent and the rights of those in the video?

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[1] McIntosh, Jonathan. 2012. "A History of Subversive Remix Video before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made between World War II and 2005." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

[2] McIntosh, Jonathan. 2012. "A History of Subversive Remix Video before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made between World War II and 2005." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

[3] McIntosh, Jonathan. 2012. "A History of Subversive Remix Video before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made between World War II and 2005." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

[4] McIntosh, Jonathan. 2012. "A History of Subversive Remix Video before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made between World War II and 2005." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

[5] Lessig, L. (20008). Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Press.

[6] Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYU Press, revised edition.

[7] Gregory, S. (2010). Cameras Everywhere: Ubiquitous Video Documentation of Human Rights, New Forms of Video Advocacy, and Considerations of Safety, Security, Dignity and Consent. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 2(2), 191-207.

[8] Gregory, S. (2010). Cameras Everywhere: Ubiquitous Video Documentation of Human Rights, New Forms of Video Advocacy, and Considerations of Safety, Security, Dignity and Consent. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 2(2), 191-207.



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