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Transmedia and Remix Debate at Brazilian Digital Culture 2010, by Eduardo Navas

Image: Main Entrance of Cinemateca Brasileira.

I visited Sao Paulo Brazil on November 17th, to participate in a panel discussion for Brazilian Digital Culture 2010, organized by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. I was invited to discuss the relationship of transmedia and Remix along with Maurício Mota (Os Alquimistas), and moderator Newton Cannito (Secretary for the Audiovisual/Ministry of Culture).  What follows is not so much a summary of the panel discussion, but rather a reflection on my views on transmedia and Remix, after evaluating my participation.  But first, I will begin by giving some general impressions of the day I spent in Sao Paulo.

Image: Café at the Cinemateca, where people could relax on Hammocks, while sipping their drinks.

I wish I could have attended all events since the beginning, but due to other engagements, I was only able to be present the day of my panel discussion.  All events took place at  the Cinemateca Brasileira, which I found to be an impressive building. I particularly liked the abundance of open space.  The screening room, where all the international conferences took place, is well lit with natural light and, when needed, the windows are covered to provide the proper set up for screenings.  The Cinemateca was founded in 1940 and holds over 200,000 reels of Latin American Films.  Its current location, a former municipal slaughterhouse, was acquired in 1992.

Image: Panel on Experimental Laboratories (from left to right: Barnabás Málnay, Tapio Makela, and Marcos Garcia).

A discussion I was able to attend in its entirety followed mine, “Experimental Laboratory and Digital Culture,” in which Marcos Garcia (MediaLab Prado), Tapio Makela (Marin.cc) and Barnabás Málnay (Kitchen Budapest) discussed their particular approaches to interdisciplinary collaboration.  It was enriching to learn how they bring together collaborators for projects that crossover various fields, including art, computing, engineering, media and communication.

My panel was scheduled at 2:00 PM, but started a half hour late.  Much of what I will share is based on a live English translation I listened to as the other participants spoke.  The discussion began with a long introduction by Newton Cannito, in which he discussed his views on media, including the relation of transmedia and Remix to authorship and consumerism.  He spent some time considering professional production becoming confused at the moment with the idea that everyone could be creative, when everyone would not be expected to be a doctor or lawyer, because these are specialized fields.

Mota then spoke and discussed how Remix and transmedia can complement each other to bring a deep experience to the interactive audience.  His emphasis was on how storytelling can become pervasive across different platforms.  He mentioned how president Obama could be considered the first transmedia President.

I followed Mota by explaining how I viewed the relationship of Remix and transmedia.  I agreed that Obama can certainly be considered the first transmedia president because of his effective use of different platforms of networked communication to get his message across. I also stated that to have a critical approach in a time when people can speak up through different modes of communication calls for a different approach to cultural criticism, because previous modes, when mass communication was really a one way system no longer function.  I was questioned on this, and I had to clarify my position, explaining that in order to be critical today, one must be willing to embed oneself in the system and use the very tools that one may find contradictory to one’s critical position.  This, I explained, is true as much for the right, the center, as well as the left.

The debate that eventually opened up between Mota, Cannito and the audience was about whether or not Brazil had a culture industry.  I gathered that Mota argued that there was not much of an industry in Brazil, while the audience challenged him stating that Brazil did have one.  Theodor Adorno’s position on the culture industry was brought up by a psychology professor in the audience, stating that she found his theories useless for her own practice, but that Walter Benjamin was a bit more useful.  She also asked about the lack of neutrality in the online social media tools people use at the moment, such as Twitter and Facebook, and how this may affect the concept of identity.  These questions were directed towards Mota and myself.  So I took the time to answer my views on Adorno and the lack of neutrality in social media tools and platforms.

On the bias found in social media platforms, I proposed that one should be willing to think on how to appropriate commercial tools with long term plans.  An example I gave was the appropriation of Twitter as the sole device of news delivery in Iran during the upheavals of 2009, which eventually came to be called “Iran’s Twitter Revolution“[1], when the elections were contested.  Iran closed down all communication to try to control the flow of information being sent from Iran to the rest of the world.  Twitter had a loophole at such moment and became the only communication platform through which people in Iran were able to communicate with others outside of the country.  CNN and other major cable networks, in turn, used Twitter to provide up to the minute news.

I cited this incident to argue that critical resistance is unable to organize itself in the long term effectively through recursive appropriation of tools such as Twitter, which are designed more for data-mining than democratic communication–that is, Twitter allows anyone to communicate “democratically” primarily because there is a potential market in data-mining twits for trends of all type.[2]  The challenge for those who are critical of commercial social media is to use the tools as devices for social change.  In other words, use them for specific purposes that challenge the very foundation of the tool.  This would place the owners of the platform in a situation where they would have to revise their approach to privacy and data-mining to be more fair, given that if they don’t, they could become irrelevant if enough users were to leave.

But the reality, as I explained, is that people do not think critically; they simply use social media tools most of the time for entertainment.  I argued that the key to this is education with a critical consciousness, which should begin with the youngest generation still in the early stages of schooling.  This is crucial because, otherwise, the Internet will become a very different space from the one we currently experience.  In relation to this I mentioned in an earlier reply during the panel that we are entering a culture of the virtual mall–Facebook is a mall, where people “hang out,” I stated.  I cited my fellow researcher, Yong Kim, who recently wrote a piece, titled, The Internet, Censored, in which he discusses how Facebook and other social media networks are becoming more like gated communities.[3]

On Adorno, I explained that his theory on the culture industry is still relevant.  His fear on the pervasiveness of “sameness” across culture, I argued, has evolved to include the voice of the consumer to provide information, opinions and other personal information that may appear to be giving people a voice, but in the end become great resources to develop extremely efficient individualized marketing approaches.  But then, when Mota responded, I realized that the point of Adorno being irrelevant in Brazil had to do in part with whether or not there was a culture industry in the country.

I thought, “if there is a possibility that there is no actual culture industry here, why would they want it?  Given that according to Adorno, such a concept was best developed in the United States, why would there be a promotion of a culture industry in Brazil?”  I saw this as a moment when people could develop a different kind of industry, and in part, based on what I know of Brazil’s investment in digital culture, they may well be developing a different type of industry that is not a “culture industry” as understood as a type of control and super immersion.  The debate went back and forth, as Motta and Cannito considered the development of an industry, and people in the audience debated how there was or was not one.  The event had to come to an end, but I was left with the need to clarify the relationship of transmedia and Remix, which I will now take the time to examine.

First, transmedia is largely linked to storytelling.  It is more often than not used as a marketing device.  This in effect is how Mota discussed it when he considered how the audience could be taken “deep into a story” in a way that would not be possible with prior approaches to storytelling.  It is then understandable that transmedia is well received by the private sector, given that it can be a very effective tool for marketing.  The basic definition of transmedia is “content embedded with marketing strategies, where content is treated as “goods” to be franchised. Each franchise should have the goal of expanding the audience experience and drive for more consumption in the overall scheme.”[4]

As I discussed during the talk, Remix can certainly be used for transmedia interests, that is when one takes the content from one area and remixes it to be presented in another context with the purpose to promote the original story or product.  This type of remix in transmedia could be selective or even extended, but not reflexive. Once remix moves outside of music as a space of entertainment (in music all three types of remixes are primarily developed for the sake of entertainment, not criticism). [5]  Outside of music, reflexivity in terms of Remix implies a state of criticism, or reflection on the situation being evaluated.  Transmedia is not designed for this, because its purpose is to promote something that is well recognized in all possible platforms.

Transmedia, like any other commercial tool, however, can be appropriated, similarly to how Twitter was during the Iran upheaval I described above.  So, in this sense, while Remix is not opposite to transmedia, or vice versa, their state of production can become contradictory with deliberate strategies.   It should also be clarified that the act of remixing itself is not founded on a particular political position.  It can be used by anyone from the left, right, or center.  Remix is more like a binder that brings elements together according to the vision of the producer.  In this sense the act of remixing can be an important element in transmedia, but only as long as the material being remixed is recognized as the product meant to be sold. From the moment that it is no longer recognized properly for basically the celebration of the product or object, the act of remixing at that point becomes something else.  If the producer of the remix is deliberately subverting the immediate recognition of a subject, then it could be plagiarism, or a way to subvert the commercial system; or, if it is recognizable with a deliberate critical position, then it could be read as an activist gesture.

An example of transmedia would be the Twilight saga, which enjoys a strong fan base online, dependent on the actual films, as well as the novels, not to mention social network exchanges and trivia games.  An example of a Remix that is critical of Twilight is “Buffy vs. Edward, Twilight Remix,” by Jonathan McIntosh, which combines Twilight footage with Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s.  In the latter, the viewer is not only asked to recognize the Twilight franchise, but also to reconsider its relation to the fascination with vampires in U.S. culture, which has been developing for a number of years.  At this point remix departs from transmedia becoming a critical tool.

Nevertheless, the same remix could be repurposed, if desired, by transmedia producers, if they were to see value in the criticism as a means for further promoting the Twilight franchise.  The point here is that Remix as a form of discourse does inform transmedia, but it does part ways with it when it becomes a tool for critical reflection.  If transmedia were to be used as a critical tool (which as noted this is not its default state), it would be so through appropriation, and it would enter the realm of Remix as a form of critical discourse; transmedia would then be a remixing platform itself.  Thus, while transmedia and Remix may not be contradictory, it is important to understand their default positions in culture.

The roles of transmedia and Remix should certainly be carefully considered in a time when a new space of cultural production is becoming redefined, or defined (depending on which position one may take if one is Brazilian).  In either case, I found the investment in cultural production during my brief stay in Sao Paulo to be very promising for Brazil.  As an outsider I have constantly considered Brazil to have a strong position in global cultural production, which is why I was surprised by the ongoing debate over whether there was  or was not a culture industry in place.

[1] Jared Keller, “Evaluating Iran’s Twitter Revolution,” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/evaluating-irans-twitter-revolution/58337/, accessed November 27, 2010.

[2] See my article, “After the Blogger as Producer,” http://remixtheory.net/?p=378, accessed, November 27, 2010.

[3] Yong Kim, “The Internet Censored,” Vodule, http://www.vodule.com/?p=5465, accessed November 27, 2010

[4] Nicoletta Iacobacci, “From crossmedia to transmedia: thoughts on the future of entertainment
Lunch Over IP, http://www.lunchoverip.com/2008/05/from-crossmedia.html, accessed November 27, 2010.

[5] See my definitions of Remix discussed in “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture” available on Remix Theory.

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