This adventure began innocently enough last October. The leaves were still on the trees, there was light for a good part of the day, and I was in my office, editing stories for the last issue of The Varsity Magazine, when I was struck by a paragraph in Chris Berube’s article on copyright reform, “The Death of the Artist?”“This type of artistic thievery has a rich history,” I read, as U of T instructor Martin Zeilinger explained to Chris how “copying someone’s work was the highest level of homage or respect that you could pay to a venerable author.”Dada collage in the early 20th century, for example, was one of the first instances where artists would actually physically rearrange their influences into a new work of art. Last year, the copyright documentary RiP: a Remix Manifesto pointed out that this ethos has been especially present in music, which has its own language of borrowing.
This wasn’t entirely news to me, though something about the historical aesthetic assumption—copying as a form of homage—placed in relief against our contemporary discussion of the mashup—which often deals more with legalities than it does with aesthetics—clicked.I assume you are already familiar with the overwrought discussion plaguing the media and entertainment industries at the moment on whether technology is destroying culture and the trustworthy production of information. Here, “technology” is often defined as that which is new, as opposed to the old, inherited tools that were revolutionary at the time of their inception, yet on which whole industries now base their livelihoods. Cue Gutenberg. One very loud and obnoxious side of this discussion yells over the voice of others that it’s fine that change has defined our cultural development for the past several millennia, but as of 2010, that evolution should come to a stand-still for the benefit of a very few.
While reading Chris’s article, I was struck by how differently the cultural industries have moved through this discussion, each at their own different pace, with book publishing probably the slowest. And while digital books and e-book readers are becoming more popular, consumers do not have the technology, as they do with sounds and images, to effortlessly and speedily digitize a book for themselves. Thus, while e-book readers (essentially iPods for books) are now available, any change in the publishing industry still seems centered on retail considerations, whether in-store or online, as opposed to the aesthetic, monetary, and legal ramifications of a mashup artist such as Girl Talk.