Currently, Girl Talk is the hit mashup musician. He also happens to be a biomedical engineer specializing in tissue engineering. (This is almost not surprising because, really, what’s more remix-y than using tissues to substitute or improve biological functions?) In addition to his “lawsuit waiting to happen” style of unauthorized sampling, he offers up his music on a “pay what you want” per download basis (a la Radiohead). This is an awkward sentiment considering the fact that, had he been sampling music some 15 years ago, most people would say he was stealing. Girl Talk creates music via online digital technologies, but it is the live performances that come out of this music–by him and others–that seem to resonate with his listeners.
In fact, Anne Marsen became famous overnight when she was featured dancing to Girl Talk’s album All Night in the online edition of The New York Times Magazine. By responding to a Craigslist ad from aspiring art photographer Jacob Krupnick asking for dancers: “all skills, all ages, all bodies,” Marsen became a part of an “epic” 71 minute video in which she and two others dance across Manhattan. In the article, Krupnick describes Marsen’s own mashup style: “She’s playing with her body movement the way a rapper might play with words.” She dropped out of ballet school and takes classes in ten different styles of dance–from salsa to West African to pole. This is a kind of remix on its own. It’s one that is physical, but whose aesthetic appeal gained popularity via a combination of digital media: film, Girl Talk’s All Night album, and the online edition of The New York Times.
Clealy “participatory culture” isn’t limited only to online communities, but what I’m interested in is the influence of one on the other. When I read Henry Jenkins’ definition of participatory culture, I got nervous. This is mostly because I realized that I’m not a part of it, at least not really. I’m blogging here, for class, but I don’t have my own blog that I’ll continue to update after this semester. I’m on Facebook, but I hardly consider my snarky comments or sharing of Democracy Now! clips to really matter–they don’t seem to be changing the world or even my own little community in any way. I find that I do more reading and watching than writing when I’m supposedly “participating” in online digital culture. If anything, the more time I spend online, the less involved I feel in my community–or any community for that matter.
Larry Lessig explains to his audience that kids are taking the songs of their parents’ generation and remixing them. He goes on to say that this technique has been democratized, that “anyone with access to a fifteen hundred dollar computer” can take both “sounds and images from the culture around us and use it to say things differently.” I’m sure that if I learned, I too could do this. But the truth is that I’m comfortable not (really) participating, not producing things online. I enjoy consuming the videos, commentary, news, and remixes that others create, but I have little desire to join in and create alongside of them (Unless, that is, I’m creating a hyperlink to their online product like I did above).
I’m wondering what it means to not be a part of online participatory culture, what the spaces inbetween the online and offline worlds can create (that couldn’t (wouldn’t?) be created without one or the other), or if it’s even possible to not be a part of participatory culture.