No Thanks Coach; I’m Comfortable on the Bench.

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.

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3 comments on “No Thanks Coach; I’m Comfortable on the Bench.

  1. I hear ya. I wonder how much of this is generational — that is, are people like Lessig right in asserting that youth today are simply different in this regard? If so, I guess the question is whether we can afford to sit on the bench, or if, sitting on the bench, we can nevertheless help students play the game with some skill, finesse, or intelligence. I’m not sure.

  2. Yeah, I was wondering the same thing in regard to teaching. Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon and should learn how to make videos and remix music and start a blog, even if it’s simply to become a better teacher. Or maybe I can somehow teach students to critically view and use these types of online media regardless of my ability to produce them?

    But I’m not sure that youth today are all that “different.” In fact, most of the students I’ve taught (7th, 8th, and college freshman) don’t “participate.” They seem happy consuming (like me).

    I wonder if learning to create online material in school is going to turn their voluntary participation into a forced skill–like forcing kids who hate books to read. (but it’s good for you!) Or maybe it is necessary to help students develop “21st Century skills”? Maybe it’s hard to say because I lack a lot of these skills?

  3. Hmm. I thought of my son (age 25) as a consumer, but he qualifies as a participant because he posts on Facebook–it seems difficult to draw the line. I don’t think we have to teach digital literacy because youth seem to be doing fine without our help if we consider only the success stories. I agree with spowerwheels that youth today are not that much different. It seems like the uncertainty about how convergence will play out–the ethics, proprietary rules, etc. along with the trouble we have communicating across age, gender, race, class lines extends big time into this discussion. Do we want to incorporate digital learning or do we buy into teaching it. I have to say that my motivation for teaching has to do with engendering student thinking, writing, learning, and reading. If digital literacy (keeping in mind that that adds onto what must be taught: reading & writing). If teaching it helps students care more, engage more in reading and writing, then I will do what I can to include digital literacy as part of my teaching rationale. Digital literacy might be a good theme for a writing course. What do you think? And then we scramble to get the skills we need or bring what we already know about ethics and computers, letting our students teach us while we facilitate a writing course.

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