For those of us who identify as feminists, being a consumer of mass media – whether willingly or not – is an often painful, infuriating, and downright exhausting experience. The limited and limiting images of women can make a trip to the movies or a simple ride on the subway into a cause for distress. Through our studies, work, and activism, many of us have learned to be critical of these images, to deconstruct them in order to understand the assumptions and messages behind them. While this critical process can be empowering, it can also feel inadequate. A necessary step, but one that does not stem the continuous onslaught of negative images. A deconstruction without constructing something new in its place.
So how can we as feminists move beyond criticism and actively talk back to mass media and culture? How can we negotiate between being critics of pop culture and fans of it? And how, ultimately, do we transform critical consciousness into creative practice?
This is where feminist remix comes in. Feminist remix is the art and practice of taking what already exists in mass culture and reworking it into something new, something that better reflects feminist values. Media is the material; editing techniques, creativity, and a critical eye are the tools.
Think, for example, of seeing Mad Men focus exclusively on its female characters. Or of watching a queer Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City.
That is the work of Elisa Kreisinger, feminist video remix artist, self-proclaimed pop culture pirate, and workshop leader at this year’s Utopia conference. Kreisinger and her co-facilitator, Francesca Coppa, spoke of the power of feminist remix to redefine dominant narratives of women in our own terms. Their workshop, Talking Back to Culture through Feminist Remix, encouraged feminists to appropriate and remake the very media that makes it difficult to fully enjoy a television show or take that subway ride.
Coppa is the co-founder of the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit that works to protect fanworks like Kreisinger’s from commercial exploitation and legal challenges. While copyright laws and the colonization of remixes by large corporations present challenges to artists, Coppa stressed the need to keep the skills not only of remixing, but also of community-making, in the hands of its members.
As Coppa describes it, the feminist remix community is one of inclusion, embracing artists and fans of different races, ages, classes, and sexualities. It is both the diversity and the participatory ethic of this community that makes feminist remix a utopian art form. By encouraging everyone to view themselves as artists, remix allows its participants to create, make mistakes, and try again in their efforts to reshape the media – and the world – as they would like to see it. In this way, “the process of feminist remixing is utopian,” Coppa says, “even if every product isn’t perfect.”
Kreisinger reiterated this sentiment, arguing that viewing media as a raw material rather than an end product transforms your relationship to it. Looking for a way to utilize her studies of critical theory after college, she found that remixing allowed her to turn her criticism of popular culture into a practical product, one that talks back to dominant representations of women and, indeed, transforms them.
Kreisinger encouraged Utopia attendees to try their own hand at remixing as a way to take back their identities from corporate commoditization and depict women in ways that do not revolve around heteronormative relationships and procreation.
Her mantra and advice to fellow feminists: “Don’t blame the media, become the media.”
Renee Slajda recently graduated from Barnard College with a major in Africana Studies.