Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Illegitimate media: Race, gender and censorship in digital remix culture
by Derecho, Abigail T., Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2008, 244; 3303803
Abstract (Summary)

In 2008, the term “remix culture” is widely understood to refer to mash-up videos and movie parodies, distributed on websites such as YouTube and authored primarily by white male teenagers. This dissertation argues that digital remix was invented primarily by African American men, who, in the mid-1980s, began using digital samplers to cobble together pieces (or “samples”) of existing recordings to form new sonic compositions, and by white American women, who, in the early 1990s, formed online communities on Usenet groups to share fan fiction (fanfic)—stories based on their favorite characters from television and film texts. In other words, digital remix culture was pioneered largely by communities that had long been (and continue to be) marginalized by mainstream mass media industries.

Both digital sampling and online fan fiction were censored soon after they appeared. In the case of sampling, censorship was imposed from forces outside the music industry, by a New York District Court, which ruled in 1991 (five years after digital sampling began) that all unlicensed sampling was equivalent to theft. In the case of fan fiction, censorship was imposed from within fanfic communities, as peers' negative reactions to explicitly sexual content caused writers to cease posting such content. I argue that the constraints and limits imposed on early digital remix production, from without and within, were the direct result of the Culture Wars that raged in the U.S. during the eighties and nineties. The Culture Wars consisted of numerous battles regarding representations of race, gender, class, and sex. Although sampling and fan fiction did not loom large in the public's consciousness during these years of heated debate, both forms of remix were closely associated with social groups and cultural forms—inner-city black youth culture, rap music, and pornography—that came under attack in this period. The censorship to which early digital remix was subjected was a mere by-product of larger conflicts in American society, but the ramifications of these early restrictions, including the status of remix production as, for the most part, illegal, artistically illegitimate, and incapable of yielding financial benefit for its makers, persist today.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Weber, Samuel
Commitee: Spigel, Lynn, Weheliye, Alexander
School: Northwestern University
Department: Comparative Literary Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 69/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Black history, Womens studies
Keywords: Censorship, Digital culture, Digital history, Digital sampling, Fan fiction, Remix
Publication Number: 3303803
ISBN: 978-0-549-50769-7
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