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Volume 7, Issue 2/3: Special Issue on Remix Rhetoric, edited by Lisa Horton and David Beard

From Medievalism to Memes: Editor’s Introduction to a Special Issue of the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric
Lisa Horton

In introducing this special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, this essay engages in four moves. First, I look at the Steampunk subculture as a case study in remix and a process of appropriation of historical culture. Then, in examining four invited essays, we produce the most current theoretical and critical frames for the study of remix. Then, introducing a series of essays submitted by scholars in communication, media studies, literary studies, and creative writing, we explore the sheer range of possibilities for the application of remix theory. Finally, I centralize remix as a viable language and, perhaps, a unifying rhetorical framework for discussing the surfeit of cultural variety presented by contemporary traditional and digital media. Keywords: fan culture, literary history, medievalism, remix theory, rhetoric, steampunk.

Remixing and Reconsidering Rhetorical Velocity
Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss

In this essay, we will remix, revise, and reconsider the notion of rhetorical velocity, a concept Ridolfo first developed and which we wrote about in a 2009 piece. More specifically, we’ll return to the original construction of rhetorical velocity and examine its relationship to remix, then trace the increasing ubiquity of “remix” across the eight years since we first published the rhetorical velocity article in Kairos. We’ll address complexities of assessing authorship, investigating practices of composition, and interrogating recomposition and redistribution
— in the context of what Hart-Davidson and Ridolfo describe as “the fog of digital rhetoric.” We envision the manuscript as a mixture of reflection and analysis. Keywords: circulation, delivery, distribution, remix, rhetorical velocity.

Rhetoric and Remix: Reflections on Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Eduardo Navas

This essay is a reflection on my online project Minima Moralia Redux, which is a remix of Theodor Adorno’s book Minima Moralia. I discuss how I relied upon rhetorical principles to remix his work as a type of update for the time of network culture. I begin by providing a basic overview of my creative and critical approach, followed by how I see rhetoric and remix functioning. I continue to explain how I repurpose Adorno’s work as a selective remix. I conclude with a reflection on recurring questions about “originals” and “copies.” “Originals” and “copies” are two concepts that remain crucial in remix studies, which are closely linked to rhetoric as a foundational form of creative expression for all media. To reposition our relation to these two terms, I conclude by proposing repetition in terms of rhythmic loops as a means for creativity and criticism. I argue that all things in life repeat, and it is up to us to engage in an ongoing process of becoming in order to live historically. Keywords: creativity, Minima Moralia, originality, remix, Theodor Adorno.

Remixology: A Remix(ed) Rhetoric for the 21st Century
David J. Gunkel

Critical responses to remix have pulled in two seemingly opposite directions. On one side, there are the utopian plagiarists, copyleftists, and remix fans and prosumers who celebrate the practice as a new and original way for creating and distributing media content. On the opposing side, there are the detractors and critics. According to this group, the sampling and recombining of pre-existing material is nothing more than a cheap and easy way of recycling the work of others, perpetrated by what are arguably talentless hacks who really have nothing new to say. This essay does not choose sides in the existing remix debate but 1) deconstructs the shared assumptions and values mobilized by both sides and 2) synthesizes a new axiology that is designed to deal with and respond to the opportunities and challenges of the twenty-first century and beyond. Keywords: axiology, authorship, deconstruction, media, repetition, remix, simulation.

Remix in the Age of Trump
Virginia Kuhn

This essay argues for considering remix — defined as artifacts that employ the semiotic registers of word, sound and image — as an emergent and vital form of cultural expression and communication. After tracing the ways in which the Trump administration has appropriated the language of the liberal left, using strategies employed by those with progressive political agendas, the specific affordances of remix are highlighted. These features — its polyvocality, its embrace of history, its focus on medium specificity and its accessibility — are potentialities of the form, even as they are not always activated. Taking examples from recent documentary films that make extensive use of archival footage, I maintain that remix can aid communication across difference and contribute to media literacy. Keywords: digital argument, documentary film, media literacy, political debate, remix video, the fifth estate.

The Subversive Remix Rhetoric of Saved By The Bell Hooks
Kyle Larson

This article discusses Liz Laribee’s subversive remix rhetoric for her Tumblr blog, Saved by the bell hooks. Lari-bee’s mashup memes feature image stills from Saved by the Bell and direct quotes from bell hooks. These memes facilitate the uptake of feminist discourse through the use of popular media while subverting the assumptions of that media. Laribee therefore uses these subversive mashup memes for social critique. I also illustrate the evolution of Laribee’s practices for the mashup memes based on her reflections on the ethics of racial representation in her remix rhetoric. I conclude with implications for academics who wish to use academic theory in response to socio-political issues in public discourse. Keywords: activism, counterpublics, feminism, memes, remix.

“A Choice is Better than None, Mr. DeWitt. No Matter What the Outcome”: Remix and Genre Play in BioShock Infinite
Betsy Brey

The rhetorics of videogames share much with the rhetorics of remix: both meld, repurpose, and reinvent media for new purposes and audiences. In examining BioShock Infinite in terms of what Dustin Edwards refers to as genre remix, a multifaceted tension arises. Infinite’s story on choice and decision-making clashes with its remixed steam-punk genre. Throughout the game, the narrative calls attention to this juxtaposition, forming a playable message about player agency and control in videogames as a medium – a meta-argument made through remixing the genres at hand. The game’s rules and coding are indifferent to player choice, but the player’s interpretation is where decision comes alive, where the narrative produces meaning, and where remix challenges perception. Keywords: BioShock, genre, narrative, play, remix, video games.

Steampunk Remixing in the Classroom: Encouraging Student Engagement, Active Learn-ing, and Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives
Brittany Kerschner

By using Steampunk literature in the classroom, the students became educated and articulate learners, able to engage in a critical dialogue with their own cultural ideologies and values. Not only is Steampunk literature a useful pedagogical tool, it allows students to explore complicated social issues with critical discussion by providing a framework of revisionist history remixed with current cultural anxieties and contexts. Keywords: circulation, delivery, distribution, remix, rhetorical velocity.

Remix: Here, There, and Everywhere (or the Three Faces of Yoko Ono, “Remix Artist”)
John Logie

Yoko Ono is unusual in that she is a site of considerable activity in three distinct spaces where the term “remix” is in common use. This paper reviews her activity in these distinct remix spaces and examines the spaces for identifiable variations in the term’s resonances and meaning. First, the “here” of academia reflects academic conversations about remix and remix cultures that can be traced back to the mid 1990s. The second site is the site in which the general public first encountered the term “remix”— the “there” of music and music production. Within this space we pursue the shift from remix as a purely technical term occurring within the recording process to remix as an aesthetic term reflecting expanding and shifting aspirations for the composer of a remix. Finally, this paper will consider the “everywhere” of an Internet-based popular culture grounded in current social media. Keywords: bricolage, collage, mashup, remix, rhetoric.

Remix Racism: The Visual Politics of the “Alt-Right”
Derek Stanovsky

Making use of Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Freud’s notion of “repetition compulsion,” and contemporary remix theory, this essay examines the rise of the “alt-right,” the grafting of white supremacist ideas onto popular culture iconography, their migration into mainstream political discourse, as well as some anti-fascist uses of remix culture. Keywords: alt-right, anti-fascism, anti-Semitism, mechanical reproduction, racism, remix, repetition compulsion.

Snow White Remixed: Confronting Aesthetic Obsession and Race in Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird
Jackielee Derks

While the plots and settings of fairy tales have evolved through the efforts of adaptation, their protagonists still represent an unattainable standard of beauty. The women who grace the screens in Disney movies are evidence of an idealized version of white Eurocentric femininity. Snow White’s story is especially indebted to this ideal be-cause the plot’s main tension depends upon the protagonist’s appearance. In her “Snow White” retelling, Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi interrogates the Eurocentric aesthetics portrayed by the traditional fairy tale protagonist by examining issues of race and gender during the Civil Rights era. Eduardo Navas’ remix theory provides a methodology for examining how Oyeyemi’s adaptation maintains the aura of the fairy tale while foregrounding the Snow White image. Instead of revising “Snow White” to produce a more female centered narrative, Oyeyemi’s text instead layers the fairy tale with a contemporary story to unsettle the racial and gender implications of the Grimm’s idealized female protagonist. Oyeyemi’s remixed Snow White reveals how the fairy tale ideal pervades the public consciousness and reinforces hegemonic discourse that ties race and gender to antiquated aesthetics. Keywords: Aesthetics; Boy, Snow, Bird; Oyeyemi; Race; Remix; Snow White.

Remixing Homer on the Postcolonial Frontier of Serenity
Scott Koski

With his space-western series Firefly and feature film Serenity, Joss Whedon is a 21st century master of the remix, the rhetorical process that adapts older material for contemporary uses. Employing this process further, looking back to ancient Greek notions concerning honor and remembrance found in the works of Homer’s and remixing them with postcolonial thought from theorists such as Franz Fanon and Gayatri Spivak, I argue we can better understand the motivations of the characters Whedon created. If remix theory represents a new way of looking to the language and cultural artifacts of the past to respond to the problems of the present, remixing Whedon with Homer reinforces the reasons behind postcolonial theory’s need to give voice to the marginalized and subjugated, powerfully illustrated in Serenity by the planet Miranda. Keywords: Firefly, Kleos, Native Intellectual, Postcolonial Theory, Remix Theory, SciFi, Serenity, Space-Western, Subaltern.

Amplificatio, Diminutio, and the Art of Making a Political Remix Video: What Classical Rhetoric Teaches Us About Contemporary Remix
Scott Haden Church

This essay explores the ways that rhetoric and remix have similar communicative purposes. By using rhetorical tools amplificatio and diminutio, both rhetoric and remix magnify or minimize particular elements of their respective texts in order to best persuade the audience. To explore this process, I conduct an analysis of the remixed vid-eo clip “Debate Night” by the creators of the popular YouTube channel Bad Lip Reading. This 2016 video features footage of two presidential candidates engaged in the first presidential debate, however it has been recontextualized as a fictional game show. This political remix is an example of diminutio, and particularly the rhetorical figure of tapinosis, because its remixed incarnation diminishes the overall importance of the original text and emphasizes the ambiguous separation between politics and entertainment. In essence, this analysis demonstrates how remix and rhetoric illuminate each other. Having an understanding of rhetoric helps us analyze remix to discover the ideologies behind the content, even for supposedly meaningless content like online entertainment. Likewise, having an understanding of remix helps us see innovative ways to use rhetorical principles to make sense of our media-saturated world. Keywords: amplificatio, diminutio, music, remix, rhetoric.

Marie de France Dreams of Steampunk
E. L. Risden

In two parts, this project demonstrates the creative energy of remix. First, the author creates a fictional remix of medievalism and steampunk, in which medieval author Marie de France, inspired by a “magical” tapestry, envisions a Victorian future of steam-engine trains and lace-collared romance. Then, the author provides a critical reflection on some theoretical aspects of remix and how they suggest productive ways to think about storytelling. Not an idea isolated to music or any other particular art, remix applies to nearly any artistic endeavor: the artistic process by its nature takes up elements from varied sources of inspiration to create something new, remixing the history of influences with the author’s own history of creative work. Keywords: fiction, literary history, medievalism, remix theory, steampunk.

Remixing Slumberland: An Afterward
David Beard

The author examines the anthology Little Nemo: Dream another Dream (Locust Moon Press) in light of the rhetorical remix theory of Scott Church. Winsor McCay’s early twentieth century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland (in part) defined the visual language of comics as well as the visual language of dreams. In remixing Little Nemo in Slumberland, the creators in Dream another Dream produce a new language of dreams, one in which McCay’s work is visible, but which imagines a dreamscape constrained by the panels of comics and less inflected with the racism and orientalism of McCay’s 1905 vision. Keywords: Little Nemo in Slumberland, Remix, Rhetoric, Winsor McCay.