Mash-Up Reflection (Part Two)

Putting meaning into a video mash-up isn’t only easy, it’s inevitable. Two pictures, videos, words, or even sounds can’t be placed next to each other without altering each other’s meaning—or creating an entirely new meaning for matter. Effectively controlling the meaning—in a mash-up for instance—is the harder part. When making my mash-up, I wanted to really hit it home that scientific debate has no place in politics. And I implored some semiotic methods to do so:

At 2:05, Michelle Bachmann is standing before congress giving a speech. Following her at 2:07, Gary Busey appears giving his speech at the Comedy Central Roast of Larry the Cable Guy. Understanding Sean Hall’s definition of intratextuality in This Means This, This Means That as “the internal relationship between different parts of the same work,” the viewer can see these relationships: both are standing behind podiums, making similar hand gestures to an audience.

Through the intratextual relationship between the two clips, the viewer can interpret that I am making some sort of comparison between these two. However, the comparison can take on heavier meaning if the viewer can recognize Gary Busey as a symbol of ‘crazy.’ Such an understanding of Busey would require the reader to not only know about his erratic behavior, but also of the popular understanding of him as crazy that would sustain his symbol-status as such.

Assuming the viewer is attuned to Busey’s symbolic qualities, the viewer can finally interpret the metaphor. A metaphor, as Hall defines it, is “an implied comparison between two similar or dissimilar things that share a certain quality.” If Bachmann=Busey, and Busey=Crazy, then Bachmann=crazy. Ultimately, this emerging metaphor acts to do one of two things effectively: introduce Bachmann is crazy to a viewer that might not know much about her (or thought otherwise), or reaffirm any of the viewer’s existing thoughts that she is crazy and show it in a new way.

I applied a good level of intertextuality to this mash-up. According to Hall, intertextuality is “how works of various kinds (e.g. books, paintings, sculptures, designs, advertisements, etc.) make reference—often in clever ways—to other works”. I did some reference of my own when I used a clip from Breaking Bad wherein Huell, a crooked lawyer’s henchman, falls onto a pile of money. Assuming a good amount of viewers have seen this show, they can know that the pile of money that Huell is falling onto is dirty money—obtained through selling methamphetamine and murder. Using the meaning that Breaking Bad’s producers have already created around this widely-known scene, I inserted it into my mash-up to add an important layer of meaning: dirty money fueling the religious and political attacks of science.

Now, that dirty money scene will influence what meaning is made in the gutter—or the space between two separate items (video clips in this case)—preceding and proceeding it. For instance, when juxtaposed to the scene of billionaire Charles Koch (:40), the gutter contains the following implications: the money that pumps into dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity is dirty itself. By themselves, these two clips probably wouldn’t suggest that much for my purposes—probably only facts and ideas that people already knew. Now, however, my viewer is able to see political funders like Charles Koch in a way that challenges their ethics not just politically, but morally. Ultimately, Koch’s lack of morality that I implied will carry into the greater point, politics and science, and suggest something new: dark money groups are funding anti-science politicians. Now, the issue isn’t just who is crazy or uninformed, but also corrupt.

I use the word “viewer” a lot in this reflection, so I should probably do some analysis of whom I’m speaking of and how they are interpreting my work. Obviously, this mash-up is very political, and in terms of American politics, is critically aimed at the Republican Party (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin are all Republicans). Knowing this, I have to understand that different viewers may have different conceptions about what I’m saying. A conception, as defined by Hall, is a “thought” about something that can be very different from another’s due to “different information coded into the concepts that they use.” A person who regularly follows politics might have a different understanding of the clip I used of Mitt Romney, and know that was when he mocked President Obama for wanting to “heal the planet.” A person who doesn’t watch politics, however, might not know how loaded that clip was. I tried to set my mash-up so that people across different levels of contemporary political knowledge can follow my point. I did this by making sure I used clips of recognizable, high-profile politicians who are not only widely recognizable, but also whose agendas are clear. I believe doing this made my mash-up’s message accessible to a larger audience.

Mash-Up Reflection (Part One)

One thing that took me a while to realize while I was making this mash-up is that I need to not only consider the ideas I’m putting across, but the actual genre in which I am composing. My first drafts seemed to get a clear point across, but seemed more like a series of blunt and uncreative juxtapositions and montages. When I started to make the music and clips speak to each other—general things more in line with mash-up conventions—I started to see a much more interesting and clear product. For instance, I started to make the people in the video dance to the music (Rick Perry rocking his head at :18, Mitt Romney rocking his head at :31, Gary Busey at 1:32). Doing this engaged the ‘characters’ into the ‘play.’

Not only is this more entertaining, but if forces the viewer to engage with the song as well as the video. And once the viewer becomes the listener, a whole new mode of communication opens up for me contribute to the main idea: science + politics = bad. Oingo Boingo’s song, “Weird Science”, is a perfect way to play with this idea, so I decided to make the song speak to the video and vice versa. For instance, when the singer goes, “It’s my creation,” I made it match up to what was going on in the video (once at :48 when it goes to a clip of Mrs. Garrison from South Park teaching evolution, then at 1:47 when electricity passes through the doll which eventually gets turned into a person in the movie, Weird Science).

This was far from easy to do. Every time I’d change just a second from one point in the mash-up, everything else after it would be changed. I decided to adapt to this by replacing certain clips with clips that were exactly the same length of time. Doing this had its own problems, though. Some clips needed to be longer whereas their replacement clips would need to be a tad shorter. So, with that, I’d have to take a fraction of a second off of one clip, and then another fraction of a second off of a different one. After a while, editing this mash-up turned into juggling numbers—almost like balancing a budget for a business. Perhaps that’s just one essential part of video editing that I didn’t know about.

I did a lot of reflecting on the technology that goes into certain types of composition while making my mash-up. Certain technologies are more stable—or at least generally more dependable. I’ve never had even close to the same technological frustration with a pencil as I have with video editing software. With a pencil, I don’t need to format a .mp4 to .avi or vice versa. Nor do I have to make sure my trial subscription to the program hasn’t run out. It’s a fair trade, though. The compositions you can make with newer technologies are so much more engaging and can simultaneously utilize different modalities to zoom in on an idea or message.

Reflecting even more on the technology, I wonder if a lot of my frustration wasn’t necessarily from any inevitable difficulty of editing software, but rather from the time I’ve taken in developing literacies in different modes of writing. For instance, is video editing software any more sophisticated—or at least harder to use—than Microsoft Word? The more I think about it, the more I think not. The only difference is that Microsoft Word serves the function of a much more institutionally-dominant mode of writing: alphabetic text. If I had spent one percent—and I’m not being hyperbolic with that number—of the time I have spent writing essays on Microsoft Word and used that time to use video-editing software, I’d be pretty proficient at it. Furthermore, I’d probably be a lot more perceptive of the different elements of composition as a whole, outside of alphabetic texts alone.

Using different technologies to write has also brought to light my use of other people’s expressions of ideas. I have to admit that I felt a bit uneasy as I binge-downloaded video after video off of Youtube, but the more I thought about what I was doing with them, I realized that I was doing nothing wrong. I like to think about it in the same way I’d consider intellectual property when writing an essay: you don’t feel uneasy about using any excerpt as long as you cite it. It would seem so absurd for novelists to get together in movements to stop people from using their excerpts. Of course when money is being made, different issues arise. However, when people are making statements, ideas, and messages all for the sake of communication as we are with our projects, the sky should be the limit. When downloading these videos, I was merely participating in a conversation. And ultimately, the more that I saw was out there for me to use, the more liberated and enabled I felt in getting my point across.