REMIXING CAMP

Later this summer Silicon Valley will host Mashup Camp – known playfully as "the unconference for the uncomputer." This is an event bringing together people with "mutual interest in the mashup ecosystem."  It is probably only be a matter of time before some Silicon Valley wag comes up with Remix Camp -- an event where the creative commons mullocracy celebrate the inalienable legal rights of artists to scrawl their signature onto any other people's art.

So here's my version of Remix Camp. It's a remix of Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" (available in Sontag's Against Interpretation). Writing for Partisan Review in 1964, Sontag introduces the concept of "Camp" as a "certain mode of aestheticism":

"It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization."

In 1964, the Web 2.0 revolution wasn't a dot on even Marshall McLuhan's horizon. But Sontag could have been describing the aesthetic of the digital remix, with its core elements of stylization and artifice.

Whatever the creative commons people say, remixing is about aesthetics rather than morality or the law. Take the work of Danger Mouse, the performer of Grey Album, the cause celebre 2004 remix of rapper Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album.  As Brian Burton, the producer of the Grey Album, admitted in to MTV News:

"A lot of people just assumed I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it's really a deconstruction," he explained. "It's not an easy thing to do."

A deconstruction..... The playful Burton sounds like a postmodernist here. And it's probably not coincidental that "Notes on "Camp" is really Sontag's critique of postmodern intellectual playfulness:

"Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It's not a lamp, but a "lamp"; not a woman, but a "woman." To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater."

Sontag's attack on this aesthetic is echoed by Daniel Bell, another critic of postmodernism, in the 1996 afterword to his The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism:

"The great genius of PoMo was Andy Warhol. Warhol produced portaits of Mao Zedong, Marilyn Monroe, and Jacqueline Onassis and multiplied these images in chaning phosphorescent colors, like frozen strobe lights, as silk screens. But his greatest stroke of genius was to paint 100 Campbell soup cans as a literal representation of htose stacked objects. Marx wrote of the "fetishism of commodities," in which the worker is separated from the product he has made. With Warhol, the artist appropriates the commodity and sells it to the bourgeoisie."

Throw in the Internet and broadband connectivity and Warhol's version of Mao Zedong is the same as Danger Mouse's version of the Beatles. The only difference being  that instead of appropriating the commodity and then selling it, Danger Mouse stole the White Album and is now giving it away for free.

So what started in Sixties Paris with Derrida and Foucault is now ending in Silicon Valley with Remix Camp. To remix Marx (who was stealing from Hegel), history is repeating itself twice, first as tragedy, now as farce.