Quick Thoughts: “Right Wing Radio Duck”

A quick reaction to rebelliouspixels’ “Right Wing Radio Duck,” which premiered at Open Video earlier this month and has been tearing up the intarwebs (even prompting a response from Beck himself).


The video is a great example of the technical mastery and depth of cultural knowledge we’ve seen in Jonathan McIntosh’s other work (see “So You Think You Can Be President?” and “Buffy vs Edward”). McIntosh has the form of classic Disney cartoons down pat (including the ubiquitous paranoiac pseudo-psychedelic dream sequence), and weaves Beck’s rhetoric seamlessly through the piece.

I’m left with questions at the end, though. Donald Duck, driven by constant paranoid and isolationist harangues coming from his radio, buys access to Beck’s “Insider Extreme” package (“It will explain everything that is going on…”). When it arrives, the vaguely sinister-looking contraption berates Donald Duck to face reality, stop wasting time and money on things he doesn’t need, and advises him to “GET A JOB!” Donald destroys the Insider Extreme Machine with a shotgun, wipes the dust from his hands in satisfaction (“Good riddance!”) and the piece closes to triumphant music.

If we follow the thread of ideologies through the piece, we start the anger of the Tea Party class: the world is unfair, you are (somehow) getting screwed/left behind, be angry! This anger turns into paranoia and fear, which are manipulated by Beck’s disembodied voice to a near psychotic fervor, culminated in the ill-advised purchase of access to the snake-oil Insider Extreme Club. At that point, the illusion is broken and the *new* voice in the machine turns out to only mock and abuse his only listener. However, that listener rejects what the new machine is offering and destroys it. So, my question is, what ideology fills the vacuum? Donald Duck has violently rejected the abusive voice in that machine (that he paid for with the last coins in his piggy back), but there is no indication that he has renounced the ideologies that drove him into its arms in the first place. I am left not knowing what victory has occurred here.

The distressing thing about Beck and other related cultish ideologies is that there is never a moment, within the fold, of actual revelation. There is constant enticement to deeper levels of the “inner circle,” usually for a price, but there is never a dose-of-reality “Gotcha!” moment of the kind depicted here. They are in it for the long con.

At the end of the video, there is no redemption. Donald Duck has not realized that he was being manipulated. He only heard a voice he did not like (not even did not agree with, just viscerally did not like) and silenced it. It is not even clear that his anger at the Insider Extreme Machine extends to the original voice of manipulation (he does not destroy his radio, for example). The video leaves Donald where it found him: angry, alone, and ready to pledge allegiance to the next appealing voice out of the radio.

Disorganized Remix Primer 2: Remix as Communities

This primer makes no claim to expertise or authoritative knowledge. Rather, it is a compilation of interesting cultural objects that partake in different, yet related, forms of “derivative” or “appropriative” creativity that could generally be defined as “remix.” Have a favorite video, audio recording, or other artifact not included in this primer? Leave a link in the comments!

So, you know those videos on YouTube of folks, alone with a webcam, showing off their mad guitar/drum/harmonica/vuvuzela skillz? Or those “learn how to play a guitar/drum/harmonica/vuvuzela videos? Israeli musician Kutiman took countless YouTube videos of just those sort, as well as other uploaded videos of musicians, singers and dancers, and mixed the video and audio into a seven track piece titled Thru-you. (All his sources are linked on the project’s website.) What I find particularly astonishing about this piece is the way in which Kutiman created a communities of artistry through his sampling. In the first track, “The Mother of All Funk Chords,” different videos are played against each other in such a way as to create a literal conversation between the videos. It is as though the viewer has stumbled across a trans-geographic and trans-temporal jam session.

One of the primary virtues of the remix genre is how it enables the creation of communities: both communities of remix artists and communities of artists whose work is being remixed. The chance that the original creators of Kutiman’s source material would have encountered each other is vanishingly small. For the most part, each source video is, in and of itself, a creative endpoint: a non-interactive, non-generative artifact. Thru-you spurns on that generatively and interactive potential by forcing the work into an active and creative conversation with its fellows. It informs the works and the creators that they are members of a community. Moreover, by painstakingly citing and linking to its source material, Thru-you enables its viewer to join the same creative community by revealing what were formerly final performances (the original source videos) as creative tools.

The next trio of videos inspired similar thoughts about the nature of community in remix culture, but of a slightly different nature. Honestly, the “Lisztomania” Bratpack phenomenon could fuel more analysis than I has space for here, but here goes. Here is what happened:

In May of 2009 the French alternative band Phoenix releases the album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It’s pretty fabulous. “Lisztomania” it its first track.
Sometime after that (the timeline is muddled because the original video has been taken down) YouTube user avoidantconsumer (account currently suspended for TOU violations) posted this tribute video:


31 May 2009: YouTube user thepinkbismuth posts this “tribute to the tribute”:

18 November 2009: YouTube user chinorockwell posts this (at this point) tribute to a tribute to a tribute:

Since then, videos have been posted from Amsterdam, Paris, Winnipeg, and elsewhere.

These videos are all part of the same community, joined together by virtue of the content they are producing, the conversation they are having (there are also several videos commenting on that conversation in and of itself). While the community typified by Thru-you is one of sources created/curated by an artist, the community here is one created by the remix artists themselves. By choosing to reinterpret the same content, they are declaring themselves part of the same community. The cost of entry to this community is a video camera and a YouTube account. Permission does not need to be asked to join the conversation (though, as we can see in the case of avoidantconsumer, active participation can be revoked by a specific third party).

Avoidantconsumer’s original work can be easily slide into the sub-genre of mashup: a derivative work meant to force a comparison or conflict between a small number of sources. In this case, we have the iconic imagery of John Hughes bratpack films from the 1980s against Phoenix’s hit song. So what, then, are all the subsequent videos? They are no longer only commenting on the source material, in fact, by their video performance they are obliterating half of it. Instead, the commentary is now on the commentary or as thepinkbismuth puts it, a “tribute to the tribute.” The source material has been transcended, the community and the conversation itself has become the focus and the primary virtue and joy for those involved.

Disorganized Remix Primer 1: Speech-Based Remix

This primer makes no claim to expertise or authoritative knowledge. Rather, it is a compilation of interesting cultural objects that partake in different, yet related, forms of “derivative” or “appropriative” creativity that could generally be defined as “remix.” Have a favorite video, audio recording, or other artifact not included in this primer? Leave a link in the comments!

The Symphony of Science is an ongoing project headed by John Boswell, an electronic musician based in Washington. Boswell combines original compositions, still images, video, and the speech of famous scientists (both unaltered, and processed using the “auto-tune” technique, which more-or-less exaggerates the tonal cadences of normal speech using a computer program) to produce music videos celebrating science and scientific exploration. So far, six music videos have been produced, and the samples used have come from sources such as Cosmos, Stephen Hawking’s Universe, The Eyes of Nye,, and The Elegant Universe

By making scientific speech musical, Boswell taps into a wealth of whimsy and playfulness that is often at the heart of the best of scientific research (“these are some of the things that molecules do…”). The musical speech anchors the scientific and philosophical speech in the mind in a way that would be impossible were it simply spoken.

Boswell is not the only remix artist using auto-tune techniques to play with the power of human speech. The best work of Auto-Tune the News has illustrated, much better than any public speaking textbook, the close connections between skilled rhetoric and musical performance.

On the other side of the “found speech” coin is Revolucian‘s club mix of Christian Bale’s infamous on-set freak out, mirrored with a similar incident involving Barbara Streisand. Unlike the work of Boswell or Auto-Tune the News, Revolucian leaves the tonal content of the found tracks intact, choosing instead to play the rhythmic cadences of Bale’s and Streisand’s speech off themselves. The piece exploits generated and perceived conflict between the two “singers,” satirizing both the personalities and the initial incidents (both of which were publicized via leaked videos at the time).