Interview

Interview with Elisa Kreisinger

Francesca Coppa

Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Elisa Kerisinger, self-described "pop-culture pirate," is interviewed by Francesca Coppa.

[0.2] Keywords—Gender; Mash-up; Politics

Coppa, Francesca. 2010. Interview with Elisa Kreisinger. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 5. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0234.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Elisa Kreisinger, self-described "pop-culture pirate," comoderates Political Remix Video (http://politicalremixvideo.com/) with fellow remixer Jonathan McIntosh. Her political remixes (known in the community as PRVs) have been screened at festivals like DIY: 24/7, the RE/Mixed Media Festival, and South by Southwest. Her latest work is the "Queer Carrie" Project (http://elisakreisinger.wordpress.com/projects/queercarrieproject/), in which she queers Sex and the City season by season. Kreisinger blogs at Pop Culture Pirate (http://elisakreisinger.wordpress.com/) and hosts her video remixes at Pop Culture Pirate (http://www.popculturepirate.com/).

[1.2] This interview was conducted online by Francesca Coppa, member of the board of the Organization for Transformative Works (http://transformativeworks.org) and chair of its vidding committee (http://transformativeworks.org/projects/vidding-index), and edited for clarity. Coppa and Kreisinger met at the Open Video Alliance (http://openvideoalliance.org) conference in 2009, when they appeared together on the panel "Who Owns Popular Culture? Remix and Fair Use in the Age of Corporate Mass Media."

2. Interview

[2.1] FC: How did you get involved in political remix video (PRV)?

[2.2] EK: Jonathan McIntosh first introduced me to mash-ups. I was familiar with feminist video artists' use of appropriation and the history of Soviet montage, but video mash-ups updated all that about 40 years and distributed it on the Web. Jonathan and I were both involved in video activism and, at the time, he already had a body of mash-ups he had made and posted on his Web site. While I didn't have the resources to explore gender issues in depth by making a documentary or creating a TV show, I had enough critical thinking and tech skills to remix a douche-bag Burger King commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGLHlvb8skQ). I also experienced how helpful remixes were in the classroom in teaching media literacy, and began to create them myself because there was so much fucked-up material to work with. I remember specifically a plethora of MTV and Axe body spray ads that were so ripe for remixing. So I got involved because I had the support of a friend and I wanted to see more people working with these ridiculous commercials.

[2.3] FC: What was the first PRV you ever made? What drove you to make it?

[2.4] EK: "I Am Man"—it remixed the aforementioned Burger King commercial. What drove me to make it was that it featured a feminist song, Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," but it was co-opted by Burger King to extol the power of meat and condemn tofu, or small, "chick" food. I thought I'd co-opt it back. It wasn't very good. I had great source material but couldn't make it all work. I'd still love to see this commercial remixed.

[2.5] FC: You work a lot with shows that have large female casts, like Sex and the City and The Real Housewives of New York City. Can you talk a bit about what attracts you to those sources?

[2.6] EK: I am not a fan of the feminist-lite franchises but I was intrigued by the societal expectations they set forth for women, hetero-heavy narratives notwithstanding. These shows were ripe for remixing thanks to their all-female casts, character-driven stories, and focus on deconstructing social norms. They also had voice-overs I could manipulate and bend to my will. I also work with them because they are so easily disregarded as chick-flick nonsense. Neither Sex and the City nor The Real Housewives is revolutionary or defiant of stereotypes, but they both have potential. By "potential" I mean that there are multiple women cast in roles other than "the girlfriend" who talk to each other about things other than men and usually share some commonalities around navigating their life issues and career choices. But as these shows progress, some of these aspects disintegrate in the effort to "minimize creative risks and maximize profits" within their now highly marketable franchises. I enjoy making these characters into something that I, and I hope other women, would want to watch sans product placement. I'm attracted to subverting mainstream female culture.

Vid 1. "Sex and the Remix, Seasons 3–6" (Queering Sex and the City), by Elisa Kreisinger (2010).

[2.7] FC: The vidding and amv communities are fairly organized, with conventions like Vividcon and sites like Anime Music Videos (http://animemusicvideos.org/). Is there a political remix community?

[2.8] EK: We are a small community and we are trying to make it bigger or at least broaden it enough to organize it. It's not like the vidding community, though, where there's lots of women to offer support and sharing of resources and beta testing. I hope it grows to something similar, though.

[2.9] FC: You've featured many fan vids on the site you comoderate with Jonathan McIntosh, Political Remix Video. Jonathan has talked about the ways in which he was influenced by vidding in making his Webby-nominated "Buffy vs. Edward" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM). What do you think are the similarities and differences between vidding and PRV?

[2.10] EK: I'm definitely in awe of and inspired by female fan vidders, the community that has evolved around the practice, and the writings that have emerged, and this is something that we try to acknowledge on the blog. PRVs are different in that they don't rely on music or a narrative subtext to tell the story. PRVs are critical of an aspect of the story, like Edward's creepy, patriarchal behavior being accepted as romantic, or Carrie Bradshaw's failure to question her repeated unfulfilling relationships with men. Jonathan and I weren't fans of Twilight or Sex and the City, respectively. Instead, we were concerned with the accepted gender norms we saw existing in these narratives and sought to correct them: he by killing Edward, and me by editing out the men. So while vidders and remixers both rely on pop culture texts, vidders come at it from the perspective of being a fan. You can still be a fan and be critical, but I think the intent of a remix is always to critique while vids do that and other things too, like expanding or contributing to the existing story.

[2.11] FC: You recently had one of your PRVs taken down from YouTube. Tell us about that experience.

[2.12] EK: I tweeted during a SXSW [South by Southwest, a set of annual festivals featuring "original music, independent films, and emerging technologies"] "meet-the-studio-executives" panel that audiences have more power than ever to respond to narratives filled with product placement: they can edit out the sponsor and create a better show. The next day, I received a takedown notice from NBC exec Cameron Death, who was present on the panel. NBC owns Bravo, the creators of The Real Housewives and the source footage I remixed for "Queer Housewives."

Vid 2. "The Queer Housewives of New York City" (Real Housewives Remix), by Elisa Kreisinger (2009).

[2.13] The remixes were an obvious (and stated) fair use of copyrighted content and were wrongfully removed. This little dance between creators, YouTube, and studios is a ridiculous power struggle based on the perceived threat of participatory audiences. Studios police YouTube and accuse creators of copyright infringement in an effort to weaken fair use. Remixers and vidders have a right to make their work and distribute it on YouTube because fair use is an extension of the very same copyright law we are accused of infringing. There's no debate regarding the legality of our work. I'd like to see an advocacy group protecting creators wrongly accused of copyright infringement.

[2.14] FC: Your own site is called Pop Culture Pirate, and in your explanation "why a pirate?" (http://www.popculturepirate.com/pop_culture_pirate/why_pirate.html), you cite lesbian feminist scholar Mary Daly's specifically feminist ideas of women needing to pirate from the patriarchy: "it is necessary to Plunder—that is, righteously rip off—gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us." This is a really different way of thinking about piracy—different even than the political piracy of Europe's Pirate Parties (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party). Can you talk more about the relationship between piracy, remix, and gender politics?

[2.15] EK: Mary Daly was a radical feminist and her work, along with the work of postmodern scholars like Judith Butler, goes hand in hand with political remixing. Most of our societal and gendered constructs are reinforced in popular culture, and the physical deconstruction of these images allows us to question them. I see remixing as the rebuilding and reclaiming of once-oppressive images into a positive vision of just society. Now, Mary Daly had her transphobic moments and Judith Butler didn't exactly offer us a way out of patriarchy, so I in no way mean to look at these women's work uncritically or to equate it to all of remixing. In terms of piracy, for me, remixing is righteously and legally ripping off content created by the patriarchs in order to invert their strategies—or, co-opting their commodification of our identities.

[2.16] FC: You also have an interest in community-based media; do you still do work for Cambridge Community Television? Do you see any relationship between local media and political remix?

[2.17] EK: Public access centers took the initiative to teach media literacy to teens in the 1980s, and while the discourse has changed and practices updated, I think they still have a great opportunity to teach not only teens but also parents and teachers about being a participant in the changing media landscape. I know lots of teens who consume media and do nothing with it. Then there are teens who blog and create video responses to everything they watch. Public access centers can cost-effectively provide teens with access to the media-making and critical thinking skills to be participants on a hyperlocal level. For example, at CCTV, for 50 cents a week, you have access to Final Cut Pro editing suites, subsidized software classes, one-on-one tutorials on editing/blogging/distributing video to the Web, and even camera equipment. Also, teens get paid $8 an hour to participate in our youth program. If your city has a public access center, check it out—they provide lots of resources specifically set aside for residents.

[2.18] In terms of parents and teachers, I know many public and private schools block access to social networking and video distribution sites or forbid students from creating accounts on those sites. I think local media centers are in a great position to foster discussions about the dangers and benefits of new technologies and how students, teachers, and parents can safely benefit from them. This information works best when coming from people and organizations within the community, rather than, say, a research institution writing a white paper on the participation gap.

[2.19] With specific regard to remix and public access centers, it's the closest place you'll find real people who will encourage and physically help you to participate in the evolving media landscape. Public access centers encourage freedom of speech, fair use, media literacy, and participation on a local level.

[2.20] FC: It's been five years since the founding of YouTube; what do you see as the future of DIY/remix video in the next five years? What's the best case? What's the worst?

[2.21] EK: Best case, remixes are able to effect actual change and the work that goes into them is acknowledged. Ideally, we are no longer asked if our work is legal, we are free to post our content on video sharing and distribution sites without accusation, and we develop a community where we can beta test, access shared source footage and scripts, and create a collective intelligence around remixing and media literacy. Worst, the future is the co-optation of the video remix genre by corporations who use it to reinforce stereotypes. I've already seen a few of these, the worst being "Bachelor Island" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-OEP5I-TOA), a remix created by Playboy illustrating that women are criminally and emotionally insane and men are the passive victims of their CRAZY pursuit to be their wives. Not surprisingly, there's no critical component here, as Playboy would never give permission or commission an artist to pull apart, critique, and dismember its brand identity. I think it exemplifies how remixes can perpetuate a stereotype in order to enhance a brand's identity. What kills me is that, in this case, the Playboy brand's identity is patriarchy and essentially fucking over women.

[2.22] FC: What's your favorite video of the moment? Why?

[2.23] EK: My favorite video of the moment isn't actually a remix. It's "Brontë Sisters Power Dolls." I just laugh every time.

Vid 3. "Brontë Sisters Power Dolls," by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (1998).





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