Remix video and the crisis of the humanities

Kim Middleton

College of Saint Rose, Albany, New York, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The discourses of crisis in the humanities is juxtaposed with an analysis of remix video practices to suggest that the cognitive and cultural engagement feared lost in the former appear with frequency and enthusiasm in the latter. Whether humanists focus on the deleterious effects of the digital or celebrate the digital humanities but resist a turn to computation, their anxieties turn to the disappearance of textual analysis, aesthetics, critique, and self-reflection. Remix video, as exemplified by mashups, trailer remixes, and vids, depends on these same competencies for the creation and circulation of its works. Remix video is not the answer to the crises of the humanities; rather, the recognition of a common set of practices, skills, and values underpinning scholars and video practitioners' work provides the basis for a coalitional approach: identification of shared opportunities to promote and engage potential participants in the modes of thinking and production that contend with complex cultural ideas.

[0.2] Keywords—Digital humanities; Fan vid

Middleton, Kim. 2012. "Remix Video and the Crisis of the Humanities." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0349.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On October 2, 2010, remix artist and pop culture hacker Jonathan McIntosh released his video "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck." The video uses 50 clips of classic Disney cartoons in conjunction with audio segments of Glenn Beck's radio programs to tell a story about the political and ideological vulnerability of the American unemployed during the economic downturn. Circulated via social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as more mainstream outlets such as, Roger Ebert's column, and the Washington Post, McIntosh's remix video garnered well over a million views and has been translated into six languages. In an interview with the New York Times, McIntosh describes the time- and labor-intensive process required to create the piece: "It took me about 3 months in total to complete this project. The first two months I spent collecting, reviewing and transcribing clips—usually a couple [of] hours a day. This last month I spent intensively story-boarding, scripting and editing the footage and audio clips—usually for about 8 hours a day" (Roettgers 2010). This kind of comprehensive media analysis project, and its reception, were not foreign to McIntosh; a year earlier, his "Buffy vs. Edward" piece went viral as well, spanning Buffy and Twilight fandoms alike as it ignited a conversation about popular media and gender. Pitting footage of the feminist vampire slayer against the stalker tendencies of the vampire heartthrob, McIntosh sought to push critique of Edward Cullen past the academic boundaries that seemed to contain it (Ohanesian 2010). In an LA Weekly interview, McIntosh notes his debt to cultural critic bell hooks for her methods of popular culture critique, explaining: "I'm not standing up and doing an academic analysis necessarily, but I am using the same pop culture world to frame those ideas" (Ohanesian 2010).

[1.2] Five days after McIntosh's New York Times interview, distinguished literary scholar and columnist Stanley Fish declared real of one of academe's worst fears: "The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives" (2010). Fish's contention was a reaction to an announcement from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, stating that economic shortfalls had forced them to cut academic programs in French, Russian, Italian, classics, and theater. Outcry from faculty members, news organizations, and scholarly associations was swift. Rosemary Feal, the executive director of the Modern Language Association, appealed to the deputy commissioner of the state's education department, predicting the intellectual competencies that would go missing with the programs' removal:

[1.3] Languages are the repository of past and present cultures…The study of language plays a part in developing cognition, sharpening analytical abilities, and understanding sameness and differences of the human race; without in-depth study of languages, literatures and cultures, and the liberal arts, institutions of higher learning should only call themselves technical or professional schools. (Feal 2010)

[1.4] For Feal and many others, Albany's cuts signal the loss of entire landscapes of thought from the topography of a college education. Her appeal focuses on the impact of foreign language learning, but it quickly includes the study of literatures and cultures as endemic to the development of analysis and understanding. Without significant input from humanities disciplines like modern languages, she argues, the institution defaults on its responsibility to develop both cognitive and cultural skills in its graduates. Professors at SUNY Albany echoed Feal's emphasis on the crucial cognitive abilities that would be lost: "The humanities are critique-al knowledge rooted in the 'other'—other organizations of social relations, other modes of thinking, other forms of behavior, other values and ethics of work" (Ebert and Zavarzadeh 2010).

[1.5] Temporal contiguity provides a convenient connection between the phenomena of remix video and one of the more immediate and material strands of the crisis of the humanities, but I'd also like to suggest there is a more significant thread that links these together. McIntosh is an avatar of sorts for a significant body of remix video practitioners who use the medium to engender conversations about the texts of our day. While McIntosh's videos are far more technically sophisticated than most of the millions of remix videos available online, he shares certain core competencies with even beginner remixers: thorough knowledge of primary source materials; close attention to their contextual nuances and the opportunities to revise those contexts to make new meanings; analysis of the original and the newly created work; and an attention to how that new work will circulate in and across multiple subcultures, fandoms, and audiences. In short, McIntosh's pieces, as well as his metacommentary about them, speak directly to the shared anxieties of cognitive and cultural loss of those who describe the present as a moment of crisis for the humanities.

[1.6] My purpose here is to stage a kind of mashup between the analyses of remix video and those of the crisis of the humanities (note 1). Like any good remix, each of the texts considered here should comment on the other. Why should humanities scholars be interested in remix video? Equally importantly, why should remix video practitioners be interested in categorizing their work as humanistic endeavor? In what follows, I document the discourses of loss and anxiety in the crisis of the humanities—the constitutive cognitive and cultural endeavors its proponents fear are disappearing—and juxtapose these with the formative practices, protocols, and historical developments that subtend remix video's creation and circulation. My aim is to reveal symmetries between the two that may motivate a reciprocal reevaluation of shared intellectual and cultural engagement, and to suggest that these contain the potential for coalition in the service of defending and promoting shared values.

2. Humanities crises in the digital age

[2.1] There's no question that the institutional place and popular evaluation of the humanities is in question at present. For many scholars, academics, and citizens, the exigencies of the digital age—shifts in dominant media, industry, economies, and so on—are most responsible for the shake-up. While the focus on digital effect may vary, the anxiety is the same: the decline of thinking and its attendant processes, and the obliteration of cultural knowledge and critique. Occupying a spectrum of rhetorical positions from rational to hyperbolic, defenders of the humanities prescribe the continued societal necessity of their values and methodologies. Fish, Feal, and their compatriots, for instance, attend to the significant institutional and material losses suffered by academic departments and American culture at large. Their arguments, however, can unintentionally instantiate the apocalyptic beliefs that see program cuts as one more sign of a kind of humanistic suicide—the imminent death of thinking—in the rise of technology. A spate of New York Times articles (e.g., "Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price," June 6, 2010; "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction," November 21, 2010) joins an inflammatory cover story by Nicholas Carr in the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic: "Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains." In The Dumbest Generation (2008), Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, makes his case for an entire generation's willful evacuation of its humanities heritage: "The fonts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation is camped in the desert, passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, living off the thrill of peer attention. Meanwhile, their intellects refuse the cultural and civic inheritance that has made us what we are up to now" (10). In this pronouncement, Bauerlein draws heavily on the implications of the NEA study that documents declines in time devoted to reading, quality of engagement, and reports of enjoyment. Extrapolating from that data, he goes on to blame the epistemic shift in young people's leisure activities for the perceived cultural crisis: they refuse to acknowledge and revere core humanities values and, by extension, to engage their intellects (note 2). In so doing, he frames the fears of one particular, vocal discursive community: the death of the humanities—its distinctive thought processes, its participatory ethic, its cultural trajectory—comes at the hands of forthcoming generations who substitute digital interactions for brain-building engagement with the printed word.

[2.2] Bauerlein and his ilk are not alone in their cultural panic. Lest we think the narrative of crisis belongs solely to the scions of language and literature, it should be noted that the documentation of dehumanizing tendencies of digital media is an equal opportunity activity. In his 2010 best-selling book You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier critiques some of the fundamental utopian claims about new media. Lanier draws on his own experiences as a computer programmer and pioneer of virtual reality to ask salient questions about the promotion of mob mentality and the unseen limits that software operations sets for cognition. But his concerns stem from a foundational belief in the haecceity of the human individual, an individual whose nature is threatened by the technologies at hand: "The new designs on the verge of being locked in, the web 2.0 designs, actively demand that people define themselves downward. It's one thing to launch a limited conception of music or time…It is another to do that with the very idea of what it is to be a person" (19). In a similar vein, MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle details years of study devoted to the transformation of human experience via digital technologies in her 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Her conclusion urges readers to choose better futures for themselves than those determined by the "human experiment" to which we've acceded by interacting with machines that "denigrate and deny privacy, seductive simulations that propose themselves as places to live" (296). Thinkers like Lanier and Turkle spend less time attending to the decline of the humanities per se (à la Fish, Feal, and Bauerlein) than to the human, but their concerns share both tone and priority with the others. They worry that we are on the brink of losing that which makes us fundamentally human: the particular ways we think in order to understand ourselves, our potential, and our relationships to others. Interactions with and through digital technologies change our predilections and desires, both as individuals and as a culture. For the sake of clarity, we might differentiate the crisis of the human from that of the humanities, yet in many ways, the two tread the same rhetorical ground of loss and decline.

[2.3] The varying discourses of crisis around humanistic ideals, then, share both rhetorical stance and prophecies of an anemic cultural future, regardless of how deeply the authors themselves are entwined with the very technologies they critique. Surprisingly, this same ethos extends into the emerging field of digital humanities, a discipline that ostensibly works to identify and study the developing relationship between humanities inquiry and new forms of analysis made possible by technological innovation. While not a universal concern throughout the field, the potential for their methodological approaches to be overtaken by a logic endemic to technology occupies a growing number of digital humanists and mirrors a tension that was seemingly present from the origin of the discipline itself. Histories of digital humanities by both Matthew Kirschenbaum (2010) and Patrik Svensson (2010), whose disciplinary vantage points include the prestigious University of Maryland's MITH and Umeå University's HUMLab, respectively, point to the 2004 arrival of Blackwell's A Companion to Digital Humanities as a paradigmatic, terminological moment for the field. Kirschenbaum (2010) relays this anecdote about the title from the edition's editor John Unsworth: "Ray [Siemens] wanted 'A Companion to Humanities Computing' as that was the term commonly used at that point; the editorial and marketing folks at Blackwell wanted 'Companion to Digitized Humanities.' I suggested 'Companion to Digital Humanities' to shift the emphasis away from simple digitization" (3). Throughout Kirschenbaum's and Svensson's histories, they emphasize the implicit theme suggested by Unsworth's narrative: as scholars researched in the intersection between humanities disciplines and computers, they endeavored to move beyond an anemic view that represents digital humanities as a field devoted solely to print texts made digital and/or assessed via digital technologies, and to move toward the recognition of a panoply of methodologies, approaches, and analyses of digital objects, and the accompanying social/cultural protocols that comprise a wider expression of humanistic thought and study.

[2.4] While this desire, as Kirschenbaum and Svensson suggest, is present from the inception of the field, discourse in and around digital humanities at this moment resonates with the tension between digitization/computing and other forms of study. Anxieties echo from scholars in English, media studies, and composition, and even in computational and digital media. They argue that their work, which by all denotative rights falls easily within the boundaries of digital humanities (in no small part because it emphasizes the role of cognitive processes and cultural critique), gets elided by the dominant assumptions about the field, which skew toward a narrowed view of computational methodologies. There's good reason for these concerns; large-scale computing projects take up a good deal of the scholarly and growing public imaginary of digital humanities research. In a 2010 New York Times article titled "Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities' Riches," journalist Patricia Cohen begins her multipage feature by noting the 20th-century attachments to concepts like formalism and postcolonialism, which only serve to set up her predominant point: "The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data." Cohen highlights a shift away from inquiry informed by theory to one driven by technological methods. The article goes on to interview a series of scholars asking "new questions" with respect to data sets that were heretofore too large to study comprehensively: tens of thousands of letters by Enlightenment thinkers, for instance, or a tapestry hundreds of feet long. As the first article in a series entitled "Humanities 2.0," Cohen gives a public face not just to the digital humanities, but to the future of humanities research in general, as one dependent on, but rarely about, computing. Political and philosophical inquiry, it seems, are artifacts of an earlier episteme, and there's no mention of the ways in which these methodologies might themselves be applied to this emphasis on data as an approach.

[2.5] In the article, Cohen interviews Brett Bobley, the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities's Office of Digital Humanities. Bobley explains the "digital humanities umbrella" to Cohen as one that contains a "wide range of activities," but his examples (online preservation, digital mapping) support her definition of humanities being equal to data. This mirrors the emphasis that scholars find when they seek governmental funding at the ODH Web site, which prominently features the "Digging into Data Challenge" and the "Humanities High Performance Computing" grants. To be fair, the site also features start-up grants, whose broader criteria could embrace a project less dependent on technological tools. But when the NEH describes the office's raison d'être thus: "NEH's Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) takes a leadership role in helping the humanities embrace and use the technology created by the digital revolution" (, it's difficult to see the place for Unsworth's call to "shift the emphasis away from…digitization" (note 3).

[2.6] In opposition to, and bewilderment about, this contracting depiction of digital humanities scholarship, writers and researchers offer a wide-ranging series of counterexamples, impassioned arguments, and occasional manifestos. In his postscript to a 2011 issue of Culture Machine titled "The Digital Humanities: Beyond Computing," Gary Hall asks: "Do the humanities really need to draw quite so heavily on computer science to develop a sense of their identity and role in an era of digital media technology? Along with a computational turn in the humanities, might we not also benefit from more of a humanities turn in our understanding of the computational and the digital?" (2011, 2). Hall posits a reciprocal relationship between the priorities and methodologies of computer science and humanities research here, and he goes on to imagine the ways in which a reconceptualization of digital humanities might allow each to productively identify the blind spots of the other. Composition scholar Alex Reid (2011) takes a less conciliatory position. He frames his commentary with a description of the kerfuffle over paper rejections from the 2011 Digital Humanities Conference—ironically themed "Big Tent Digital Humanities"—and argues for the developments in and of the field that seem to fall outside the parameters imagined by the conference organizers, most notably those that analyze the quotidian digital technologies that "transform human experience on a global scale." He rails against a definition of digital humanities that privileges the creation of tools to analyze reams of obscure erudition from the past. His critique centers primarily on parsing the consequences of an overemphasis on computation that, he argues, elides crucial attention to the study of massive ontological and epistemological shifts in human experience—traditionally, some foundational philosophical arenas for humanities inquiry—and he gestures at the necessity for research that explains, assesses, and represents the implications of these global changes. Reid's impassioned comparison details the losses of a digital humanities definition cut too finely, substituting anger and derision for anxiety over the potential for humanistic loss.

[2.7] Reid's concerns parallel those of media studies scholar Alexis Lothian (2011), who poses a number of questions that address the politics of exclusion in the development of the digital humanities. Citing the digital humanities' emphasis on coding, Lothian wonders (among other important concerns), "Why do only some activities count as properly digital or properly humanities?" As she identifies a series of aspects that have begun to shape the boundaries of the field, Lothian reminds readers that the threat of a computational bias in digital humanities is not only that of a limited set of subjects to study, but also a limited set of scholars to study them. If digital humanists, as she notes above, can only be considered such when they acquire and deploy a certain set of computer-based skills, then what people, and with them, what foci, does the field itself lose? In the summary of a digital humanities conference session on diversity, Lothian's post reminds her readers of the need to attend to difference and otherness in the construction of disciplines and methodologies, whereas rigidly defined requisite experiences, literacies, and skill sets have a tendency to unintentionally shape homogenous and self-perpetuating systems. Among these, Lothian cautions, are the checkered history, applications, and blind spots of the term humanism itself. Her metacognitive analysis recollects the ways that self-awareness and critique are deeply embedded in much humanistic inquiry—a reminder of an important disciplinary contribution that Hall, Reid, Lothian, and others hope to retain in the definition of digital humanities.

[2.8] As an emerging field, then, digital humanities is constituted and renegotiated through hotly contested priorities, boundaries, and working members. What should the digital humanities study? How should it study? And who should count as a digital humanist? What is to be gained as these questions are answered definitively, and what could be lost? For many, there is a deep concern that the field will become, in Unsworth's term, "simple digitization," and in so doing elide or even forfeit its perceived charge to address the experiences of living in the digital age, existence vis-à-vis digital technologies, and deep reflection on their implications. Digital humanities, many argue, is in danger of losing the characteristic patterns of thought that are fundamental to the necessary analysis and critique of culture at large. These concerns echo the broader panics in the humanities at large: how will the cognitive approaches endemic to humanistic inquiry survive? Without them, what will become of our values and of our ability to think, analyze, critique, and assess as we move forward into a digital future? "The crisis of the humanities," often denoted in the singular, is actually articulated in an array of keys. Despite some significant differences in these accounts, however, the permutations of crisis point to a unified sense of potential loss and imagination of a future without recourse to the informed criticism, whether scholarly, social, or cultural, necessary for a fully functional society.

3. Remix and the humanities

[3.1] In Chuck Tryon's 2009 book Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, he declares that we've entered an age of digital cinema, one marked by the complicated and intersecting actions and reactions tied to making, consuming, and critiquing film (4). As opposed to a film culture driven by studios and critics—the model of a previous age—Tryon charts the ways that participatory culture shifts the experience of film for filmmakers and audiences, professionals and amateurs alike. In his analysis of this shift from analog to digital, and the cognitive and cultural changes that accompany it, Tryon notes that remix video registers paradigmatic elements of the practices and protocols of the new era. Here, he describes the complexity of tracking the implications of this single thread of digital cinematic participation:

[3.2] This chapter seeks to trace out the practices of intertextuality deployed in video remixes and delineate the ways in which these textual strategies can simultaneously be used to "talk back" critically to Hollywood marketing discourse while also embracing many of the remixed films and television shows. In addition, the trailers, even without the additions of original content, can become direct expressions of a semiotic solidarity with others who share similar cultural tastes and values. At the same time, these seemingly unruly texts also become part of a larger marketing chain, in which audiences become involved in the very processes of production for the studios themselves. (154)

[3.3] Tryon's careful analysis of the protocols and tendencies of remix, mashup, and response videos charts important skills and interactions that inhere within the digital cinema's networks and audiences: critique of, and simultaneous appreciation for, mainstream texts; the production and maintenance of symbolic and aesthetic solidarity with others; and the management of a seemingly inevitable complicity with studio priorities. As such, it provides an overview of the ways that remix culture models a profound engagement with contemporary media. Digital technologies for viewing, commenting, editing, and disseminating function as necessary tools, while the users' deep knowledge of the social protocols that accompany each condition their success. To consume, critique, discuss, produce, circulate, subvert, or comply with corporate control—each of these, and sometimes all at once, comprise remix video's contribution to the practice of living with and through the digital. In its history of practice, remix culture interrogates the transformation of human experience through a sophisticated approach to the texts that project our cultural desires, assumptions, and expectations. Access to digital technologies—whether via LiveJournal, iMovie, or YouTube—allows fans and amateurs to express and share their analysis of, and investment in, canonical texts. In other words, if Tryon's analysis holds true, then remix video functions as a particularly popular and powerful engagement with cognitive and cultural work that parallels the formative humanities/digital humanities agenda.

[3.4] Tryon is one of many scholars who argue that remix video methodologies exemplify a sophisticated approach to the cultural/social/personal impacts of digital technologies. In a 2009 Flow TV article, Louisa Stein outlines the cognitive processes brought to bear in fan vids, noting the array of complex film editing techniques vidders use, both to remind viewers of the original contexts of footage and simultaneously to shift those contexts. They craft new relationships and meanings among video and audio clips with reference to the archive of affects of various communities of viewers. The most skillful of remix artists, then, create a delicate equilibrium between the poles of "constraint and creativity" (Stein 2009).

[3.5] Stein's article condenses the results of decades of study on the practices of fan video. Even the most pedestrian remix depends on a host of composition skills. First and foremost, remix depends on an extensive knowledge of canonical texts. Francesca Coppa (2009) describes vidders' relationship to their source texts as obsessive, a comprehensive practice of viewing and making meaning so as to review and remake meaning in their works. Cornel Sandvoss (2007) describes this as the constitutive relationship for fans, noting that fans (and literary critics!) exist "in a state of constant audienceship in which we consume mediated and fragmented texts and reconstitute textual boundaries in the act of reading in an intertextual field" (31). Fan video, then, is grounded in a practice of reading and rereading in the service of image juxtaposition that maintains some trace of the original while it simultaneously suggests new themes and subtexts (Jenkins 1992). At the same time, with her mention of "shot alignments," Stein implicitly gestures at vidders', and by extension remixers', knowledge of, and ability to replicate, the formal and genre elements of film that are appropriated and deployed to shift the meaning of the original text (Tryon 2009; Horwatt 2009; Middleton 2010). In short, those who remix are, in many ways, the quintessential readers of the digital age: focused and willing to repeatedly return to their source material while simultaneously attending to the affective and structural aspects of the multiple media—video, audio, text—that they engage and reference.

[3.6] More central to Stein's discussion and the history of vidder practices, however, are the ways that vidders attend to the conventions, expectations, and desires of their communities. As Karen Hellekson (2009) writes in her description of fandom's gift culture, "To engage is to click, read, comment, write, make up a song and sing it; to hotlink, to create a video, to be invited to move on, to come over here or go over there—to become part of a larger metatext, the off-putting jargon and the unspoken rules meaning that only this group of that people can negotiate the terrain" (114). The social protocols that govern participation in communities where fan vids are exchanged can, as Hellekson points out, appear byzantine to outsiders. Yet while it may represent the most extreme example, fan vid cultures typify the specificity of responsibilities, knowledge, and practices that mark the circulation of remix video across a variety of audiences. Participation in these communities requires careful attention to the expectations of one's peers, and to the ability to imagine new retorts and audiences for the remix. As an aspect of digital cinema, then, remix video is not only a text produced by an author literate in a number of cognitive competencies. It is also a text that acquires meanings through its manifold social systems of circulation, and its cultures and subcultures, composed of knowledgeable community members who know what do with it, and how to respond in a myriad of ways that add new layers of context to the video.

[3.7] One of the most pervasive thematics both embedded in remix video and accumulated throughout its circulation is the state of its own critical pleasures vis-à-vis the authority of the medium from which its source material springs. In Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation, Eli Horwatt (2009) observes that early political remix video "demonstrates a deep suspicion of media itself—specifically the authoritative voice of journalism and the persuasive techniques of advertising" (80). To illustrate his point, he cites as an example Jonathan McIntosh's use of a Kodak commercial to draw attention to the contrast between corporate advertisements and Iraq war coverage. In a different key, Kristina Busse's (2008) reading of Lim's fan vid "Us" describes the vidder's representations of fandom's own engagement with its texts, the intervention of copyright claims, and a critique of the outsider academics who stare at fans. Some of the most well-circulated remixes and vids, then, undertake the responsibility of metacognition. Implicitly or explicitly, complex remixes reflect on and assess the habits, beliefs, and values of communities of practice, and at the same time encode questions/critiques of the media that engender the form itself. If, in its most accomplished works, remix manages to encode both self-reflection and media critique, then it echoes Lothian's desire for disciplinary self-assessment as the digital humanities go forward. Who gets to remix? What kinds of remixes count? At the same time, this metacognitive dyad asymptotically approaches a form of intellectual engagement suggested by cultural studies scholar Douglas Kellner in 2002. In an attempt to return the critical impetus of Frankfurt School politics to cultural studies, Kellner constructs a three-part analytic that requires attention to the production and political economy of the text, close textual analysis, and audience reception (19). Grounded in textual analysis, remix video often exercises its potential to address the production exigencies of its texts (present even in the ubiquitous disclaimer to ownership and copyright) as well as direct appeals to its audience. In short, the form and community protocols of remix engender a model of intellectual engagement as critique, even as the works circulate as pleasurable and entertaining artifacts.

[3.8] The cognitive and cultural practices marked above—reading, rereading, analyzing, critiquing, recontextualizing, reflecting—are not, obviously, deployed with reference to a classical canon of intellectual history. At the same time, we do have evidence of a culture founded on a form of digital reading; a consistent attention to aesthetic organization and social values; and critical faculties exercised in the production and circulation, and meta-analysis of, remix practices and sources. As modes of thinking about texts, remix practices quite clearly represent competencies endemic to humanities discourse, and ubiquitous in the parlance of its crisis and loss. Moreover, scholarly work on vids and remix genres shows the ways in which the most sophisticated compositions may already be developing forms of reflexive, self-conscious engagement that resemble ideational structures of critical and intellectual work.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] In Alan Liu's 2011 MLA conference paper, he describes the formation and mission of an advocacy group, 4Humanities, inspired by the draconian budget cuts to higher education in the United Kingdom. Like Fish (2010) and Feal (2010), Liu (2011) approaches the crisis in the humanities by way of the significant economic threat to its institutional future; likewise, he focuses on the now-endangered indispensable content: a flexible and continued discussion of the human, and by extension the humane. In the face of the high stakes of humanities decline, Liu notes that 4Humanities singles out the digital humanities, attributing to the field "special potential and responsibility to assist humanities advocacy." Arguing that the field is uniquely qualified to reposition the significance of humanistic values with reference to contemporary technologies, he goes on to suggest that in order for the digital humanities to assume the responsibility he describes, it must find a way to activate its legacy of cultural criticism and devise effective means of assisting humanities to communicate in "the new arena of networked and social public knowledge"—a milieu, he notes, in which the academic monograph critical to traditional humanities conversation is both alien and ineffective. Liu's 4Humanities call to arms suggests a classic coalitional model wherein two aligned bodies seek to promote and defend shared territory, bringing to bear their respective strengths and targeting their respective audiences. The "potential and responsibility" Liu assigns to the digital humanities, then, is one that addresses many of the material and abstract elements of anxiety and loss in the crisis in the humanities, but one that also insists on a manifestation of digital culture that is in alignment with, not in opposition to, core humanities values and priorities.

[4.2] Liu (2011) makes two important moves: first, he takes seriously much of the rhetoric of crisis and loss; and second, he proposes one (implicitly, among many) means of counteracting that crisis. His approach pragmatically acknowledges the cachet and relevance of digital humanities, but insists it cannot hope to intervene on behalf of threatened humanities values and programs without drawing on the key processes and priorities (e.g., cultural criticism) that have thus far been absent from its own development. The suggestion, it seems, is the possibility of two fields reciprocally acknowledging inheritance and relevance to advocate for a shared concern. This possibility—a certain manifestation of coalition and reciprocity—is one I'd like to suggest could bridge the gap between the discourses of crisis in the humanities and remix video.

[4.3] To be trained both in the humanities and the consumption and production of remix video is to occupy a position that is, as described above, an exercise in balancing "constraint and creativity." Humanities and remix are not immediately obvious bedfellows; to care deeply about the longevity and evolution of one does not necessitate the same investment in the other. Both legitimate and paranoiac visions of the humanities in crisis share a commitment to a set of cognitive practices and approaches that subtend crucial cultural formations, habits, and values that both contend are fundamental to the way we understand ourselves, our actions, and our possible futures. The juxtaposition of the discourses of crisis in the humanities with that of remix and fan video is not to suggest that vernacular remix is the bright and shining answer to the anxiety of loss surrounding humanities inquiry or its attendant echo of loss in the digital humanities—remix culture will not save The Iliad. Nor am I suggesting that humanities/digital humanities scholars pillage remix video for new research forms or content, or that remix practitioners and/or vidders should claim academic status, even assuming that they'd want to; significant material differences separate humanities scholars from remix video practitioners, academic enclaves (yes, and even acafans!) from vidder fandoms. In short, it's exceedingly simple to identify the constraints that catalog all of the very real and abiding differences between work in the humanities and remix. It may well be worth the creative effort, however, to recognize a common set of practices, skills, and values that underpin a spectrum of enthusiastic, sophisticated efforts in these two fields and begin to imagine activities and texts that provide shared opportunities to promote and engage potential participants in the modes of thinking that bring us pleasure and frame the ideas and processes that matter to us, as a collective investment in the creation of an amenable cultural future.

5. Notes

1. Throughout, I use remix video as a broad umbrella category under which a variety of genres, practices, and participants fall. This is not to ignore the fundamental and material differences between communities as varied as YouTube audiences for trailer remixes or feminist vidder collectives; there are of course significant questions concerning gender, legitimacy, and power that need to be taken into account. For the purpose of highlighting the commonalities with humanities discourse, however, I hope to identify skills and priorities that are, at the very least, implicitly shared in the act of remixing video for an audience.

2. N. Katherine Hayles recently provided a thoughtful and complex reevaluation of this data in the service of the development of new methodologies of analytical reading in "How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine" (2010).

3. While some scholars seek to complicate this divide—see, for example, David Berry's "The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities" (2011)—a significant portion of the informal, formal, and popular discourse remains attentive to the divide and its perceived consequences.

6. Works cited

Bauerlein, Mark. 2008. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone under 30). New York: Tarcher.

Berry, David M. 2011. "The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities." Culture Machine, no. 12.

Busse, Kristina. 2008. "'Us'—A Multivid by Lim." In Media Res.

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