Praxis

Mashing up, remixing, and contesting the popular memory of Hillary Clinton

Amber Davisson

Keene State College, Keene, New Hampshire, United States

[0.1] Abstract—This essay looks at the viral video "Rebel Girl," released in 2015, which was produced by fans of Hillary Clinton. Following the trajectory of the video, one can see the potential for fan mashups to make arguments that subvert dominant narratives of public memory and, conversely, the way the way mainstream media moves to subsume outsider voices.

[0.2] Keywords—Bikini Kill; Fan video; Politics; "Rebel Girl"

Davisson, Amber. 2016. "Mashing Up, Remixing, and Contesting the Popular Memory of Hillary Clinton." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0965.

1. Introduction

Video 1. Hillary Clinton mashup video "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill, made by Eric Wing and Stacey Sampo (2015).

[1.1] In February 2016, a mashup video from 2015 made by Hillary Clinton fans Eric Wing and Stacey Sampo went viral. The video juxtaposes clips and images from over 40 years of Clinton's political career with the 1993 riot grrrl anthem "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill. At the time of the video's release, mainstream news media was painting Hillary Clinton as both a Washington insider and the establishment candidate (Shear 2016, Nutting 2016). The dominant media narrative placed her as the conservative opposition to a liberal candidate out to revolutionize the Democratic Party. That depiction comes on the heels of 25 years of the Republican Party framing the popular memory of Clinton as a collection of scandals and power-hungry political maneuvers (Campbell 1998, Parry-Giles 2014). Clinton is, and always has been, a divisive figure. "Rebel Girl" delivers a new vision of the candidate by telling her story from the perspective of two fans. The video depicts Clinton as a long-time feminist, powerful politician, and beloved wife and mother. The rebellious act within the narrative is her ability to be all these things at once. Anger about the video from the riot grrrl movement was swift, and "Rebel Girl" was quickly removed from YouTube for copyright violation. The controversy surrounding the video highlights the precarious position of fans within political communication and points to both the possibilities and limitations present for those wishing to use the strategies of participatory culture in an effort to reshape popular memory. Music video mashups, popular within fan culture, allow the user to draw on the Internet's vast archive of video footage in order to create interesting juxtapositions that ultimately function as new frameworks for remembering popular narratives. When these techniques are applied within political fandom, they intervene in the mainstream media narratives that shape the political imaginary.

[1.2] Remembering the past is not an activity that takes place in isolation; instead, it is a social practice. Our memories of the past are often derived from an intricate web of personal experiences, cultural rituals, and mediated exposures to key events. As a result, "history and memory have traditionally remained separate projects—one highly objective and rational, the other highly subjective and playful" (Spigel and Jenkins 2015, 171). In popular memory, where media intertwines with daily life, the element of mediation takes on an added emphasis as the public memories we are processing are of things we did not directly experience but which are nonetheless connected to our personal histories. Paul Cohen (2014) has argued that in moments of crisis we often mine history for narratives that can help us cope. When we find useful moments from the past, we reconstruct them to respond to modern exigencies. That reconstruction supplants the facts of the event and becomes the popular memory. When history is popularized, it is rendered relevant and made meaningful, through media, to a broad audience (Haskins 2015).

[1.3] Within fan culture, mashups have been a critical tool for fans to alter and play with the way we remember mass media texts. Paul Booth (2012a) argues that temporality is one of the things that gives a mashup its meaning. Mashups often do not engage in either a rigorously accurate or entirely linear telling of events. Instead, in reconstructing an event, they invite the audience to shift the gaze they use when they look back on a moment. Take, for instance, slash fan fiction mashups, which Henry Jenkins (2013) tells us "exist on the margins of the original text and in the face of the producer's own efforts to regulate its meaning" (24). Slash fan fiction is often circulated within close-knit fan communities. However, on occasion, something like the use of a popular song can cause a video mashup to drift outside the traditional fan viewing audience. Paul Booth (2012c) highlights the "ubiquitous" example of the Star Trek K/S video "Closer," which was made by fans TJonesy and Killa (71). To date, the video has received more than 1.8 million views on YouTube, and the more than three thousand comments on the video seem to indicate that it is being viewed by both a fan and a nonfan audience. A viewer of Star Trek who is less plugged into the fan community may have never considered the relationship between Kirk and Spock to be sexual. However, after viewing the popular fan mashup, which brings together the song by that title and clips from the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" to tell a story where Spock rapes Kirk, it is hard to look back on the relationship without seeing unexplored sexual tension in the original text. Fan mashups mine popular texts and reconstruct them to tell new stories. In doing so, they create a lens through which we look at the original text. They alter our memory. As fan works drift out of the fan community, they have the ability to enter the broader popular memory.

[1.4] In the case of the "Rebel Girl" video, two fans use the technique of mashup to reframe and rework the popular memory of Hillary Clinton. Much of the strength of "Rebel Girl" comes from the use of historical footage to intervene in current political conversations. Paul Booth (2012b) has argued that one of the key potentials of mashup and remix is to disrupt linear conceptions of popular culture, bringing together different time periods to create a new framework for viewing events. He points to DJ Danger Mouse's "The Grey Video," which mashes up the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album, as an example of this phenomenon (Booth 2012a). Bringing together the historical moments comments on the way the sexualization of female fans has changed little from the 1960s to the 2000s. Booth (2012a) explains that "traditionally, taste rests on a linear sense of temporality, not the multifaceted system demonstrated by mashup videos." We typically read taste as historically situated, but mashing up different historical moments invites us to view things from a different perspective. In recent years, Hillary Clinton has become such a part of the political landscape that we may have lost sight of just how exceptional her achievements are for a woman in politics. The video makes use of modern footage placed next to clips going back to the 1970s and 1980s to encourage the viewer to shift the frame they use to view Clinton. The accompanying song "Rebel Girl" draws attention to how revolutionary Clinton's actions are when placed into a historical context.

[1.5] The "Rebel Girl" video, and the backlash it received from the riot grrrl movement, can only be understood by taking into account the potential for participatory culture to intervene in public conflicts over popular memory. Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova (2016) explain that in a participatory culture, the extent to which media producers feel empowered to both create and take ownership of their creation is directly related to the community in which that media is produced. As Ekaterina Haskins (2015) argues, in the late 1900s public participation in the production of commemoration and memorial increasingly became the norm. However, within these community contexts, participation was often directed, framed, or co-opted by official government memorializing. By contrast, participatory culture in the context of fan communities has traditionally operated outside official modes of media production, and fan communities tend to strongly resist corporate attempts to capitalize on their efforts (Bennett, Chin, and Jones 2016). As an act of public memory making, "Rebel Girl" originated not from the culture of public memorializing but from the culture of fandom. At the same time, the critique rose out of the riot grrrl fan community, which is embedded in the punk music scene and has a strong "do-it-yourself ethic: if you have something to say, pick up a guitar, write a song and say it" (Japenga 1992, H30). The video, and the resulting conflict surrounding it, show the way that fan communities apply their values, traditions, and practices to the generation of public memory. On one hand, the potential for fans to use community practices to participate in political debate in meaningful and disruptive ways is evident. On the other hand, it is hard to deny the general lack of willingness in both political communication and fan communities alike to acknowledge the activities and existence of political fans. In order to explore this conflict, the remainder of the essay is divided into two parts. Part one is an analysis of the video itself, and part two is an analysis of the copyright conflict that followed the video going viral. These two sections highlight the way fan communities both lay claim to the interpretation of media texts and use those texts to intervene within the mainstream media narratives that have traditionally shaped popular memory.

2. Creating a new popular memory

[2.1] While the terms fan and fandom come with a lot of baggage, they are also useful for understanding the unique relationship that certain audiences have with the mainstream media. Fans are spurred by an affective desire for the content they consume (Wilson 2011). Fandom, therefore, connotes a particular relationship to media content, which is characterized by emotional engagement. Part of what makes the "Rebel Girl" video such an interesting intervention into the traditional media narrative surrounding Clinton is that affective component. Much of the popular memory of Hillary Clinton is framed by consistently negative emotional responses to a woman with political power. With that said, political discourse tends to push aside emotional language in favor of rational argument. Public conversation avoids dealing with the affective framing of Clinton. Fan discourse embraces affect, and using this discursive framework allows Wing and Sampo to make some arguments that are often missing from the public sphere. The analysis that follows highlights three arguments the video makes through this affective lens. First, the video responds to media framing of Clinton as lacking sexual desirability. Second, the video addresses the framing of the marriage between Bill and Hillary Clinton as a political arrangement. Third and finally, the video deals with the media narrative of conflict between being maternal and being a strong leader. The Wing and Sampo video, in making an argument about how we should remember Hillary Clinton's career, is also arguing that we should rethink our social view of women in politics.

[2.2] For most of her 40-year political career, media coverage of Hillary Clinton has included commentary on her appearance. Writing about her college years, journalist Carl Bernstein (2008), in his biography of Clinton, described her as awkward and homely. He made the observation that she was so unused to male attention that she was taken aback that Bill was even interested in her. Betty Winfield (1997), writing about media coverage of Clinton during her husband's presidency, points out that she routinely refused to answer questions from journalists about her clothing and fashion, which was translated as a larger indicator of her unwillingness to perform appropriately in the position of First Lady. As a result, reporters became even more critical of her wardrobe. While research into Clinton's Senate run in 1999 indicates that much of the media framing in the campaign veered away from gender issues (Anderson 2002), in the 2008 election these conversations reemerged. Diana Carlin and Kelly Winfrey (2009) note that during the 2008 election, "Clinton was viewed as not feminine enough in pantsuits that covered her 'cankles' [thick ankles]" (330). Clinton continually received "an unusual amount of attention focused on her appearance, from her 'cackle' to her cleavage" (Heldman and Wade 2011, 160). In a more recent political contest, Anne McGinley (2009) argues that one of the issues for Clinton is her age: men get more attractive as they age, while social convention tells us that women do not. The media repeatedly invites us to see Clinton as unattractive and, by relationship, to also find her behavior wanting and undesirable.

[2.3] Wing and Sampo use the visual grammar of a music video to counter this narrative and to invite the viewer to engage in the visual pleasure of seeing Clinton as a powerful sexual being. Within traditional political conversation, sexually objectifying a female candidate would be nothing short of inappropriate. As such, the media narrative of Clinton as unattractive, failing to perform femininity, and lacking in desirability is most often ignored or simply dismissed as sexist. That dismissal means the narrative survives unchallenged. Fan work has historically operated outside of social norms, and it routinely transgresses notions of appropriateness. That makes this discursive form and community of practice ideal for disrupting the dominant social narrative that Clinton's political acumen and power lacks the sex appeal it might have if she were a man. This essay is not meant to defend objectifying women. Instead, I argue that Wing and Sampo's sexualization of Clinton uses the affective frame of fan discourse to disrupt a dominant media narrative. That disruption, and the commentary it generates, is necessarily facilitated by the outsider status of fandom.

[2.4] The disruption is accomplished most successfully in two scenes where Clinton is dancing. In the first scene, Clinton is at a political event and is casually swaying side-to-side. The footage has been edited, with the dance put in slow motion to appear less casual and more seductive. Additionally, camera angles have been altered to focus on Clinton's hips and breasts. As the camera zooms in on Clinton's body swaying, her face is cut out of the shot. This technique of focusing on particular parts of the body, to the exclusion of the face, is commonly used to encourage the viewer to objectify and sexualize the subject being viewed (Unger and Crawford 1992). With no eyes staring back, the viewer is free to take pleasure in viewing the body. Wing and Sampo use this trope of video editing to direct the viewer to engage that pleasure when viewing Clinton. The second scene of Clinton dancing comes from footage taken at a State Department dinner hosted by South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Lemire 2012). A performer at the event called Clinton up onto stage to dance. In scenes used by Wing and Sampo, the performer, a Black woman, is shown grinding her posterior into Clinton's pelvic area. In recent years, performers ranging from Shakira to Miley Cyrus to Meghan Trainor have drawn criticism for the use of Black female dancers as seemingly sexual props in music videos. The scene of Clinton dancing, as it is used in the Wing and Sampo video, calls to mind what has become common imagery of a white woman expressing her sexuality through proximity to a fetishized Other. bell hooks, in her writing on the erotic consumption of Black bodies, states that "within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture" (hooks 1992, 21). hooks argues that sexual fantasies of the Other are on the surface about violating taboos, but looking deeper they are also about creating a desired object to be consumed. Wing and Sampo use this footage of Clinton with the fetishized Other to encourage the view of Clinton herself as a fetishized object. The sexualizing of Clinton is placed next to multiple clips of her performing her role as Secretary of State. The viewer is directed to see Clinton's position of power as sexy.

[2.5] The relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton has provoked considerable media speculation. Much of that speculation centers on questions regarding the legitimacy of their marriage and the inner workings of their political partnership (Anderson 2002, Kelley 2001, Parry-Giles 2000, Parry-Giles 2014, Troy 2000). The video produced by Wing and Sampo takes a very clear stance on the relationship, and it makes use of Bill's gaze to establish an affection for Clinton. In one of the more memorable scenes, Clinton tells the story of being in the law library in college and seeing Bill. She walked up to him and said, "If you are going to keep looking at me, I should introduce myself." Then, it cuts to a scene of Bill saying he was so blown away he could not remember his own name. The scene is paired with another clip toward the end of the video where Clinton is speaking at the 2008 DNC, and the camera cuts to a shot of Bill mouthing the words "I love you." These depictions of their relationship function as a clear response to media framing of the marriage as merely a political arrangement, and invite the audience to see Clinton as her husband does. Beyond this discussion of the romantic aspects of their relationship, the video clearly tackles media debates about power differentials in the marriage. In several scenes, Clinton is shown entering a room walking in front of Bill. It implies that she is taking the lead and he is following behind her. One clip shows an event where someone had asked Clinton about her husband's stance on an issue and she, rather aggressively, says that she is not going to "channel" her husband when she answers questions. Her statement is followed up with a defiant look and hand gesture. The video is clearly arguing that while the two have a strong marriage, Clinton is not riding her husband's coattails.

[2.6] In her book on the double binds that women face in American politics, Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995) referred to Hillary Clinton as a Rorschach test for the state of feminism in the United States. For Jamieson (1995), Clinton is the personification of "unresolved relationships between concepts taken as antithetical for women by those of our grandmothers' generation: women versus power, work versus marriage, childrearing versus career" (22). One of Jamieson's double binds that Clinton has often found herself in is womb vs. brain. With the womb vs. brain double bind, women are portrayed as emotional creatures ruled by the body through the physical experiences of menstruation, pregnancy, and motherhood. When women develop more analytical or strategic ways of thinking, they are seen as developing a masculine mindset that pulls energy away from the embodied experience of femaleness. Furthermore, there is a long-standing narrative in media coverage of women in politics that the bodily experience of femaleness causes emotions to rule. Any seemingly rational behavior will be impossible to sustain. The pull of the womb is simply too strong. If a woman holds the highest office in the country, the nation is unsafe for at least one week every month. The affective lens of fandom encourages the viewer to see Clinton as affectionate and motherly without contradicting the depiction of her as a strong leader.

[2.7] The Wing and Sampo video tackles the media narrative surrounding the womb vs. brain double bind. The mashed up images of Clinton performing as Secretary of State and performing as mother argue for her ability to be both and for the two to function in a complementary way. At the halfway mark in the video, there are two scenes of Clinton with her daughter Chelsea. In one scene, Chelsea looks on in admiration while Clinton is sworn in as Secretary of State. This is immediately followed by a much older video of Clinton and Chelsea in front of the White House exploring rocks. Directly after, there is a sound bite from Chelsea's introduction of her mother at the 2008 Democratic Convention, where she calls her mother her hero. The images of Clinton and her daughter show Chelsea looking up to her mother. Throughout the video, there are scenes of Clinton meeting other young girls and giving them hugs or patting them on the back. After each scene of Clinton acting as mother, or expressing affection to young female supporters, we see scenes of Clinton acting as Secretary of State. Clinton is shown greeting troops, wearing a bulletproof vest on a battlefield, and conferring with generals on a military base. Clinton is shown at the Benghazi hearings defiantly responding to allegations from members of the investigation committee. Placing these scenes back to back, and pulling together archival material dating back to the early 1990s, makes an argument that Clinton is fully occupying both the womb and the brain, and has a long history of doing so.

[2.8] Shawn Parry-Giles (2014), in her book on media coverage of Hillary Clinton, argues that much of the troubling media depiction of Clinton comes from the press's inability to handle the complexities of modern womanhood within the standard practices of narrative journalism. The mashup uses the emotional relationship of fans to the text to tackle these complexities. A candidate's political image is largely a product of mediation, and "for most of us, we come to 'know' Hillary Rodham Clinton through the news media" (Parry-Giles 2014, 15). Over time, consistent depictions become realities. Marguerite Helmers (2001) argues that in cases where our interactions with a public icon are highly mediated, society develops a shared narrative of the person that becomes popular memory. Our popular memory of Hillary Clinton is less an accurate historical narrative and more a highlight reel of critical mediated moments. The mashup functions as in intervention into the constructed public memory. Wing and Sampo, fans of Hillary Clinton, invite us to remember Clinton as they do.

3. Not a true "Rebel Girl"

[3.1] Popular memory is a collaborative construct, but it is also deeply personal. Lynn Spigel and Henry Jenkins (2015) explain that "popular memory is grounded in notions of personal identity…popular memory is based on the dialectic between autobiography and the description of public events. This autobiographical element continually entwines the past in present day identities, so that people strive to place themselves in history, using the past as a way to understand their current lives" (173). This is at least in part because popular memory relies on "voluntary participation of ordinary people in selecting, producing, or performing interpretations of distant or recent historical events" (Haskins 2015, 2). It is natural that the personalized nature of popular memory would lead to conflict when individuals and groups have different narratives of the past. The conflict over the "Rebel Girl" video is the result of the way different communities remember the cultural artifacts that make up the video's soundtrack and the video's highly controversial subject.

[3.2] The "Rebel Girl" video was a collaborative effort from Clinton fans Eric Wing, 36, and Stacey Sampo, 47 (Gray 2016). It should be stressed that neither of them has any official affiliation with the Clinton campaign. The two are longtime fans of Clinton who have made several mashup videos about the candidate and routinely post Clinton fan art on their Facebook pages (figures 1 and 2). As they say at the end of the video, the project was "created by a couple who just thinks Hillary is awesome." The two made the video after a trip to DC to try to prevent a government shutdown of Planned Parenthood (Gray 2016). In an interview about the project, Sampo explains: "It's important for people to see women in positions of power… It's time, I think our country needs that" (as quoted in Gray 2016). Wing articulated a slightly different motivation for the project: "Whenever she's not running for office, she's beloved by everybody…but as soon as she starts to go up against a man, frankly, suddenly all the Republican talking points start coming out and they seem to stick" (as quoted in Gray 2016). The video uses archive footage to tell the story of Clinton as her fans see her, a story that is very different from the one often told by mainstream news media. Quotes from the couple indicate that this was intentional. As Sampo explained: "I wanted people to see how long she has been in politics…how long she has been advocating for people who need a voice" (as quoted in Gray 2016). Abigail De Kosnik (2008) explains that the way media depicts a candidate works to inform fans of that candidate about their own position in the social structure. In 2008, consistent media messages that Clinton was losing created the position of her supporters as a marginalized fandom (De Kosnik 2008). Wing and Sampo speak from that position in the creation of their video. The video was first uploaded to YouTube in September 2015, but it did not get much attention until February 2016, when Lori White, a curator for Upworthy, posted it to Facebook with the heading "I try to stay away from politics on Facebook, but this video is way too cool not to share" (Gray 2016). In a matter of days, the video had more than 7,000 likes and 15,000 shares (Gray 2016). Then, just a few days after the video had begun receiving widespread attention, it was pulled from YouTube for copyright violation (figure 3) (Nelson 2016). At the time of the removal for copyright violation, it had more than 1.7 million views. Despite Vail's copyright claim on the original "Rebel Girl" video, multiple versions of Wing and Sampo's mashup continue to circulate on YouTube.

A piece of fanart in the style of Andy Warhol, depicting four headshots of Hillary Clinton placed in a grid arrangement, each one with a different brightly-coloured colour scheme.

Figure 1. Fan art posted to Eric Wing's Facebook account in May 2016. [View larger image.]

A Photoshopped piece of fanart depicting Hillary Clinton, grey-haired, as Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road. Hillary stands against a desert backdrop with rolling clouds of dust, looking upwards; she is wearing a cream, brown and black outfit with a number of belts around her waist, and a mechanical prosthetic forearm strapped to one of her arms. In the top right corner is the Hillary Clinton campaign logo, with an orange arrow and the rest of the logo yellow.

Figure 2. Fan art posted to Eric Wing's Facebook account in May 2016. [View larger image.]

A screenshot of an error message for a YouTube video, showing the YouTube logo with a regretful face formed from a colon and a forward slash against a black background. The message at the top reads: Hillary: R... This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Tobi Vail. Sorry about that.

Figure 3. Screenshot of the YouTube page for the original "Rebel Girl" mashup, taken May 2016. [View larger image.]

[3.3] The soundtrack of the video is undeniably important for the overarching argument that Wing and Sampo are trying to make about Hillary Clinton. It should be said that the video relies less on a historically accurate meaning of the song as it was situated in the riot grrrl movement, and more on the cultural connotations of the punk aesthetic and the word "rebel." The video is trying to build a narrative of Clinton as someone who fought social norms, defied conventions, and acted like a "Rebel Girl." Both the lyrics of the song and the genre of the song work toward that message. The borrowing of cultural connotations to make an argument is very much in the spirit of what Lawrence Lessig (2004) dubs "Free Culture": "Free cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon" (30). Lessig (2004) argues that we live in a "cut and paste" culture, but one that is not supported by the current legal infrastructure. He explains that copyright law has created constraints on speech. To speak using certain cultural artifacts requires permission, and that need for permission gives power over speech to those who would grant permission. For Lessig (2008), a healthy public domain and a respect for remix culture is about creating "permission free" and "lawyer free" zones for discourse. What this spirit of freedom may fail to take into account is the way free circulation can alter the popular memory and cause the original meaning of a text to be diluted. Steven Hetcher (2009), in writing about the legal ramifications of remix culture, points out that while remix is a popular tool of fan culture, remix creators are not always fans of the underlying work they are using. One can see this in the "Rebel Girl" video. The riot grrrl movement developed in no small part as a response to the oversexualization of women in rock music, and the general perception that women were just not as hardcore punk as men (Schilt 2003). The depiction of Clinton in the Wing and Sampo video, while it does represent a rebellion against the way female politicians have been expected to behave, is certainly not the kind of rebel girl the riot grrrl movement would have had in mind.

[3.4] While Wing and Sampo saw Hillary Clinton's history as evidence of her rebelliousness, members of riot grrrl fandom responded to what they saw as a co-optation of the artistic work of their community by someone who did not honor their values. Just days after the video reached heavy online circulation, Tobi Vail, a member of Bikini Kill, the artists behind the song "Rebel Girl," filed a takedown notice with YouTube. In the months that followed the takedown notice, if someone attempted to view the video they found a screen that said "the video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Tobi Vail" (figure 3). When reporter Jamie Peck (2016) contacted Vail for a comment about the takedown notice, Vail said: "Dude, I was seriously trying to just ignore it…but Bikini Kill fans and friends would not allow it." Vail said she filed the copyright claim because the band and their fans did not want to see the work used as part of an advertisement (Peck 2016).

[3.5] As was mentioned previously, Wing and Sampo had no official connection to the Clinton campaign. Much of the conversation surrounding the removal of the video from YouTube either asserted that the fan creation was an advertisement or implied through innuendo that it was a conspiracy by the Clinton campaign to engage in astroturfing (fake grassroots activity). Tobi Vail herself said of the video that "it's basically an advertisement…we [Bikini Kill] don't authorize use of our songs in advertisements" (as quoted in Peck 2016). Another article on the blog Kill Our Stereo was actually headlined "The Clinton campaign use Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl,' Tobi Vail not happy" (Sievers 2016). The article notes a long history of candidates attempting to use music without getting the permission of the artists and makes no mention of Wing and Sampo. There is in fact a history of presidential candidates either using music without an artist's permission or asking for permission and being denied. Focusing on that narrative denies Wing and Sampo the outsider status that is important to their argument. In Sarah Lazare's (2016) essay about campaigns using music without permission from the artists, she does correctly credit Sampo and Wing with creating the video. However, she repeatedly refers to it as an advertisement. Music journalist Jamie Peck (2016) questioned that the video was fan made, and asked if it was "yet another tone-deaf creation of the Clinton campaign designed to go 'viral' and appeal to us riot grrrl loving millennials?" In all of this commentary about whether we are dealing with an advertisement or a fan-made video, there is a clear implication: if this is an advertisement made by the campaign, then using copyright to enforce a political perspective is morally justified.

[3.6] The song "Rebel Girl" is the artistic work of Tobi Vail and Bikini Kill, and she is justified in saying a political campaign should not use it to further a perspective antithetical to the song. However, if this is a fan video, the morality is much murkier. At that point, the copyright enforcement is about stopping two individual citizens from expressing a political perspective that the song's authors or original recording artists do not like. What is more, that act being committed by a community with an expressed dedication to DIY culture is doubly suspicious. Attributing the video to the Clinton campaign is a much more comfortable narrative.

[3.7] Scholars, journalists, and political commentators are reluctant to allow political fans the same access to the tools of participatory culture that exist in other fandoms. When fans of Harry Potter appropriate or rewrite the text, their work is typically seen as transgressive or additive in some way. When political fans attempt to reinterpret the text, their work is read not as responsive, but as part of the ongoing political debate. Many of these issues surface in the rather tense relationship that fan work has to copyright law within the context of US culture. It is worth noting that at the time when Tobi Vail filed to have the video removed for copyright violation, her Twitter profile only contained one sentence: "I'm voting for Bernie Sanders" (Nelson 2016). Part of Vail's reasoning for filing the takedown notice was the amount of attention the video was receiving: "Yeah in the past 24 hours or something every few minutes someone would email or message me or tag me, I guess it was getting a lot of shares" (as quoted in Peck 2016). As reporter Jamie Peck (2016) noted, after the takedown notice was issued, Vail's Twitter profile contained several posts about her dislike of Clinton and her support of Sanders. It is hard to ignore the potential political motivations behind the copyright claim. James Boyle (2008), in his writing on the history of copyright within the United States, points out that the goal of copyright within the context of US history was to democratize media: "If the system works, the choices about the content of our culture—the mix of earnest essays and saccharine greeting cards and scantily clad singers and poetic renditions of Norse myths—will be decentralized to the people who actually read, or listen to, or watch the stuff. This is our cultural policy and it is driven, in part, by copyright" (5). Underneath these hopes for creating a healthy cultural economy, Boyle (2008) highlights the fear that copyright law will be used to enforce political views. The concern is that one person will possess copyright on a large number of cultural artifacts, and that person will refuse to license that work to anyone who has a view different than their own. Furthermore, they will sue those who borrow from these cultural works to express differing viewpoints. Laws surrounding parody were created to prevent exactly this kind of political power grab.

[3.8] In the mashup process that takes place when fans create music videos, new meanings emerge from old cultural artifacts. However, this does not necessarily mean that the previous meanings of that artifact simply fall away. Fans borrow music, image, video, and sound to write new ideas and new arguments in the mashup process. As Jenkins points out, "writers' mastery over their appropriated terms does not come easily; old meanings are not stripped away without a struggle; writers can never fully erase the history of their previous use or the complex grid of associations each term sparks in the reader's mind" (Jenkins 2012, 224). More often than not, "new aesthetics, based on remixing existing content, engender a new appreciation for older texts" (Booth 2012a). The meaning built into the original does not disappear. When Wing and Sampo chose "Rebel Girl" as the soundtrack for the video, the song's association with the riot grrrl movement gave force to the couple's argument about Hillary Clinton. With that said, fans of the riot grrrl movement felt that the juxtaposition of the song with Clinton stripped meaning from the original text. They were not ready to let another fan community borrow meaning from their cultural artifacts. Sarah Keenan, whose feminism developed in the context of the riot grrrl movement, described herself as "sickened at the discovery that 'Rebel Girl,' a classic Bikini Kill track, had been used in a recent promotional video for Hillary Clinton's presidential nomination campaign" (Keenan 2016). She argues that for "Clinton's capitalist-loving, war-mongering machine to exploit the radical, grassroots, anti-establishment, DIY-sound of riot grrrl was a particularly offensive co-optation" (Keenan 2016). Framing the video as promotional is key to Keenan's argument. As a promotional video, the mashup becomes part of the Clinton campaign. Keenan argues that her frustration with the appropriation of "Rebel Girl" rises out of her belief that "part of the joy and momentum that powered the riot grrrl movement was the space that it created for fans—primarily young women—not only to consume music and ideas, but to participate in their making and to take ownership of them. Riot grrrl belongs to its fans, who in turn constitute the movement" (Keenan 2016). The riot grrrl movement was developed and implemented as much by fans as by the musicians who provided the soundtrack. Everything she is articulating here should make her a natural ally of the work that Wing and Sampo are doing with their mashup. Her opposition to the work stems from an inability to conceptualize that same kind of participatory spirit within the context of the modern American political campaign.

4. Summary and concluding thoughts

[4.1] Much of the debate surrounding "Rebel Girl" centers on the question of whether or not someone can be a political fan in the same way one can be a sports fan or media fan. In an essay on youth activism, Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova (2016) tell the story of an MIT conference where several speakers, who had just presented on participatory politics, were asked if they viewed their work as activism. The speakers were quick to distance fan engagement from activism because of the perceived political connotation. Increasingly, fan communities are becoming places to mobilize political action; yet it seems fan scholars are reluctant to view fan work as overtly political (Brough and Shresthova 2012; Hinck 2012; Jenkins and Shresthova 2016; Sandvoss 2013). Ashley Hinck (2012) points out that many would prefer to refer to fan engagement with politics as media engagement instead of civic engagement. At the same time, Catherine Burwell and Megan Boler (2008) argue that there is a tendency to overlook fans in political research, which may be largely related to stereotypes surrounding fandom: "This oversight might be explained by the historical marginalization of fans and fandom. Even as fan practices move into the mainstream and fans themselves become coveted audiences, fans and fandom continue to be stereotyped as irrational, emotional and most relevant here, as peripheral to the political sphere." With that said, the overtly emotional relationship that characterizes fandom in politics offers a critical lens for understanding seemingly nonsensical political decisions. As De Kosnik (2008) explains, when political fans feel disenfranchised, "emotional investments and affective relationships seem to trump ideological commitments and long-standing party loyalties."

[4.2] The productivity of fans makes them uniquely situated to engage political content in a proactive way. To borrow a term from Jenkins (2012), fans are comfortable "poaching" mainstream media texts and remaking them in their own voice. That is a skill that is increasingly critical for political participation. Today, citizens on sites like Facebook and Twitter are being asked to somewhat passively circulate content distributed by political campaigns and news outlets. Participatory culture has prepared fans to see places where they can intervene and reshape political conversation. The "Rebel Girl" video is a powerful example of this potential. Furthermore, De Kosnik (2008) points out that the emotional dimension of political fandom might be the key to driving stronger citizen engagement. In this video, one can see how the emotional relationship fans have to the text can open new ways of looking and remembering. When that affective framework enters the discussion, it offers a powerful intervention into the mainstream media narratives that shape popular memory. However, that intervention is only made possible when we recognize the fan voice within the text. To allow the tools of participatory culture to change the way we conduct political discussions, we must identify and highlight the existence of fan activity within modern political discourse.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] I would like to thank my colleagues at Keene State College for their thoughtful feedback. Special thanks to Jennifer Musial for her time editing this essay and for allowing me to workshop an early version of this project with her Women and Gender Studies class. Also, thank you to Sara Hottinger, Dean of Arts and Humanities, for inviting me to present the essay to faculty as part of the New Voices/New Visions series.

6. Works cited

Anderson, Karrin Vasby. 2002. "From Spouses to Candidates: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, and the Gendered Office of US President." Rhetoric and Public Affairs 5 (1): 105–32. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/rap.2002.0001.

Bernstein, Carl. 2008. A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. New York: Vintage Books.

Booth, Paul J. 2012a. "Mashup as Temporal Amalgam: Time, Taste, and Textuality." Transformative Works and Cultures, no 9. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0297.

Booth, Paul J. 2012b. Time on TV: Temporal Displacement and Mashup Television. New York: Peter Lang.

Booth, Paul J. 2012c. "Saw Fandom and the Transgression of Fan Excess." In Transgression 2.0: Media, Culture, and the Politics of a Digital Age, edited by David J. Gunkel and Ted Gournelos, 69–84. New York: Continuum.

Boyle, James. 2008. The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Brough, Melissa M., and Sangita Shresthova. 2012. "Fandom Meets Activism: Rethinking Civic and Political Participation." In "Transformative Works and Fan Activism," edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 10. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0303.

Burwell, Catherine, and Megan Boler. 2008. "Calling on the Colbert Nation: Fandom, Politics and Parody in an Age of Media Convergence." Electronic Journal of Communication 18, no. 2.

Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. 1998. "The Discursive Performance of Femininity: Hating Hillary." Rhetoric and Public Affairs 1 (1): 1–19. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/rap.2010.0172.

Carlin, Diana B., and Kelly L. Winfrey. 2009. "Have You Come a Long Way, Baby? Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Sexism in 2008 Campaign Coverage." Communication Studies 60 (4): 326–43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10510970903109904.

Bennett, Lucy, Bertha Chin, and Bethan Jones. 2016. "Between Ethics, Privacy, Fandom, and Social Media: New Trajectories that Challenge Media Producer/Fan Relations. In Controversies in Digital Ethics, edited by Amber Davisson and Paul Booth, 107–22. New York: Bloomsbury.

Cohen, Paul A. 2014. History and Popular Memory. New York: Columbia University Press.

De Kosnik, Abigail. 2008. "Participatory Democracy and Hillary Clinton's Marginalized Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2008.0047.

Gray, Emma. 2016. "Behind the Video that Made Hillary Clinton's Feminism Go Viral (In A Good Way)." Huffington Post, February 25. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-rebel-girl-is-her-best-feminist-campaign-ad-she-didnt-make_us_56cf3925e4b03260bf75c7f8.

Haskins, Ekaterina V. 2015. Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Heldman, Caroline, and Lisa Wade. 2011. "Sexualizing Sarah Palin: The Social and Political Contexts of the Sexual Objectification of Female Candidates." Sex Roles 65 (3–4): 156–64. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9984-6

Helmers, Marguerite. 2001. "Media, Discourse, and the Public Sphere: Electronic Memorials to Diana, Princess of Wales." College English 63 (4): 437–56. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/378889.

Hetcher, Steven A. 2009. "Using Social Norms to Regulate Fan Fiction and Remix Culture." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 157 (6): 1869–1935.

Hinck, Ashley. 2012. "Theorizing a Public Engagement Keystone: Seeing Fandom's Integral Connection to Civic Engagement through the Case of the Harry Potter Alliance." In "Transformative Works and Fan Activism," edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 10. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0311.

hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Brooklyn: South End Press.

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. 1995. Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership. New York: Oxford University Press.

Japenga, Ann. 1992. "Punk's Girl Groups Are Putting the Self Back in Self-Esteem." New York Times, November 15.

Jenkins, Henry. 2012. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd. 2015. Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Jenkins, Henry and Sangita Shresthova. 2016. "It's Called Giving a Shit!: What Counts as Politics?" In By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, edited by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely M. Zimmerman, 253–89. New York: New York University Press.

Keenan, Sarah. 2016. "Hillary Clinton, Riot Grrrl and Subversive Property." Critical Legal Thinking, March 10. http://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/03/10/hillary-clinton-riot-grrrl-subversive-property/.

Kelley, Colleen E. 2001. The Rhetoric of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton: Crisis Management Discourse. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Lazare, Sarah. 2016. "Hello. It's Me. Now Quit Using My Songs for Your Racist, Islamophobic Message, Mr. Trump!" Salon, March 1. http://www.salon.com/2016/03/01/you_may_not_use_my_song_partner/.

Lemire, Jonathan. 2012. "Hillary Clinton Dances the Night Away at a Party in South Africa." New York Daily News, August 8. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/watch-hillary-clinton-dances-night-party-south-africa-article-1.1131483.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. London: Penguin.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2008. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. London: Penguin.

McGinley, Ann C. 2009. "Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Obama: Performing Gender, Race, and Class on the Campaign Trail." Denver University Law Review 86:709–26.

Nelson, Sean. 2016. "Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill Gets Hillary Clinton "Rebel Girl" Video Taken Down for Copyright Infringement." The Stranger, February 26. http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2016/02/26/23625490/tobi-vail-of-bikini-kill-gets-hillary-clinton-rebel-girl-video-taken-down-for-copyright-infringement.

Nutting, Rex. 2016. "Hillary Clinton Will Win Because She's the True Conservative in the Race." MarketWatch, February 22. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hillary-clinton-could-win-by-appealing-to-our-conservative-instincts-2016-02-22.

Parry-Giles, Shawn J. 2000. "Mediating Hillary Rodham Clinton: Television News Practices and Image-Making in the Postmodern Age." Critical Studies in Media Communication 17 (2): 205–26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295030009388390.

Parry-Giles, Shawn J. 2014. Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Peck, Jamie. 2016. "Tobi Vail Issues Copyright Infringement Notice to Hillary Clinton 'Rebel Girl' Video." Death and Taxes, February 25. http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/282210/tobi-vail-copyright-infringement-notice-hillary-clinton-rebel-girl-video/.

Sandvoss, Cornel. 2013. "Toward an Understanding of Political Enthusiasm as Media Fandom: Blogging, Fan Productivity and Affect in American Politics." Participations 10 (1): 252–96.

Schilt, Kristen. 2003. "'A Little Too Ironic': The Appropriation and Packaging of Riot Grrrl Politics by Mainstream Female Musicians." Popular Music and Society 26 (1): 5–16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0300776032000076351.

Shear, Michael. 2016. "Highlights from the Fifth Democratic Debate." New York Times, February 4. http://nyti.ms/20dIIM7.

Sievers, Alex. 2016. "The Clinton Campaign Use Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl,' Tobi Vail Not Happy." Kill Your Stereo, February 26. http://www.killyourstereo.com/news/1081938/the-clinton-campaign-use-bikini-kills-rebel-girl-tobi-vail-not-happy.

Spigel, Lynn, and Henry Jenkins. 2015. "Same Bat Channel, Different Bat Times: Mass Culture and Popular Memory." In Many More Lives of the Batman, edited by Roberta Pearson, William Uricchio, and Will Brooker, 171–204. London: British Film Institute.

Troy, Gil. 2000. Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Wilson, Jason. 2011. Playing with Politics: Political Fans and Twitter Faking in Post-broadcast Democracy." Convergence 17 (4): 445–61. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354856511414348.

Winfield, Betty Houchin. 1997. "The Making of an Image: Hillary Rodham Clinton and American Journalists." Political Communication 14 (2): 241–53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/105846097199470.

Unger, Rhoda Kesler, and Mary E. Crawford. 1992. Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.





Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. TWC is a member of DOAJ. Contact the Editor with questions.