Tag Archives: STS

I Got Remixed by a Palestinian Hip-Hop Activist

A while back I wrote an incendiary post Remix Culture is a Myth that got me accused of elitism and other signs of unhipness. Stepping off of a tweet by Andrew Keen (“remix is a myth. … Barely anyone is remixing…”), I claimed remix culture receives way more academic attention than it’s small examples deserved. Biella Coleman and others correctly reminded me that it isn’t its quantity or quality but its challenge to legal institutions and liberal philosophy, as well as novel modes of production within and maybe beyond capitalism that make remix important. They convinced me of these points but I am still reeling from a new experience that added another perspective to my understanding of the impact of remix culture. My footage just got remixed by a Palestinian activist. 

A little over a month ago I uploaded 24 minutes of raw footage of the Palestine/Israel Wall I shot in 2009. This is footage for a documentary I am making about divided cities. I’ve finished the sections on Nicosia, Cyprus and Belfast, North Ireland and I’ve finished shooting but not editing this story on East Jerusalem. Unedited and with its natural sounds I thought it was gritty and evocative enough to stand alone on YouTube. I uploaded it and titled it “Palestine Apartheid Wall Raw Footage.” Last week I got a YouTube message from user WHW680 who kindly informed me that he remixed my footage into the French pro-independent Palestine hip-hop video “the Wall of Zionist Racist Freedom for Palestine.” Shocked and honored I watched the video.

Artistically, WHW680 doesn’t use the shots I would; he doesn’t get the projection ratios right; I wouldn’t quite be so intense with the title; and he cuts the edits too early or too late, making the viewing experience choppy. I am being intentionally superficial here for a reason, as I am trying to express the first round of mental dissonance experienced when remixed. As a cinematographer it is an enlightening if challenging ordeal. It gets deeper, too, when your work is not only remixed in a way that challenges your technical and artistic vision but is used politically in surprising ways.

The footage was used to make a music video for the track “Palestine” by Le Ministère des Affaires Populaires, a popular Arab-French hip-hip group in Paris, off of “Les Bronzés Font du Ch’ti” described as “an album that sounds like a call to rebellion, insurrection and disobedience but also solidarity.” They tour Palestine, including Gaza. The music is fantastic, mixing breaks, good flows, meaningful lyrics, and longing violins. Obviously I can get behind the activism of a liberated Palestine but becoming a tool for propaganda, despite my agreement with it, without my vocal consent, is a creatively dissonant experience.

Political semiotic engineering for the right causes I can dig, but agency denying actions are experienced as a type of cognitive violation nonetheless. The quintessential sign of this is the final few second of the video. After the footage ends and while the music still lingers, the words “Freedom, Return, and Equality,” and “Free Palestine-Boycott Israel,” and www.bdsmovement.net circle a Palestinian flag. This final frame essentially brands this video for the BDS Movement, a civil rights organization focused on “boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

This isn’t “my” footage anymore, WHW680 generously cites me in the description, but the semiotic potential of the footage previously shot by me is mobilized for the BDS Movement. The aesthetic and the political fold into each other in remix activities in which preceding agencies, my own as cameraman, is incorporated or replaced by the technical agencies of the French remixer, WHW680, and reformulated into the political vision of the pro-Palestinian BDS Movement. Which is all good, but it gives me a new look at remix culture.

This experience has forced me to eat some of my words. Remix culture isn’t a myth. I agree with my earlier detractors who stated that it isn’t about the volume of the activity nor the impact of this remixed song or that music video. I would add something more. Being remixed is personally transformative for those being reformatted by values and practices beyond their control. Not only does remix challenge jurisprudence and liberalism, and present new modes of knowledge production, it also modifies the subjective constitution of agency in artistic and political social sphere.

Mobiles, Money and Mobility in Haiti

[This is a guest post by Heather Horst and Erin B. Taylor, and is part of our series Reflections on Haiti. Heather is an Associate Project Scientist at the University of California, Irvine. Erin is a Lecturer at the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology. For more on their collaborative efforts, click here.]

Just over a year ago on January 7th, 2010, Erin Taylor (see www.erinbtaylor.com) and I received notification that our proposed project on money, migration and mobile phones on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic (link) had been officially funded by Bill Maurer’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion. Excited by the prospect of conducting new research, Erin and I exchanged emails and set a date to begin to plan what we anticipated would be a small, one-year project that explored the movement of people, currencies and mobile phone signals across the border (and by the same company, Digicel, who radically transformed the Jamaican telecommunications market in the first half of the decade). Five days later, on January 12, 2010, the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti.

Within days of the earthquake I received an email from an administrator at UC Irvine asking if we still planned to go to Haiti. Since our start date was still a few months away, we saw no reason to cancel our project but recognized that it would likely take on new dimensions as the daily life of Haitians – even in the distant region we planned to work – were transformed by the event and its aftermath. As distant observers, it was impossible not to pay attention to the reports of aid sitting and waiting transport, the use of mobile phones to ‘text’ donations and the non-stop stories circulating via mainstream media, twitter and a range of other social media. Money, mobile phones and (im)mobility seemed to be front and center. A few months later (with additional support from IMTFI), we decided to team up with Espelencia Baptiste (Kalamazoo College), an anthropologist who was spending her sabbatical outside of Port-au-Prince, to begin to look more systematically at what was happening on the ground.

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What I Like About Science

2010 saw some interesting articles lately calling into question some of the most basic assumptions regarding the scientific method. In March there was an article by Tom Siegfried which argued that “the ‘scientific method’ of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation.” Of course, the problem may not be so much with the method, but with the application. Siegfried’s point is that

Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.

I’m no statistician, so I’ll let the more mathematically literate evaluate the claims in that article. I link to it because it resonates with what my former roommate (and frequent commentator on Savage Minds) once told me. He said that biological anthropologists frequently misunderstand the results of computer programs which produce genetic trees because they don’t properly grasp the underlying math. Some people argue that a similar problem nearly brought down the world economy.

Even when the science is done right, there are some serious problems that need to be addressed. When research isn’t published in fake peer review journals or ghost written by pharmaceutical companies, there are still inherent biases against publishing “negative results.” And even when everything is done right, strong empirical results are often impossible to replicate:

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable.

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