Let's Go Crazy: Teaching Cultural Literacy Through Remix
ASSIGNMENT (ONGOING) The Lenz v. Universal case, fair use, and parody were central concepts of discussion culminating in the Let’s Go Crazy assignment. Fair use is an element of copyright that enables citizens to use copyright protected material for the purpose of criticism or parody. Saturday Night Live skits, The Simpsons, Weird Al Yankovich and audio sampling in DJ culture exemplify fair use in action. Remixes made for YouTube, such as My Cubicle, Why is the Rum Gone? and Sarah Palin Remix “Doggone it, Darn Right, You Betcha” provide contemporary examples of Lessig’s RW culture, along with Where Daft Punk Got Their Samples From and Eric Faden’s A Fair(y) Use Tale. Lessig reminds us that our world is one in which “technology begs all of us to create and spread creative work differently from how it was created and spread before” (Lessig, Remix, NY: Penguin Press 2008, xviii).

After reviewing the Lenz v. Universal case, the nuances of fair use, and examples of parodies generated as part of RW culture, students create a parody video or remix of the original Let’s Go Crazy #1 video that adheres to the following guidelines: (1) the video is the same duration as the original, 29 seconds; (2) the video uses Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy or an audio remix of the original video as soundtrack of the work; (3) the content of the video is transformative; and (4) the final work is posted as a video response to Lenz’s original Let’s Go Crazy #1 video on YouTube. Each time a user uploads a video response, YouTube automatically sends a message to the owner of the addressed video. Each semester, Stephanie Lenz receives multiple notices from YouTube that new users are uploading responses to her original video. By following the last component of the assignment, each student shares her remixed work with Ms. Lenz before it is made public on YouTube.

The communications students enrolled in Digital Foundations are not film students. Many use video capabilities on their cameras or cell phones for the first time while creating media for this assignment. In class, we reflect on the aesthetics of the original video. In order to respond to this assignment, the student must reference something in the original video. As ruled by both the Campbell (otherwise known as the 2Live Crew case) and Mattel, Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods. cases, Mark Sableman reminds us, “One cannot parody an original without copying enough of the original to bring it to mind” (Mark Sableman, “Artistic Expression Today: Can Artists Use the Language of our Culture?” 52 St. Louis L.J. 187, 2007, 8). Simply placing the song Let’s Go Crazy as background music to borrowed visuals without adding criticism, or clearly expressing the transformative concept of the creative endeavor leads to mimicry or abstraction. Students are directed away from mimicry, and towards the creation of a new work that effectively communicates a new idea. Henry Jenkins writes, “More and more literacy experts are recognizing that enacting, reciting, and appropriating elements from preexisting stories is a valuable and organic part of the process by which children develop cultural literacy” (Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, NY: New York University Press, 2006, 177).

Let’s Go Crazy Elevator repositions the actors in an elevator.

Let’s Go Crazy Big Boys always gets a laugh the classroom.

READING THE ORIGINAL In the original movie, the person holding the camera is made known when the narrator speaks into the microphone. She says, “What do you think of the music?” at 5 seconds, and she laughs at 25 seconds. There are two characters - Holden, dressed in red, bobs up and down while another child wheels a play stroller in circles around him. The home video is made in a kitchen. The lighting is indoor lighting (in opposition to studio lighting). We do not know what time of day it is or the relationship between the child running around Holden, the camera person, and Holden. We know that Stephanie is Holden's mother (because we have read articles about the court case in class), and we assume Stephanie is holding the camera since she posted the video.

PLAN YOUR SCRIPT This is a lot of audio and visual information. Before responding to the assignment, students determine if they will include the same dialog in their version of the remix, if the audio track is repeated, the identity of the speaking person, and the nature of his or her relationship to the characters or the camera person? Is the speaker seen in the video or heard from an off-camera position? Will the video be made using indoor lighting? Are there two characters? Are the characters children, adults, machines, animals, dolls, or something else? Will someone be dressed in red? Will a character be seen pushing an object? Will a second character make circles around the first?

Students include a warning at the beginning of their videos claiming that the parody is protected by fair use. The warning, downloaded as a still-screen shot from “A Fair(y) Use Tale,” shares the same aesthetic treatment as the FBI warning common to traditional film media. Although the warning was created by someone else, it is fitting that each videos begins with a visual parody of the design common to the film industry used for expressing traditional copyright literature.