Communication Studies, Department of


All Living Things are DJs: Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Remix Culture

Scott H. Church, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Damien Smith Pfister. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Scott H. Church

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This dissertation is an inquiry into the contemporary practice of remix. Broadly, I define remix as the process of entering into closed systems of intellectual property and reopening them to borrow, add to, or alter the content. Because technological innovation outpaces the vocabulary of media theory, my objective is to develop a critical vocabulary to equip rhetorical and media scholars with a theoretical repertoire of terms to address remix. In developing this vocabulary, I discuss the rhetorical antecedents to remix (represented by the classical rhetorician Isocrates) and the aesthetic antecedents to remix (primarily the avant-garde art of the twentieth century). I also use remix to navigate through the largely uncharted terrain at the intersection between rhetoric, music, digital media, and aesthetics.

Remix is not a new or strictly technological process but rather a communicative practice that shares common objectives with rhetoric. Remix bridges pre-modern and postmodern eras through its use of collective creation, sampling, imitatio, and performance in the cultural production of texts. Because the theoretical tools derived from the rhetorical tradition are largely used for studying rhetoric in a linguistic context, however, these theories cannot be uncritically deployed to study remix. Therefore, I remix key concepts of rhetorical theory, like Kenneth Burke’s “perspective by incongruity” and “exorcism by misnomer,” into their respective digital counterparts, “perspective by congruity” and “possession by misnomer.” In so doing, I methodologically perform remix as well. In examining the mashups of remix artist Girl Talk as representative texts for remix culture, I argue that thinking of remix as rhetorical changes how we see the copyright debate. Remix also provides a hybridized site wherein the cognitive dimension of epistemic rhetoric and the sensuous dimension of aesthetic rhetoric coexist. I create the terminological mashup epaesthetic rhetoric to explain this oscillatory tension. In analyzing two auto-tuned videos, “Bed Intruder Song,” and “Dead Giveaway,” by remix artists the Gregory Brothers, the analysis reveals insights pertaining to the rhetorical and aesthetic nature of mediated texts in remix culture.

Adviser: Damien Smith Pfister