New Theories of Liberation?

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

In my previous blog post I introduced some of the ideas I’m throwing around in anticipation of my thesis next year.  Broadly I want to think about remix culture as it’s emerged in the last half century and whether it holds any sort of liberative potential.

Most of the scholarship so far has been of the Lawrence Lessig ilk that looks at remix culture, or as he refers to it these days, read-write culture, against a backdrop of United States Intellectual Property Law,, coming out ultimately in favor of most of it as fair use of pre-existing copyrighted material. Implicit and often explicit in this scholarship too, then, is the idea that this type of cultural production is, in fact, liberative in the way it puts individuals in the driver’s seat of production, making participant into a subject rather than a potentially passive consumer/object.

Of course I want to rethink this, giving serious consideration to the possibility that rather than allowing us to be more active subjects, remix culture might be read as a postmodern mutation of a hegemonic culture industry, whose products have advanced in sophistication so as to inculcate us in false consciousness more deceptively (that is, giving the impression that we are in control) and occupy our time for longer so that we are less likely to go out and make change in our material conditions.

But this begs the question of exactly how we think about changing our material conditions today? What constitutes liberation for contemporary Critical Theorists? Of course I don’t know the answer yet. It seems that the classic Marxist days of touting class struggle as the ultimate goal have been left behind doubtless due in part to the failed socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia in the 1900s. It also seems that we’re moving past the ubiquitous but ultimately vague focus on resistance, emerging from the plethora of applications of Foucauldian power analysis, but where to now? The one lead I have in this area, at least in terms of thinking about Media Studies and the Culture Industry is the possibility of some sort of dual-pronged fusion of pleasure and media literacy. The pleasure-seeking media literate subject, in my mind, allows him or herself to engage with products emerging from a particular ideological matrix and engage with it actively in order to experience libidinal arousal without necessarily swallowing the ideological content whole. Of course this doesn’t take into account the particulars of remix culture as opposed to any other production, but I’ll save that for next time as I continue to gather my thoughts.