Madison Jones, University of Florida

This two-part, multimodal assignment has students thinking about remix and digital poiesis by analyzing and creating advertisements featuring poems. This four-week unit answers Dustin Edwards’ (2015) call for “teaching what constitutes meaningful and productive authorship in a digital economy of writing” (42) through two connected assignments, an analysis paper and a remix video. By writing about and making remixes, students are exposed to what Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss (2009) term “rhetorical velocity”—the way that texts move in digital spaces—and what Laurie Gries (2013) and Edwards (2015) term “transformation”—how digital texts are (re)composed. The assignments prompt students to consider the act of making and reproducing digital texts as a form of rhetorical invention.

This activity is an effective means for discussing the nuances of imitation, intellectual property, and plagiarism in relation to remix and digital writing. Many of the poems (see fig. 1) serve as compelling examples of various attitudes towards invention and ownership, such as the solitary genius of the Romantic era (Johnson-Eilola and Selber 2007), the contemporary gendering of invention and plagiarism (Howard 2000), and the commodification of poetic images in advertising (Edwards 2015). Students analyze and practice digital rhetoric as a persuasive art whose exigencies are greater than a simple move from page to screen.

Writing Component

Moderate: 1000-1500 words

Group Size

Any

Level of Difficulty

Upper & lower-division undergraduate.


Instructions

For the essay, students should imagine that they are a copyright lawyer in the case of POET v. COMPANY, between one of the poets in the below chart (fig. 1) and the company who used their intellectual property in an advertisement. Drawing from one of Edwards’ four typologies of transformation, students argue whether or not they believe the ad successfully remixes the poem, and if so, which type best characterizes the two texts, using rhetorical analysis to support their argument. Their thesis statement will make one of five potential claims: either the ad does not remix, or the ad transforms the poem according to one of Edwards’ four typologies.

A few qualifications are important to make for this assignment. Unlike real-world trials, I allow students to select which side they represent. I find that the majority of students defend the advertising company, but both sides have equal potential for successful arguments. Before they resolve to represent the poet (prosecution) or the company (defense), they must decide if the advertisement has or has not successfully transformed the poem through remix. Students decide by comparing rhetorical analyses of both texts. If the ad fails to transform the original through remix, the students prosecute the advertising company, arguing that they are guilty of intellectual property theft. If the ad succeeds in remixing the poem, they defend the advertising company, arguing that they are not guilty of intellectual property theft. Likewise, for this essay, students must ignore the fact that most of these poems are in the public domain and imagine that public domain laws do not apply to this case.

Early in the semester, we discuss Laura Bolin Carroll’s article “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis” and define rhetorical terms and practice analysis. Throughout the unit, we analyze some of the poems and the accompanying advertisements (see fig. 1) to practice using rhetorical terms. Their ability to recognize how texts reshape rhetorical strategies helps them in both analyzing and producing advertisements. Thus, they recognize how analysis functions as both an interpretive and a generative tool, and they observe rhetorical velocity across print-based and electronic texts.

The remix assignment has students produce a 2–3 minute video remixing a poem as an advertisement (or parody) of a product, service, idea, or public value. Having watched several ads by Levi’s for the essay assignment, we turn to the Levi’s parody ad “Go Forth and Revolt” which Edwards (2015) discusses. After we discuss the video as a form of remix, we have a brainstorming session for our own poem/ad remixes. Through this assignment, students consider the acts of making and reproducing through rhetorical invention. Students are encouraged to use open-source content (from sources like creativecommons.org) for audio and video, or they can create their own.


Reflection

This assignment remains a student favorite across three institutions where I implemented it in both upper and lower division undergraduate writing classes. Students enjoy the opportunity to apply rhetorical analysis to a legal context and to write for a specific and unique audience. We open the unit by watching Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk, “Laws that choke creativity,” which connects the legal issues surrounding copyright to digital composing and sharing. The essay prompt borders on the prescriptive without being too restrictive. Because students select one of five potential thesis statements, this activity is well suited for teaching organization and resource use, as it takes some of the pressure off students to develop novel claims on top of the many other elements of a successful essay.

While the essay has a narrow focus, the video gives students opportunities for creativity through remix and parody. Having developed rhetorical skills through analysis, I find that students have less difficulty turning to those same rhetorical techniques as inventive heuristics. It is important to consider how some students will more successfully grasp the technological components of any digital project, and this assignment is no different. In my classroom, I emphasize how the concept of the remix video is at least as important as the finished product. That is, assignment grades are not based entirely on the quality of the videos but also the conceptual and rhetorical approaches used. I allow students to revise and resubmit assignments that receive a grade below a certain level. This encourages them to take risks with their work. In my class, I assign an optional Adobe Premiere Pro (video-editing software) tutorial, as the software is available from my institution, but I also allow my students to use any video editing software with which they are more comfortable.

In our final week, devoted to revision, we conduct a peer review and spend the following two class periods watching the documentary Rip!: A Remix Manifesto and working on video projects. This gives students more time to revise their written projects outside of class. I find that students enjoy the variety of the two-part assignment, which allows more time for revision. Likewise, students are able to practice various rhetorical techniques across media, such as arrangement when composing the remix video and in organizing their paper.

This assignment could easily be modified to suit a variety of different English courses. It could easily be expanded to an 8-week series to allow a greater depth of engagement with the scholarly conversations in writing studies about remix, originality, invention, plagiarism, and digital rhetoric. Likewise, the assignment could be reduced to a much shorter version by removing the essay component. Students could watch and discuss remix in the various advertisements, watch the “Go Forth and Revolt” parody, and then make the remix videos. Other variations on this assignment might be useful in Literature-focused classrooms, where one or more of the authors is being covered. It could lead to productive conversations about how contemporary audiences perceive their work. Creative writing classes might take up this assignment as a writing prompt, where students write poems as ads or convert ads into poems.


Useful Resources

  • Carroll, Laura Bolin. “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing. Eds. Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, Parlor Press, 2010.
  • Gaylor, Brett, Mila Aung-Thwin, Kat Baulu, and Germaine Y. G. Wong. Rip!: A Remix Manifesto. Montréal: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
  • “Go Forth and Revolt.” YouTube, uploaded by Go4thREVOLT, 17 August 17 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVc8auO1vuA
  • Lessig, Lawrence. “Laws that choke creativity”TED Conference, 2007.

Work Cited

Edwards, Dustin. “Framing Remix Rhetorically: Toward A Typology of Transformative Work.” Computers and Composition, vol. 39, 2016, pp. 41–54.

Gries, Laurie E. “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies.” Computers and Composition, vol. 30, no. 4, 2013, pp. 332–348.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators. Albex, 1999.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan and Stuart A. Selber, “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage.” Computers and Composition, vol. 24, no. 4, 2007, pp. 375–403.

Ridolfo, Jim and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss. “Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery.” Kairos, vol. 13, no. 2, 2009, n.pag, http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/13.2/topoi/ridolfo_devoss/remix.html.