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Food for thought | The Gustavian Weekly

By Andy Bryan Staff Columnist | November 30, 2012 | Opinion

If I had a dollar for every time I liked a post... <em>Andy Bryan</em>

If I had a dollar for every time I liked a post... Andy Bryan

Mirages in the land of the re-blogger

I come from a family with a background in classical music. At a young age, I was surrounded by plaster busts of composers with powdered wigs or big beards and stern eyes, whose music was far from hip and even further from the main stream.

Eventually, though, I became aware of the music being sold to my generation. By the time I had reached middle school, unspoken social tenets and the pep rally playlist had made me keenly aware of what music was “cool.” Gangster Rap being played un-ironically by white eighth-graders became unavoidable in metro-Minnesotan suburbia.

Whenever the token rap hit came in over the radio, I seldom recognized the artist but often recognized the sample. The legitimized nature of the “sample,” or that piece of someone else’s music that is cut and pasted over and over and turned into the new song’s chorus, eluded me, but I was invariably irritated at its unaccredited appropriation.

Yeah, I was an uptight thirteen-year-old when it came to creative license. I have since eased my judgment and embraced the sampling culture, and it’s a good thing I did because the trend of conspicuously “borrowing” another artist’s work to reshape it and appropriate it as one’s own has become increasingly pervasive across all creative media.

Today, sampling has been one-upped by mash-ups, a genre utterly devoid of original content that has seen artists rise from anonymity to stardom. These mashers enjoy fairly legitimate reputations as gifted artists purely because of their talent for cleverly combining and repackaging what is already present in their field’s creative environment. In a sense, this skill is quickly becoming the most valuable in the generation that is now coming of age.

Countless blogs are becoming feverishly popular for doing nothing but finding an image and matching it with a witty name. Other blogs, in turn, garner attention for re-blogging these image-with-witty-name blogs onto their own. For the uninitiated, re-blogging is exactly what it sounds like: copying another blogger’s entry and pasting it onto one’s own.

To an outsider, it may be tempting to view this phenomenon as petty, quaint or lacking in any substantial product, but before this judgment is passed one ought to consider the most recent instance of a meteoric, Rockefeller-esque rise to American fame and fortune.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, Inc., redefined the modern social and commercial landscape by realizing the value in repackaging what was already pervasive in industrialized culture: the internet.

In creating Facebook, Zuckerberg essentially standardized the internet experience, and in doing so, created a consistent, tangible currency for popularity. The Facebook “Like” is now arguably one of the most valuable commodities to a business, and it is nothing more than a repackaged representation of a focal point of attention in the vast network of interconnected consciousness known as the internet.

In this context, bloggers vying for attention on the internet no longer appear petty, but perfectly congruent to the modern power structure both in form and content.

There is nothing essentially new about borrowing from the past to bring the world something new. Consciously or not, Ysaye borrowed melodies from Bach just as Frank Zappa snagged ideas from Holst. What seems novel about today’s trend is its distilled and self-aware nature, and herein lies the cautionary message.

This conspicuous self-awareness sends unprecedented messages of do-it-yourself ease that seem to invite any willing person into the creative process. I believe this is misleading. Inspired creativity requires just as much innovative genius as ever, perhaps the preferred skillset is shifting, but overall it’s just less aesthetically obvious.

The un-creative ought not to be lured into the field of creativity by the deceptive temptation of the rock star lifestyle of the entrepreneur who’s won the lottery of fame. Ultimately, the creative field is still one that rewards those for whom the process is a reward in and of itself.


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  1. Greg Boone says:

    Recommended winter break reading: The Master Switch by Tim Wu. You’ll love it.

    – Greg Boone ’09