wrts10 assignment 2: memes and remixes

Assignment Overview

In six words, Lawrence Lessig encapsulates the differences between the older and younger generations: “We watched TV; they make TV.” Contemporary culture is participatory; people create their own entertainment and distribute it online for others to enjoy, critique, or ignore. Much of this entertainment takes older media and represents it in a new way, often adding a new layer of social commentary. This is called remixing. Along with remixes, Internet memes—“a catchphrase or concept that spreads rapidly from person to person via the Internet”—have become important parts of contemporary culture. Complementing the viral spread of memes are imitations of the memes. These imitations can also go viral, and when enough imitations are made a community emerges. In this unit, we will create our own remixes that make some kind of comment about popular culture and/or contemporary society. A 3 – 5 minute interpretive video essay will accompany each video. Unit I is called “The Hitler Downfall Meme” and Unit II, “Mashup, Remix, and Society.”

Unit I: The Hitler Downfall Meme

On 16 September 2004 Oliver Hirschbiegel released Der Untergang, a movie set in Hitler’s bunker and tells the story of the final twelve days leading up to Hitler’s suicide. It was released in the United States as Downfall. It was a critical hit, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and garnered numerous international awards for both the movie and the actor playing Hitler, Bruno Ganz. Here is the scene in the original German:

And with English subtitles:

On June 07, 2007, MOTURK49, uploaded the first English language Downfall parody, “Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live.” This video parodies one of the final (and best) scenes of the movie by changing the subtitles to reflect Hitler’s severe displeasure with getting banned from Xbox Live. As of this writing it has been viewed 3,823,615 time (in Fall 2009 it had been viewed 2,534,127 times), and has spawned hundreds of other parodies. The Hitler Downfall Meme, as it is so called, has been covered by Wired, The New York Times Magazine, and The Times Online, and theorized by MIT Convergence Culture Consortium staff member Alex Leavitt in “Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World.” Other scenes have been added to the mix, broadening the impact of the meme and diversifying the locations for Hitler’s displeasure. A YouTube channel and a YouTube group have emerged to organize the videos (warning: many of the parodies are, for lack of a better word, vulgar, containing foul language and explicit sexual references—not ironically, these are also the most funny). YouTomb has stills from videos that Constantin Film AG requested YouTube remove from the site, citing copyright infringement. Despite the parodies obviously falling under Fair Use, YouTube has complied by removing many of the videos. (I suspect that this may now change since Der Untergang director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, has weighed-in on the parodies: “I think I’ve seen about 145 of them! Of course, I have to put the sound down when I watch. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director.” The parodies have taken the scene and the depiction of Hitler in new directions, while simultaneously locating themselves within a rich tradition of parodies of Hitler, such as Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” (1968, 2005) and “Hitler Rap” (2006).

In this unit, each student will engage and help expand this meme by remixing the Hitler Downfall scene with their own subtitles. The topic of the video is up to you, though it will be approved. The video should, through Hitler’s displeasure, comment in some way on popular culture and/or contemporary society. Below are some examples to show you the range of subjects that have been covered:

“Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live”

“Hitler Finds Out His Date for the Dance is Taken”

“Hitler Wants a Cheeseburger”

“Hitler Finds Out Sarah Palin Resigns”

“Hitler Finds Out about the Downfall Parodies”

Steps to Complete the Project

  1. Download a copy of the original video without subtitles. To download, right click and Save Link As on one of the following links: original video without subtitles for iMovie 6 or HD (.mov); original video without subtitles for iMovie 08 or 09 (.m4p); original video without subtitles for Windows Movie Maker (.avi).
  2. Come up with a topic of your movie.
  3. Write the script, mirroring the lines with the scenes in the movie where the characters speak. (Do not be afraid to have Hitler curse–and to spell out the word fully instead of writing something like, “F*CK!”—if you think it is necessary for that part in the script).
  4. Import the original movie into iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and split the movie into multiple clips so that each clip contains a section of dialogue.
  5. Add your lines as subtitles. See how to add subtitles to iMovie 08 and how to add subtitles to Windows Movie Maker.
  6. Export your movie and upload it to YouTube.

Specifics when Uploading the Video to YouTube

  • Upload the video to course YouTube channel
  • Place the complete title of your video in the form field when uploading the video. The title you choose should be meaningful and should start with the word, “Hitler.”
  • In the Description form field, add the following text:
    • start with a one sentence description of the the video
    • state: “This video is a parody of Downfall (2004), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, and because it is a parody it falls under the FAIR USE guidelines of United State copyright laws. This statement functions as attribution. The original, un-subtitled footage that was used can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72HsKDmo1tw.”
    • state that the project was completed by you for Writing, Research, and Technology, Spring 2010, Rowan University, taught by Dr. Bill Wolff. If you don’t want to include your full name, use your first name and last initial (this will also ensure that I know who completed the video). The video is [specify how you have copyrighted the video (see above for details)]. Include a statement with URLs that points the viewer to information about the course (http://williamwolff.org/courses/wrt-spring-2010/) and assignment (http://j.mp/chcExR). Also mention the software you used to complete the remix.
    • Please use paragraphs and complete sentences
  • Add at least the following tags: downfall, hitler, hitler downfall, parody, wrts10, rowan, rowan university, as well as multiple tags relating to your topic (these tags will increase the likelihood that the video will be found when searching that subject matter).
  • For the category, select Education (it could fall under “Entertainment” but Education suits our purposes and provides better argument for Fir Use).
  • Make the video public and allow embedding and comments
  • Add the video to the Hitler Downfall playlist

Due Dates

2/17: Topic and draft of script due (bring 1 copy of script to class)
2/22: Rough Draft Due on course YouTube channel by classtime
2/26: Final Draft Due on course YouTube channel by 11:00 pm

Please note: If you are uncomfortable in any way working on Unit 1 using the footage from Downfall, you may use footage I have prepared from the movie Persepolis. Please contact me to discuss.

Unit 2: Mashup, Remix, and Society

For Unit 2, you will have the choice of selecting from 1 of 4 assignment options. Each option will ask you to remix and mashup prior video, audio, still, and text media to create a critical statement or argument about something in contemporary society. Students will also have the option of submitting their work to the new Journal of Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (as well as any other project you create for the course). Brief descriptions of the options are below; click on the name of the option to be taken to the full assignment:

Option 1. Mashing an Argument
The goal of this option is to create a video argument that makes the case for why the theme/subject of your oral history video is important for society to learn more about. Think of the video as a kind of public service announcement in that the video will be making the case for why the public should pay attention to your issue or theme.

Option 2. Remixing the Archive
In this option, students will cut, edit, and remix instructional, educational, or ephemeral film footage from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, or 70s (with other elements they deem rhetorically fitting) in an attempt to provide some social/cultural critical commentary. This, as expected, is an enormously broad directive, which leaves the door wide open for a variety of possibilities, but which also requires a lot of student self-direction and critical conceptualization. This assignment was created for a special issue of the new Journal of Undergraduate Media Projects. Submissions for the special option are due April 15, 2010.

Option 3. Remixing the Superbowl Ads
This option will ask students to remix 2010 Superbowl commercials (and, if you can find them, prior Superbowl commercials) to make a critical statement about society. The choice is up to you. They can (and, perhaps, should) be informed by some of the cultural criticisms leveled at the Superbowl commercials. This should not be thought of as the “easy option.” Rather, the Superbowl ads, as the criticism of them states, reinforces/depicts many disturbing ideas about gender, race, masculinity, femininity, and so on. Your remixes will need to be subtle yet brutal statements about contemporary culture.

Option 4. RIPping a Remix
In this option, students will be asked to remix the movie RIP: A Remix Manifesto that critiques the US’s current copyright system and the conglomerates that influence it. You may also bring in other texts that discuss similar ideas.

Due Dates

3/29 4/5: 1 – 3 minute synopsis video uploaded to course YouTube channel
3/31: 1 – 3 minute rough draft due on course YouTube channel by class time
4/9: 2 – 5 minute final draft due on course YouTube Channel and required essays emailed to BW in one document by 11:00pm

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