The latest Hollywood action flick, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” is, in many ways, the ultimate example of how the Internet’s mashup culture is infiltrating and even overtaking what we traditionally refer to as popular culture.
Take Abraham Lincoln and vampires, re-mix them with a known historical narrative of the Civil War, and you have a piece of culture just waiting to become an irresistible Internet meme. As a result, there is no longer “high culture,” “low culture” or even “pop culture” and “fringe culture” — only “mashup culture” with bits of culture waiting to be transformed into future mashups.
The classic Internet mashup, or “remix culture,” in which amateurs re-cut creative works in order to create entirely new works, originally arose during a flowering of do-it-yourself creativity on the Internet. Using new blogging tools, fans lovingly constructed fan fiction that remixed beloved literary works with pop culture. (Which, incidentally, is where Seth Grahame-Smith's book “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” got its start) Or, using video editing tools, they created clever remixes of movie trailers, TV shows and even presidential speeches to Congress. Then, using social networking tools, fans were able to distribute these works across the Internet, where they gained vast new audiences and sometimes even morphed into full-blown memes as other users sought to out-do or respond to what was already created.
Now that Internet mashup culture has officially gone Hollywood. But is it really leading to a golden age of creativity? Or, as the Post’s Jen Chaney asks, is “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” “ridiculous,” or “so deliciously ridiculous that you’re now officially intrigued”?
There are, of course, two schools of thought on this.
One point of view might be summarized as the "Everything is a Remix" view, in which the constant cutting, pasting, and sharing of Internet culture is symptomatic of a rapidly evolving online organism capable of great change and innovation. Viewed from this perspective, a creative work like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” has the potential to become a brilliant Internet meme (just like the "Abraham Lincoln created Facebook" hoax) that forces us to open up debate on the similarities between vampirism and slavery, to understand better the actions of one of the nation’s greatest politicians and to analyze the socio-economic underpinnings of American society. (Polite cough)
However, there is another point of view diametrically opposed to that of the remix crowd, and it goes a little something like this: All this sharing and re-mixing is "utterly pathetic." As Jaron Lanier suggests in his controversial book “You Are Not a Gadget”, instead of creating something inherently new and interesting, we are digging around in the scrap heap of pre-Web culture for meaning and significance. All of this remixing is just a symptom of weaknesses in our society, brought on by the long-term atrophying of our cultural institutions.
One thing is certain: the amateur, DIY, remix culture that flowered during the early days of the Internet is now increasingly finding its way into what we once called “popular culture.” Suddenly, the same entertainment industry that was so adamant about protecting intellectual property and that campaigned so vigorously against the sampling and re-mixing of creative works doesn’t have any problem mashing up Abraham Lincoln, vampires and American Civil War history. We have transitioned into a new era of culture where memes, viruses and re-mixes are ascendant. If you don’t like Abraham Lincoln and vampires, don’t worry, there will almost certainly be a Jane Austen zombie flick on the way soon.
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