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School Of Communications

BYU Communications Professor Scott Church Gives 2023 Beckham Lecture

How Has Remix Culture Changed The Perspective Of How We See Others, Ourselves And The Gospel?

Beckham Lecture 1
Photo by Emma Olson

Media has shaped the world in new and familiar ways. Communications professor and author of “Turntables and Tropes: A Rhetoric of Remix” Scott H. Church (BA ’05) gave this years Beckham Lecture titled “Mashups, Memes and Movies: How Remixed Media Shape Our Culture and Ourselves.”

Church focused the lecture on how the art of remixing media is not a new idea, but has become more pervasive, persuasive and instructive with social media and online culture more than ever before. Church asked questions such as why remix culture is everywhere, how it has taken hold of our imagination and is it a threat to creativity or a powerful tool?

Church offered three ways to think about the art of remix as pervasive, persuasive and instructive. Remix is pervasive, which is evident with music, film and online platforms such as TikTok. Remix is also persuasive, as it is built on the principles of classical rhetoric that have been around for thousands of years. Remix is instructive, as it helps us understand culture, ourselves and others.

Church described how remix is pervasive by showing how it is the language of our popular and online culture. The concept of remix was popular in the rap world, when artists used music from other songs to make their own was prevalent in the late 80’s to early 90’s.

Online culture is a place for sharing remixed content such as memes. Memes are defined by Church as being built on the format of templates. “Templates have to negotiate a balance between fixity and novelty. You have to respect the template enough to use it and so others recognize it as a meme, but also inject enough of a fresh perspective, voice, or change that it feels novel,” said Church.

Video sharing platforms also create popularity through remixes. The app TikTok also follows a similar formula, as there are trends started by challenging followers to follow a short dance routine that spreads through the site and gets remixed slightly more each time. YouTube often produces content that is remixed, such as auto tune to make new songs from existing audio, rearranging a video to make it appear as though someone is saying something they never would in real life, or a combination of the two.

Photo by Emma Olson
Photo by Emma Olson

Church had examples of how remix is persuasive. Remix is not new, as it can be dated as far back as storytelling itself. This is an ancient oral tradition of passing down stories before writing them down.

“Stories were increasingly a premium importance in oral culture and those stories were highly recreated, they were collective,” said Church. “They were collaborative, contextual and changed based on who was telling the story. They were also unstable because it’s really hard to memorize an epic story and tell it the exact same way.”

This way of storytelling died with the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press. Now there was a movement away from collaborative storytelling to finding the original source who canonized the words in print form. This has moved us into the postmodern digital age, where we have moved to a way of collaborating through remix once again.

Church pointed to how classical rhetoric plays a role in how remix can be persuasive. Invention was one of the five canons of rhetoric by Cicero in 50 BC and means to create something new, but style and organization of a new media also plays a large role in its creation. “It feels like we’ve moved from invention to arrangement where the idea of creation or invention is really just organization, rearranging and reassembling,” Church said.

Finally, Church said that remix was instructive, especially when it comes to scripture and the gospel. He referred to Joseph Smith’s 1844 teachings, stating how God did not create the world from nothing. Rather, he organized it— or remixed it. In The Book of Mormon, Nephi talked about revelation in 2 Nephi 28:30, stating “I will give unto my children line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”

“In other words, revelation comes through remix, through organizing different insights that we sample and put together into a lovely mosaic,” said Church.