SCARY MARY..."I never explain anything!"
When you hear the name Mary Poppins, you probably think of Disney’s lighthearted musical movie. Mary Poppins descends from the sky to care for two young children, taking them on magical adventures through the countryside. When the wind changes, the charming nanny disappears, though not before the children and parents have been transformed into a happy, loving family.
But in this remixed trailer, “Scary Mary,” Mary Poppins is recut as an eerie horror film. Mary is an ominous figure, and when she arrives on the scene, strange things begin to happen. Objects become horrifically animated, heads spin, small children are sucked up chimneys. The cheerful lyrics to “A Spoonful of Sugar” are replaced with a haunting instrumental soundtrack. The mood is dark as the last frame of the video warns its audience, “Hide your children.”
As a media educator and researcher, the author has become increasingly aware of the role that remixed images, sounds, and words play in young people’s lives. Beyond being an outlet for digital skill and creativity, remix highlights some of the most important cultural issues of the moment, including debates over intellectual property and media representation. Remix should be taken seriously by those interested in understanding the role that digital media play in shaping adolescent identities and world views – and also in appreciating the influence that young people, themselves, now exert on digital culture. What we learn from studying young people’s remix activities can be incorporated into the classroom as the starting place for a creative and critical media education.
“Scary Mary” follows the popular practice of changing a film’s genre. What is surprising, is the way in which relatively simple edits and the addition of new soundtracks can utterly transform iconic and seemingly fixed narratives – perhaps one reason that video remixers call their work “transformative art”.
Remix often demonstrates the kind of critical thinking we associate with media literacy. Remix also demonstrates new collaborative approaches to digital production. While remix can be a site of community, it is equally significant as a site of conflict. Indeed, remix raises one of the most contentious questions of our time: Who owns culture? Remixers regularly clash with corporate media over the use of copyrighted material. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that youth are using remix as a powerful tool for bringing their concerns into the public domain.
So what does remix’s potential to create community, stir up debate, and give voice to critique mean for educators? I don’t want to suggest that bringing remix into an already crowded curriculum is a simple, additive measure. Still, I do think there is much that we can gain by recognizing this popular practice – and its relation to new kinds of literacy – within our classrooms.
Before remixing a text, trailer or else, one needs to have a thorough understanding of its form, content, and genre. And in the process of creating the remix, the creator must also make multiple intellectual, creative, and technical decisions. Producing remix, then, gives students the chance to act simultaneously as readers and writers, consumers and producers, a stance many media scholars say is indicative of today’s new media environments.
Finally, the analysis and use of remix techniques in class has the potential to bridge the divide between young people’s experiences of media and technology inside and outside of school. As numerous media and education scholars have argued, the gap between students’ digital media experiences in school and out of school is significant. This gap may heighten the perception that adults are disconnected, unavailable, and largely uninterested in the complex role that digital media play in the lives of young people. Recognizing young people’s creative digital practices, and their centrality to communication, community-building, and public expression, is one way to begin to bridge that gap, and to move towards classrooms that embrace a range of contemporary literacies.
Based on an article published by Catherine Burwell on Edcan Network, Sept. 2012