Remixing, Reclaiming: Why changing up the story matters

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Flickr photo courtesy of jepoirrier
by Nina Jacinto

I'm a big Mad Men fan. My partner and I religiously watch the show and are completely invested in its themes of sexism, power struggle and broken expectations. So I was thrilled to discover Elisa Kreisenger's latest remixed video. Entitled "QueerMen: Don Loves Roger Mad Men Remix," the video weaves together clips of Mad Men footage, telling a story of two of the main male characters falling in love.

Kreisenger's remixed videos (which include a queering of Sex and the City that I highly recommend) shows us the value of being able to tell one kind of story in another way. In doing so, we can reframe the conversation, can turn heterosexuality or patriarchy or masculinity on its head. Remixing the videos helps to remix the story, lifting up another perspective that may be ignored or pushed down.

Take the hilarious and masterfully edited "Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?" Using Eminem's popular song and phrases from Mitt Romney's own mouth, a new kind of story is being told about Romney. One that stresses his terrifying politics, his attitudes about immigration, poverty, jobs and contraception. By remixing content that is already out there, we can move from reading between the lines to retelling the story.

I'm always drawn to a good story. As a child who could curl up for hours reading book after book, nothing has comforted me more than hearing a story that compelled me to laughter or tears, or maybe a bit of both. I grew up on stories with white characters, white boys and girls who solved mysteries and went on adventures and learned about love. I had to retell the story for myself, so that I could truly relate. The first book I ever read with a South Asian American protagonist was Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. I was in college. It was the first time I hadn't had to remix a story in my head, hadn't had to turn it or twist it in my imagination so that I could identify with the characters even more. Instead I cried as I read about a family that seemed more like my family, with a character that struggled with his South Asian American identity in ways that I understood.

We long to relate, to identify and see ourselves in the stories being told out there in the world. It's why disrupting the narrative feels so important, so necessary. In part so that those who are ignored in the margins are uplifted and have their voices heard. But it's something deeper. We want to matter. We want our stories to matter. And if the world tells us that they don't matter, we start to believe it too. It can't just be one story, either. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie so poetically discusses in her TedTalk, there is danger in telling a singular story. “The single story creates stereotypes," she says, "and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

And so we have to uplift many stories, tell our tales in many different ways - through the written word and through music and art and now, in the golden age of internet, through youtube videos and mashups. Together, we can disrupt the dominant conversation, rebuild a new framework with the stuff that's already swirling all around us. And by doing so, we can share with the world just how and why our voices matter.

You can follow Nina on Twitter @msninaricha