Academic journal article Notre Dame Law Review

Scary Monsters: Hybrids, Mashups, and Other Illegitimate Children

Academic journal article Notre Dame Law Review

Scary Monsters: Hybrids, Mashups, and Other Illegitimate Children

Article excerpt

She didn't really make it. She made it but she shouldn't have. She made it but look what she made it about. She made it but she isn't really an artist, and it isn't really art. She made it but it's derivative. She made it but it's infringing. She made it but it violates the DMCA. She made it but she's a thief and a pirate. She made it BUT .... (1)

History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet. (2)

[S]ometimes a scream is better than a thesis. (3)


Reproduction means two things: In copyright, we generally use the term to mean duplication. But sexual reproduction is not duplication. It is the creation of something new from something old. And it's perhaps this double meaning that often makes reproduction seem uncanny, whether because of its exactness or because of its divergences from the original. Human creativity, like human reproduction, always makes new out of old in ways that copyright law has not fully recognized. The genre of vidding, a type of remix made mostly by women, demonstrates how creativity can be disruptive, and how that disruptiveness is often tied to ideas about sex and gender. The most frightening of our modern creations--the Frankenstein's monsters that seem most appropriative and uncanny in light of old copyright doctrine--are good indicators of what our next generation of creativity may look like, especially if creators' diversity in gender, race, and economic background is taken into account.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley spawned a monster. Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) introduced Dr. Frankenstein as well as his creation, who shares his name. Frankenstein's monster is put together out of parts of other people, given new, independent life by men through science. (5) Dr. Frankenstein is the creator/repurposer in the narrative, but Mary Shelley is the puppetmaster behind him. (6) Frankenstein is still timely two centuries later; anxieties about reproduction, who gets to control it, and whether appropriate reproduction can consist of cutting and pasting what's gone before are central both to this key early science fiction text and to current debates over fair use, especially with respect to so-called "user-generated content."

The connection between copying and horror has been noted before. Michael Newman, for example, discusses the "uncanny" appropriation art of Richard Prince, who re-photographed mainstream ads. To Newman, Prince's works "have the quality of deja vu, of repetition, which renders them strange, like the cadaver brought back to life in a horror story." (7) Note the implication that the source was dead before being revived. The intervention of the artist brought it back to life, but that is not unqualifiedly a good thing. It raises the issue of whether dead, commodified things should stay dead. Reproduction is uncanny because it creates life where there was none, and because of its double meaning: reproduction results in an entity that is the same/not the same as the original/its mother.

Today, a largely female community of artists creates in similar fashion to Dr. Frankenstein and Richard Prince, though we tend to call the overall genre "remix" or "mashup." Vidders make vids: reedited footage from television shows and movies, set to music that directs viewers' attention and guides them through the revisioned images. This practice, growing out of media fandom, can trace its genealogy starting in the early 1970s with slideshows carefully coordinated with music. (8) A vid, Francesca Coppa has written, is an argument made through quotation and narrative. (9) This type of creativity foregrounds its constructedness, its debts to earlier works, with editing ("cutting") taking the place of the stitches used to suture the limbs of Frankenstein's monster. "Whatever their explicit themes and narratives, [vids] represent a queer form of reproduction that mates supposedly incompatible parents ('original' media source and 'original' creativity) to spawn hybrid offspring. …

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