Mr. Harmon Returns from One Place to Another

Free Cultural Privilege

January 11, 2014

Free culture is more important when white men do it. @satifice

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) January 11, 2014

I really like this blog post by Nina de Jesus (brought to my attention by this discussion on the FC-Discuss list), arguing that the free culture movement often acts in ignorance of the long-time use of its practices by the hip-hop and fan fiction communities.

It is this lack of understanding about the serious issues of exploitation and structural inequality that has largely made me apathetic and uninterested in the free culture movement. Since, Gaylor likely thinks he was making a point about artists building on the past, but all I saw was an argument that the cultural products of Black Americans should always be exploitable and profitable for white people. That when Black Americans literally create the very thing the video talks about — digital sampling and remixing — it not only deserves some kind of mention, but that the revolution, and the reasons why it happened, will be lost to history (by this I mean racial oppression, poverty, the ghettoization of Black Americans, the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs, etc, etc).

It sets up a general perception that mashups are for freedom, while “gangster” rap is essentially just low-brow, commodified corporate culture.

There are certain perennial stories we hear again and again in discussions of how copyright law stifles innovation. (The Breakfast Club music videos come immediately to mind.) And many of these stories feel too safe – white people want to consume mass-produced culture more creatively! What if we spent more time talking about disempowered cultures that find themselves in direct opposition to the companies with the strongest influence on copyright law?

Girl Talk has never been sued because he had the innovative idea of being white.