|Mashup of Discourses: A Critical Analysis of the Videotext, "Dream America Movie" Page 1 of 6|
|Written by Nancy Fox|
All life for all of us is just a patchwork of thoughts, words, objects, events, actions, and interactions in Discourse. -- James Paul Gee, Introduction to Discourse Analysis
The mash-up culture is taking bits and pieces of elements of popular culture and then remixing them. It is in a sense a way to create one’s own subculture. – Anastasia Goodstein, Ypulse.com
Computer technology makes multimedia genres more convenient and accessible for all purposes. (It is) increasingly important to understand how the resources of different semiotic systems have been and can be combined. – Cheong Yin Yuen, The construal of Ideational meaning in print advertisements
A recent study of multimodal discourse by Kay O’Halloran et al. decries the scarcity of critical analyses of texts whose composition and indeed raison d’être are derived from diverse semiotic fields. O’Halloran et al. define this complicated and emergent discourse as “involving the interaction of multiple semiotic resources such as (spoken and written) language, gesture, dress, architecture, proximity and (in film for example) lighting, movement, gaze, camera angle, etc.” (“Multimodal” 3). Indeed, the critical discourse scholar Norman Fairclough alternates his usage of the word “language” with “semiotics” to accommodate those analysts who study “meaning-making through language, body language, visual images, or any other way of signifying” (“The Discourse of New Labour” 229). O’Halloran et al. trace the evolution of such multimodal discourses throughout the twentieth century, as composers of texts began consciously to combine elements from linguistic sources as well as visual planes in new and provocative ways.. They argue that these multi-semiotic texts acquire meaning through the integrated and intentional use of formerly unrelated elements. This change of textuality, or radical “shift,” as they view it, gained dimension and momentum with the advent of technology which further deepened and expanded the creation and indeed discursive functionality of texts. The theorist whose awareness of this transformation in texts informs the O’Halloran study most notably is Theo van Leeuwen, who argues that twentieth-century semiotics is characterized by transgression of boundaries, and notes that current multimodal texts resist discourse analysis as it has been codified and practiced (O’Halloran et al. 2). The study of multidimensionality is not only confined to the precincts of academia: the public sphere where practices of text-creation and consumption led to the transgressions that van Leeuwen perceives has also developed its own theory and terminologies for such texts—i.e., “remixes” or “mashups” that serve to complement and complicate the scholarly perspectives in interesting and potentially productive ways.
One form of digital multimodality that might immediately come to mind is the discourse of that particular “subculture” known variously as “the millennials” or “digital natives.” This cultural community consists of people who were born between 1982 and 2000 and have lived their entire lives on parallel streets of their brick-and-mortar communities and the web. They are as familiar with their computer screens as they are with the written page. According to recent studies of the technological lives of young people today, “digital natives” spend more time in activities that are electronically mediated than interacting in any other sphere of engagement. As noted in a statement that fronts this paper, Anastasia Goodstein, publisher of Ypulse.com (“Your guide to youth via news, commentary, events, research & strategy”), this form of digital collage is “in a sense a way to create one’s own subculture” (Conroy). Given the centrality of such multimodal texts in the discourse of this digital generation, it seems both timely and useful to investigate the rhetoric of these intricate constructions, locate its position in Critical Discourse Analysis, and discover ways to incorporate this new genre of “writing” in composition pedagogy.
This paper offers, first, an overview of competing views of multimodal discourses, whose exigency persists despite disinterest and silence from scholars of linguistics generally. As O’Halloran’s Multimodal Analysis Lab explains on its website, “Video-sharing websites (have) become the standard forum for exchanging information. Dynamic digital texts clearly require theoretical concepts and analytical approaches which extend beyond those developed for text-based data” (“Multimodal Analysis Lab”). Then, relying on van Leeuwen’s exploratory work in developing a language and methodology for “reading” multimodal texts, the paper’s central concern is the design and application of a model for a Critical Discourse Analysis of multimodality in a student videotext from a first-year university course in expository writing entitled “The Dream America.” Finally, the paper closes by considering how insights from this study might serve to help define a field of Critical Multimodal Discourse Analysis that derives its strategies and techniques from academic praxis as well as from the “remix theories” of “mashups” on the streets of cyberspace.
Submitted for publication to Critical Discourse Studies in December 2009
 As Theo van Leeuwen notes in “Discourse as the Recontextualization of Social Practice: A Guide,” while the term “discourse” may not be “synonymous with ‘text,’ … evidence for the existence of discourses will inevitably have to come from texts” (145).
It’s relevant to note that this particular study is focused on the development of computer software capabilities.
 “The Pew Research Center found that half of American teenagers — defined in the study as ages 12 through 17 — send 50 or more text messages a day and that one third send more than 100 a day. Two thirds of the texters surveyed by the center’s Internet and American Life Project said they were more likely to use their cellphones to text friends than to call them. Fifty-four percent said they text their friends once a day, but only 33 percent said they talk to their friends face-to-face on a daily basis. The findings came just a few months after the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 spend on average 7 1/2 hours a day using some sort of electronic device, from smart phones to MP3 players to computers.” Hilary Stout, “How Does Technology Affect Kids’ Friendships?” The New York Times 30 April 2010.
O’Halloran appears to use the term “information” to signal our cultural capital – knowledges integral to the work of the social scientists and computer scientists she addresses at other points in her website.
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