Mashups, autotune, and the bedroom satirist

The past decade has seen the rise of the mashup and auditorial as a tool for satire. we take a look at its power.

Sunday Bloody Sunday. That’s how I remember George W. Bush. That’s not to negate his other actions in power, it’s not like I’ve forgotten the Iraq war, nor the Afghanistan war, nor that time he said he believed we could co-exist peacefully with fish; all of those stay fairly clear in the mind too. But it wasn’t until a video of him singing the Sunday Bloody Sunday came along in 2006 that I understood what he was about.

Or course he didn’t actually sing the U2 song, that would have been quite the ill-conceived PR stunt. No, it was a video mash-up by a musician called rx2008. He sifted through hundreds of George Bush’s speeches cutting out the words of the song and laid it over U2’s guitar track, creating something akin to an auditorial:

The significance of having George Bush actually say the words is that it becomes a far more potent satire than simply deriding him with your own voice. What the video conveyed was that George Bush was a man with immense power, who was doing everything with a smile, and didn’t understand the impact of his short-sighted actions.

You might ask whether that is all really there in the video, but look at it: the use of his speeches means most of the shots are him in his media-friendly demeanour: all sweet smiles and bashful grins. In particular, the bits where Rx has had him stutter blink is almost like a Disney character fluttering their eyelids at someone. The ‘stand-up, sit-down’ moments, where his song is met by rapturous applause by politicians communicates the power he commanded during his two terms in office.

In short, because this isn’t a post solely about this video, an effective mash-up can capture a person better than an expansive tome of their actions, it can help you make sense of things you already know, and it can root in your mind for years to come.

That George Bush video wasn’t the first of its kind – as long as people have had access to audio reels they’ve been manipulating and splicing them – but it’s a prominent marker in the move of media editing from the broadcaster’s suite to the bedroom computer.

An earlier – and, frankly, terrifying example would be Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech. Brief history before stomach-turning links. In the run-up to the 2004 presidential elections, Howard Dean tried to gain support as the democratic candidate. However, after coming third place in Iowa he made a concession speech to his voters. Have a listen.

Well, that scream at the end, that “Yeah!” had the speech labelled the “I have a scream” speech. More than that, the internet got a hold of it, creating this, and this, and this:

The videos got attention from the media which drove viewers to the YouTube remixes and began to popularise and validate the toolset.

Very quickly, a recognisable subculture of these videos emerged, utilising a recognisable and familiar toolset. The most basic being the actual cutting and splicing itself. Dicing up a speech, news report, or what have you, thereby separating it from its original context. Quite often the original recording contains the reasoning for an outlandish sound or turn of phrase. Take Howard Dean, for instance, he was making his speech to a loud crowd of people but the microphone he was using cancelled out much of the surrounding sound. So as he shouted to be heard by those around him it seems as though he is extraordinarily enthusiastic.

The other major tool, autotune, is also used as a means of decontexualisation. First developed in the 90s, auto-tuning is a means of taking whatever audio comes through an input and modulating it so that it is outputted to certain pitch. You could make the most monotone of dialogues a varied and tuneful piece relatively easily. As with other complex audio software, autotune found its way into the hands of the hobbyist.

It’s led to a balloon in content.

YouTube groups have sprung up – such as the Auto-tune the News series by Schmoyoho – and any news subject is potential for a musical remake. The time between broadcast and remake has shrunk dramatically. The, now infamous, Bed Intruder song – which has received over 100 million views – was created within two days of the original news report being broadcast.

There is a great deal of trite that’s been created using this methods – as will always be the case – but internet mashups are often mistakenly overlooked as a place of modern satire. They can make the driest inquests look interesting and so convey stories that people should be following but aren’t. Case in point to close on, Leveson: The Musical:

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