Earlier this year I was asked by Al Jazeera English to write an op-ed detailing how, and why, I decided to make my viral remix video ‘Donald Duck meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck‘. Below is a crosspost of that article which was published on March 7th 2011. You can also see the original post, with comments, on aljazeera.net/english.
Right-Wing Radio Duck Hits the Net
A few months ago, I premiered my latest remix video, “Right Wing Radio Duck”, at the Open Video Conference in New York City, and published it on YouTube.
The re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon was constructed using 50 classic Walt Disney animated shorts from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In the new narratives, Donald’s life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis; he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments.
As his frustration turns into despair, Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio – that of Glenn Beck’s. In the first few months, the video has gone viral with more than a million views on YouTube alone.
Its instant popularity is thanks, in part, to a Twitter and blog recommendation by famed film critic Roger Ebert, who told his followers to watch it before it disappeared off the internet – as well as a strange and paranoid response by Glenn Beck himself on his radio show, where he claimed the remix must be a federally funded attack paid for by Obama’s stimulus package. I received no funding, of course, and made the the remix on my laptop in my living room over a period of a few months.
I heard a handful of Glenn Beck’s rants on the radio which reminded me of a paranoid cartoon caricature something right out of an old Disney animated short.
I grew up in a very religious, military and conservative household in the US, and the Disney Channel was some of the only television my parents would allow me to see in the mid 80s.
Thus, I have been a fan of Donald Duck and the classic Disney cartoons since my childhood, and I wondered what might happen if our beloved Donald heard Glenn Beck on his radio.
The rise of right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck over the past few years has brought a resurgence of 1950s style rhetoric reminiscent of McCarthyism or the John Birch Society.
I felt that Donald Duck would make an ideal pop culture character with which to explore Beck’s messages and impact.
Donald seemed an especially appropriate choice for this remix because he was originally created by Disney to represent a frustrated down-on-their-luck “anybody” character during the great depression.
The current economic recession many Americans are struggling with today seem to parallel the struggles Donald faced in the old shorts from the 1930s and 1940s.
Ultimately, the video is really more about Donald’s situation than it is about Glenn Beck’s.
I hoped that through Donald’s situation, viewers of this remix might understand why people are drawn to the Tea Party.
They are often very legitimately frustrated and angry people looking for answers. And most of the time they are not getting any real answers from the corporate mass media or from either political party.
In the remix Donald turns to Beck in desperation and is offered answers – crazy answers, but answers none the less.
In the end Donald finds out that the radio voice is not on his side and actually has great contempt for him and his situation.
The two sources also felt like a particularly good pairing in light of the unfortunate racist stereotyping in the old Disney material that almost perfectly mirrors some of Beck’s own xenophobic language and scapegoating of people of colour.
This was the reason for the sequence in the remix where Donald is driven to a fear-induced nightmare by a long series of racially charged words and groups spoken by the radio.
In addition to the remix itself, it was an added bonus that seemed fitting to use Donald Duck because Walt Disney himself joined McCarthy’s anti-union anti-communist Hollywood witch hunts, and even testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.
We live in a world that increasingly communicates in a corporate mass media driven audio-visual language.
As citizens of this new media world, we must also be able to speak in that audio-visual language. The fair use doctrine offers one way for creators to used fragments of mass media and popular culture to make their own transformed statements (without the fear of legal reprisal).
This remix video is one of many ways new media tools can allow people without access to large corporate television stations and radio networks to have some voice. To challenge powerful interests, people and institutions and speak back.
A few days after Beck made his over-the-top radio response to my “Right Wing Radio Duck” remix, a YouTuber named ikat381 posted another remix which combined Beck’s audio with an old Mickey Mouse cartoon.
It was a hilarious commentary which will hopefully be the first in a long line of remixed videos cartooning public media personalities like Glenn Beck to come.
What cartoon character would you use to remix your least favorite major media personality?
Jonathan McIntosh is a pop culture hacker, video remix artist, new media teacher and fair use advocate. He blogs at PoliticalRemixVideo.com and is a member of the Open Video Alliance. All of his remixing projects can be found on his website RebelliousPixels.com.