Remediation, Adaptation, Evolution

Remediation is literally everywhere, which ironically can make it difficult to talk about in fresh and unique ways. For me, remediation leads into the next module on our list–Bodies, Interrupted–in which we look at how digital communication reshapes the way that we think about presence and absence, especially when it comes to the body. One could say that this is a remediation of presence and absence, among other things related to having a material presence. But that’s getting a bit ahead of myself. Remediation is not at the start a very complicated idea. We’re all used to it. It is UBITQUITOUS! And it seems to be reaching pandemic levels in 2023 with sequel-mania, various adaptations, and an incredible fascination with nostalgia.

One could say that digital rhetoric is itself a remediation of classical rhetoric. Eyman does not identify it as such, but the first chapter of Digital Rhetoric introduces us to the historical shifts in rhetorical studies and wades through those shifts and changes that bring us to his conceptualization of what digital rhetoric is. To define digital rhetoric, we have to do this. The work of the past lives in the folds of the present. At a certain point, though, a precise thinking person will wonder where “remediation” begins properly and ends and something else begins, like just having one thought or project connect to another because we are chronological creatures and things of the past are therefore connected to the present. Definition is related to remediation, too–to define a new term, like digital rhetoric, we must first consider rhetoric’s foundation and development.

So it is with media in general. Bolter and Grusin cover this well in their book. In the film Strange Days, Lenny has to explain to his customer what “the wire” is, and he has to compare it to something known, TV. When personal computers began flooding the consumer market back in the 1980s, they really caught on when they started looking like small TV sets. The screen was familiar, and therefore a level of understanding was achieved from the consumer–who at that time may have had no knowledge of how the computer operated but familiarity brought a level of comfort. Personal computers remediated television. The Commodore 64 did not look like a TV but actually had to be connected to the family television to display. The Apple computers came looking like small TVs out of the box.
As soon as a new form of media emerges, it is generally used to adapt previous media. When film became available to artists in the early 1900s, they used it to adapt the stories they knew from books and the plays that they saw on the stage. They also brought in knowledge and techniques from the newer medium of photography. A fantastic example for a timeline of remediation can be found in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one that continues robustly to 2023 as we await the movie version of Wicked.
From the L. Frank Baum series of books to early stage adaptations to early film projects in the 1900s, to the landmark MGM musical film starring Judy Garland, back again to various film sequels (Return to Oz) and stage projects (The Wiz) and the movie version of The Wiz, the various restagings of the plays, and then the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire, followed by the off-Broadway and Broadway hit adaptations, which brings us to…the awaited movie musical directed by John M. Chu. This leaves out Patchwork Girl, by Shelley Jackson, which is more of a feminist remediation of Frankenstein (another fascinating and complicated timeline of remediation/adaptation) but also has some callbacks to the Wizard of Oz.

From a rhetorical and cultural analyst perspective, rather than simply a historical perspective, it is useful to consider what changes when a project is remediated and why. Sometimes changes are simply out of necessity due to limitations of technology or exist for the simple availability of new forms of expression (think the shift from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz (1939) that occurred in the film itself), but often they reflect deeper needs of a rhetorical situation or clear intentions on the part of the writers/creators. Sometimes changes that come out of chance or necessity have long lasting cultural impact, as well. Think of the “melting” of the Wicked Witch of the West in that film. It was described in the book, but this was the first time that children and their parents actually got to see this magical act visualized for them as if it were real. While today’s children may view this as nothing of consequence due to oversaturation with special effects in their media, it had a profound effect on many children who saw this for the first time.

Remediation is not as widely discussed in rhetoric circles today as it was in the early 2000s, probably because it has become muscle memory of a sort. It’s just generally accepted that this is “a thing” that is a part of media studies. It is probably more interesting to discuss what one can do rhetorically with remediation than that it exists and there are many examples of it. That is a fair point. I think that culturally discussions of remediation and adaptation in 2023 are worth a deeper look because we’re in the throes of constant remix and adaptation. Sequels and prequels are everywhere, and it’s useful to ask why. From a business perspective, you will get answers related to engagement and recognition, but it is more than that. Social media and the internet play an important role in the current trends with familiarity, adaptation, and extension of various “universes” related to franchises like Marvel or Doctor Who or The Wizard of Oz. The internet has popularized and made possible the easy sharing of fandom creations, like fan fiction or fan art. Each emerging generation of creators gets to discover and rewrite familiar works for their own peers or to teach others about the way they see the world.

I just wanted to add:
Universe building is so commonplace today in creative circles that it really does bear examination when talking about multimodality. I welcome to hear your thoughts and investigations about this. I don’t think it’s a fluke that some of the most popular books series of the past became multimodal franchises that go well past the books (think Harry Potter and again the Wizard of Oz, which was an early attempt at universe building by a children’s author). Often these attempts to build media universes are very multimodal and hybrid across live action, video, text, social media of all kinds, very interactive at certain points (there is a Wizard of Oz theme park).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *