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Go Ahead, Touch Her

By Rhizome

The music video for Mariah Carey's recent single, "Touch My Body," begins like many classic pornos: Unwitting nerd rings doorbell, half-naked bombshell babe answers the door, contracted labor assignment is soon interrupted by a romantic interlude with a thumping soundtrack...The song is Carey's foray into reaching out to the the geek set, and includes references to software upgrades, laser tag, and of course...YouTube! The video has over sixteen-million hits on the video-sharing site and, naturally, all of this makes the piece very attractive to an artist like Oliver Laric, who has a keen interest in digital culture and pop remixes. The artist's newest piece is an edit of Carey's video, with everything (the "compunerd," the house, etc) but the singer masked out in green to encourage chroma-keyed remixes by online viewers. Ironically, Carey's lyrics speak not only to a mainstream paranoia about surveillance and privacy intrusions, but moreover drops hints about sharing footage online. She sings, "If there's a camera up in here then it's gonna leave with me when I do. If there's a camera up in here then I best not catch this flick on YouTube." Naturally, this is exactly what Laric is hoping will happen--and no doubt Carey herself. Fame is nothing if not a self-production and Laric's taken this to heart in leaving the title of the video the same and modifying his YouTube video tags to attract more viewers. His real hope is not that the piece will become an artworld cause célèbre but that the larger public of YouTube surfers will adopt the piece and post remixes of their own. The key point made by removing the superfluous imagery from the video's 5,000 frames is that, with her "come hither" gestures and the invitation "touch my body," Carey's certainly asking for it. - Marisa Olson

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b June 30 2008 20:36Reply

It is unfortunate that what could have been a commentary on video, privacy, and fame's effect on one's ability to control their image turned into a post using sexual violence victim-blaming language, "touch [her] body…[she's] certainly asking for it." This is additionally inappropriate when you consider that Mariah Carey has been in abusive relationships herself. Now we're going to say that by putting out a music video - even if the opening porn theme was distasteful on her part - you have to expect that people will mock you and then blame you for their offensive remixes and language? Why isn't Mr. Laric held accountable for remixes he facilitates, and why is Ms. Olsen using such atrocious innuendo in this post? When was the last time any other marginalized group was spoken about in such a way in a news posting, and did people then also look the other way or not even notice? Having people remix a song, let alone your image, can be uncomfortable enough (and no, I don't believe that's the "price" of fame, another victim-blaming "she asked for it" type of way to justify lewd behavior). Having people laud your melange as forward-thinking art is quite another. It was the most uncomfortable thing that came into my email inbox all day.


Marisa Olson July 1 2008 10:06Reply

Hi, Brittany.

I'm sorry that you found my article objectionable. I didn't intend to make the implications you suggest, but I believe your response cuts to the most interesting aspect of Laric's piece, which is the effect of remixing.

For those who care to review the lyrics to this song, they are here:

They include the refrain:

Touch my body
Put me on the floor
Wrestle me around
Play with me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed

So, in fact, I do think that Carey's lyrics (and video) invite sexual fantasy, but my article doesn't say that she is asking to be violated, it says that she's asking to be remixed. Of course, the slippage between the two that you identify is what's so interesting.

In an interview with Laric, he told me that he noticed that the video takes-on an increased sexual tone when all but Carey is masked out. He was interested in how this first-person invitation to "touch my body" could be construed as an invitation to remix the visage of her body (and/or the voice emitted from it), particularly given (a) the implicit link to digital culture embodied by both the lyrics and video, and (b) the fact that the remix is now such an important part of the media ecology of pop culture.

In the last 25+ years of pop music, lining-up celebrity remixes and making singles remix-ready has been an important part of the production cycle, often preceding the release of the original recording. Almost all historical accounts of Madonna's rise to fame cite her relationship with DJs and openness to remixing as a key factor in her success. So while you may see the remix as a violent act, clearly those participating in this industry see it as an imperative.

Discussions of why a remix is or isn't violent are interesting, as they get to questions of the status of the digital reproduction. Are we remixing a person or "just" her image, and what's the difference when thinking about how a person's identity–particularly a famous person's identity–hinges upon their image? Carey's image was already manipulated before it came to us. In the interview with Laric, he pointed to a segment in the original video in which the shape of a cup becomes distorted as a result of distorting the footage to make the singer standing behind the cup appear slimmer. So this is already not her. If you listen closely, I believe there is also a question as to whether all of the voiced parts of the song are her, so the audio issue adds another layer to the phenomenological question of the brute force of the remix.

These issues of the import of the remix, the relationship to broader pop culture (rather than an insular art world), collective authorship, and the nature of Carey's invitation are what I hoped to address in this article.

b July 1 2008 12:09Reply

Thank you for the response, Marisa.

I think vocal remixes are entirely different than video, which is one reason I found this idea so disturbing. I can understand the necessity of pop music remixing - Carey herself has been a part of some good ones (remember her and ODB, rest his soul? that was killer). I think the question for me is, even if she doesn't present an authentic self, how much right do we have to mock that, remix that, etc.? Here it seems the remix does imply ridicule. I agree that her branding of the self is problematic, and I have nothing but distaste for a beauty and fashion industry - within our culture, of course - that makes her plasticity so necessary. But I stop short of thinking her lyrics imply we should do anything we want with her - image, vocally, otherwise. I think I'd be less concerned by a regular old remix project that didn't blame the original creator - "look, you asked for it, we had no choice." We seem to treat celebrities that way a lot - we think by being in the public eye, we can parody and deride them senselessly (they couldn't possibly be real people). My concern is that, even though Carey's entire set-up here is weird and problematic, I don't think we're making it any better, even through what was meant as artistic deconstruction.

Marisa Olson July 2 2008 14:44Reply

Why are vocal remixes different than video? This is a very interesting distinction. Can you please say more about this and why one is ok and one isn't, beyond the rubric of industry standards? I think that remix and parody have the potential to be very useful and viable political tools. The best-known examples of such efforts would be the work of the Yes Men, but examples of parasitic media within the field abound. In your comments (i.e. "Here it seems the remix does imply ridicule") it seems as if you think that remixing automatically equals mockery but I don't agree and don't see that implied in the project. Laric's video simply shows us (or arguably amplifies) what's already there and gives both fans and critics a chance to say what they will. This is the pact that all artists make with their audience when they release their work into the world–that people will interpret it as they will, whether that means reading it a certain way, hearing it a certain way, or incorporating it into their lives in a certain way. This is how the popular preconscious works. I don't think it's fair to call this project a senseless derision of Carey, but I do still think that your vehement apprehension towards remixes says something interesting about the ways that certain corners of the cultural community (particularly academia) perceive the effects of these acts. I just think they need fleshing-out. There is a big difference between real violence towards women and perceived theoretical misdeeds towards a celebrity's highly-guarded public image. If this is the true issue, I think our energies are best directed toward prevention of the former rather than scandalizing the latter.

Tom Moody July 3 2011 12:25Reply

This discussion refers to a post the link to which has been changed. The new link is http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/jun/30/go-ahead-touch-her/

Tom Moody July 3 2011 12:28Reply

Discussion of this post can be found at http://www.artfagcity.com/2008/07/02/mariah-carey-asks-for-it/