Imagine a plot twist in which Don Draper and Roger Sterling's hyper masculine friendship becomes a secret gay love affair. Even as they come to terms with their relationship, their wives find out and the ad execs lose their jobs at Sterling Cooper. It's not a story you would typically find on TV, but it exists in the parallel universe of Elisa Kreisinger's political remix videos.
Kreisinger, aka Pop Culture Pirate, "writes with TV, about TV," slicing up familiar shows to create alternative narratives that expose and transform mainstream cultural messages. Recontextualizing heavily gendered moments in shows like Sex and the City and Mad Men, her viral videos are both playful and profoundly subversive.
Don Draper's brooding silences and Roger Sterling's macho banter, when juxtaposed with razor-sharp editing, follow the plotline above in QueerMen: Don Loves Roger. Carrie and the girls talk the feminist talk, but in the Queer Carrie remix project, they walk the walk -- embracing lesbianism. Meanwhile the women of Mad Men, marginalized and frustrated in the original narrative, come together in Set Me Free, a collaboration with fellow remix artist Marc Faletti, to "sing" a defiant cover of the Supremes' "Keep Me Hangin' On," word for word.
Kreisinger, a fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University and program coordinator at the Women's Media Center, spent a year combing through Mad Men transcripts and footage to shape a series of four remixes. QueerMen and Set Me Free are available online (watch below), and two more videos will be shown in a gallery setting. She weighs in on the subversive power of remix, the process of making these intricate videos, and why Mad Men had it coming in an interview below.
Mad Men: Set Me Free
The Atlantic: How did you get into remixing video?
Elisa Kreisinger: I wanted to write better stories about women that didn’t revolve around men or babies. The fastest and cheapest way to do this was to make remixed narratives. With remix, I didn’t have to create cultural significance around unfamiliar characters to convince an audience to care about them. Instead I could use existing narratives from our collective cultural consciousness and tell my variation of that story. I called it writing for TV with TV.
What is it about Mad Men that begs for a good remix?
First, Mad Men is a complicated show where there’s no one ‘correct’ interpretation of it. In a remix, everything is taken out of its original context so when that context is in flux, there’s a million different stories to be told. That meant I could pick any thread (like Don and Roger’s competitive relationship) and run with it to make my own version of the story.
Second, Mad Men is a show that has gotten away with murder: in its narrative, Mad Men can attempt to critique social norms and gender constructs. But AMC clearly exploits these themes through their retro-sexual ads. For example, AMC’s “Secrets, Envy, and Adultery Are Back” ads. That’s not really what the show is about. But it’s easily marketable. Matthew Weiner’s been able to play that line between social critic and commercial success. Being able to create a story that firmly critiqued gender roles and masculinity without any question was my story to tell, not AMC’s or Weiner’s. They can’t. It’s not their business model.
From a production standpoint, the pregnant pauses throughout the show allow for creative dialog manipulation, which is the key to building a cohesive narrative. For example, when we see Don thinking a deep thought, we can hear any line of dialog, like Roger confessing his love for him. It’s those cutaways that make a remix narrative possible and Mad Men had a lot of those. You’re writing with existing lines of dialog and placing key images over it to tell the story.