Remediation and Local Globalizations: How Taiwan's "Digital Video Knights-Errant Puppetry" Writes the History of the New Media in Chinese

Abstract

This article analyzes the Pili International Multimedia Company's “digital video knights-errant puppetry” serials, a popular culture genre unique to Taiwan, to answer two questions. First, how do digital technologies, originally developed to meet the needs of the American military and entertainment industries, become embedded in a different cultural context? Second, how does this embedding allow media technologies to become something through which distinctly local models of globalization itself may be imagined? Analyzing both the style of the serials and the discourse of producers and fans, I argue that new media technologies, despite their foreign origins, may not only be adapted or resisted, but may also come to be imagined as emerging from local aesthetics and local needs. Through the specific ways they utilize both digital and traditional technologies, the Pili producers and fans construct a utopian vision of what globalization might look like if Taiwan were at the center.

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Editorial Footnotes

Readers interested in media may also be interested in a number of other Cultural Anthropology essays that examine how media technologies travel and are taken up, and often transfigured, in diverse locales. In 1991, for example, Faye Ginsberg asked whether the development of video and television among indigenous peoples (particularly in Australia) created a "Faustian Contract, or Global Village?" In a 1994 essay, Ginsberg builds on Arjun Appardurai's conception of a "mediascape" to "take account of the interdependence of media practices with the local, national and transnational circumstances that surround them," again focusing on Aboriginal Australians.

Nickola Pazderic's "Recovering True Selves in the Elector-Spiritual Field of Universal Love", also examines media (particularly radio) in Taiwan.

About the Author

Teri Silvio is an assistant professor at Taiwan's Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.

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S.H Chow, "Traditional Taiwanese Puppet." via Flickr.

Multimedia

An example of budaixi, traditional southern Chinese hand-puppet theatre:

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. What is remediation, and how has it shaped contemporary budaixi performance?

2.  Silvio treats remediation as an adaptive strategy for local groups dealing with the effects of globalization.  Is there something lost in this process of remediation?

3.  Part of the practice of ethnographic research is the process of documenting stories, rituals, and traditions.  Is this an act of remediation?  If so, what effect does it have on the people who tell these stories and perform these rituals?

Editorial Overview

What role might century-old folk art forms play in globalization? Teri Silvio examines this question in an essay in the spring issue of Cultural Anthropology, which analyzes how puppet plays once staged in Ming dynasty temples have been taken up in Taiwanese television serials, and popularized by devoted fan clubs. In "Remediation and Local Globalizations: How Taiwan's 'Digital Video Knights-Errant Puppetry' Writes the History of the New Media in Chinese" Silvio argues that "in postindustrial societies like Taiwan, new media technologies, despite their foreign origins, are not merely 'appropriated,' but come to be seen as emerging from local aesthetics and local needs."  This is accomplished through a process of "remediation" - where images and objects from one media form are absorbed into another and transformed in the process.

Silvio was intrigued by how digital technologies designed to serve America's military and entertainment industries could become "embedded" in another cultural context, and then become a medium through which distinctly local forms of globalization could be imagined. Grounding the analysis in detailed historical knowledge of the popular culture of imperial China and colonial Taiwan, Silvio's essay explores how media producers and fans "construct a utopian vision of what globalization might look like if Taiwan were at its center."  

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