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Why Riffing Matters

whether it’s MST3K/Rifftrax/Cinematic Titanic, a joe bob briggs dvd commentary or just your favorite net reviewer, the art of snarking on a piece of media is collectively known as ‘riffing’-and when done properly, it transcends smart-assedtry and becomes something…more.

let’s explore this, won’t we?

riffing is a gateway to critical media thinking

…and the gateway “drug” for many was MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.
click this (trust me): Space Oddities by Annamarie Pellow
the show’s primary goal (and one that should always be at the forefront of riffing) was to be funny: “taking the piss” as those pale emaciated brits tend to put it. but MST3K did something else for its viewers-it made them notice when filmmakers tried to pull a fast one: bad creative decisions, stupid dialogue, atrocious acting and impractical special fx are things casual viewers might just accept, but joel/mike and the bots pointed out that YOU DON’T HAVE TO JUST SIT THERE AND TAKE IT. more importantly, they often conveyed that such creative choices in the films they watched didn’t HAVE to be included, but were. yes, there were often budgetary (and talent) considerations that created such results, but consider the ease from which MST3K morphed into RIFFTRAX yet was still able to point out such flaws in mainstream releases leads  one to a deeper understanding of film as an artform…and why, with such resources at their disposal, NOT making a better product is sometimes inexcuseable and downright assholish.

riffing’s roots are older than all of us

alfred hitchcock & max headroom made fun of their advertisers, MOONLIGHTING winked to the fourth wall,  horror hosts snarked the movies they played and hell, ernie kovacs riffed tv’s conventions AS they were being invented. riffing has been around as long as rosencrantz and guildenstern got their own story and those two guys whose names i don’t know started waiting for that godot guy…it’s all about acknowledging (and ridiculing) the artifice, themes and intent when held up next to the actual execution.

riffing might be the most accessible introduction to satire in today’s ‘unique’ media landscape

in a world where you can receive a facebook friend request from Tampax, get tweets from Olive Garden and have Bart Simpson call to invite u to cleanse your theatans, satire is kinda harder than it used to be…but cracking wise on a video is perhaps still the stealthiest way to introduce the concept. satire is a delicate dance but having something there to actually bounce off of helps more than a barren stage or (possibly) pretentious short-film.

riffing as defense mechanism

for some of us who do it, riffing isn’t just to have fun…it’s a way to cope. some folks who have enough insight into the media making process are often more aware of its tricks than its treats…and lemme tell ya, that makes being a modern media consumer™ kinda hellish. when u can clearly see the moments films pander/assume audience is stupid/try to get away with something cheap/are blatantly manipulative etc. u get instantly drawn out…and when u aren’t drawn into a film it becomes less entertainment than it becomes endurance. riffing helps make that tolerable.

and lastly:


riffing is a lifestyle

chances are, if u riff movies n’ stuff like that u also riff moments that annoy u at work or rush hour traffic or when stuck at a bar u didn’t want to go to or at a wake and so on…because riffing isn’t limited to media-riffing can also be a way of tolerating (and dealing with) this barely sensical, often demoralizing yet ultimately somewhat worthwhile thing we call life. the best riffers tend to be people u’d probably have a fun conversation with over drinks, because they tend to be almost like stand-up  comedians with ready-loaded quips but they also relish making GREAT observations that can ONLY be made at THAT moment.
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Media manipulator-amateur analyst-professional smartass

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