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Warholian Paradox in Maos

Although most of Warhol’s art presents extreme repetition and mundane objects, they are never perceived by us in simple ways.  In his Death in America, Hal Foster describes Warhol’s art as being full of oxymorons –“referential and simularcral, connected and disconnected, affective and affectless” (Foster, 39).  Such so-called “Warholian paradox” is particularly shown well in many of Warhol’s portraits of celebrities.  I would like to talk about one of the portraits, Mao (1972).

mao_tse_tung

In 1972, Warhol produced a series of differently-sized silkscreens, all based on the massive portrait of China’s then Chairman, Mao Zedong, which still hangs at Tiananmen Square.  However, rather than reproducing the portrait exactly, he painted abstract or arbitrary colors on blank canvases before running a black-ink silkscreen over this painting. In this way, no two paintings are exactly the same (Cornita, 2011)

As in many of his other portraits, although he used the photographic print as the base, he never utilized all of the “photographic information.”   He totally ignored the symbolic conception of the original portrait, Mao’s political power and in China and identity as a communist authority.   Instead, by the use of highly contrasting colors and “feminizing” effect – which makes Mao look if he were wearing lipstick and eye shadow – he transformed the macho leader’s propaganda image to a portrait of a foppish middle-aged man.  Surely, these paintings, produced without any understanding of the symbolic meaning and identity, the original portrait just seems as a pure commercial product which makes fun of the notorious political celebrity in order to please the consumers, us who are in the opposite side of communists.

Of course, they might be more than just that.  According to Foster, Warhol’s use of compulsive repetition suggests “obsessive fixation of the object in melancholy” (Foster, 42).  As for Warhol’s series of repetitive pictures portraying traumatic events, disasters, Foster sees that the repetition plays a role to “reproduce the traumatic effect” (Foster, 42).  Likewise, the series of Mao’s portraits might be seen as emphasizing the political persona of Mao rather than deconstructing it, or, as Foster puts it, they “wards [the audience] away of the [political identity, meaning of Mao] and opens [them] out to it” (Foster, 42).

Also, the diversity in colors and sizes in the portraits might reflect the idea that our symbolic conceptions of Mao cannot be generalized, which contradicted to what the original portrait was intended – the universalization of Mao’s image as politically authoritative.  In the end, we might interpret Warhol’s portraits of Mao as observing, reflecting, questioning, challenging, and ignoring the socially constructed meaning of “Mao” at the same time.

<Work cited>

1. Foster, Hal. “Death in America,” October 75 (1996). The MIT Press.

2. Cornita, Jenny. “Warhol’s Mao”. W Magazine. Jan, 2011.

Authorship and Collective Culture Then and Now

 

Estefanía Tocado
Last year while I was working as a research assistant for a Spanish medievalist professor, I spent most of my time investigating a short inscription of the French version of “Prision of Love,” a bestseller in European courts in the 15th century.  As part of my research, I also had the opportunity to digitize a number of books ranging from the 13th century to 16th century from an old film into a digital copy.  While I was doing this task, it kept coming to my mind the idea that all that work and time that I was spending in the dark microfilm room at Lauinger library could have been of great use not only for my professor but for the entire medievalist community if we would have had the copyright laws to publish it on the internet or send to a digitized archive available online.  During that time, I often remembered how in the medieval times authorship and intellectual property was not considered to be something that relevant.  Despite that fact, not much later the figure of the author started to grow.  Nevertheless, authors in many cases did not have the need to claim their work since many times their work was also endowed to other sources (most of the times of classical origin) as a way to legitimize their value or it was a product of the work of more than one author.  In the specific case of the oral anonymous literary form of song poetry “Romancero,” a jongleur would recite it to a local audience eager to hear the juicy plots that often integrated universal topics such as love, revenge, family honor, confronted families, and regional wars.  Then the audience would retell the poem, or parts of the poem, to other members of the community, remembering the entire poem or maybe only the sections they found the most interesting.  That way, through oral retelling of the poems, the network of this literary-oral piece would spread out through communities, regions, and countries.  While this act of retelling the poems was taking place, the stories would suffer adaptations and modifications along the way.  It could be considered, if we extrapolate it to modern terminology, that the poems and the adapted versions were be part of the “collective and generative culture” of their time (Irvine).

In the recent years in the literary criticism field, highly influential intellectual figures such as Michel Foucault have questioned the figure of the author.  As a response to some of the work exposed by Roland Barthes in his article:  “The Death of the Author,” Foucault in his essay “What Is an Author?” questions the construction of authorship and the idea of authorship the way we inherited it from the eighteenth century (Jaszi 29-30).  Later on, scholars such as Peter Jazsi have asserted that the increasing interest in the figure of the author and its domains is based on the cultural figuration of the “author” as the creator of a unique piece of art, and this has interacted with the legal concept of the “author” and its legal property rights (30).  He has also affirmed that in many cases lawyers and judges in legal trials have used the idea of the author-genius derived from Romanticism as a valid claim to challenge copyright laws online.  It has been claimed that:  “computer programs are no less inspired on traditional literary works and the imaginative processes of a programmer are analogous to those of the literary author” (Jaszi 34).  In similar ways as it happened in the medieval oral culture and the “Romancero,” nowadays our main source of literary and artistic culture is called the “internet” and, as in many other cultural manifestations, is in constant renovation and creation of new meanings.  Despite all of the legal controversy related to the regulations of moral rights and intellectual property on the web, I believe that if we want to consider it a window to cultural production and distribution we may want to regard it as one more instrument available to mass population to generate popular culture instead of the individual work that cannot be shared.  Always within some limits and understanding that the “act of creating” has changed since Romanticism and accepting that, as SilviaO affirms in Lawrence Lessig´s book Remix, her voice has become one more instrument among others to remix and generate new ways to interact with individual work and its relationship to collective culture.  Maybe this is the first to step to conceive culture as a shared wealth as well as the “Romancero audiences” understood it back in the time (17).

 

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Sept. 2013. Web. 30 September 2013.

Jaszi, Peter. “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity,”in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 29–56.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. The Penguin Press: New York, 2008.

 

 

A Study of Intertextuality Within Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind

By: Arianna Drumond

Intertextuality, as defined by Julia Kristeva, dictates that: “every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it (Chandler 1994).” Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind exemplifies this postmodern notion of intertextuality, largely in the form of pastiche, to touch on poignant and often humorous themes of art, nostalgia, and collective memory.

BKR

The film is set in the small town of Passaic, New Jersey; once a thriving cultural hub—Gondry appropriates the life and history of Jazz musician Fats Waller, actually a Harlem native—now a dilapidated town suffering through the early stages of unwanted gentrification.  The Film’s heroes Jerry and Mike (played by Jack Black and Mos Def) are forced to film modified versions of Hollywood blockbusters when a magnetized Jerry accidentally erases the inventory of the town’s only remaining video rental store. The pair cobble together drastically altered versions of hits such as The Lion King, Driving Miss Daisy, and 2001: A Space Odyssey which become very popular within the Passaic community. In order to explain away the odd camera work, the stranger costumes, and the shortened length of each film, Jerry explains that they are produced in Sweden and therefore have been “Sweded,” a process that is both expensive and time consuming.

sweded

Though filmed as a comedy, Be Kind Rewind is a serious examination of the importance of history and collective memory. “Sweded” films are representative of society’s attachment to and collective interpretation of narrative. They draw upon the work of famous (and wealthy) storytellers and reinterpret the main themes in a way that is accessible to the community as a whole. These striped-down re-makes still honor the intent of the original works, but, due to their simplicity, are more appropriate for the Passaic community which exists in the shadows of Manhattan much in the way a “Sweded” film might exist in the shadows of Hollywood.

A  “Sweded” film also serves to empower the amateur; a big budget, and production staff are unnecessary and excessive. Rather, the individual is now empowered and can draw upon and reference iconic works and create their own distinct and relevant interpretation. They can be, as Gondry argues “stockholders of their own happiness (World Socialist Web site).” This concept of course, can be seen throughout modern remix culture in the form of memetics. As an original idea is passed along, it is given new life, and occasionally new meaning, with each new interpretation. While the original work remains untouched, new versions remain in circulation and serve as the foundation for a community of “ordinary” individuals who have invested their own creativity in the production of an alternative narrative.

Gondry capitalizes on this idea of memetics by created a “Sweded” version of the original trailer for Be Kind Rewind. He even encourages viewers to create their own “Sweded” takes on Hollywood hits and allows them to be posted to the Be kind Rewind Youtube page.  Gondry works to breakdown the idea that there is only a passive relationship between a viewer and a piece of art. Rather, as is argued in the study of intertextuality, there is room for an active and dynamic relationship between creator, work, and audience.

“Sweded” Be Kind Rewind Trailer

Official Trailer: Be Kind Rewind

 

Works Cited:

Chandler, Daniel (1994): Semiotics for Beginners. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/ [Sept. 23, 2013]

Be Kind Rewind. Directed by Michel Gondry. 2008. Los Angeles CA: New Line Cinema

Laurier, Joanne. “Be Kind Rewind: Fast Forward to Michel Gondry’s Utopia,” World Socialist Web site. March 12, 2008 [accessed Sept. 23, 2013]            http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/03/kind-m12.html.

Drowning Girl: Examining Intertextuality in Roy Lichtenstein’s Artwork

by Abby Bisbee

This week’s readings addressing dialogism, intertextuality and appropriation provided the platform for my understanding of how texts are inter-related – everything from the advertising I see in my magazines, to the novels that I read for a seminar, to the artwork that I pass by everyday in the museum that I work for. As I was trying a grasp on the larger concepts that were proposed this week, I found that I was best able to comprehend these texts through the work of a Pop-Artist Roy Lichtenstein.

 

Roy Lichtenstein, a world-famous pop artist from the 1960s, created paintings that were heavily influenced by popular culture – both contemporary and historical. Lichtenstein’s work draws upon the “popular advertising and the comic book style” of the 1950s and early 1960s. The best example of intertextuality within his body of work is his painting Drowning Girl (1963). Drowning Girl depicts a crying woman who appears to be in the process of being swallowed by turbulent waves. Despite her immanent death, her focus is solely on her sorrow. In the top left corner, Lichtenstein harkens to the contemporary comic panel with a text bubble that states: “I DON’T CARE/I’D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!”

 

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_Girl

Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein. !963.

Julia Kristeva defines intertextuality in terms of horizontal and vertical axes, the latter referring to the relationship that a text has with other pre-existing texts (Kristeva). Examining Drowning Girl in terms of this vertical axis, we can see that Lichtenstein is both accepting popular culture and negating pre-existing artistic expectations that have their foundations in classical painting. Lichtenstein does this by using a painting technique called Ben-Day dots to create the illusion that the image is “mechanically reproduced” (Wikipedia). Understanding this painting as text, we can also see how it is related to the “already-written” (Barthes). Drowning Girl is heavily influenced by a comic panel from 1962 from DC Comics, however, the most interesting artistic reference I believe that Lichtenstein makes in his painting is a reference to nineteenth century Japanese print making (Wikipedia). If one examines the waves that encompass the woman in Drowning Girl and compares them to the extremely well known print by Hokusai The Great Wave of Kanagawa, one will notice striking resemblances in between the two.

 

The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai. 1831-33.

 

This painting has many layers of complexity, but I believe in terms of what we are discussing there are three points that need to be addressed. First, Lichtenstein was famous in the 1960s for heading the “new” Pop Art movement however many criticized him for not creating anything original and drawing solely from pre-existing artwork. As to the latter critique, we can now (after this week’s readings) look at all art and understand that nothing is truly “original” and thus Lichtenstein’s art can be seen as progressive rather than regressive. Secondly, the question arises asking as to why the artist chose to pull from comic and print art. Is the artist making a comment on the increasing commercialization of 1960s America? Is he remarking on contemporary critiques of his artwork by connecting his “unoriginal” work of art to probably the single most circulated Japanese print in the United States? There are most likely several other explanations as to why Lichtenstein chose both his subject and his style of painting when creating Drowning Girl, however I believe that the questions referenced above were at least relatively influential in his artistic process. As Chandler notes in his “Semiotics for Beginners” when texts such as this one “allude directly to each other…[it]…it is a particularly self-conscious form of intertextuality: it credits its audience with the necessary experience to make sense of such allusions.” Third, as Lichtenstein’s piece is a painting that draws upon the influence of both narrative and print, Drowning Girl reflects intertextuality by crossing the “boundaries between formal frames” (Chandler).

 

This week’s readings aided me in my understanding of how all texts of all mediums of our culture are constantly taking pre-existing forms and simply re-molding them into something with a slightly different shape. The author, as Barthes strongly emphasizes, is not a creator but rather a mediator of all texts that have come before him and he collaborates with both contemporary society and historical texts to create the next artistic product.

Wikipedia contributors. “Drowning Girl.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Sep. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roy Lichtenstein.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. 23 Sep. 2013.

Barthes, Roland. Trans. Richard Howard. “Death of the Author.”

Chandler, Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners.” . N.p., 01 Mar 2013. Web. 23 Sep 2013. <http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem09.html>.

Julia Kristeva, excerpt from “Word, Dialogue, and Novel.” From Toril Moi, ed., The Kristeva Reader [New York: Columbia University Press, 1986]).

 

The Hybrid Genre Film: An Examination of Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit by Abby Bisbee

Gary Aylesworth observed that “postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning” (Aylesworh). The application of the elements of difference, hyperreality and  simlulacrum have been used effectively in the post war cinema by the combination of realities, including the then current environment with an animated environment. Although this hybrid approach was leveraged in early popular films such as The Wizard of Oz and King Kong, it was only with the improvement in film technology and special effects in the late 1980s and the 1990s that these movie genres could be deeply combined into complex and hybrid genres including cartoons. Two movies in particular exemplify of how movie genres could be merged because of these improvements in and the postmodern desire to question modern narratives and to combine several types of art to create a remixed and hyperreal work of art. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Space Jam (1996) take modern narratives and dramatically present them in an otherworldly context.

The Who Framed Roger Rabbit narrative focuses on a common lead character, a private detective, Eddie Valiant, who investigates a murder whose leading suspect is the famous cartoon character, Roger Rabbit. Throughout the film, the sets are equally distributed between the human, or “real”, world and “Toontown.” Because of its technological ability to almost seamlessly integrate the “toon” world with the “human” world, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is able to venture into a new type of film hybrid – one that blends the genres of cartoon comedy, romance, and film noir. The 1988 film, according to the work of Frederic Jameson, could be an example of the pastiche that is tied into the definition of postmodernism (Jameson). Who Framed Roger Rabbit imitates cartoon comedy without making a parody of the integration of animation. The hybridity and the hyper-reality of the “real” world, the “Hollywood world” and the “cartoon world” is relatively seamless and destroys any “sense of clear generic boundaries” that defines modernism (Irvine chart).

wfrr bike picture

Joe Pytka’s 1996 Space Jam follows its predecessor by integrating several film genres to create the ultimate popular culture film. Space Jam is a also hybrid film that mixes the genres of cartoon comedy, “family live-action”, sports, and alien invasion. The alien invasion film narrative of the 1950s is insinuated in the plot of Space Jam, but instead of repeating the nationalistic metanarrative where the Western society defeats the exterior threat and obliterates them in a demonstration of national strength and power (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)), the cartoon aliens are welcomed into American society. This acceptance also leads to the question of individual identity and whether there still exists a national identity in a postmodern world.

 

space-jam bball pics

In both Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam there is a similar loss of generic boundaries, but in the postmodern society, the integration of the “real” and the cartoon was the next ultimate step.  This blurring of both generic lines and the representation of the real is something that has evolved since both of these movies were released as special effects technology has improved. The digital age has created the ultimate hybrid film, one where there is an expectation of the “real” and the “simulacra.” Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam reflect the post-modern film for two reasons, one of which was hinted to earlier. First, both films distribute the power equally between the human and cartoon worlds and give more “value” to the “surface” or the visual of the film rather than the narrative. This is best exampled in the character of Jessica Rabbit whose cartoon character was derived from the “va-voom” actresses of the fifties and earlier such as Veronica Lake. The director chose to represent the real, Veronica Lake, through media. The culture of postmodern society is adapting “to simulation, visual media becoming undifferentiated equivalent forms, …[and]…simulation and real-time media substituting for the real” (Irvine).

 

space jam soundtrack cover

 

Postmodernism is also embraced by both of these films because of the manner in which they raise popular culture up on a pedestal. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, we see Toontown and leading character Roger Rabbit united with a hardboiled fiction narrative reminiscent of late 1940s and early 1950s detective fiction and film noir. In Space Jam we see a clearer attempt to merge elements of popular culture with the collaboration of popular children’s culture with the Looney Toons, the American underdog sports film (a genre that boomed in the 1990s), Michael Jordon (the leading international sports star of the time) and popular music. These last elements completely create this post-modern genre. Where the music in Who Framed Roger Rabbit was derivative of genres that are united, the soundtrack from Space Jam was a clear reflection of the popular music of the mid-1990s using artists such as R-Kelly, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, B-Real, Coolio, and Quad City DJ. The artists were asked to specifically write songs for the family-comedy film, a request that forced the artists to venture far from their usual genre and audience. Even within their music videos, as seen in “Hit Em-High”, they integrated cartoon animation blurring lines between genres once again.

B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J And Busta Rhymes – Hit Em High

Although postmodernism may be undefinable, its elements may be seen in our cultural expressions. The combination of characters, media, story lines, different realities and narratives introduced by films such as Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, provide a view of some of these elements.

 

Pytka, Joe. Space Jam. 1996.

Zemeckis, Robert. Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 1988.

Martin Irvine, “Approaches to Po-Mo”

Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”

Aylesworth, Gary, “Postmodernism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition),