Author Archives: Emily Rothkopf

Link

Django Unchained: Appropriation Done Right

Emily Rothkopf

“[Quentin] Tarantino has been dubbed a “director DJ,” comparing his stylistic use of mix-and-match genre and music infusion to the use of sampling in DJ exhibits, morphing a variety of old works to create a new one,” (Wikipedia 2014).

Appropriation is the act of borrowing elements from previously published texts and repurposing them, perhaps by changing the context or narrative, to develop new works.  Many artists remix others works without elevating or diversifying their subjects, or without any acknowledgement of their influences.  Alternatively, Quentin Tarantino’s films provide some of the best examples of appropriation in film “done right.”  Not only does Tarantino copy, transform and combine past texts to create ingenious and original films, but he promotes and speaks to his obscure influences passionately and with a reverence.  “Creation requires influence … it isn’t magic,” filmmaker Kirby Ferguson states in Everything is A Remix.  But the fluidity in which an artist pieces together his/her influences and connects seemingly unconnected works to create new art, with new meaning, can be quite magical.  Tarantino’s 2012 film Django Unchained includes numerous examples of appropriation – both overt and subconscious, giving viewers exposure to past genres and texts but in a modernized format.  And as a result, he makes an original contribution to film and art.

The Genres & Cinematography

Django Unchained is inspired greatly by Italian director Sergio Corbucci, who according to Tarantino, depicted the West more violently, surreal and pitiless than any other director in the history of the genre (Tarantino 2012).  The title and “spaghetti-western” genre of the film are linked directly to Corbucci’s 1966 film Django.  Tarantino drew from another Corbucci film of the same genre, Il Grande Silenzio, which uniquely takes place in the snow.  Tarantino wrote about Silenzio, among other influences, in the New York Times saying that he liked the aesthetic of the western action in the snow so much that he incorporated a snow section in the middle of Django.  In the snow scene below we also see a more subconscious appropriation — which is a typical montage of the protagonist honing his/her skills or in effect, transforming.

The Great Silence (Il Grande Silenzio); photo credit: EffettonotteOnline.com

Mel Brooks’ 1974 film Blazing Saddles may be a more subconscious influence to Tarantino’s Django.  Blazing Saddles was a western comedy that satirized racism, portraying a black sheriff as the hero in an all-white town.  It was also known and criticized for use of the “N-word” similar to Django.  Moreover, it was a rule-bending film that stood out amongst the proliferation of comedies, westerns, texts on racism, etc.  The unique way that both Blazing Saddles and Django similarly deal with racism is by depicting its idiocies, as best exemplified by the KKK scene and ill-fitting bag-masks scene below.

 djangobags.jpg

Above: Blazing Saddles; Below: Django Unchained “Bag-Mask Scene”; photo credits: RogerEbert.com

The Costumes

There are numerous influences in just the costume design alone for Django Unchained.  For example, Don Johnson’s signature Miami Vice look inspired his (plantation owner – Big Daddy’s) cream-colored linen suit in the film.  And for Django’s wardrobe, Tarantino watched the television series Bonanza and referred to it frequently when illustrating his vision.  However the most notable appropriation was Django’s blue velvet suit that he emerges in when getting to select his own wardrobe for the first time.  This was directly inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s 1770 oil painting, The Blue Boy (Wikipedia 2014).  But in my research people have also commented on the similarity between Django’s attire to that of Austin Powers.  While the creators of Django overtly drew from Gainsborough’s artwork, there may have been a subconscious influence from Powers.  Djano’s chosen attire after all is supposed to lend itself to a humorous aspect of the film.

Django and Thomas Gainsborough’s 1770 oil painting, The Blue Boy – photo credit: tvtropes.com; Django and Austin Powers – photo credit: film.list.co.uk

The Music

“Quentin Tarantino’s soundtracks, like his films, are works of expert connoisseurship: pop-culture history lessons, assembled with a crate-digger’s impeccable taste,” (Rosen 2013).

The music in Django Unchained provides examples of not only appropriation but also intertexuality.  The soundtrack is extremely eclectic, drawing from a wide variety of eras and genres – including old-timey Western, blues, Seventies folk rock and hip-hop.  Where Tarantino’s genius lies is in his ability to incorporate such a wide variety of sounds at just the right moments in the film.  For example, while one may get an initial knee-jerk response to the juxtaposition of Rick Ross’ hip-hop beats to a spaghetti-western setting, the tone is perfectly appropriate and enhances the scene.  And in the context of slavery and a revenge-themed movie, the value of the song and even the hip-hop genre as a whole is elevated.

John Legend’s “Who Did That To You” in and of itself is another good example of appropriation done right.  It samples Mighty Hannibal’s 1967 song “The Right to Love You,” which Legend says, “[has] some of the flavor of the kind of music that I associate with Tarantino movies…it’s almost campy, and it’s got a sort of vintage to it” (ThisisRnBcom 2013).  So Legend drew inspiration from another musician from the 1950s and 60s, as well as from a modern day film director, and created something with original meaning and feeling in the context of the Django Unchained narrative.  All while crediting his influences.

John Legend – Who Did That To You

________

When an artist can acknowledge and transform past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture, his/her “originality and appropriations are as one” (Lethem 2007).  With Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino takes standard genres and themes with prolific texts, and through creative appropriation, contributes a brand new work to the encyclopedia of art.  Concurrently, he credits and celebrates those that came before him.  And in a manner of “paying it forward” he has also been called one of the most influential directors of his generation.

 

Works Cited

“Django Unchained.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

Emerson, Jim. “Django Unchain My Heart (and Set Me Free).” All Content. N.p., 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

Ferguson, Kirby. “Everything Is a Remix.” Vimeo. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

“John Legend Talks Writing “Who Did That To You” for ‘Django’ and Pitching It To Tarantino On A Cassette.” ThisisRnBcom RSS. N.p., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence.” Harpers Magazine. N.p., Feb. 2007. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

“Quentin Tarantino.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

Rosen, Jody. “Django Unchained: Original Soundtrack – Album Reviews.” Rolling Stone. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

Tarantino, Quentin. “Quentin Tarantino Tackles Old Dixie by Way of the Old West (by Way of Italy).” The New York Times Magagine. N.p., 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.

 

Transitioning to Post-Postmodernism: A Look at Twitter & Airbnb

Emily Rothkopf

If postmodernism was a rejection of societal absolute truths, perhaps post-postmodernism, or whatever the era will be dubbed, is about creating our own truths.  Many have come to terms with the fact that capitalism and the American Dream, organized religion and centralized government are not all they’re cracked up to be.  And while society continues to critique and remix modernist ideologies in media and the arts, the pessimism and cynicism prevailing in Gen X and Y have gotten a bit tired.  With advances in technology, and thereby increased access to information and a participatory culture, we may be evolving towards a new ideal of finding our own way, creating our own personalized (yet interconnected) experiences, and ultimately self-transcendence.  Millennials and those adhering to this new ideal seem to be more optimistic despite holding the same rejections of postmodernism – even more so with the recent recession and humbling job market.  With a multitude of new social media outlets, such as Twitter, and consumer-controlled web-based companies like Airbnb, society is transitioning to becoming even more decentralized yet with a cohesiveness and burgeoning enthusiasm.

“You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding … You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded,” (Kirby 2006).

Social media sites have reshaped contemporary culture in unimaginable ways, arguably none more so than Twitter, which currently has almost 650 million active accounts worldwide (Twitter 2014).  Twitter allows users to interact with corporations, media outlets, pop-culture icons, etc., in ways that cannot be ignored and are in fact encouraged.  A “tweeter” can vehemently express a customer service issue inciting a rapid negative word-of-mouth campaign or alternatively get instant access to a customer service rep to resolve the issue.  One can have his/her opinion read live, on-air during a news segment via Twitter.  And if desired, a fan can interact with his/her favorite musician, actor or writer on Twitter, without any bodyguards or hierarchies blocking the way.  Where postmodernism positioned contemporary culture as a spectacle in which the consumer sat powerless (Kirby 2006), post-postmodernism employs technology to render the consumer connected, participatory and influential.

“At pivotal moments throughout history, technological innovation triggers massive social and cultural transformation… unrelated developments, which had been gradually unfolding for years, suddenly converge to create changes that are as disruptive as they are creative,” (Taylor 2001).

With web-based, industry-altering companies like Airbnb, consumers literally control their own destinies.  Airbnb is an online platform allowing individuals to list or book unique and often competitively priced, residential accommodations around the world.  In 2013, Airbnb reported to have doubled its listings to 300,000 globally and served more than 4 million guests – statistics that put it in the ranks with top hoteliers like InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide (Pelletier 2014).  As an Airbnb skeptic turned “host,” I can attest to the revolutionary qualities of the service.  I am not only overwhelmed by the number of quality inquiries I have gotten, but also amazed at the ease of use and control each individual has in the process.  “Guests” get personal and localized interaction in contrast to the depersonalized, often sterile bureaucracy of a standard hotel.  Moreover, it’s typically a win-win for both host and guest money-wise.  As philosopher Mark Taylor speaks to in his commentary on the emerging network culture, I believe Airbnb is lending itself to one of those pivotal moments in history that could not only uproot the hotel industry, but also other similarly traditional and centralized industries.

“…we need to cultivate a keener, livelier, more dialogical sense of ourselves in relation to the diverse cultures, diverse natures, the whole universe itself,” (Hassan 2014).

What Twitter and Airbnb exemplify is decentralization at its finest.  Consumers are in control of their experiences and are connecting with others in ways that are both creative and progressive.  This provides a sense of optimism in that there are better means to an end and technology will continue to enhance and improve upon those means.  While we are still a long way away from achieving the spiritual project of postmodernity that philosopher Ihab Hassan describes, the interconnectedness seems to be leading us down a path towards self-transcendence.  And perhaps post-postmodernism will be considered a monumental stepping stone in that societal, spiritual journey.  For now, it will remain as a state of transition.

 

Works Cited

Hassan, Ihab. “From Postmodernism To Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context.” From Postmodernism To Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Kirby, Alan. “The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” Philosophy Now. 2006. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Pelletier, Sue. “Is Airbnb Becoming a Threat to Your Room Block?” Meetings Net Home Page. 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

Taylor, Mark C. “An Excerpt from The Moment of Complexity – Emerging Network Culture.”University of Chicago Press. 2001. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

“Twitter Statistics.” Statistic Brain RSS. Web. 25 Jan. 2014.

The Psyche of Gen Napster

Emily Rothkopf

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity takes a unique outlook on the negative effects of piracy, focusing on the sociological effects on the culprit – particularly the child pirate – rather than the political and economic implications on an industry, or on an even larger scale – art and capitalism.  The latter is what the majority has discussed and focused on.  Perhaps upon having children of his own, Lessig has taken a 180 degree look at the issue proposing that the real threat of piracy is the psychological effects on a generation and future generations of children growing up, adopting the technologies available to them, “stealing” digital content (music, movies, etc.), and perceiving themselves and their actions as criminal.  Will these generations continue to blur the lines between what they can and can’t do according to law?  Lessig faults copyright laws in the piracy dilemma, or in general, laws that are dysfunctional and overly strict (Lessig xx).  As part of the original “Napster Generation,” perhaps the largest, original group of young pirates in the digital age, I concur that the unnecessary criminalization could have potentially detrimental effects on youth culture and that the outdated laws need to be modified.  However, I would like to examine the psyche of the pirate from a different angle to explore the role of technology and community in the solution.

I started using Napster upon purchasing my brand new desktop computer (which literally encompassed my entire desktop) for college in 2000.  I admittedly recall one of my first downloads being Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle – quite an innocent download for a pirate.  By the end of my freshman year I had compiled close to 1,000 songs and was immensely proud of my diverse and extensive collection.  For college students, our Napster playlists were with us as we did everything from studying to “pre-gaming” to just chilling out.  And it gave us exposure to more genres and artists than we could have possibly imagined.  It served a purpose just as other newly arising technologies did at the time – e.g. Instant Messenger, texting – and enabled us to fit into our ever-evolving communities.  With Napster, I was adopting a technology that my community had agreed upon was the most efficient and purposeful of its kind.  I wasn’t just “stealing” music for the sake of it or because I wanted something for free.  And I certainly wasn’t profiting off of my collection.  I was doing it because it simply made sense.  Would I even be able to find Rahzel’s If Your Mother Only Knew at Tower Records?  Or would I even be interested in the rest of the tracks on his album?  Well, I wouldn’t have even heard of the song, or beatboxing, if it weren’t for Napster.

Over the last ten years, new technologies have arisen in music sharing that enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and build off of a sense of community – all while generating profit.  Apple’s iPod and iTunes opened up a whole new world – 99 cents seemed like a pretty good deal for a song, knowing you were purchasing it legally and had the ability to build a collection on a cool, purposeful device.  I couldn’t lug my desktop computer with my Napster playlists on it to the gym.  But I could strap my iPod Nano with 1,000 songs to my arm while going on a scenic run through San Diego on a business trip.  Today, I turn to Pandora to accompany me on my runs, work days, etc, and to give me exposure to new artists.  While Pandora offers a free service, the company is still able to profit off of advertising.  For an enhanced experience, many consumers are willing to pay a nominal fee for Spotify or Grooveshark.  Or consider Sirius radio – why would consumers be willing to pay for radio?  I for one am a subscriber primarily for the Howard Stern Show.  He has built up a community of listeners who would feel like they are missing out if no longer getting access to him daily.  And through OnDemand programming, he has found an additional stream of revenue for his brand.

While Lessig is correct in targeting copyright laws as a dysfunction in the piracy dilemma, there are intangible aspects that should be prioritized as part of the solution.  I’m unsure of the subliminal effects the criminalization had on me as a young pirate and believe we shouldn’t hold our breath while the legal system enacts efficient and effective copyright laws.  Copyright is an ongoing social negotiation that will be endlessly revised (Lethem).  Instead, technology and the industries at-hand need to stay a step ahead of the demand – continuously crafting new ways to enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and make one feel as if he/she is part of a community by adopting the new product or service.  Being able to monetize your product in innovative ways, a la Apple and iTunes, doesn’t hurt either.  And while there will always be a minority trying to cheat the system, from my viewpoint as a member of Gen Napster, the majority will always seek to do what simply makes sense.

 Works Cited

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity. www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q25-S7jzgs. Web. 15 Nov 2007.

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

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence” Harpers Magazine Web, Feb. 2007.