Author Archives: Layan Jawdat

Intertextuality and Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules”

Layan Jawdat

This week’s readings on dialogism and intertextuality offered thought-provoking ways to look  at various media productions and artifacts from television and movies to newspapers, magazines and books. Understanding that texts do not exist in vacuums but rather exist in relation to other texts (Chandler 4) and communication through these texts is not a simple matter of authorial intention, but rather is “‘always already positioned by semiotic systems'” (Chandler 2) can indeed change the way in which we interpret television programming, for example, which I will discuss briefly here.

Another hallmark of intertextuality, in addition to understanding the codes inherently present in identifiable genres, is the “fluidity of genre boundaries and the blurring of genres and their functions”(Chandler 5). This is related to Barthe’s reflections on authorship in “The Death of the Author” in his description of the openness and combinatorial nature of text: “we know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations , resulting from the thousand sources of culture”(Barthes 4). Vanderpump Rules, a Bravo reality-TV show documenting the lives of the waiters and bartenders at the West Hollywood restaurant SUR, owned by Lisa Vanderpump, herself a star of the Bravo reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is an interesting case study for the exploration of intertextuality on popular TV shows today.

Vanderpump Rules has all the defining characteristics of a reality TV show that one might expect to see, with a decidedly “Bravo” flavor: it is dramatic, features hedonistic and attractive people, and has plenty of fights. The show highlights the work and play involved in the characters’ lives–we see them waiting tables and bartending together, and also see them going out together, taking vacations to Cabo, and acting out their personal dramas at SUR, to the chagrin of their boss, Lisa. While the show is exciting and entertaining within the conventions and codes reality shows, it seems to me to also show signs of genre blurring in that many scenes (as is the case in countless other reality TV shows) seem to be staged or acted in some ways. There may even be an element of self-reflexivity–or sly admission to the fact that not every single aspect of the show is real: in one episode, Stassi, a main character on the show explains that everyone working at SUR is trying to make it in one way or another in the entertainment industry, either as a model, singer, or actor. We see the staff modeling in the annual SUR photo shoot, and also see other characters editing their acting demo reels, performing with their bands and recording in the studio. These facts communicate to the viewer that the staff at SUR may in fact be acting at certain points on Vanderpump Rules. The degree to which the show is a planned drama versus a “real” reality show is unclear, but it is certainly engaging in blurring these lines.

Consider this clip for an example of genre-blurring on Vanderpump Rules.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” N.p.: Ubu Web, n.d. 1-6. 1967. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <>.

Chandler, Daniel. “Intertextuality Semiotics for Beginners.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2014. <>.

Kogi Korean BBQ, “postmodernism” and “postmodernity”

Layan Jawdat

For this week’s discussion of “postmodernism” I would like to turn to food as a possible illustration of “postmodern” culture. Ihab Hassan’s “From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context” maintains a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity. The development of certain foods and cuisines today, I think, is an interesting case study for looking at these conceptions of postmodernism and postmodernity, which refer to the cultural sphere and geopolitics respectively.

One example of a food culture that comes to mind when thinking through “postmodernism” and “postmodernity” is the phenomenon of Kogi Korean BBQ food trucks in Los Angeles, which I learned about on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in which he explores Koreatown in LA, and its history and cuisine. The food truck–itself a mixing of “high” and “low” culture, if you consider the cuisine to be high culture, and its serving, price and transportation to be for the “masses”–also mixes Korean tastes and dishes with the Mexican taco. This is an illustration of Jameson’s conception of postmodernism in “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” particularly his description of architecture: “the effacement in them of the older (essentially high-modernist) frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture, and the emergence of new kinds of texts”(Jameson 2). In terms of the geopolitical term “postmodernity,” enumerated by Hassan, Kogi Korean BBQ illustrates both “globalization and localization” (Hassan 3): Korean food traditions are mixed with the food traditions of Mexicans,  a more established immigrant group in LA. The Korean taco therefore represents local LA culture, itself a mix of various groups and traditions from all over the world.

Considering food traditions and contemporary combinations of cuisines is a really interesting way of thinking through some of these ideas related to culture, “postmodernism,” and “postmodernity” . Food is so central to culture, and often contested among nationalities and other cultural or ethnic groups: to whom does hummus belong, for example, and who makes it best? Do these arguments even make sense anymore?  Homi Bhabha’s discussion of postmodern mixing up of the binary logic of otherness in the Introduction to “The Location of Culture” is another interesting perspective from which we can consider food traditions and their (increasingly shaky) ties to identity, national culture, and their ties to “postmodern” and “postmodernist concepts of remix and re-appropriation.


Works Cited

“About Kogi.” Kogi BBQ Taco Truck Catering. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Border Lives: The Art of the Present.” Introduction. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. N. pag. Stanford Presidential Lectures. Stanford University. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

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

Jameson, Frederic. “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” American Studies at the University of Virginia. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Wheeler, Carolynne. “Hummus Food Fight between Lebanon and Israel.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Oct. 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Zara, Globalization & Culture

This week’s readings on globalization and the global network society called to mind an article I read in the New York Times Magazine last year, called “How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer,” by Suzy Hansen (

Video from the article:

The article raises interesting points about the fashion industry today, and perhaps even more fascinating for our discussion, provides details on the international retailer Zara, and its Spanish parent company, Inditex. The topics of fashion and Zara are lenses through which we can analyze and discuss cultural identity and globalization. The Pieterse reading in particular brought up topics relevant to the discussion of Zara: global marketing (p. 9), the idea of a “borderless world” (p.10), the unevenness of globalization (p.13), and regional cultural trends and their effects on global trends (p22-23).

Turning back to the article on Zara, there are several points about Zara and their type of fashion that are interesting to consider in a discussion about globalization; for example,  the speed at which Zara produces and distributes new items (clothes may be gone from the store within two weeks) and the fact that these items are sold at nearly 6,000 stores all over the world. Perhaps even more fascinating is the data on trends and consumption habits that Inditex has, by virtue of their business model (“fast fashion”); they are essentially the same in similar neighborhoods in big cities all over the world. There is less difference across borders; the fashion they produce is global:

“‘Actually, the customer is more or less the same in New York and Istanbul,’ she said. ‘There are differences,    like Brazilian girls like more brilliant colors, whereas in Paris they use more black. But in general when you find a fashion trend, it’s global.’ Earlier, Echevarría told me that neighborhoods share trends more than countries do. For example, the store on Fifth Avenue in Midtown New York ‘is more similar to the store in Ginza, Tokyo, which is an elegant area that’s also touristic,’ he said. ‘And SoHo is closer to Shibuya, which is very trendy and young. Brooklyn now is a wildly trendy place to go, while Midtown — well, no New Yorker is actually shopping on Fifth Avenue now.’ The buyers there are suburban tourists, he meant.”

The fact that these preferences vary from neighborhood to neighborhood on a local scale, but have similarities to neighborhoods in other countries presents an interesting paradox. Furthermore, the fact that Zara is known for making “fast fashion,” essentially copying high fashion designers and producing and selling clothes and accessories on a global, mass scale brings up questions related to our readings from last week. Are these Zara designs remixes because they are given new meaning by the context in which they are sold and presented to consumers (faster and at lower prices)? Are they plagiarizing in some way?


 Works Cited

Hansen, Suzy. “How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer.” New York Times Magazine 9 Nov. 2012: n. pag. 9 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <>.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. Print.


Thoughts on Lethem and Lessig

Layan Jawdat

I will focus my comments here on two of the readings we had for class this week: “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem, and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, by Lawrence Lessig.

The point that both authors make, which stood out most to me, has to do with audiences and interpretation. Both Lethem and Lessig make compelling arguments vis-à-vis audience interpretation and interaction with works of art, and assert that we should no longer see audiences simply as passive consumers. Lethem states: “artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.” This type of re-interpretation of artistic works that resonate with audience members, which Lethem described, is well-illustrated by Lessig’s description of the legal copyright issues around the Candice Breitz art exhibit of John Lennon fans singing his work. Breitz explains that she is interested in the “dimension of personal translation.” Lessig explains the current state of the world, in spite of Breitz’s efforts, characterized by ignoring audience interpretations: “We live in world infused with commercial culture, yet we rarely see how it touches us, and how we process it as it touches us” (Lessig 7).

This idea of highlighting, rather than ignoring the way consumer, audiences and fans understand and process works of art and culture, in whatever form they might take, really resonated with me, and reminded me of Stuart Hall’s work “Encoding, Decoding,” which maintains that although one message may be encoded in a TV show, that does not necessitate audience interpretations of that message as it was encoded. Audiences– instead of being passively fed messages– according to Hall, interpret and decode messages differently. This is also related to concepts of artistic inspiration that Lessig and Lethem both talk about, which functions similarly to language: it is part of the “public commons” (Lethem). The commons of art and culture are closest to that of language, according to Lethem: “altered by every contributor, expanded by even the most passive user. That a language is a commons doesn’t mean that the community owns it; rather it belongs between people, possessed by no one, not even by society as a whole.”

The fact that new meanings are created by rearranging placements, de-contextualizing, or interpreting as different individuals is exciting—even with the same resources, or cultural history and memory, each person can interpret, create and re-create differently. It also, however gets confusing. Copyright issues seem so clear when presented in these readings; of course artists shouldn’t be so litigious and possessive with work that in the first place didn’t appear out of thin air. However, and perhaps this is a criticism of Lessig more than Lethem, copyright seems a bit more complicated than the way it is presented. For example, when is it appropriate to draw the line between copying and translation, or interpretation? The relatively recent news that the actor Shia LeBeouf plagiarized the work of author Daniel Clowes by lifting the screenplay for his short film apparently directly from Clowes’s book is an interesting contemporary example of the issue of plagiarism and artistic appropriation. The story can be found here (, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this (perhaps in class on Tuesday).


Works Cited

Duke, Alan. “Shia LaBeouf Offers Cloudy Plagiarism Apology.” CNN. Cable News Network, 03 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2014.

Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,”

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

Lawrence Lessig, Remix (Intro and Chap. 1). Pdf version, from The Internet Archive (