week 8: intertextuality and Pretty Little Liars


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When I read the Lethem reading I was interested to discover that the first example he used was Lolita, because the example I’m about to introduce also made an intertextual reference to Nabokov’s work. Pretty Little Liars is a television show that embraces intertextuality and multiple codes. The show falls under the “drama” genre but is much more nuanced than one simple label can classify. To start with, the television show was based on an original novel series by Sara Shepard. It features four teenage girls who are desperately trying to solve the disappearance and apparent murder of their shared friend and the leader of their clique, Allison.
Being that Pretty Little Liars is a teen novel, the television show is aimed at the teen/young adult demographic. The characters in the show each encounter situations that force them to adapt to the winds of life and grow into maturity. The main characters face things such as: an inappropriate student-teacher relationship, coming out and identifying as a lesbian, divorce and a step-family, a military parent, absent fathers and single mothers, adultery, bullying, helicopter parents, sibling rivalry, eating disorders, cliques.
The writers of the show take pride in making many literary allusions and intertextual references. However, many of the references are quite subtle. It is as if the writers are giving their culturally adept and well-read viewers admittance into a secret club in which they speak and understand a shared language. The references that these writers choose to include are not essential to one’s comprehension of the story, but rather they provide additional depth where the writers deem necessary. One example of this takes place in the episode “A Kiss Before Lying.” The main characters discover that Allison had taken it upon her self to develop an alternate identity, under the name “Vivian Darkbloom.” This name is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita. It is believed that Nabokov himself used the name “Vivian Darkbloom” (an anagram of the author’s name) “for cameo appearances in his own novels” ( Pretty Little Liars Wiki.)
This concept is similar to that of Derrida, who believed that meaning was aided through the utilization of a cultural encyclopedia. A viewer must have previously been exposed to television shows in the “Detective/Mystery” genre, as well as the “Teen Drama” and “Romance” genres in order to understand the myriad of themes that the show encompasses. Additionally, by referencing other works, artists and consumers co-create an encyclopedia that builds and increases with every work produced and referenced to.
This quote in particular stood out to me: “And artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust, and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world larger” (Lethem).
The line between inspiration and plagiarism is constantly being redefined. Personally, in respect to the visual arts, I believe that if someone were to literally take the exact image/work of art and claim it as their own, then it would be stealing. Reproduction may fall within remix culture– it’s easy to look at the internet and see different graphic designers and photographers using similar arrangements of space and typography, or replicating poses and lighting. I love the way the author described the gift economy as “establish[ing] a feeling-bond between two people” (Lethem). Inspiration and remixing enables some artists to find themselves and grow into their own style. Eventually you end up imitating everyone and make changes to your work here and there and discover that you cannot be a particular artist and somehow your work becomes your own. Writers, comedians, and many other creators have described the process of becoming themselves along these lines.
When intertextuality and remixing becomes a commercial issue, usually that is when cases like this one (http://la.racked.com/archives/2012/11/05/does_this_urban_outfitters_necklace_look_like_tomtom_jewelry.php#more) surface and intellectual property is claimed, shifting our culture from a gift economy to a market economy.
Works Referenced:
Pretty Little Liars Wiki. http://pretty-little-liars.wikia.com/wiki/Book_Allusions