Category Archives: Week 8: Dialogism and Intertextuality

week 8: intertextuality and Pretty Little Liars

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

Cross-Cultural Media Remixing

For this week’s topic, I would like to revisit a project I made last year for the Remix Methods Class. I created a short promo on the Syrian Revolution to raise awareness among Americans and westerners in general, or among people who are not very aware of the issue and are not familiar with Middle Eastern culture and affairs. To do this, I tried to bring the topic as close to possible to something that is globally appreciated, understood, and influential, and nothing seemed to do the job better than Hollywood and its movies.

For the video, I cut up some audio quotes from various famous Hollywood movies that relate to topics such as freedom, revolt, courage…etc. Movies used are from various genres (Adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, animation) and include Lord of the Rings, Avatar, The Hunger Games, Braveheart, and Brave. I also used one of the soundtracks from the major romance blockbuster, Titanic. Next, I selected powerful scenes from tens of amateur videos uploaded by activists onto youtube, ones which would line up well with the selected audio. Finally, I chose a music track full of energy which was used during a flash mob for Syria, to be mixed with the softer Titanic soundtrack.   

The resulting video:

This video breaks down and summarizes the story of the Syrian Revolution in a way that is easily understandable at an almost global level. The popular Titanic music draws attention and creates interest in the viewer. Making the characters “speak” in English and in voices of famous characters makes them more friendly and relatable. English text guides the viewer through the story and provides important information. The music moves from soft and sad (communicating tragedy and sadness) to active and energetic (communicating resistance and challenge) in order to create the appropriate emotions for the flow of the story. Over all, this mixing of western style narration and music with Middle Eastern footage results in something watchable by people from either background. Concepts that are globally appreciated, such as freedom, humanity, and justice, are the highlights, and they serve to tie everything together.

The production quality is not that great generally speaking, but the fitting of different media elements together (audio, video, music, text) is powerful even though they come from very different sources. For example, it almost seems like the people talking are really saying the words heard even though the audio is in English and was produced for an extremely different story than the real one shown. With stronger production technique, such a video can serve as an effective promoter of the cause.

Folk Music

Elizabeth-Burton Jones
“Folk Music”
The folk culture is extremely complex and diverse. To some people, a folk artist could be a person that tells stories of a culture. Folk artists could be a group of nomads that make spontaneous music. To other people, folk music can be defined as an art form that is left untarnished, a rare form of music left pristine, simple. The main thread that holds the vast group of artists together is their ability to embrace simplicity. 

In today’s music society, it seems as though, current artists are returning to the basics and leaving some of the “mass studio  production” behind.  For instance, this year at the Grammy’s there were so many “non-traditional” nominees. Some of the artists were not “overly produced” by their managers, they were simply artists.

The notion, of going back to the basics is very multifarious because in some instances, it seems as though going back to the basics means adding a gimmick to make the artist fit into this category. The notion is also complex because going back to the basics seems impossible when music is already a remix of remixes. So how do we distinguish the code of the rudimentary from the gimmick code?

Nevertheless, the act of going back to more of a folk performance, leads to the American Folklife Center. Last semester, for the final Cultural Hybridity paper, I visited the American Folklife Center. I loved going in there because it was such an interesting mix of people drawn to the origins of a culture and what a culture means. For this weeks assignment, I decided to look at the Folklife website.
 The folklife website defines Folklife in this way:

What is Folklife?

The everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation:The traditional songs we sing, listen and dance to / Fairy tales, stories, ghost tales and personal histories / Riddles, proverbs, figures of speech, jokes and special ways of speaking / Our childhood games and rhymes / The way we celebrate life 
    – from birthing our babies to honoring our dead / The entire range of our personal and collective beliefs 
– religious, medical, magical, and social / Our handed-down recipes and everyday mealtime traditions / The way we decorate our world
    – from patchwork patterns on our quilts to plastic flamingoes in our yards, to tattoos on our bodies / The crafts we create by hand 
    – crocheted afghans, wooden spoons, cane bottoms on chairs / Patterns and traditions of work 
    – from factory to office cubicle / The many creative ways we express ourselves as members of our family, our community, our geographical region, our ethnic group, our religious congregation, or our occupational group / Folklife is part of everyone’s life. It is as constant as a ballad, as changeable as fashion trends. It is as intimate as a lullaby, and as public as a parade. / In the end … we are all folk.”

Another part of the FolkLife Center would have to be the “Global Jukebox”. The “Global Jukebox” is an interesting technology. The jukebox essentially stores the history and keeps cultures going. Through this chronicle, people can learn about specific cultural norms and traditions.

Essentially, folklife is an integral part of the continuous chain of life and the “Global Jukebox” stores all of the cultural chains. In the music realm, there is another chain. Music continues to link to each other. The chain continues and continues. In the NICOLAS BOURRIAUD
 POSTPRODUCTION 
CULTURE AS SCREENPLAY: HOW ART REPROGRAMS THE WORLD reading it mentions sampling music and the chain of music.

The chain can be a bit edgy especially when dealing with copyright infringement. However, in the Bourriaud reading I really enjoyed the explanation of the chain and the position in the chain. For instance, he mentions that  the song meaning depends on the place in the chain  (“its meaning depends in part on its position in this chain”). This is interesting because it is true. No matter the extent of the remix and no matter how “scrambled the boundaries” are, the music is still up for interpretation of the time and space of the notes. In addition, the reading quotes Gonzalez-Foerster’s idea of “me” and “others”. “‘Even if it is illusory and Utopian,’ Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster explains, ‘what matters is introducing a sort of equality, assuming the same capacities, the pos- sibility of an equal relationship, between me – at the origins of an arrangement, a system – and others, allowing them to organize their own story in response to what they have just seen, with their own references.'” (18-19).

The idea of the chain relates to folk music, because folk music is often thought of as a chain of notes and sometimes a flow of simple music. Therefore, the Bourriaud reading validates folk music’s place in the music world.

Some music:

http://youtu.be/RIfy3kQg61o 

Further research:

Standards vs. Folk stories

Lullaby recognition

Call and response singing

Music and Improvising

Folk vs. Indie

Folk origins and Manager ambition

Questions:
How do we distinguish the code of the rudimentary from the gimmick code?
How do you define folk music?
Is all music essentially folk music? 

Reference:

http://www.culturalequity.org/rc/ce_rc_psr_global_jukebox.php#universe

http://www.culturalequity.org/rc/ce_rc_teaching.php

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/teachers/subject_list.php?subjectID=207&subject=Folk%20music

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/teachers/index.html

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/edresources/index.html

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/whatisfolklife.html

The Work vs. The Text: Applying Barthian long-windedness to popular culture

According to Barthes, the difference between a Text and a Work is significant. And it is within this difference that we truly can find the discursive elements of a cultural artifact- even a modern, popular cultural artifact. While a work (1) can be computed, (2) can be allocated into types of genres, (3) purely closes on the signified, (4) is caught up in filiation (read: attribution to an author/creator), (5) consumed with pleasure more or less like a product, and (6) is unreproducible; a text cannot be computed, is reactionary towards the sign, is not attributed to a creator, and most importantly is in its nature, intertextual. In other words, while we merely read a work, we play with texts with our symbolic faculties and combinatorial abilities to utilize our de facto modes of interpretation. A compelling case study of this difference between a work and a text can be found in the feminist reading of a popular TV series The West Wing.

Codified conventions in a seventeenth century Puritan marriage pamphlet included that a husband should ‘seek a living’ and ‘be skilful in talk’ while the wife should ‘keep the house’ and ‘boast of silence’. These overtly patriarchal maxims of conduct are of the past, thanks to progressive feminist movements. But does that mean that women are depicted as equal to men? Throughout history, men were almost always responsible for writing and filmmaking; consequently, expressed via a man’s point of view. At the dawn of the 20th century, women were starting to obtain legal rights to possessions and money. In 1915, DeMille produced The Cheat, a movie about a woman who, instead of using sex, tries to pay cash back to a man she owes $10,000. She is branded as his possession because she dared to use cash instead of sex as a female in the world of men. By the 1930s, there were suddenly women that found pleasure in sex. Mae West’s She Done Him Wrong (1933) showed this side of a woman and six months later, the Episcopal Committee on Motion Pictures was formed spearheading the era of censorship. The 1980s ushered in the women’s liberation movement which encouraged filmmakers to be mindful to the plight of women. But have they been?

American feminists have been exploring the representations of women in the arts. They shone a light on women’s stereotyped images in a patriarchal culture. This distinct focus made television, especially Hollywood, a forerunner for critique and evaluation. By studying Hollywood through a feminist view, not only does it conduce challenging the status quo but it can help explore how a film influences and/or reflects society; it also gives us insight into how true women’s representation on film are to life.

Ergo, how have women depicted in US political fiction? The depiction always has been and still is, relative to men (while he is not shown purely in relation to the female but in a plethora of roles). Any political position women occupy, no matter how high, can only be viewed through the prism of patriarchal concept of power and politics. The female characters of The West Wing (TWW) are the quintessential portrayals of women in a popular American political fiction.

TWW, produced by Warner Bros. Television, is an American television serial drama that aired throughout 1999-2006. It is set in the West Wing of the White House during the fictional democratic presidency of Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet. Although this administration places women in high positions of authority, they are still represented through stereotypes. Woman have been portrayed in US political fiction as: (1) the man’s moral guide; (2) incapable of politics; and (3) sexual, according to the ‘male gaze.’

 Man’s Moral Guide

Women of political fiction who engage in politics are cast into stereotypical roles. Because there was a common belief that women were spiritually superior to men, they often were portrayed as a man’s ‘moral guide’. Before the franchise was extended to them, women were politically limited and could thereby only engage in politics by influencing a politically active man. Although the ‘banal reality of a female electorate’ would deem this moral guide as obsolete by the 1930s, women were still continuously portrayed in this light.

Even in a modern political fiction such as TWW, women are depicted as man’s moral guide. The quintessential moral policeman is Delores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), President Bartlet’s secretary.

As the president prepares for Mrs. Landingham’s funeral in the second season’s finale, he recalls their relationship throughout the years as flashbacks. Bartlet remembers how they first met thirty years earlier at his prep school where Mrs. Landingham was the secretary of his father, the school’s headmaster. Representing the women who also worked there, Mrs. Landingham asks the teenaged Bartlet to be their advocate in their plight for increased pay. Bartlet responds by saying: ‘I’m not a woman and I don’t work here,’ after which he gets schooling by Mrs. Landingham: ‘The women who do are afraid for their jobs…what is it you are afraid of?’. After they banter to and fro, she concludes: ‘You are a boy king…You’re blessed with inspiration…if you think we’re wrong…then I respect that. But if you think we’re right and you won’t speak up because you can’t be bothered, then, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know ya’.

This pivotal scene supports the impression that while men do the political activity, women work behind the scenes as their moral guides. Not only is this scene a crucial moment in Bartlet’s political education, it was inspired by Mrs. Landingham who encouraged him to represent the women, thus serving as a moral leader.

Even when Mrs. Landingham is dead, she is still Bartlet’s moral guide. As President Bartlet struggles over the decision of whether or not to run for reelection, Mrs. Landingham’s ghost appears to him and they have a familiar conversation:

President: ‘The party’s not going to want me to run.’

Mrs. Landingham: ‘The party will come back. You’ll get them back.’

President: ‘I got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham, I’ve never been the most popular guy in the Democratic Party.’

Mrs. Landingham: ‘I’ve got a secret for you Mr. President. Your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn’t as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are people way worst off than you’

Landingham concludes, ‘If you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run because you think it’s going to be too hard or you think you’re going to lose, well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know ya’. Inspired by this apparition and guided by Mrs. Landington, President Bartlet eventually decides to run.

These flashbacks are telling of how women are portrayed in American political fiction because Delores Landingham is behind the scenes but the one who guided the president’s search for justice and morality. Not only does she help shape his political values, she does so dedicating the rest of her life to assisting public servants after her two sons were killed in Vietnam. Thus, by dedicating herself to preparing the adolescent-turned-governor-turned-president Bartlet for political life, Delores Landingham embodies the ideal, and stereotypically female, moral guide.

 Incapable of Politics

Another way women have been depicted in US political fiction is as incapable of politics.

In patriarchal cultures, images of women connote differences from patriarchal norms. Thus, they are seen as an outsider- especially to politics. However, because politicians are negatively characterized in political fictions as clowns, criminals, or cop-outs, this outsider status of women can also be viewed as the cure required to redeem politics precisely for their lack of ‘the usual requirements for the task’. Therefore, although women are imaged as intelligent and authoritative, they are still expected to allure and submit. This contradiction is especially found in postmodern discourses where women are represented as equal to men in a still patriarchal society which ideologically calls for men to be in control.

The women of TWW are main characters whose roles are essential to the Bartlet administration as follows: the First Lady, a member of the White House Counsel’s Office, the press secretary, a Secret Service agent, the national security advisor, a political advisor, a political pollster. Although these women are depicted consistently as gifted and competent, they are also contradictorily represented as encompassing the stereotype of the emotional woman. Because their emotions can supplant rationality, women in TWW are incapable of politics.

CJ, the press secretary played by Allison Janney, is an example of this contradictory portrayal. She is in a powerful position but she is also emotional; the latter is responsible for her incapability in politics.

In the beginning of TWW series, CJ already asserts her authority. After learning that Sam accidentally slept with a prostitute, CJ establishes her power when she tells him that ‘Before, now, in the future…anytime you’re into something and you don’t know what, you don’t keep it from me. I’m your first phone call…You have to let me protect you, and you have to let me protect the President’. When she takes on this kind of assertive role, CJ upsets conventional rules of patriarchal authority where men are supposed to be the protectors.

Furthermore, in Season Two, CJ is imaged as politically sharper than Toby. When Toby commands that a presidential-congressional press conference be set on Capitol Hill instead of in the White House, CJ refuses attendance because as she earlier predicted, a member of Congress condemns the president, utilizing the event to describe the president as two-faced and ‘ambushing [the opposition] with ultimatums and threats’. At the end of the episode, Josh praises CJ as ‘a class act’ because despite having ‘a lot of opportunities today to say I told you so’ to those who wanted the press conference at Capitol Hill, she remains stoic even though she was right to oppose the event setting.

Although these powerful images of CJ contradict traditional images of women, they signify a ‘romantic sentiment’ of ‘dependence and goodwill that gives the masculine principle its romantic validity and its admiring applause’. However, CJ’s aptitude and competence are constantly foiled in TWW because a powerful woman poses a threat to the male world of politics. For example, in the third season, CJ is the epitome of the overtly emotional woman of politics.

The US will negotiate with Qumar, a small middle-eastern country, on an arms package in order for the US Air Force to renew a military base lease there. CJ is enraged because of the apparent abuse that the women of Qumar endure; she informs Leo that recently, ‘a woman in Qumar was executed for adultery. She didn’t need a lawyer because there wasn’t a trial. It was her husband’s word against her’s…Later today I’m going to announce that we’re selling them tanks and guns?’ He responds with a simple ‘Yeah’ which prompts CJ to angrily walk away. She does not let the issue drop as she later tells Josh that ‘when a woman gets raped’ in Qumar, she ‘get beaten by her husband and sons as a punishment’. CJ’s determination becomes extreme to the point where her emotions get the better of her political rationality and she vents her anger out on World War II veterans protesting an exhibit of a ‘vengeful America’ at the Smithsonian. She ridicules the veterans: ‘You’re protesting because you think the Smithsonian isn’t paying proper respect to what you and the soldiers of the 10th Armored, Third Army risked and lost your lives for six decades ago. How would you feel…if I told you that…I was announcing that we were selling tanks, missiles, and fighter jets to the Nazis?’.

This outburst is a product of CJ’s emotions as a woman fighting for the rights of other women. Yet, Qumar’s women do not attract any attention from her colleagues because they are concerned by mad cow disease. Dr. McNally (a woman) confronts CJ declaring that in the real world, ‘we can’t isolate our enemies’ while CJ continually repeats, ‘they’re beating the women!’. By the ending, CJ demotes Women’s rights from human rights to the private sphere because another powerful woman asks her to do so. While suggesting that the military and disease are part of ‘real world’ politics and violence against women is not, this episode shows women as emotional when concerned with woman’s rights and thus portrays women as incapable of politics because of their emotions.

 The Male Gaze

Women are largely depicted through a male gaze, which establishes the male as dominant by utilizing subtle mechanisms such as manipulation of space and time by editing, point of view, framing, and other film codes to portray women not as real women but as the male’s version of women. The male gaze ‘projects its phantasy onto the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mayne 1985, 82). The male gaze is responsible for making the woman as the object to be sexually looked upon because in a patriarchal culture, to possess the image of a woman’s sexuality is also to maintain a degree of control over her.

By the very beginning of the series, TWW writers already set the male gaze. During a White House celebration in a first season episode, President Bartlet, Leo, and Josh are positioned perfectly in the scenes to gaze and comment on the female attendants:

Leo: ‘We can’t get over these women.’

Bartlet: ‘Look at CJ. She’s like a fifties movie star, so capable, so loving and energetic.’

Leo: ‘Look at Mandy over there. Going punch for punch with Toby in a world that tells women to sit down and shut up. Mandy’s already won her battle with the president. The game’s over, but she’s not done. She wants Toby.’

Bartlet: ‘Mrs. Landingham. Did you guys know she lost two sons in Vietnam? What would make her want to serve her country is beyond me, but in fourteen years, she’s not missed a day’s work, not one’ (Sorkin and Drazan, 1999).

Despite being admirable, these comments emphasize TWW’s masculine gaze by overlooking the women through a man’s point of view. Because the man fully and freely commands the scene, as Mulvey explains, the man is the one that represents power and exerts control over how the women are being depicted.

Furthermore, the male gaze sexualizes the women on TWW. To appease the president’s voracious lust, the First Lady Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing), or ‘hot pants’ and ‘sweet knees’ as the president calls her, is ordered to take her clothes off, ‘get them off!’ by him.However, Abbey is not just sexualized by her husband, but also by Lord Marbury, the British ambassador who unashamedly compliments Abbey on how ‘magnificent’ her breasts are as he dances with her at her own birthday celebrations. Although the president shows substantial irritation towards Marbury when he asks whether Abbey’s ‘magnificent breasts’ are what initially attracted Bartlet to her, the president’s aggression is not towards the sexualization of women but rather of his wife: ‘it might be considered rude to talk about the physical attributes of another man’s wife,’ the president exclaims to Marbury. Thus, this scene’s gaze is sharply focused on Abbey’s body. According to Grosz, the ‘coding of femininity with corporeality’ not only gratifies men’s necessity for physical contact with women’s bodies but consequently contains women as well. Abbey’s body served such a necessity for the president and the ambassador.

Likewise, the associate White House counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter), is represented through a male gaze and is thus sexualized. During the second season, Ainsley accidentally sits on wet paint and has to wear a bathrobe during certain White House appearances. In the same episode, Sam instructs the president to tell Ainsley that ‘A lot of people assumed you were hired because you’re a blond Republican sex kitten. They were obviously wrong and keep up the good work’.

This episode reinforces the argument that the bodies of women are sexualized in political fiction in order to comply with the male gaze and they are humorously played out in order to undercut the importance of women in politics. As Ainsley playfully dances in her bathrobe while enticing Sam to join her, the president unexpectedly stumbles upon them and she screams in surprise. While all the attention and therefore gaze is set toward Ainsley, the president says ‘I never knew we had a night club down here…a lot of people assumed you were hired because you were a blonde Republican sex kitten and well, they’re obviously wrong. Keep up the good work’. Although Ainsley’s ‘sex kitten’ status is peculiar to a serious workplace such as the White House, it becomes natural because it is reinforced by Ainsley’s appearance and antics that are amplified by the constant male gaze.

By analyzing the women of The West Wing, we see that in US political fiction, women have been depicted as (1) the man’s moral guide; (2) incapable of politics; and (3) sexual, according to the ‘male gaze.’ The women’s movement began to challenge long established presumptions about family life, sex roles, and marriage, while demand equality of pay and opportunity. But the world is still very much male. ‘Man’ embodies all of humanity and ‘woman’ is just a part of it. Imagine if it was the other way around: that the film industry uses its power to ridicule the men’s liberation movement by portraying them in films as ‘frustrated studs’ that burn their jockstraps because they are delusional enough to believe they can be women and at the end of the day, they end up with a condescending woman, giving up the struggle to be happily ever after subservient to her. In the real world, audiences would balk at this as a joke. Yet, that is how women are represented constantly, albeit more subtly in today’s Hollywood. What is more disturbing is how the public and especially its women can so passively embrace the industry’s interpretations of life.

Game of Thrones Requires Plenty of Encylopedias

Jen Lennon

In thinking about dialogism and intertextuality, I typically think of television because there are so many examples of good television pulling from multiple genres and codes. One example is Game of Thrones. There are a lot of aspects to Game of Thrones that could lead to discussion about theme, symbols, genre, and more. Adapted from a series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire by R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones is a story set in a fictional time and place, but it’s definitely historical. David Benioff, one of the series creators, once joked that it was The Sopranos in Middle Earth. It has that Crusades feel of a time in history when epic battles arose with swords, machetes, and armor. One of the major plot lines of the series is a battle for the Iron Throne, which rules over the seven kingdoms of Westeros. But there’s a lot of fantasy, as well. There are dragons and some sort of zombie-like creature that supposedly only come from the North. A group of men guard the wall to north of the kingdom to keep out such creatures. When the story starts, it has been summer for 10 years and there’s frequent mention of the coming Winter and how intense and long it will be. There’s a sense of nobility; a king rules but there are also lower level leaders of regions. And gender and sexual politics are a big focus as there are a couple of extremely powerful female characters, but society is still extremely patriarchal and violent against women. Prostitutes are frequently used as plot devices. Oh, and there’s also an entirely fictional language utilized for one of the groups on the show, with the scenes being subtitled into English.

With all of these different things going on in the plot – they have a constantly updated map in the opening theme song to help keep the audience up to date – there are plenty of examples of things being pulled from Eco’s idea of the cultural encyclopedia. When you first start watching, it seems like it’s just going to be a show about England in the 1400s or that typical type of genre show with lots of violence and politics. But the fantasy element becomes just as present, making a sort of genre mash-up that defines the show. So right from the beginning, the audience needs to understand these two genres to see how they might work with each other. As Bahktin talked about a cultural artifact having a past, present, and future, Game of Thrones looks toward the past within the show itself while instilling modern ideas. The audience is pulling from knowledge of the time period, while also utilizing the ideas of these genres.

Another interesting issue associated with the show is that it’s begun to be referenced by so many other shows and writers. Jokes have been made about the amount of scenes of exposition that take place with sometimes almost comically gratuitous sex scenes taking place in the background. The fictional town of Winterfell has been mentioned in a bunch of sitcoms, including Parks and Recreation. The creators of Portlandia said in a panel once that they had imagined a dream episode of Portlandia where everyone would ban together to kill Joffrey – a character on Game of Thrones.

I think it’s interesting because the show is based off of this series of books, which isn’t even completed yet. R.R. Martin is still working on the ending of the series. But there is all of this original source material as well as the show. Additionally, fans of the show have gotten really into it and started creating wikis and fan fiction and clubs that meet. It’s actually probably good that the ending hasn’t been written yet because the amount of internet activity that happens around this show would certainly spoil the ending before the TV show would get that far. Some fans have gone as far as to start harassing the author, pressuring him to finish the series. They’re worried because he’s overweight and older and they actually are mad that he could die before he finishes the books. Yikes.

Overall, there’s a lot to keep with if you watch Game of Thrones. First, there’s the massive amount of characters and major plot lines going on at any given time. There are multiple locations with major plots happening – completely separate from one another. The landscapes are incredibly diverse, as well, with shooting locations ranging from Iceland to Belfast to Morocco. There’s the history that the shows asks you to remember about the characters – things that get brought up in passing on the show through exposition. They’re asking you to understand and trust the genre(s). Certain things happen almost as if they have to happen as part of the model. There’s a rich system of symbols throughout the fictional universe. You need to understand how things probably worked in the time period of the show, even if it’s unnamed. As Bahktin explains, any sort of communication has each person’s past associated with it. Everything presupposes previous iterations and anticipates a future; everything is part of a working model. Shows like this that rely so heavily on genres that have already been established and are nodding toward common TV tropes and devices, require this kind of dialogism. The audience needs to be on board. And the more they can pull from their own cultural encylopedia, the more meaningful the show will be.

Movie Adaptations Aren’t Clueless (alisa)

It has become a very prominent trend to make films out of existing texts. Thanks to this trend we have a multitude of Shakespearian-styled films like 10 Things I Hate About You (based on The Taming of the Shrew), O (based on Othello), She’s The Man (based on The Twelfth Night) and even the dreaded Twilight (which loosely interprets Romeo and Juliet). Additionally, classic literary pieces like The Scarlet Letter and Pride and Prejudice are respectively interpreted in recent films like Easy A and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The fact that so many of the stories we believe to be “new” have in fact derived from already existing stories truly demonstrates Barthes’ assertion that “the Text is experienced only in an activity of production. It follows that the Text cannot stop [on a library shelf]; its constitutive movement is that of cutting across [several works].” (157)

One of my favorite examples of how the text is able to continue its movement through society and culture is the movie Clueless, which is a loose take on Jane Austen’s book, Emma. Although I was never a huge fan of the book, when I learned that Clueless was based on Emma, I was fascinated with finding examples of as many direct homages to the original text version of in the movie adaptation as I could. This fascination demonstrates Bakhtin’s comments on how “there is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to dialogic context…even past meanings can never be stable – they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue.” (Speech Genres, 170)

Going further with Bakhtin’s theories, the viewers of this movie who had previous knowledge of the book’s adaptation, as well as viewers who were unaware of this association could probably view the film with a similar feeling of predictability. In this sense, viewers would expect a certain outcome due to previous exposure to words and communication exchanges. As Bakhtin mentions, “a ‘word’ is …always already embedded in a history of expressions by others in a chain of ongoing cultural and political moments.”

There have been two other film versions of Emma that preceeded Clueless, both of these versions were said to be more direct versions of the book since the plot was set in the same time frame and had the same characters and scenes. Some people would say these versions were more “accurate” interpretations of Emma than Clueless, bringing up the issue of the ‘degrees of intertextuality’ as mentioned by Daniel Chandler. Chandler concludes that intertextuality is not a contract between the author and those who move the text beyond the scope of the original text, but instead the degrees of intertextual relevance should be more based on reflexive properties that allow viewers to relate the new work to the old. When put this way, Clueless could be just as much of an accurate intertextual example as the films that directly interpreted Emma, showing just how far intertextuality can stretch in our culture.

 

Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text” (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).

Mikhail Bakhtin: Key Theory from his major writings (On Dialogism, Heteroglossia, Polyphony).

Daniel Chandler, “Intertextuality.”

Authorship

by Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

The readings from this week were a review for those of us who have already taken Professor Irivine’s “Cultural Hybridity” class, which went for a semester’s depth in to the concepts of intertextuality, diolgism and the Cultural Encyclopedia.  I am convinced of the power of this model, and the importance of seeing meaning making not as a process based in originality, but as one that is constituted largely as remix. In reviewing this material for today, I noticed a potential imperfection in the theories and I want to bring that up today.  Namely how do intertextuality theories understand the Author, and is their understanding of him/her problematic or contradictory?  If so, is there a better way to conceive of the role of the Author in meaning making?

I should start with the caveat that I am deep into the writing of my master’s thesis, struggling every day to clarify my thoughts on my topic, and this current endeavor may have biased me to be extra sympathetic to the role of the author in creation.

But wait, just by writing that caveat, and explaining my personal biases I illustrated one of the contradictions in the understanding of the Author in intertextuality theory.  I, writing about this theory, deemed a bit of my biography to be important enough to this text to include it as an excuse for something.  This suggests an importance of the individual author to the meaning of the text, in contrast to the way intertextuality often downplays the author.

Here are some ways the theorist we read for today characterized authorship:

–   Barthes critiqued how authors are often metaphorically envisioned as “fathers” of their texts.  Barthes believes a better way of conceptualizing it is: “It is not that the Author may not ‘come back’ in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a ‘guest’” (Barthes 161).  If I understand his meaning correctly the Author as guest, isn’t really that different a position than any reader of the text, who is also kind of a guest to the work.  (Barthes even has a chapter titled “Death of the Author”)

–   Kristeva also conceptualizes the author evenly with the reader.  She has them on two ends of the same axis, the horizontal axis, in her image of the meaning of a text.

–   Chandler points out the historic truth that: “The ideology of individualism (with its associated concepts of authorial ‘originality’, ‘creativity’ and ‘expressiveness’) is a post-Renaissance legacy which reached its peak in Romanticism but which still dominates popular discourse.”

The above quotes suggest that the author is unimportant.  This strikes my instincts as an incomplete conceptualization.  The author has a more important role for the text than just an average reader, or why would it make sense for me to include reflection on my personal biases in my argument?  My favorite book in the world is the memoir/journey of discovery book Moby Duck.  One could write a whole tomb on how this book is hybrid and intertextual, starting with its punny title, but the point I want to make here is that the reason it is my favorite book is that I love the way it balances deeply autobiographical reflection with environmental and oceanographic issues.  No one could have written this particular book except its author, Donovan Hohn.  The author is important.

The best argument for the importance of the Author to meaning of the text is brought up by Gunhild Agger, when he rather cheekily points out the irony that Bakhtin scholars are obsessed with arguing whether or not Voloshinov and Medvedev are in fact pen-names for Bakhtin.  The vociferousness of the debate suggests that the answer matters.  And even in our class, Professor Irvine’s syllabus is linked by author.  We talk about “Pierce’s model” or “channeling McLuhan”, all terms that originate in authorship.  At the very least, authorship is the current most effective way to label and organize intellectual material.

Both Barthes and Chandler downplay the role of the author, but Chandler also quotes Barthes in what I think is a potentially powerful reconceptualization of authorship.  The author, in this quote is “orchestrator of text already written” (Chandler).  The vision of an author conducting an orchestra –molding the perfect musical experience out of the already-there instruments, the already-there musicians and the already-there musical score, comes to my mind.  I would argue that this contradicts the idea of the author’s unimportance, or the “death of the author”.  Even as an orchestrator, the author is hugely important.  We should not confuse the fact that an author is not inventing his/her words out of thin air with the thought that he/she does not contribute an important aspect of, and a large amount of the meaning to the text.

Intertextual Rendez-Vous: Viewing The Triplets of Belleville from an American Perspective

Intertextual Rendez-Vous: Viewing The Triplets of Belleville from an American Perspective
by: Sara Levine
In order to study how audience members engage with various media forms, it may be necessary to draw on linguistic theories of text and intertextuality. A film, for example, would be referred to as the text. A text exists as a convergence of meanings (or signified meanings in the semiotic sense of the word) and is always “read” simultaneously with other texts. This intertextual process when applied to a medium such as film could expand outward from language, authorship, and genre to variations of sound, visual presentation, narrative structures, celebrity, etc. A text may have been produced with a certain subculture of addressees in mind. Once the text is disseminated, however, the author’s control over the meaning of her or his work is eclipsed by the audience’s reception. The Triplets of Belleville, created by Sylvain Chomet in 2003, is a film that seems to demand that viewers combine the various encyclopedic texts that they carry around with them in order to enjoy the film.

Visual Presentation: Animation
Animated films in America are, for the most part, relegated to the genre of children’s films. By 2003, many animation companies had turned to three-dimensional animation techniques, and 2D animation had fallen by the wayside. 2D animated characters were lively, colorful, and fairly innocent in order to reflect the characteristics of their young audience. Many Americans grew up with Disney films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Lion King, etc. that seemed to set codified standards for the animated feature film genre. Consequently, American audiences sat down to watch The Triplets of Belleville while comparing it with various other texts and animation codes. As Radford wrote, “You are not reading this text at random, but rather in conjunction with other texts that you have read or are familiar.” In this case, American audiences inevitably draw a sharp contrast between the text they are engaging with and the encyclopedic knowledge of texts that they carry with them as Americans. The animation in The Triplets of Belleville is unlike most animated styles favored by American production companies. Motion is not as exaggerated as in American cartoons, and there is a focus on small movements. The palette is not particularly bright or seemingly “happy.” In fact, there are adult situations within the narrative that would not be found in the majority of American animated feature films. The only animated segment that comes close to American animation is the very beginning in which the audience is introduced to the titular Triplets of Belleville. The animation is reminiscent of the infamous “Steamboat Willie” short produced by Disney in 1928, but features more mature content. This comparison made between the animation style of The Triplets of Belleville and American animated feature films may have led American audiences to view The Triplets of Belleville as more of a highbrow, artistic piece of work rather than a piece of mindless entertainment for children.
Music
The Triplets of Belleville relies heavily on its soundtrack in order to move the narrative forward. The music composed for the film draws from a wide variety of genres and combines musical stylings that are both familiar and unfamiliar to American audiences. There is an upbeat jazz rendition of “Belleville Rendez-vous”, the accordion music during the bicycle race, and the piece composed entirely of sounds when Mme Souza joins the Triplets in a performance. The jazz piece may combine an American audience’s knowledge of jazz as a remnant of history and as an indicator of nostalgia. The accordion music and other songs the characters play on phonographs may be meaningful in that they are representative of French culture to Americans. Again, the combinatorial nature of pairing distinctly non-American animation with non-American music may indicate to American audiences that this film is to be viewed as innovative. The piece of music that is made up entirely of sounds may require a great deal of intertextual processing. There is the interpretive process of recognizing the sounds, pairing them with the equipment that is producing the sound (newspaper, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, etc.), recognizing the noises as music, and placing this music within the context of previous knowledge of music and its genres. Utilizing noise in order to create music is not a new phenomenon, but its combination with Chomet’s animation and storyline present it as unfamiliar in this context to American audiences.

Chomet also uses music to indicate which characters are on screen. The villains of this story, for example, have their own theme song that returns every time these characters appear. This method of recall within the text allows the composers to play on variations of the villains’ theme. The tune will be recognizable to audiences, and they will be able to remember this theme the next time it plays in the movie. The villains may not even necessarily be in the shot for audiences to hear the music and know that the villains are somewhere in the vicinity.
Language, or Lack Thereof
The Triplets of Belleville is particularly invested in its music because there is a distinct and noticeable lack of dialogue or subtitles throughout the film. Some characters, like the Triplets, communicate in grunts and short noises made from the throat. Brief snatches of French can be heard from televisions and radios. Otherwise, the film is propelled through sound and music. The disappearance of dialogue helps to destroy the language barrier that otherwise may have impeded an American audience’s interpretive process while engaging with the text. However, this absence may be one of the film’s most noticeable aspect because most modern day media forms rely on dialogue and/or subtitles.
Character Design
Character design in The Triplets of Belleville does not seem to be synonymous with what American audiences are familiar with in terms of animation style. Heavy characters are massive and take up large sections of the screen, whereas the bicyclists are wiry and bony. Noses tend to protrude out of the face and are larger than the characters’ heads in some cases. It can be inferred, therefore, that these animations are not meant to convey the same amount of what could be considered “cuteness” as in American animated feature films. The exaggerations in size and placement of body parts affects the way in which the characters move across the screen. American audiences may therefore draw on other cultural texts in terms of American animations, but also the way people look in the physical world. Belleville seems to be a stand-in for New York City, as indicated by the rather large depiction of the Statue of Liberty holding a hamburger. Americans are drawn as almost grotesquely large people who waddle down the street, and the city is depicted as a crowded and claustrophobic setting. American audiences, therefore, will inevitably view these designs with their particular cultural norms and viewpoints about their own culture while they engage with the text.
Hero’s Journey
Although this film does not strictly adhere to Joseph Campbell’s concept of “The Hero’s Journey,” in which a young (usually male) hero must heed the call to face certain challenges on a journey to a magical or supernatural setting, the tenets are visible enough that American audiences may use it to draw meaning from the film’s narrative. In The Triplets of Belleville, Mme Souza must travel to Belleville in order to rescue her grandson from the sinister machinations of the French mafia. Many of the main aspects of “The Hero’s Journey” are present in the narrative, including a call to action, several dangerous obstacles, help from almost supernatural beings (the Triplets), and the actual journey to an unfamiliar setting. However, the gendered and ageist stereotypes of most of these types of narratives are done away with in order to present Mme Souza and the Triplets as the heroes of the film. The narrative structure is familiar to most American audiences, but it is combined with an elderly female character type in place of the young hero. The elderly are not typically featured as main characters in American film and television. In this case, however, their roles are subverted and combined with “The Hero’s Journey” narrative in order to create a story that is at once familiar and unfamiliar to American audiences*.
History, Geography, and French Culture
There are certain references within The Triplets of Belleville that American audiences may not be receptive to because these references are intended for French audiences. The mania surrounding the Tour de France, for example, may not be ingrained in the American audience’s cultural encyclopedia. Similarly, certain character and setting designs may hold particular meaning for French audiences that does not carry over to American audiences. There may be, for example, a signified meaning for French people in the way the bicyclists are drawn and are animated in an almost equine manner. Additionally, while American audiences may be well-versed about the presentation of nostalgia for the Jazz Age in New York City, they might be less informed about the changes in Parisian society and culture in the first half of the 20th century. The Triplets of Belleville, however, combines these histories and cultural references in order to tell a story that spans across these two cities.
It is also important to note that Chomet may have borrowed or drawn upon various film and animation codes from other French films and animations that is not evident to American audiences. Consequently, the distribution of this film may have introduced certain codes and genres that seem new and innovative to American audiences. However, the rich and varied history of French culture and media production most likely had some amount of impact on Chomet’s work.

*This, however, has become less unusual with films such as Pixar’s Up.

References

Agger, Gunhild. “Intertextuality Revisited: Dialogues and Negotiations in Media Studies.” Canadian Journal of Aesthetics 4 (1999): n. pag. Web. <http://www.uqtr.uquebec.ca/AE/vol_4/gunhild.htm>.

Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. “From Work to Text.” Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. N. pag. Print.

Radford, Gary P. “Beware of the Fallout: Umberto Eco and the Making of the Model Reader.” The Modern Word. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_papers_radford.html>.

The Triplets of Belleville. Dir. Sylvain Chomet. By Sylvain Chomet. 2003. DVD.

Everything is A Remix

Wanyu Zheng

Reading this week’s materials, I can’t help but think of another course I am taking in this semester: Remix Methods, in which I’ve learned that everything can be viewed as a remix once you recognize what it’s referring to and its context. The term remix was originally applied to music, then developed by scholars like Kirby Ferguson and Lawrence Lessig and became a method that “combines or edits existing materials to produce something new”. The idea that “everything is a remix” has a lot in common with Daniel Chandler’s description of intertextuality: “No-one today can read a famous novel or poem, look at a famous painting, listen to a famous piece of music… without being conscious of the contexts in which the text had been reproduced, drawn upon, alluded to, parodied and so on. ” We are living in a world of the flourishing of Read & Write Culture: everyone can be productive and publish their own works (text, image, music, video) through new media platforms. If Barthes treats this possibility as “the death of the author, the birth of the reader”, I’d rather say this is “the reunion of authors and readers”: there is no boundary anymore.

Everything is A Remix: The Matrix

I find myself very much enjoyed the presentation A Matrix for The Matrix, which evoked my memory of a great many films I watched that had such strong intertextuality and dialogism with other cultural products. In fact, I’ve seen a remix video of The Matrix made by Rob G. Wilson indicating the cultural elements from other films and animations that it has derived from, and most of the comparisons are crowd-sourced by remix fans.

A text does not die but is passed along through generations of authors. This is like how Barthes characterizes a text: “ Text is experienced only in an activity of production… The Text cannot stop…” (Barthes, 157) This ecstasy appears to be huge when the influence is larger, and the more famous the original work is, the more frequent it may be cited and remixed. When I realized this fact, I subconsciously started to pay more attention to the remixed things around me in the daily life. I want to state that they have clear difference from plagiarism, because a cheap copy cannot introduce anything new while a remixed artifact always brings new understanding of our past, present and future works. Somehow, the excessive emphasis on copyright and intellectual property is placing a huge threaten to our free culture, and may kill people’s creative power. The rising of the grass-rooted writers can be a characteristic of the fan culture, and these amateurs basically irrigate their reproductions with enthusiasm and love: once their love can spur the creation of a new aura of the original, they can never be blamed.

My Own Experiment

Ten days ago I took a walk in the West Building in the National Gallery of Art, and found that even in the classic art collections, the intertextuality – the unbounded connection between art masterpieces from Middle Age to the present are everywhere. I’ve made a video, a remix of the relationships between classic works of art I’ve observed in the exhibition.

Video Details:
The design of the West Building (1937) by architect John Russell Pope was in a neoclassical style with a domed rotunda modeled on the interior of the Pantheon in Rome.
Giorgione and Titian’s Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman, c. 1510:
As a Venice art master of the renaissance, Titian had an obsession with colors, which obviously reflected on his painting that the color of the characters and sceneries might be based on the different colors of the real Venice in 16th Century.
Raphael’s The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505:
Raphael’s paintings of Madonna and Christ Child often had a similar theme and composition with what his teacher Perugino did. Apparently Raphael was hugely influenced by Perugino but had his own expression and spirit of art – the humanity during the renaissance. In Raphael’s paintings, the image of God was more vivid and more human.
Paine’s Graft 
In the Sculpture Garden, there is a tall silver dendroid sculpture, which recombines the elements of nature and presents a distinctive artistic expression of human desire.

 

References:

1. Daniel Chandler, “Intertextuality.” [Useful Overview; but primarily a literary structuralist take on the concept, not wideningout to dialogism and generarive principles.]

2. Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text” (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).

3. A Matrix for The Matrix (Irvine) [presentation]

4. Kirby Ferguson, Everything is a Remix

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

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

God Bless America: A Comment on the American Pop Culture built on top of the American Culture Encyclopedia

Yiran Sun

God Bless America is a 2012 film by Bobcat Goldthwait. Here’s the story: Frank, a middle-aged, divorced man has always been annoyed by the superficial, profit-oriented pop culture. When he loses his job and finds out that his daughter has become a self-centered material girl just like the one on TV, he decides to kill the reality show celebrity. A teenage girl named Roxy sees him at the crime scene, seeks him out and persuades him to team with her and get rid of people who deserve to die.

The film is a comment on the contemporary American society, or at least what the director (also the writer) thinks of it. This comment is explicitly spoken out as Frank the protagonist spoke on air to the nation: “America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest…Lying and spreading fear is fine as long as you make money doing it.” But that is only part of it. The entire film itself is the comment, one weaved together from individual comments on various aspects of the pop culture. It comments on the singing competition show “American Idol” by parodying it with its own “American Superstarz”, which has a similar logo and also three judges who play different roles; on the typical reality TV shows that emphasize or create interpersonal dramas like “My Super Sweet 16” with its own replica (it’s indeed the video equivalent of paraphrasing); on the Kardashians; on people who don’t turn cell phones off and talk during movies… the list goes on. Most of these jokes work based on the assumption that people already know the original TV show genres or celebrities: the director did not even bother to really explain any of them. Without such knowledge, viewers can still understand the basic ideas that “these acts are bad but are enjoyed by many” through the characters’ direct comments, but would not bring the kind of self-reflection the director had apparently intended to trigger.

These comments, although none of them exactly original, do reflect a common understanding in the contemporary population: just think about how often people refer to these as “guilty pleasures”—they do look at them negatively. The film also adds to the cultural encyclopedia. When future researchers stumble upon this film, they will gather an idea that there existed all these aspects of the early 21st century popular culture, and that although they were popular and commercially successful, they had been considered superficial and inferior.

The whole film is also constructed by countless pre-existing codes. These can be seen up front from the title itself. “God Bless America” is an American patriotic song by Irving Berlin in 1918 (another version dates even to 1834), and has been remade and remixed throughout the decades. It is also a prayer heard in almost any presidential speeches. Then of course there is its genre of comedy, which is established through codes like joke lines and exaggerated, comic handling of violent scenes. It being comedy also helps viewers anticipate the film’s emotional arcs and rendered the inappropriate parts of the film acceptable. Then underlying the genre of drama is a traditional arc structure shared by almost any dramatic story: the protagonist encounters obstacles (divorce, losing job, learning that he has cancer (which turn out to be a false alarm), surrounded by SWAT), he struggles to overcome them (by killing those who do not deserve to live), and in the end reaches a resolution (delivering his speech to the nation and then gets into the final battle). Again, the viewers know what to expect along the way. (Sounds familiar? Watch Wanted and many more others, parts of them are almost identical.) Of course as the majority of films that make way into cinemas, it also abides by industry-established rules of cinematography (point-of-views and over-the-shoulders), editing (the 45 degree rule, cutting in motion and the use of slow-motions and montages) and sound production (ambience-building, perspectives according to shots and stable levels of volume).

There are also a lot of references to cultural icons. First there is the classic pairing of Bonnie and Clyde, the model for contemporary female-male outlaws. Going more into the detail is the pairing of one middle-aged man with one teenage girl, as seen in Leon, Kick-Ass and Super. This then may go all the way into an entire culture of fetish for Lolita fighters/assassins, which then leads to human’s fondness of youth and historical early marriage ages… Let’s not go into that. Then for one montage of the film there is reference to the genre of road movie, accompanied by “Let’s Get Away from It All”, a song of distinct nostalgic qualities by Rosemary Clooney (Not to mention how often have we see light or soothing music accompanying slaughter scenes). These serve to add senses of feeling lost, reminiscence and contrast to the film.

Then there are others that are more of salutations than intentional references for added meanings, such as the exploding head against windshield (compared to Pulp Fiction).

All in all, this film serves as an example of a piece of media which at the same time responds to, references to, and comments on established codes and past pieces of media works, at the same time leaves potential for future addresses and answers to the film itself. Finally, let us conclude with a video that comments on this film.

Modern Cartography – an Intermediality Approach

I often ‘favorite’ tweets when I come across interesting posts that I wish to return to later. Last week I came across a tweet from @brainpicker about how modern maps are a multifaceted resource not only for technical geographic purposes, but also for history, individual creativity expression and visual storytelling.

Brainpicker’s website (a project of writer Maria Popova) it explains how maps:

“have undoubtedly changed the world as both objects of art and tools of political power. They help us understand time and make sense of the universe. At their most beautiful, they reflect a level of stunning subjectivity.” http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/07/a-map-of-the-world-according-to-illustrators-and-storytellers/

I found the Text-Centered Model of an Intertextual Meaning System (p.28) as a useful way to apply cartography to the ways we interpret expression.  

The diagram below depicts my take on explaining modern maps as dialogic systems: 

 

Picking apart the intertextual qualities of the map really makes one realize this seemingly mundane objects contains an abundance of cultural expressions that often are overlooked.  This relates to the idea of ‘unlimited semiosis’ since one can interpret a map through one lens, while another person can interpret the map of a map since the most rudimentary definition of a map is a visual representation of something physical.

Maps as Symbolic Entities

I liked Barthes’ (1971) explanation of the text. At one point he asserts that “the text is radically symbolic” and plural in meaning (p.158-159). The same goes for maps. No matter our linguistic background, nearly everyone can recognize what a map is – this system of symbolic language has been encoded in our cultural shaping. We see the continents which most commonly appear with an image of North and South America to the far left, Africa in the center and Europe and Asia to the far right and accept it as the common structure for how maps should look. Yet what makes maps not closed off completely is that they can be altered and modified. As an example, the map of Vesa Sammalisto includes artwork that tells a story of an island in Spain. The artist uses the map to symbolize the rich culture of this island and at the same time provides useful information for would-be travelers to the island (such as places to dine by the coast, where to go sailing, and locations for bike tours across the land.

Communication through Maps:

Radford also had some good points on the meaning behind texts, using Umberto Eco as his footing. Asking questions such as “How does this text connect with other texts?”or “What are the codes that enable your understanding of these words?” once again applies to maps when considering them as a type of text. Of course we can misinterpret a map created 1,000 years ago due to semantic reasons, but 21st century maps that are combinatorial in nature present a new array of ways to debate what constitutes a “real” map. Does it have to be physical? Does it have to have a compass? As shown on brainpicker’s website, not necessarily. The art of cartography cannot be limited be antiquated definitions.

To sum, the map is just like any other post-digital media object: it’s future creation is strongly influenced by its past.  There has to be a common structure of what makes a map acceptable and the fundamental components of a map remain the same. But now, interpretation and expression is less restrictive given humans’ receiving of the digital platform. As long as there is a space and place to manipulate, maps will continue to be created for multi-use purposes.

 

References:

Barthes, Roland “From Work to Text” (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).

Brainpicker. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/07/a-map-of-the-world-according-to-illustrators-and-storytellers/

Irvine, An Introduction to Meaning Making Systems and Cybersemiotics

Radford, Gary “Eco and the Model Reader.” Paper. Fairleigh Dickinson University. http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_papers_radford.html

 

Intertextuality, Musicals and Love

Recognizing that the creation of all media relies on our ability to understand narrative and that culture works are a dialogue which create a network of semiotics for us to make meaning, the first cognitive comprehension of these ideas came to me in the form of one of my all time favorite movies. Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge is very much a musical and cultural mosaic that in exemplifies the idea of remix/hybridity by not only utilizing a plethora of popular music, but by reusing culturally symbolic genres such as the “star-crossed lover” motif found in Romeo & Juliet. To synthesize the rules, genres, and codes used to understand the post-digital cultural production I focused on one of the most popular scenes/songs of the movie: Elephant Love Medley 

http://youtu.be/dOPmgkentZk

The term medley itself already contains cultural connotations both as a hybrid of music as well as a cultural connotation music with Broadway and other large scale musical numbers. This particular clip of the movie is more than a reproduction  of grand musical theater but demonstrates the capability of remix culture to connect with the audience in a nonlinear fashion. The hodgepodge of musical nodes to Elton John, The Beatles and Phil Collins all focused on the meaning of the word “love” allows for an unlimited amount of possible interpretations and connections as network theory demonstrates. For example, upon first watching this scene there were cultural interpretations behind the songs in which I recognized, yet the majority of them I did not know the original artist or origination of the song. For me, the songs took meaning based on usage in other media texts of TV and movies where songs such as “I Will Always Love You” was used in a dramatic love sequences or a parody of the dramatic sequences.

Taking the Bakhtinian approach, this digital artefact uses dialogism  to combine a myriad of musical references which are already subjective to the audience in their own right, to create a new discourse and community of meaning. The songs within this one song, alongside the numerous other pop song references such as Madonna, Nirvana and The Police turn the film into more of  the type of tragic love story we are all familiar with, but in a cultural encyclopedia of music that anyone familiar with popular American music can relate with.