Author Archives: lray

Che, Remixed

Thanks to the cultural entrenchment of the image on a global scale, Korda’s Che graphic has become iconic; that is to say, it carries a multiplicity of meanings and interpretations, and has come to not only represent a vague spirit of revolution but the process of globalization itself. As Casey says on p. 260, the sort of specialized co-opting of Korda’s image that occurs differently in each country is a method of “legitimizing [that country’s] place in a supposedly unbroken global narrative of revolution and rebellion.” Since the image has indeed grown to encompass more than Che’s legacy and ideals, how does one dismantle the many narratives (some of them ideologically opposite of one another) that all lead to an exaltation of Che as a representation?

Starting on page 267, Casey examines several instances of what I would call image remixing. From parodies to deliberate political subversions, the Che image has been reworked and combined with other “socially installed” images in order to capitalize on the instinctive public reaction to the image and other visual stimuli (i.e. the skull Che on 270). Artist Sergio Langer says he reinterprets the graphic and other cultural markers “without devotion or respect.” This rejection of boundaries of taste and of historically ingrained significance hearkens back to the postmodern notion of pastiche and constant deconstruction/distrust of ideology and its visual hallmarks. By pitting two cultural forces against each other within a symbol (such as “El Reagan” on p. 268) a cultural critic draws attention to the images as empty vessels waiting to be imbued with meaning – and also contributes to a global cultural which recognizes itself as a giant remix.

Author Dominick Strinati helps to elucidate this in An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, which delves deeply into postmodern phenomena. In his discussion of the remix, he mentions  “the quoting and ‘tasting’ of distinct [elements] in order to create new sub- and pan-cultural identities.” This helped me to get more of a grip on Casey’s stance, which does not seem to be that recreating the Che image weakens it ideologically, but subsumes it into a rapidly congealing global narrative. The remixing of the image contributes to that “pan-cultural identity” in that completely disparate populations are equally capable of recognizing the significance of the image; it is available for global consumption. It has completely eclipsed its original historical context.

Expecto Fanfictionum!

If anyone is dorky enough to desire further information/fun reading on fanfiction, check these out:
Here you can read about the countless genres contained under FF’s umbrella. The categories are kind of mindblowing in their variety and application to different original source materials.

“The Draco Trilogy” – Cassandra Claire
This is a fanfiction based on Harry Potter. It’s also more than 2,500 pages long. Seriously. It’s considered one of the most legitimate Harry Potter fanworks out there and has been reproduced in print and in downloadable PDF form online. It’s super entertaining and very inventive, sticking faithfully with JK Rowling’s writing style. It’s no longer available online but, um…I have it on a flash drive.

Fanfiction…THE…final frontier.

I don’t know if a Shatner impression translates well into print. But let me tell you, I know a thing or two about Star Trek fandom. My high-school beau SPOKE KLINGON. And tutored it to other fans. And sent designs for several new spacecraft to the show in high hopes. Not the best relationship, all things considered. When you’re 16, you definitely do not want Lieutenant Uhura to be “the other woman.”

Anyway, Textual Poachers had some excellent insights into the nuances of fandom and the strange space it creates for textual analysis, community participation, and consumption of a narrative. I was struck particularly by one point Jenkins made just before the end of chapter 3, when he discusses “emotional realism.” On page 115, he cites Elizabeth Flynn in a discussion of the careful balance between the fan’s detachment and overinvolvement. The “productive middle ground” from which ST fans read the show is comprised of a distinct “sense of self” and a sense that the world within the show is real and that “characters maintain a life…beyond the screen.” Flynn also argues that too much of one or the other will either result in a lack of strong ties to the show (not helpful in fandom) or emotional intanglement which results in an enslavement by the story and character arcs.

Jenkins argues that ST walks this line perfectly, as its world reflects many of the same issues, processes, and personality types that we actually experience. Fans feel comfortable critiquing the goings-on in the ST universe, and also feel a sense of intimacy with the show because of the easily-made direct comparisons with real life. Truisms from the show (i.e. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”) are  simultaneously applicable to our livable philosophy. When the realism is sullied by a ridiculous character or unrealistic injustice in the ST world, producers and writers come under fire rather than the characters imbued with realism and humanity.

Predictably, I am now thinking about LOST. Lost was a straight-up character show in season 1 – the diverse cast was dropped into an insane situation and human relations carried the plot, rather than vice versa. Although the setup was fantastical – a mystical island, cursed numbers, whispers in a remote jungle – the script was grounded in the natural progression of friendships, romance, and dawning survival skills. And we, as viewers, found emotional realism, becoming rabid about dissecting the motives of each character. However, once the hatch was opened and people began to time-travel and rise from the dead, the show’s audience felt violated, even mocked. I know I was, and my compadres online will probably agree – LOST “jumped the shark” once the show moved its center from character development to the supernatural and uncontrollable unfolding of events.

Maybe this “emotional realism” is about a semblance of control over the occurences of the fictional world – as long as the characters are moving events along as a result of their own thoughts and actions, we can deal with suspending disbelief. Once the plot gets out of control, however – meaning, it progresses without the impetus of humans – we feel exploited as a TV demographic, and not as active participants.

Some Inspiration…

If anyone is considering writing their own romance novel, I found a nifty title generator. Just in case you’re low on ideas.

The Dashing Cultural Scholar and His Buxom Maiden

Having thoroughly enjoyed Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and my fair share of trashy fiction, I found Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance to be a pretty incisive and lively read. She illustrates a fascinating female re-appropriation of cultural materials which, by all accounts, support patriarchy and rigid mainstream concepts of sexuality and fidelity. Her most important assertion is that romance novels may not be the mini-ISAs they appear; rather, through the constant re-contextualization given to them by female readers, their allegorical meanings take on a distinctly feminist bent.

But what kind of feminism is Radway referring to? I saw Sarah Haskins speak a few nights ago and remembered her distinction between a feminism that directly critiques gender performance and psychology, and the “You go, girl!” kind of empowerment which ends up re-affirming many patriarchal notions of a proper woman.

In the chapter “The Readers and Their Romances,” Radway explores the work and goals of Dorothy “Dot” Evans, whose expertise in the romance genre guides countless devoted readers to the most satisfying books. On page 54, Dot claims that readers interpret the best romance novels as tales of “female triumph” despite their grounding in traditional gender roles and male physical dominance. Because the heroines imbue their men with more feminine qualities, like tenderness and understanding, they have used their womanly wiles to perfect an “equal” relationship with emotional give and take. Dot says that “independence and marriage are compatible, not mutually exclusive.” Because the heroines are so secure and strong in their womanhood, they enter into a love connection and not a master-submissive relationship.

I read this interpretation as problematic (much as I read Friedan’s approach as slightly troubling) as it comes off as an illusion of agency and not a declaration of reclamation of material. Dot seems to buy into the notion that female strength lies in complete mastery of her feminine characteristics and desires, which have of course been constructed by a hegemony and a cultural history which caters to male power. A woman may find pleasure in imagining an all-night roll in the hay with Fabio; in the end Fabio still possesses her, and represents masculine ideals of bravery, power, and emotional control – all of which she believes she is uninterested in accessing as a consequence of her gender.

Look at This F*cking Blog!

Dear Classmates,
I don’t mean to advocate the use of profanity on this blog, but after our discussion today I felt the need to share this amazing website with you. For all your hipster-mockery needs:

Look at This Fucking Hipster!

Here’s a preview.

P.S. Not to brag, but my very own sponsee showed up on this website last year. Not sure if I’m proud or ashamed.

Aesthetics and Class

Oh, Bourdieu, you are a classy gentleman. I really enjoyed Distinction because it helped to finally synthesize our many discussions on the nature of art and the utter subjectivity that arises as a result of social classifications. I was torn between blogging about education – that looming mechanism of cultural indoctrination – and aesthetics. Ultimately aesthetics won out due to the fascinating point Bourdieu drives home: art is not a window to the human soul, some monolithic object whose form evokes universal feelings and thus a universal function. Art only gains cultural significance when read as “legitimate” by the right people, meaning those blessed with a “high culture” mindset and lifestyle.

The meat of this discussion can be found between pages 41-47. To start with, the dominant aesthetic regards art as pleasing and beautiful if it represents an object “worthy of representation.” This is extrapolated to reveal that pure realism best meets the needs of good taste; a subject venerated by human beings and painted or photographed with instant recognition as the goal will come across as aesthetically acceptable in high culture.

Bourdieu goes on to say that when one does not have the framework of taste to evaluate art, one reverts to another system of reading, one which “[reduces] the things of art to the things of life.” For example, on page 44, people from a cross-section of classes respond to a photo of an old woman’s hands. Those with taste respond with references to other famous works (“The sort of hands you see in early Van Goghs”) while those without concentrate on the subject’s relationship to concrete experience (“The old girl must have arthritis”). The most telling statistics come on page 47, when Bourdeiu measures reactions to a photo of a metal frame. 6 percent of manual workers perceive it as “a beautiful photo”, as compared with 50 percent of secondary or higher-education teachers. The workers presumably did not perceieve the frame as beautiful, and thus the photo was not beautiful. The higher-class individuals, thanks to their social conditioning, recognized pleasurable aesthetics and the culturally relevant form of an artsy photo.

 One conclusion to draw is that “low culture” always assumes a kind of practicality, a disregard for function and a literal appraisal of form. Another conclusion, and I would venture to say Bourdieu’s, is that all interpretations of the photo are legitimate culturally, but only a specific process of social indoctrination and long-established class-bound tradition can transform the photo into real art.

The Third Man

Right around Chapter V of The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau reaches his personal apex of headiness (if that’s possible) by discussing a realm in which theory cannot even be explained by language. In other words, the vague ether of thought cannot be explicated in the real world with language, or symbolic gesture, or really any sort of discourse. I have not an inkling what such a situation might look like, but de Certeau uses this concept to set up his interpretation of the writer Durkheim, who discusses theory and practice as two entirely different animals that may exist outside each other.  Early on in the semester, we discussed the notion of “theory as practice” and vice versa. Durkeim, then de Certeau, pit the two against each other in the guise of science vs. art. Art is practice, with prescribed methods to achieve a certain visual end. With the translation system of science, that practice then becomes decipherable, readable, avilable for the multitude of analyses.

At least I think that’s what’s going on here. Imagine my relief when de Certeau brought in the concept of “a third man” who would unite science and art, theory and practice, reconciling them. The third man is an “engineer” who would seek to strengthen the real impact of theory while giving practice a greater significance than mere actions. However, de Certeau claims that this guy doesn’t cut as imposing a figure as many scientists and artists would have hoped. Instead, it seems that the third man has only attempted to subsume practice into theory by breaking down and studying the very mechanisms of art-making.

I sincerely hope I didn’t read any of this wrong, because I patently disagree with all of these claims. In de Certeau’s metaphor, science is a huge expanse of deep knowledge, instinct, and soul, while art is a series of ations and objects designed to interpret a world of science. Everything in me screams the opposite – science encompasses language, classification, information-gathering, all of which is abstractly represented in art. Art seems to concentrate on silences between words, while science is all about the words. Wouldn’t a third man, then, be charged with taking the proverbial widget of science and using it to unlock the secrets of the Ouija board that is art? I secretly think this metaphor owns de Certeau’s metaphor, by the way.

How can we make sense of de Certeau’s interpretation of theory and practice? And who is the “third man” in today’s culture? De Certeau claims that spot has been taken by the technocrat. So does this mean that governing bodies based on practice and not theory are attempting to bridge the gap…by disadvantaging theory?

Revised Project Proposal

Hey everyone, hope you had a great fall break!

I expressed an interest in exploring the commodification of a modern celebrity; using Marxist concepts like “labor” and “use-value” in breaking down publicly marketed life and identity will demystify both the process of creating celebrity and the work of retaining it in the right kind of way (i.e. being labeled a star versus a has-been). I’ve decided to focus on Tyra Banks as a microcosm of this phenomenon. Details:

Tyra is a great example of one of Marx’s most hearty points: the laborer embodies both labor and commodity, consumer and consumed object. He is selling himself – ability, talents, social identification, appearance – in order to make and sell to others. Tyra aggressively seized the reins of her modeling career and retained a pivotal management role through her transition from swimsuit girl to model coach to talk-show host. She created socio-historical context for herself early by speaking out about the industry’s stance on black models, making herself a spokeswoman for a larger discourse on race and ideal physical American standards. She intertwined the separate worlds of her model-training program (“America’s Next Top Model”) with her brief foray into hip-hop music and her talk show. Tyra saturated any sphere she could lay her influence on with an almost comically obvious self-veneration, and she thus created a product that transcended its media environment. The image of Tyra Banks became conflated with TYRA, an emblem of the successful Other whose relentless business savvy is not disguised, but cheerfully exposed as another facet of the Tyra brand.

I like Tyra as a subject because she demonstrates the process by which a systematically oppressed population can penetrate the hegemonic structure through its own channels – something Fanon decries as selling out. I’m interested in examining how Tyra continues to dissect, and sometimes criticize, the visual ideal of whiteness and physical beauty while fiercely retaining her place as a popular, prosperous black visage in the media. I would love the opportunity to bring in some other theorists more well-versed on race in visual culture (i.e. bell hooks) in order to bring the drier political theory of Marx into the modern matrix of post-feminism and the slow assimilation of the “black is beautiful” dogma.

Marx on the Rocks with a Twist

I just wanted to bestow the following advice on all of you: WATCH MAD MEN.

I just got through every single episode to date within a week (that’s nearly three seasons); it’s so well-written and intelligent. And the show has a very obvious foundation of media psychology and straight-up Marxism. For those of you who haven’t heard the buzz, it’s set in a 1960s advertising firm on Madison Avenue. Principles like commodities and hegemony permeate every single storyline! There’s even a character who references Marx’s ideas on economy and the proletariat from time to time.

If you’re looking for a fascinating and complex cultural interpretation of the very ideas we discuss twice a week, check out the show. I’m not gonna tell you how to watch it for free, but here’s a hint: it starts with “N” and ends with “etwork.”