Sochi Pop: Getting Lucky with Sex, Force, and Proliferating Signifiers

Curator's Note

Savvy youtubers might remember the Russian Interior Ministry Police choir’s rendition of Daft Punk’s party anthem “Get Lucky,” from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics opening pre-show. The cross-cultural, incongruous, and awkward use of “Get Lucky” to open an event of international importance raises interesting questions around the significance and function of pop songs in a global context. 

Daft Punk, a French duo, uses (or musically misuses) English slang in their own pop context, which is then further recontextualized by the choir. Native English speakers need not consult urbandictionary.com to know that “to get luck” is to have sex, though one entry nevertheless notes that related words are “daft punk,” “pharrel,” and “date rape,” evoking a problematic, and insightful, chain of signification. The association of luck to winning athletic events provides one obvious interpretation for the song’s "innocent" inclusion in the opening ceremony; yet its theme was apparently love, making the intent seem purposeful. Leaving intention aside, the recontextualized performance of the song articulates a set of incongruous signifiers that constitute, rather than simply represent, a meaningful message about the world. In this case, like Barthes’ saluting Negro soldier, the military attire of the choir, when added to the sexual subject of the song, implies a sexual imperialism entirely congruent with the then recently passed anti-LGBTQ law while also reifying the cultural sanctioning of uses of force (or alcohol) within non-consensual sexual encounters. In other words, this choir served as a catchy if somewhat awkward glove to mask Putin’s extended middle finger in the face of protests against homophobia and heterocentric misogyny.

In a global mediated world, it is difficult to argue for universally dominant or hegemonic readings of any text that is produced and re-produced by actors from different cultures for a quintessentially international event. Even beyond that, what makes reading this choir’s performance in the age of “convergence culture” so difficult, and also so interesting, is that, as Berger says “it can be seen in a million different places at the same time. As you look at them now on your screen, your wallpaper is round them. Your [browser] window is opposite them.” Thus the local contexts, like the signifiers in Barthes’ meanings and myths, proliferate beyond our ability to nail them down, even as troubling ideologies still lurk within the text.

Comments

Leanne Weston's picture

Great post, Aaron. I

Great post, Aaron. I commented on shifts in meaning for re-produced texts in relation to Brianni’s post, but I think it equally applies here. The context viewing can really impact upon our engagement with texts like these, how we understand them, and as you suggest, how we interpret them. I can’t help but be reminded of the many viral videos of the ‘Thriller’ dance, where the meaning is less about convergence and more about clash. I think it’s particularly true in the case of the Cebu prison video.

Aaron Dickinson Sachs's picture

Yes, Leanne, I think the

Yes, Leanne, I think the “Thriller” video is a great example of a sort of inverted convergence—it is symptomatic of technological and cultural convergence, and the kind of flow across platforms that Jenkins (2008) discusses, yet it also seems to be about the rupture of that convergence through a kind of clash. It’s been a while since I read Jenkins, and I wonder if he’s got a good way to help categorize a phenomenon like the Cebu prison dance videos. What interests me with this Sochi video, as well as the Cebu prison videos, is the ideological work that is also being done when a pop song is taken up and recontextualized as a viral video. I don’t think that there is much ideological authorial intentionality in either the Cebu or Sochi videos—for example, I can’t really imagine Putin or a bunch of CEOs from the prison-industrial complex sitting down and trying to decide on how to use these pop songs—but the songs nevertheless do some ideological work for us as audiences across the globe, watching the videos in our own contexts. I suggested what ideological work the Sochi video did during the Olympics, but I’m less sure of the work it does now. What do you think?

The Cebu prison videos seem to suggest that prison isn’t so bad, that it can be fun (if not to experience, than at least to watch), and that, in some ways, prison is there to serve as entertainment for us who are not in prison. I can’t help thinking about Baudrillard’s (1981) famous discussion of Disneyland in relation to prisons: “Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the ‘real’ American that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral)” (12). And here we have a kind of Disneylandish prison dance video! What do these videos hid from us?

I brought up John Fiske (2010) and his work on audience-use centered popular culture, and I also wonder what he’d make of these videos. They certainly seem to be attempts by groups of people, though neither group is exactly representative of “the people” in the way Hall (1981) would articulate them, nor I think would Fiske, but they also don’t exactly represent the hegemonic group. Of course, the Sochi group does represent hegemony in the form of the repressive state apparatus of the police, but in this situation they seem to be representing a collection of policemen rather that the state. And in some ways the Cebu group similarly represents the repressive power of the state, but on the other end. So perhaps in neither case is the material of “mass culture,” the popular song itself, being recontextualized and used for the pleasure of “the people,” and as a result reconfigured as popular culture. Though in neither case is it also clearly the opposite of that. And perhaps that’s what you meant, Leanne, about clash rather than convergence. While these both seem to be about convergence culture at some level, there is also a fundamental clash at work.

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