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Aaron Dickinson Sachs

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.

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Brianni Nelson

Hey Leanne, (in true short media form) - YES! I didn’t go into it here, but I am also exploring how the technology (and the rules within in) shape our understanding and interactions with these jokes. Vine gives you 6 seconds to get to the joke. At that rate, essentially everything has to be stripped down - including original context, cultural nuances, or any other long winded explanations/justifications/insight.

Leanne Weston

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.

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Leanne Weston

Great post, Brianni. I was hoping that someone would discuss this.

In relation to the comments already made about transcendence, upon reading this post, I realised that I’d never actually seen the Nicholas Fraser’s original Vine. Instead, my interaction with it was in the form of gifs, and then, as its viral reputation grew, in still memes. Do you think this reduction into a different form also brings about a collapsing of its original meaning? It’s something that really resonated with me reading the closing lines of your post about being ‘in on the joke.’

Leanne Weston

Bowie’s music is certainly an interesting - and unsurprisingly - unique case I think. I always had that same thought about RENT, so I’m glad I’m not alone in it. I’d completely forgotten that “Heroes” was in the medley until you just reminded me. Do you think that any recontexualisation using the music of an artist that has died naturally gathers greater value and resonance? Could we term that earnification?

Leanne Weston

Thank you! I can’t take full credit for that one! As I was writing the reply to you, an add featuring “Heroes’ came on, so it reminded me of the most recent turn in the life of the song. I’m glad you thought it added something to the discussion and didn’t detract from it!

Leanne Weston

Thank you, Zack.

Familiarity does indeed add another layer of ghostliness. It’s especially true here, and, as you suggest, in “Stuck,” and “In Dreams.” Though now you’ve made me think of a formative recontextualisation I’d forgotten about completely, a UK anti drink and drive campaign from the early 1990s that uses Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’ (see here if you’re not familiar). Even now, it has the same kind of effect on me as the songs/texts we’ve been discussing. It begs the question whether these associations we’re drawing out have a limit and how this impacts on our own memories.

Thanks for those reading recommendations, I think it’ll fit in nicely with my ongoing work on early music television. The Beatles Anthology is another obvious candidate for this week’s theme. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it!

Leanne Weston

I think we’re both right, Aaron. There is an anti-nostalgia element at work here on some level, but I think the lyrical content and the style is what swung it for this one, which makes it a unique case. You make a really interesting point though. I’ve heard cross-genre covers like that in trailers for other genres - the choral cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ used in The Social Network springs to mind - but I’ve only ever found oldies used in horror. I wonder why this marriage came about?

Zack Stiegler

It may be cynical, but your claim is certainly a valid one, Aaron - and there is at least an ounce of opportunism here (if not more). Your comment has me thinking back to the post-9/11 pop landscape, where Bowie peers such as McCartney, Mellencamp, Springsteen, et al. penned songs to mark the cultural moment. None of these really stuck. At best, they became new favorites within the artist’s already dedicated fanbase (Springsteen), in others, the songs were generally panned.

In Bowie’s case, a song already revered as a ‘classic’ simply gets imbued with new cultural meaning. That is, it’s already cleared the hurdle of familiarity (and now I see some connections to Leanne’s post).

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Brianni Nelson

I appreciate your comment, Aaron, in particular, “I wondered what it means when that reference to the original is lost, and I appreciate that you’ve provided one answer to that in your post: appropriation. Whereas recontextualization seems to imply that the connection to the original context is in some ways left intact, even as the item is moved into a new context, appropriation importantly reminds us of the lines of power that also pervade the original items as embedded in their context.”

I think the ‘appropriation consideration’ is a crucial element in understanding most popular culture today — music and all other forms of media. Because while think of certain artists or their work as transcending boundaries (which of course, is a good thing), we still have to ask ourselves what happens to the messages once those boundaries are crossed. And yes, because both the author and audience have power, there may be information that is repeatedly getting lost in translation.

Other interesting (music specific) examples would be what’s happening with the “Running Man” right now. It’s actually a combination of quite a few issues (original song + original dance name + new dance + no reference to the original dance) and seeing a rapid popularity spike.