The Semiotic Language in Teen Films and Its Role in Commodifying “Youth”

8 06 2008

Introduction

 

The semiotic language in teen films markets “Youth” as a commodity. Youth is portrayed as a transitional space; a time of flux; a rite of passage. The adolescent struggles with establishing their identity. They fight puberty, and must adjust with the loss of childhood stability. As such, they embrace several meaningful symbols and modes of expression to piece together their subjectivity, and also gain mutual acceptance from their peers. Such ‘sings of mutual recognition’ may be clothing, territory, music, language and modalities of behaviour (Guattari:1996:70), all of which are the essence to the semiotic language in teen films. The discussion at present then revolves around the role these signs of consumption play in both the cinema, and in our daily life. Using Clueless (1995) as an example, this blog will illustrate how the semiotic language constructs the notion of adolescence, and how these items of consumption mediate the cinema and reality. It will also explore the trajectory of the teen machine, and how the signs and semiologies within teen texts have remained stable. Finally, this blog will signpost how teen films have a multi-generational audience, and thus resolve our discussion that the notion of “Youth” has become a cherished commodity.

 

 

 

Adolescence as a construction

 

It has been premised that adolescence is a constructed period of time, and youth culture has emerged due to various marketing forces. The increasing spending power of teenagers since the 1950’s meant that several goods and services have become targeted at young people (Bennett:2007:25). Oblivious to teenagers who are desperate for acceptance, these “items of mutual recognition” are simply ‘commodified, packaged and sold back to the youth’ (Varner:2007:171). Hall and Whannel support this by stating that, ‘Teenage culture is a contradictory mixture of the authentic and the manufactures: it is an area of self expression for the young, and a lush grazing pasture for the commercial providers’ (1964:276). Teen films basically draw on these commodities to construct the teenage paradigm, and as a result, young people view these text, absorb the artefacts and rituals, and graph them into their own lives (White and Wyn:1997). In fact, popular media ‘teach the proper mannerisms for teenagers to behave’ (Shary: 2002:32). Evidently, youth culture has develloped as a result of the semiotic language we are exposed to in teen films.

 

Guattari similarly puts forward that adolescent revolution is only a constructed time in adults minds, a ‘segretive social practice’ that has been dictated to operate between the ages of 13-19 (1996). He bases this argument on what he refers to as ‘becomings’, which are processes of change; the essential energy of flux. These becomings can happen at any time though, as they are not based on genetics or hormones, but via multiple components and modes of communication. “Becoming adolescent” is not based on age then—instead, if one adopts the essential “signs of mutual recognition”, then one can effectively be socialised into youth culture.

Tai’s subjective modelling

 

Albeit tongue in check, Clueless symbolises how one can be assimilated into youth culture when taking on board meaningful symbols and semiologies. This occurs when the popular blond Cher Horowitz introduces a new student Tai Fraiser to the school, and gives her a “make over”. Once undertaking these rituals and ceremonies, Tai has effectively been moulded into the quintessential cool American schoolgirl.

Space

Tai is firstly introduced to groups at school and their area in the school ground. Bauman refers to this process as ‘territorial separation’, where groups carve out their own space, ‘let in only people of “the same” identity and bar access to anyone else’ (2000:107). Teenagers often do this on the school ground because they want to take ownership on space that is essentially owned and controlled by adults (Varner:2007). This process is what Deluze and Guattari refer to as ‘deterritorialization’, as the youths take space and reuse it as their own. Apart from resisting authority, the reterritorialised space also provides them with a sense of acceptance and belonging within their group (1987:318). Tai then must learn her boundaries in order to understand what group she belongs to.

 

 

Clothing

Following, Tai undergoes a “makeover” to facilitate her socialisation into Cher’s group. According to Maniscalco, ‘Being in fashion determines whether an individual is “in” or “out” within a particular group”’(cited in Locher:1998:99). In this case, designer outfits and make-up are currency for Cher’s group of friends. Via a montage sequence, Tai’s “farmer” clothes are binned and red hair rinsed. The end product is a more aesthetically pleasing Tai, whom is much more content. This montage effect allows us to see how easy it is socialise into a youth group when adopting the valued items of clothing.

Clueless also illustrates how valuable clothing and material items are for the young person. Marx proposed that a fetish occurs when the exchange surplus value of a commodity exceeds its use value (1864). Cher’s fetish for material objects is epitomised in the scene when she is mugged and held at gun point. Despite risking her life, she refuses to lie on the ground and ruin her dress. For Cher, the designer dress crystallises her mode of being, and being forced to ruin her outfit denigrates who she is as a teenage girl. From this we see the crucial role items of consumption play in confirming the teenager’s identity.

 

Language

Language is indispensable in this “signifying system”, as it validates ones presence in the group, enables accurate communication within the group, and more importantly acts as a barrier for exterior people (Epstein:1998). In fact, youth cultures develop their own linguistics to exclude older generations who cannot understand their jargon. To effectively communicate within group then, Tai must learn the Southern Californian sociolect (also called “Valspeak”). We see this in the scene when Cher teaches her the word “Sporadic”, and in the following scene she reuses it in a sentence, proving to Cher her participation in the group.

 

Semiologies- Partying and Drug use

Rituals such as clubbing and partying are quintessential modalities of behaviour for young people, and we see this in Clueless also (Tomlinson:1998:204).  At the house party, the youths are dancing, drinking alcohol, playing sexual games such as “suck and blow”, and smoking marijuana. Hall and Whannel propose that teenagers engage in such activities to emphasise their ‘social noncomformity and rebelliousness’ (1964:282). Additionally, parties act as a form of release, a carnivalesque space where teenagers can ‘escape the problems of growing up’ (Tomlinson:1998:204). Moreover, it is at these house parties where all the different groups from the school come together; they are a community, united together, and issues at school pertaining to race, class and background are forgotten. Being rebellious in the family home, the youth are united in resistance to family structure they are bound in. For Tai, although she is familiar with alcohol and drugs, she has never attended a house party, and therefore this ceremony then can be seen as Tai’s baptism into the Los Angeles youth culture.

Music

More than anything else, young people predomidantly use music to establish their identity (Hall and Whannel:1964). Musical preferences not only help reflect the individuals’ style, values and attitudes, but can also facilitate ones acceptance with a group. Teenagers in particular are attracted to popular music because it makes them appear fresh and fashionable, and hence more likable amongst their peers. At the house party, Elton teaches Tai the Coolio song, Rolling with the Hommies, which was extremely popular at the time. Once she learns the lyrics, the two have formed a frienship. This shows how particular music is another crucial “sign of mutual recognition”, essential in fostering the bonds between young people.

 

Sexual Relations

Finally, the loss of virginity is an unequivocal rite of passage for young adults (Shary:2002). It is here though that the roles have been subverted—Cher is still a virgin, whereas Tai is not. However, Cher’s virginity is not based on morals, religion or crudeness, but simply because she is searching for “Mr Right”. Roz Kaveney proposes that during the 1990’s Hollywood was more interested in offskiriting issues of virginity than providing sex education (2006). Therefore, the topic of sexual relations in the film is often avoided, instead placing emphasis on the girls’ search for love. Thus, the film uses its adored protagonist Cher to advocate virginity. In a sense then, Tai is still positioned to be in the dark, learning from Cher that love is more important then sex.

 

 

Real/Artificial

Tai acts as a metaphor for how teenagers lift the semiotic language from the screen, and graft it into their own lives. However in reality this process isn’t quite as simple. Not only is it difficult to measure the influence of televisual texts, nor assume the vulnerability of teenagers, but also because it is difficult to know whether these signs of consumption have originated on the screen or in reality.

Much of the semiotic language I have so far described emulates society. Rituals such as shopping, partying, school life and learning to drive that we see in the film occur in real life. Director Amy Heckerling also researched the teenage slang in Los Angeles before writing the script, ensuring the language was accurate and credible. Moreover, the extensive use of product placement (Diet Coke, Mentos, Alia, Calvin Klien) and pop culture referencing (icons such as Cher, Cindy Crawford, Ren and Stimpy, and Tina Turner) also collapses the distinction between reality and the screen by using figures that are recognisable and accessible in the real world.

 

 

On the contrary, the films satirical nature makes clear that this is a mockery of the superficial lifestyle of rich Californian teenagers. The opening line of the film, “So you’re probably thinking, is this like a commercial or what?” prompts the films satirical tone, and moreover acknowledges that this movie is a construction.

Teenagers though are quite vulnerable, and unable to strip away the hyperbole. They see the spectacle fashions, the spectacle lifestyle, and mimic it by purchasing similar items of consumption (Varner:2007). So although Clueless is suppose to comment on a superfluous consumer lifestyle, it also reiterates it. Evidence of this is the fact the grunge music was popular during the early nineties, but the soundtrack with hip hop artists such as Coolio and the Supergrass upturned this crazy. During a time of grunge and minimalist clothing, Cher’s knee high socks and plaid suits spawned the advent of change in 1990’s fashion. Finally, expressions introduced in the film such as “As if!” and “Whatever” have since been used by young people universally (Kaverney: 2006).

Perhaps then, there is constant interplay—a push and pull—between the screen and reality. It is for this reason that Adorno and Horkeimer state that ‘real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies’ (1993:34), as the two worlds are in continual evolution and interaction; co-existing; feeding each other.

 

The Life of the Teen Screen Machine

 

Subjectivity is constanly morphing and evolving with temporal and spacial zones, and this is certainly the case with the teen machine. Scared of being viewed as “unoriginal and conformist”, teenagers don’t want to be associated with outdated fashions, and as a result, the teen screen machine constantly adapts to remain appealing (Shary:2002). They do this by updating the signs of expression, and consequently stay current or even one step ahead of the youth market.

 

The way in which the Clueless machine has morphed gives evidence of this. Firstly, the narrative was adapted from Jane Austin’s story Emma. In reworking the 1800 English novel to a cinematic version of Los Angeles school life, teenagers could thus identify with the narrative in a medium that is more effective in the present day (Kaverney: 2006). Clueless also took inspiration from 1989 film Heathers (1989), which similarly is about a clique popular girls at high school (Kaverney:2006). Notably the fashions, hairstyles and technology have been modernised in Clueless. Additionally, the 2004 film Mean Girls can be seen as the modern day reworking, where again, a new student undergoes rituals and ceremonies to assimilate in youth culture.

 

All these rewritings have a similar skeleton plot though, and all conform to the same “signifying system” to construct an image of youth; the signs have only been modernised. Guattari’s insight on mechinic heterogenesis is useful here with his metaphor of the hammer; “if we take a hammer apart by removing its handle, it is still a hammer but in a “mutilated state” (Chaosmosis:1995:35). He suggests here that although a machine has been mutated, the fundamentals to the machine and its regime remain the same. Therefore, the regime of the teen film—to construct a teenage paradigm with items of consumption—has also remained rigid. This further articulates the influential role teen films play in commodity culture.

 

 

 

The New Meaning of Youth

 

Albeit having great impact on teen markets, teen films have appeals for all. This is because the meaning of youth has shifted from a “coming of age” to a “free spirited nature” (Bennett:2007). Teen films have become a “celebration of adolescence” (Shary:2002), setting up a sensationalised lifestyle of liberty and rebellion. As such the imbedded notions of having a good time have carried over to the term ‘youth’. Elder generations don’t view these texts as “Teen films”, but more so a film of spectacle and fantasy. Especially in the case of Clueless, the use of parody, witty script and intertexuality smartened up the teen movie, making it enjoyable for all. This celebration of life though, generates desire for “Youth”. However, you cannot buy “Youth”; it is not a tangible commodity. Consequently, individuals fall back on the same “signifying system” to recapture the essence of youth.

 

 

 

More than ever, consumers are catered for in terms of goods and services that express notions of liberty and youthfulness (Bennett: 2007). Clubs for “Over 28 year olds”, extreme sports, and adventure holidays are marketed to elder generations as youthful activities. Youth music genres such as Punk and Hip Hop now have multi-generational following. Technology items such as ipods and mobile—which have once been seen as a young person’s tool—have been specifically crafted around the simpler needs and wants of older generations. Additionally, there are many goods and services that help control the aging process. For example, plastic surgery, skin treatments, exercise regimes, hair loss creams, and premature ejaculation sprays.

 

Youth is now accessible for all. Guattari states that “we have all turned into children by mass media society and various apparatuses producing subjectivity” (Guattari:1996:69). Thus, in romanticising the notion of youth in teen films, it is clear that people of all ages draw on the same items of consumption to create a youthful subjectivity.

 

Conclusion

 

The notion of “Youth” has become quite an elastic term. It cannot be defined by age; nor pinpointed to a feeling; nor does it have any tangibility to grab hold of. As such, the signs and semiologies mentioned here act as reference points, giving shape to the idea of youth. Given that the binaries between real life and the cinema are quite leaky, perhaps we are all prone to constructing this artificial paradigm. Nonetheless, Adorno and Horkeimer state that in commodity culture, “Something is provided so that none may escape” (1993:32). Regardles then of who is to reproach for this construction of adolesence, youth has become a commodity in its own right, and it is almost impossible to avoid the impact of the youth machine.

 

 

 

References:

 

Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1993). “The Culture Industry: enlightenment as mass deception”, in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During. London and New York: Routledge:29-43

 

Bauman, Z. (2000). “Time/Space”, in Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity:91-129

 

Bennett, A. (2007). “As young as you feel: Youth as a discursive construct”, in Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes, eds. Hodkinson, P. and Wolfgang, D. New York: Routledge:23-36

 

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987). “Deterritorialization”, in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Massurni, B. London and New York:Continuum:508-510

 

Epstein, J. (1998). “Generation X, Youth Culture and Identity”, in Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, ed. Epstein, J. Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers: 1-23

 

Guattari, F. (1996). “Adolescent Revolution” in Soft Subversions, ed. Lotringer, S. New York:Semiotexte:63-72

 

Guattari, F. (1996). “Becoming Woman” in Soft Subversions, ed. Lotringer, S. New York:Semiotexte:63-72

 

Hall, S. and Whannel P. (1964). The Popular Arts. London: Hutchinson

 

Kaverney, R. (2006). Teen Dreams. London and New York: I.B Tauris

 

Locher, D. (1998). “The industrial Identity Crises: the Failure of a Newly Forming Subculture to Identify Itself”, in Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, ed. Epstein, J. Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers: 100-117

 

Marx, K. (1867). “The Fetishism of the Commodity and the Secret Thereof”, in (Das Kapital) Karl Marx Capital: An Abridged Edition, ed. David McLellan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999:42-50

 

Shary, T. (2002). Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema. USA: University of Texas Press

 

Tolminson, L. (1998). “This Ain’t No Disco…or Is It?”, in Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, ed. Epstein, J. Massachusetts and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers: 195-211

 

Varner, S. (2007). “Youth Claiming Space”, in Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes, eds. Hodkinson, P. and Wolfgang, D. New York: Routledge:161-174

 

White, R., Wyn, J. (1997). Rethinking Youth. Sage publications, London.

 

 

Filmography:

 

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)

 

Mean Girls ( Mark Waters, 2004)

 

Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1989)

 

 

 

 





The body in death

28 05 2008

Death i feel is an elastic term. (So is the term body i guess). When you are dead though, you are dead– you cannot feel anything, you dont know anything. The individuals death is irrelevent to him/herslef. Social death, a life bereft of meaning or living, is far more grave than physical death.

Hockey and James state that:

“With the emphasis on young, healthy, sexually attractive bodies, comes the assumption that those with imperfect bodies have a lesser social presence.” – (1993, cited in Hallen:2001:66).

Here, they aknowledge that in society, our bodies are empty voids when we are aesthetic disatisfying. uglyness, and unattractivness are undesired attributes, therefore we shun and discount people who arn’t able to reach certain aesthetic standards.

In contrast, youth and beauty is glorified. iconic figures who have successed in resisting the aging process are praised. Prime examples are Madonna, Demi Moore, Ana Wintour, Goldie Hawne, George Cloony and so on. The most prominant role model at the moment is without a doubt supermodel Agnus Dean, who has glorified, simply because she is beautiful and full of spark.

Celebrities though who put on weight or have a bad sense of style/dress sense are ridiculled, deemed socially inept. Although media outlets, notably gossip magazines, do this for ecconomic benefits, they symbolise the way we ourselves shun ordinary people if they arn’t groomed and beautiful without even knowing it. In this sence, these people have commited a “social death”, no longer worthy of any real status.

Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty” illistrates this notion perfectly. There is a moment when lecturer notices a group of college girls walk past, and notes that:

“They were smooth and bright and their timing was wonderful, and they were youg and halerious. it was really something to see, they thought, and this was why they spoke loudly, and guestered, inviting onlookers to admire”

It is in this moment when not only does the lecturer fully understand the power of youth’s beauty, but also that the girls themselves are quite aware of their presence.

It is in this sense, our idea of “alive”, “human” and “worthyness”, are constantly overshaddowed with notions of beauty.





Cyborg machine

28 05 2008

The cocept of the cyborg is an imagination; a ficticious being. By definition, a cyborg is half machine, half human. Yet since the advent of anime characters (lain, ghost in a shell, animatrix), the creature has become easily accepted and socialised into our conciousness.

It’s existence is hardly argued. We understand the parametres in which it operates- it is a cyber baby, connected to the wire, with the semblence of a human, sans doute. It is our understanding of science fiction genres and day to day amazement with technology that makes us indifferent to such a ficticous construct.

More importantly though, i think that our nonchalant attitude towards the concept of a cybourg is due to the fact that people in contemporary societies can easily realate to it. The cybourg symbolises what it means to be human in the modern world. We are, arguably, just as dependent on “the network” (internet, tv, radio, mobile phones) as the cyborgs are on their wire. Just to think, we are in contact with machines on a minite-to-minite basis. Mobiles are literally, “the extension of the arm”. Online networks such as myspace and facebook facilitate daily socialising and communication, and moreover act as a nursery where we can redefine ourselves. People construct facebook pages and blogs as self-imposed shrines, used to recreate a new or different machinic subjectivity, of whom they wish to be portrayed as.

The question this bears though, is that are these online personalities faithful to our true machinic subjectivity? Are they real identities?

Of coarse there is no “true identity”, as identity is flux, constantly changing with different people, contexts, agendas and regimes. The online persona is just as much a valid form of expressionn than in reality, the two are just different, exposing and downplaying different parts of our identity. In fact, i beleive the binaries between our day to day self and our online being are quite leaky, they are not mutually exlusive; we can essentially be both. Therefore, our dependence on “the network” and idea that machines are becoming added assemblages to our being is evident, similar to that of a cyborg.

 





Territory and deterritorialisation

12 05 2008

Territory

There are many ways at looking and territory. It can be tangible, or not; we can own it, or it may just be a space that we feel is “ours”. People go to the same coffee shop every morning refer to the place as “their” café, and sleep on the same side of the bed. In aerobics classes, people will always stand in the same area, and in spinning class have “their” bikes, which on certain sessions, people who know wont sit on the bike out of respect for the regular. This is also similar to how people have their certain spots they sit in class, how we park our cars in “my spot”, and drink from “my cup”. We don’t necessarily own these things, but they are still “ours”. These examples are often thought of as habits or routine, when it is really just the human way of marking territory.

These examples, however, are tangible territories. Territory is not just a physical space, but is also any notion of marking out our own boundaries or ground. The birds singing in the morning are making territory—they mark the born of a new day. A couple of blogs ago I commented on how Block Party songs remind me of London—these songs mark the territory of London in my mind.

Deterritorialisation, aka D

According to Deleuze and Guattari (D&G), D is ‘the movement by which “one” leaves the territory’. Essentially, it is the process where a territory (Aka T) is changed and reterriorialised (aka R). The three, T, D, and R are not mutually exclusive but are in negotiation, happening simultaneously.

D&G write,

‘To begin with, the territory itself is inseparable from vectors of deterritorialisation working it from within: either because the territoriality is supple and “marginal”. In other words, itinerant, or because the territorial assemblage itself opens onto and is carried off by other types of assemblages. Second D is in turn inseparable from correlative reterritoriialisations. D is never simple, but always multiped and compositive, not only because it converges distinct speeds and movement on the basis of which one may assign at a given moment a “deterriorialised element” and a “deterriorializing element”.’

From this it is clear that T (the deterriorialised element) and D (the deterriorialiizing element) cannot be divorced. The process of changing a territory, its origin and its by product can all co-exist.

An example of this is the sport Parkour (eg on youube), where people run from one place to another in a short amount of time, jumping over fences, swinging off trees, flipping off buildings etc. The original territory here is the city or the land. The cities purpose is for living in, and each tree, building and fence has its own function. However, when people Parkour through the city, they essentially recreate its function, questioning its purpose. A fence is no longer a boundary, but an object to leap over; a building not for living in, but for jumping over. It’s noted here though that the process of D and R, the actual Parkour and the end product (the city they have marked territory over) happen simultaneously. Additionally, the objects they R are still there to carry out their purpose—people still inhabit the building, and use the fence as a border. From this it is clear the T, D and R all happen simultaneously.

The sport of Parkour can itself be reterritorialised too. It began as a sport that aims to defy the norms or social behaviour and the cities functionality, and also wanted to eliminate rivalry and competition in sport. Now though, the Parkour machine has been capitalised, used by several companies in their advertisements. Such include: Nike (1,2), Nissan, Volkswagen, Snickers (1,2). Even Madonna has incorporated Parkour in her latest video clip The process of it going from an underground sport to it being commercialised, marks new territory in our minds as it moved from the unknown to the known. Once something gives us a new perspective, makes us question behaviours and beliefs, we become conditioned to it. Therefore, the process of capitalising anything—making something accessible and known to the masses—is also a process of D.

The Hilltop Hoods “Recapturing the Vibe” video clip is basically a mockumentary of Parkour, only the sport is “swinging”, where they do flips over swings in movement. These people use playgrounds and swings and D it for their own space. They are eventually banned from playgrounds (because the play ground has been designed for children) and chassed and bashed by police. This clip not only shows how space and time are D’d, but also how pedantic society is about territory that isn’t used in for its intention.

Additionally, the leader of the group states at one point. “I always feel so pissed off who have started great movements and they can’t wait to sell out. at this point, I wouldn’t know who to sell out to”. This statement, and the clips satirical nature fundamentally mock the underground movements such as Parkour who have capitalised on their novel sport.

Another example is the channel V’s add to find the “ultimate skipper”. Basically, he is someone who skips along the street, jumping on rails and ledges like a skateboarder would, only without a board. again, the concept is mocking extream sports, however, they take it further, capitalising on the fact that everyone can skip, but not everyone can do parkour.





Strangers

7 05 2008

There is a certain love/hate relationship we all have with strangers. The whole idea of strangers, is that they are strange. Although we fear them for the element of the ‘unknown’, we also desire them for the possibilities they posses. So many texts encapsulate the idea of the stranger, proving how fixated we are with strangers, and also how challenged we are by their very existence.

Since childhood, it has been drilled into us, “don’t talk to strangers!”, and as a result a majority of us resist them. They are the epitome of terror in our world. The xenophobic society we are, fearing difference, ethnicities; conditioned to distrust anything that is unique and obscure. This child hood phrase as caused us to shun and ignore most strangers. Any old man sitting on a park bench watching children play on the swings is labelled a paedophile. A man sitting in his car outside a school= flasher (and perhaps also paedophile). And a women standing on the street in knee high boots? Sans doute, she is a prostitute. These assumptions however are just mental short cuts to judge people and excuse our dismissal of them. I’m not suggesting we hop in the car with the man and strike conversation, I just wish to rise the point that we are constantly in fear of the “other”.

Even those who don’t appear odd, we still avoid in order to remain “civil”. A trip to the shops, a dentist waiting room, a cycling class at the gym—any public entrance in fact, our social interaction is limited. Instead, these public spaces “encourage action, not interaction” (Bauman:2000:97). There is a tacit understanding to “mind your own business”. Note however, that in civil spaces, the element of fear is usually eliminated as we assume our fellow strangers surrounding us are all engaging in this public space for the same reason. These safe zones become a nursery for our civility; our social field without being social; the one place you are most introverted and veiled by the mask of “civility”, yet simultaneously so public.

Bauman also writes though….

“the meeting of a stranger is an event without a past. More often than not, it is an event without a future (It is expected to be, hoped to be, free of a future), a story most certainly ‘not to be continued…like the spider whose entire world is enclosed in the web it spins out of its own abdomen, the sole support which strangers-in-meeting may count on must be woven from the thin and loose yarn of their looks, words and guestures”

This definition of strangers implies that when we meet new people, we don’t intend to meet them again. This is the allure of strangers. They are not only strange to us, be we are strange to them. They are not just an event without a past, but your past is a new event to them. Your history and becomings, and all the assemblages that form your identity are unknown to the stranger. Thus to strangers, you can re-create your subjectivity, make a new person. Lie if you wish, act different for a day, and the truth will never be known.

Moreover, it is this “loose yarn of their looks, words and guestures” that strangers have to base each other on. With only a handful of cues to who there are, their identity is a mystery, and we, like any mystery in the world, are desperate for answers and reasons. Just like science, we want to “solve” them. It is in our very nature to write in our minds a conclusion to their strange, unfinished narrative. So in this sense, we are attracted to them, not because they themselves are particularly special, but just because we need to figure them out. they have the possibility of opening us up to brand new things, a chance that they could be our idyllic imaginary friend come to life. Their strangeness essentially masks their reality.

It is for this reason that one night stands are so popular. Even in the “rules for one night stands”, rule 3 is that they must be a stranger. this is becasue they represent hope, fun, discoveries. We have essentially solved them, figured them out on a stronger basis than their image on the street. And having no future, we too can momentarily create our own identity.





production vs consumption

1 05 2008

To extend on what i was saying in the last post on context and the mechanic conciousness absorbing different asemblages, it also relates to this week, space and time.

If you havent had enough of my anecdotes, here’s another one. I lost my ipod in London last year, so i bought a diskman to get me by (how old school i know). I could only afford a couple of cd’s though, so i got Block Party and Jurassic 5. After only listening to those 2 cd’s (and going stir crazy) for 4 weeks, now when i hear those songs all i see is london and the underground, similarly to how someone with synesthesia will relate certain words with particular colours.

When John Hartley states “to read texts is also to write them”, he’s refering to how we all take different interpretations of the text, and rewrite their meanings to suit our own needs. So, when other people listen to Jurassic 5, its meaning is completely different to say what mine was. In this sense, the production and consumption of texts are fused- while we consume, we are creating our own “product”, essentially the meaning behind the text.

Jurassic 5

Zan Rowe on triple J has a section called “Backtrack” where people request songs that transport them to a memory or occasion. Again, these are just more examples of how there is really no binary distinction between the production and consumption of products.





nostalgia

1 05 2008

I think it’s interesting to look at our televisual consciousness, and how in context we expand and extract different parts of texts to suit our own needs. As our own machininc subjectivity is constantly changing, our consciousness and interpretations are also flux. Key components such as age, mood, and any other factors in your life play a part in what you see in a televisual text and how you engage in it.

I give the example of Dawson’s creek. Last Christmas, I was shopping with my friend when we found the Dawson’s Creek box set. It was $199, so we decided to split the cost and make it our Christmas present to each other. The night we snuggled on the couch, and stoped making Katie Holmes impressions (“Daaaawson” with that asymmetric smirk). We got half way through the first season and had to turn it off. It wasn’t terrible, just a bit boring. Had it changed? Pacey wasn’t cute, we cringed at their conversations about sex, and I still couldn’t understand the dialogue. It occurred to me then that my previous adoration for this show was simply clouded by my eight year old naivety. I had previously loved it and would wait all week for the next episode simply because I was engaged in this romantic depiction of American teenagers; a world I longed to grow up and live in myself. Having experienced teenagehood now, that admiration for the characters and their lives has subsequently subsided, and hence my engagement and interpretation with the text was completely different.

Context, apart from allowing different understandings, made room for this “daggy” element of the text. Dawson’s looked overly stylised with nineties fashion, and outdated technology (such as Dawson’s massive video camera, and video cassettes). So even though in its time, the mis-en-scene looked perfectly normal, depicting the world as we were living in it, viewing it now it seems ridiculous, triggering memories of past fashions and so on. Now, the show is a statement not only of that time, but gives reference to our previous subjectivity.

Some texts can also act as watermarks in our lives, triggering memories and occasions. Remembering old movies and TV shows reminds us of who we were at the time, and what we were doing. Movies you saw on dates will forever be tainted with happy (or sad, or awkward) memories, despite the film’s quality. Even TV shows that were always playing in the background of your grandmas home will prompt nostalgia, warm kitchen smells and ruddy cheeks.

So, retro dvd series can be argued to tap into this nostalgic element when marketed to us. Essentially, nostalgia is another commodity, bundled up with the box set and the bonus t-shirt. Unfortunately, we mask our love for these TV shows and movies with hope of our happy past (selective based of course) to come streaming back, and enrich our lives as it did back then. It’s not until we review these texts that we understand their presence now has a completely different impact.