7-05-2014 pop culture is the new mythology: branding, irony, recycling and distance

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Tribes and bands dominated by mythology have a relatively simple division of labour. Each person’s capacity to act becomes a comparatively more important contribution to survival. Communities are « weak », in the sense that they do not provide social capital to people as much as individuality does. In bands and tribes whose community orientation is undermined by the importance of individual action, myth uses a semiotic process that brings together distant signs to propose mediators that incorporate some semiotic and semantic qualities of the opposing signs: unity. In structurally complex societies, the division of labour creates interdependent and complementary networks. Individuality is overwhelmed by the complex institutional machinery (institutions, ideologies, political rituals) attached to these categories. Individuals react to a unitary and stultifying ideology and try to assert individuality. The ability to create individual narratives of society becomes important. People « individualise » and isolate symbols from one another: by simplification, by recycling, by referencing, processes that distance a sign from its normalised, ideologically-sanctioned referents. People can project individual narratives in these spaces.

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Pop Culture is the new mythology: branding, irony, recycling and distance httpwww.americaslibrary.govassetsshcowboysh_cowboy _branding_2_e.jpg Guy Lanoue, Universit de Montral, https://encrypted- tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS4YjpucpeUNVaF3aJRPT n_9cDTayFVO9ahqkeflPLxygpoDl4UbQ Four points: Classic myth seeks mediators between two sets of sign systems (brings them together thematically); new myth seeks to increase the semiotic and semantic distance between sign systems Classic myth and pop culture are both ritual fields with few components: in classic myth, traits are selected so they fit together with other signs in a rigid system (totemism); in pop culture, traits are simplified (stripped of their polysemic qualities) so they can be used to create new signs that fit together in a fluid, polysemic system In classic mythology, meaning is communicated by the mediator; story components are chosen to justify the choice of a mediator; in the new mythology, meanings are communicated in two ways: a) new combinations of old, stripped down and simplified components; b) blurring the semantic precision widens the distance between signified and signifier, allowing personal narratives to be projected onto old, familiar objects and their unclear representations Tribes and bands dominated by mythology have a relatively simple division of labour. Each persons capacity to act becomes a comparatively more important contribution to survival. Communities are weak , in the sense that they do not provide social capital to people as much as individuality does. In bands and tribes whose community orientation is undermined by the importance of individual action, myth uses a semiotic process that brings together distant signs to propose mediators that incorporate some semiotic and semantic qualities of the opposing signs: unity. In structurally complex societies, the division of labour creates interdependent and complementary networks. Individuality is overwhelmed by the complex institutional machinery (institutions, ideologies, political rituals) attached to these categories. Individuals react to a unitary and stultifying ideology and try to assert individuality. The ability to create individual narratives of society becomes important. People individualise and isolate symbols from one another: by simplification, by recycling, by referencing, processes that distance a sign from its normalised, ideologically-sanctioned referents. People can project individual narratives in these spaces. Problem: Im alive now, but what happens when Im dead? Myth does not function in terms of content, but has a particular structure of paradigmatic substitutions that successively weaken the opposition (here, between life and death) to find a mediator (a syntagmatic equation) that links the two. Sign 1 Sign 2 Sky/heavenCave/hell Mountain Valley Snow River SUBSTITUTION Birds Fish Rain Sign 1 Sign 2 SIMPLIFICATION / RECYCLING Sign 1 Sign 2 By increasing the distance, not only are there no mediators, it is increasingly difficult to link the sign and its referent. Paradoxically, it becomes easier to link one sign to another as each is simplified (stripped of its semantic richness). The links move from metaphor to metonymy. What happens in this new space ? CLASSIC MYTH NEW MYTH Distance: spatial distance is a metaphor for social distance, which is a trope that defines the sovereignty of Western countries: control boundaries means controlling society. The control of geographic distance allows the state to define rationality: by deciding where people live, the state imposes schedules and how the move from one point to another, from home to work. This forces people to adopt a system of rational decision making (the fastest route, the shortest route): they become rational decision makers, time accountants . This mirrors economic rationality in a capitalist environment: the best choice we make in deciding which bus to take is the same thought system that guides investment and market rationality. Distance has been an important framing device in the West since the 16th century. An example: central perspective in art (The Last Supper, Da Vince, 1498) Invented in 1413 by Filippo Brunelleschi, the background is distanced from the foreground by differences in size of the paintings components. Implicitly, people translate differences between big and small into a narrative about far and the near. This distance establishes that the spatial distance seperating high and low as just another subset of far and near: the real subject is the spectator who is actively interpreting far and near and validating his agency. Recently, beginning after WWII and accelerating rapidly, public discourse no longer seems so rational and linear. As larger frames of reference fail to provide tools for interpreting events, the distance between a thing and its sign has increased. People can and do project their own narratives into this space. In a sense, individuals now create their own unique thought universes because the link between a signfied and its signifier is no longer as precise as before. Examples of postmodern advertising: what is real and what is a trick? In other words, when the signfied is unclear, so is the signifier: distance is established, and people can create narratives to define how one is linked to the other. Metaphors are easily interpreted because there is little semitoic distance seperating the signified from its signifier. In texts, this is established by a normalised definition of the image; in art, people use frames to tell the spectator that somewhere in the image there is a code that establishes links between signified and signifier. When people step outside that visual frame, its semiotics are threatened: distance is established and individual narratives become possible interpretations. The frame (and its semiotic fragility) is the message This distancing can be accomplished by recycling: the real message is in identifying the absent original (Albert Einsteins 71st birthday in 1951) content/uploads/2011/03/FUNNY- LEGO-FILM-PARODIES-1.jpg etto-pubblicita/1.htmlpubblicita/1.html Irony dominates modern discourse, for 2 reasons : a) By linking the real message to a subtext rather than to a text, it allows people to double their interpretative agency, their semiopower; b) Denormalisation: Irony allows people to bypass state-sponsored idealogies without overtly rebelling. It is a form of semantic indirection that creates a protective cushion around overt declarations.State-sponsored technologies of hegemony (social control by manipulating culture) are left intact, but people become bilingual, adept at reading two codes, the text and the subtext. In other words, they become masters at establishing distance and reworking signifiers and signifieds into new configurations. Irony allows people to acquire semiotic power when other means to accessing power are blocked. Are you a fan of irony? I dont mean fake hipster irony like buying a vintage Capn Crunch t-shirt at Old Navy even though you werent allowed to and dont eat sugar cereals now. I mean real, life-puts-it- in- front-of-you-and-begs-you-to-make-sense-of-it irony. (http://just- startkidsandschools.com/2013/07/15/inspired-by-irony/; consult )http://just- startkidsandschools.com/2013/07/15/inspired-by-irony/ Postmodern space and its ironies: As semiotic distances between signified and signifier increase, political and spatial distances decrease with globalisation. These ads play on opposition: text and subtext, interior semiotic space and exterior uncontrolled semiotic space, the subject as a consuming commodity and the subject as master of an imaginary space. This is not new as such, but there recycled aspect of their components heightens the uncertainty and therefore the irony. These images are self- referential, which is possible only when the distance between signifier and signified is wide enough so that a signifer apparently floats freely, without a direct connection to its signified. The link between image and sign is no longer by defined by its semantic content. Before, the semantic load of a sign limited how it could be linked to other signs. Before, all conversations between people and signs were guided or controlled by these limits. Now, irony and individual narratives emerge when the distance between the object and its representation surpasses the symbolic capacity of the metaphor. See Linda Hutcheon, Ironys Edge, Routledge, 1994. Irony (and distance) in pop culture emerges with Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, The ironic uniforms (a nod to militarism) are reinforced by the contrast between the traditional music suggested by the title and the innovative content of the album, not to mention the many pop culture references that are recycled: Jung to Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas to Freud, Lewis Carroll to Einstein. The unusual and unexpected combinations and the ambiguity of the Beatles lyrics explicitly invite the question: what are the hidden messages? Reading these becomes a pop culture industry: referencing. Standard approaches are still about semantics (the product) product-centered approaches seek to embed the phenomenon within the context of global product networks and commodity biographies, shifting the focus from persons (consumers, producers) to worldly things, worldly because they are both physically present here and now and yet bear traces of their simultaneous existence elsewhere, over and beyond ones immediate horizons (Foster 2008, p. xvii), allowing the often incommensurable perspectives of diverse agents (brand producers and consumers) to be treated within a single framework (Paul Manning, The Semiotics of Brand, Annu. Rev. Anthropol :3349, p.41). Brands, does not function to identify the true origin of goods. It functions to obscure that origin, to cover it with a myth of origin (B. Beebe, The semiotic account of trademark doctrine and trad