MEMES & MASHUP THEMES

”Henry ( Jenkins ) argues that spreadability adds value to an idea by allowing the idea to inhabit different contexts. He states:
Rather than emphasizing the direct replication of “memes,” a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use.”

Ion Barladeanu, Romania, 1946 (submitted by Jimini Hignett) – Barladeanu lived in the garbage room of a block of flats where he made collages critical of the Ceausescu regime using images torn from old magazines until he was ‘discovered’ in 2008. Nowadays he lunches with Angelina Jolie in Paris.

Ion Barladeanu, Romania, 1946 (submitted by Jimini Hignett) – Barladeanu lived in the garbage room of a block of flats where he made collages critical of the Ceausescu regime using images torn from old magazines until he was ‘discovered’ in 2008. Nowadays he lunches with Angelina Jolie in Paris.

The internet age has matured to a stage where the digital subculture is the primary informer of the real world, or is approaching that critical juncture. Memes are the mechanism, and examining the idea of a ”meme” : a unit of cultural information; is important to elucidate in understanding what has curently been morphed into a period of digiral pastiche that has contributed to an art of appropriation and mash-up culture, which at first seem like absurd eccentricities and at a basic level are an illuminating insight of the fundamental surprising pleasure many can feel in reorganizing images.

Kurt Schwitters Das Undbild, 1919, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Kurt Schwitters Das Undbild, 1919, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

An encounter with memes is not new. It was well articulated  in Henry Jenkins’s white paper, If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead, written by Xiaochang Li and Ana Domb Krauskopf, with Joshua Green. On his blog, Henry briefly explains the history behind the idea of memes and its confusion with the buzzword “viral”:

Martha Rosler, Playboy, from series 1967-77

Martha Rosler, Playboy, from series 1967-77

”Talking about memes and viral media places an emphasis on the replication of the original idea, which fails to consider the everyday reality of communication — that ideas get transformed, repurposed, or distorted as they pass from hand to hand, a process which has been accelerated as we move into network culture. Arguably, those ideas which survive are those which can be most easily appropriated and reworked by a range of different communities. In focusing on the involuntary transmission of ideas by unaware consumers, these models allow advertisers and media producers to hold onto an inflated sense of their own power to shape the communication process, even as unruly behavior by consumers becomes a source of great anxiety within the media industry. A close look at particular examples of Internet “memes” or “viruses” highlight the ways they have mutated as they have traveled through an increasingly participatory culture.

Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger

Given these limitations, we are proposing an alternative model which we think better accounts for how and why media content circulates at the present time, the idea of spreadable media. A spreadable model emphasizes the activity of consumers — or what Grant McCracken calls “multipliers” — in shaping the circulation of media content, often expanding potential meanings and opening up brands to unanticipated new markets. Rather than emphasizing the direct replication of “memes,” a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use. This notion of spreadability is intended as a contrast to older models of stickiness which emphasize centralized control over distribution and attempts to maintain ‘purity’ of message.” ( Henry Jenkins )

John Heartfield. Berlin Dada

John Heartfield. Berlin Dada

However, I would point out that the replication and transformation of ideas are part of a dependent relationship that informs us as to the lifecycle of an idea; which is sometimes longer than we would assume. Radical social critique has a long history. Whether visual or digital, the appropriation of images is today one of the essential techniques of contemporary

and sometimes this transformation does not require radical reorganization either. The argument over digital mash-ups has an echo in the avant-garde art form of Picasso. When Picasso exhibited his neo-classically inspired pastiches at the Rosenberg Gallery in 1919, they were considered much too radical even for the most devout modernists, who considered the paintings a betrayal of the cubist project.

How the photomontage art of John Heartfield, a contemporary and friend of Brecht, warned the world of the rise of Hitler and Nazism. In the fight against sophisticated Nazi propaganda, Heartfield showed the Nazi regime in its true light. by R J Evans, May 10, 2009

How the photomontage art of John Heartfield, a contemporary and friend of Brecht, warned the world of the rise of Hitler and Nazism. In the fight against sophisticated Nazi propaganda, Heartfield showed the Nazi regime in its true light. by R J Evans, May 10, 2009

Dr. Susan Blackmore names the element of transmission shared by genes and memes: they both replicate with variations. Replication with variation is then how Richard Dawkins explains his concept of the evolution of culture, how ideas move, the meme: “The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”

The term ”meme” is worth embracing because its use particularly emphasizes the origins (past) and potentialities (future) of an idea. Understanding ideas as memes helps us construct family trees for those ideas, but it also helps us understand how we understand ideas, which is the ultimate ”meme” and the mother of all memes; Why is there something rather than nothing? However, it can be plausibly reasoned that the referential knowledge inherent to the subcultural network behind Internet memes allows for an increased understanding and application in new and different contexts, which at least makes the journey of why there is something greater than nothing at least compelling and, more often than not, wildly entertaining. This phenomenon of memes give a glimpse into how a form of order can emerge from nothing, or at least evolve rapidly from a negligible point of departure.

Pablo Picasso. Collage

Pablo Picasso. Collage

Many critical regards towards video memes are somewhat misinformed such as the original has been ripped-off and degraded and ”rights” have been superceded by hit and run digital ”vandals” and so on, to which there is a certain validity in taking something like ”Downfall” as a respectable film and transformed into what is perceived as a horrible one.  The mash-up Downfall videos comes from an evolutionary, memetic chain of similar videos, which place subtitles over the iconic scene from Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Der Untergang (Downfall; 2004), a film that depicts the last days of Adolf Hitler in Germany. The meme, however, evades the historically dramatic tone of the film in favor of a number of comedic situations. The succession of these videos has been dubbed The Hitler Meme (or “Hitler finds out”) in the Know Your Meme database.

”It is actually just a spin off of a meme that uses this clip from that movie, there are probably 30 or so different re-texts and mashups i’ve seen of this clip. The joke, i think, of the meme is that it never ever comes close to the German, nor is it ever supposed to, nor is the content really supposed to be evil or really related to the clip, it is a play of contrasts and a play of hyperbole. I think you hit it on the head, it is supposed to be contrary to intentions, that’s sort of its point. … however, i’m pretty sure that neither german, nor evil is supposed to be the point here.” ( Jeremy Hunsinger )

The origins and history of the Hitler Meme are fairly vague. The first iterations of the chain were tentative and used only English subtitles in subtle ways. The Der Untergang spoof started as a joke, like most Internet memes. And like most jokes, one must understand the references to comprehend the humor. However, as more and more Downfall videos were created, the joke evolved into a two-fold structure: the joke portrayed in the subtitles, and the video as a joke in itself. To exemplify the binary, two videos reveal a lot: Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live is currently the most-watched Hitler Meme video on YouTube, with over 3.5 million views; followed by the more recent What does Hitler think of the Downfall meme?, a meta-commentary on the Hitler Meme with a Hitler meme video as the initial joke begins spewing out differential equations of the original in increasingly abstract and refractory forms.

The Hitler Meme has already gained widespread attention, appearing for example in Wired Magazine, ”Hitler Remixes Are Big — on YouTube” and the New York Times ”The Hitler Meme”. But what value does it hold for us trying to understand the Internet’s influence on producers and consumers? That is, where is the money following and what is it following? The nature of what is being ”sold” is not that apparent.

First, we can look quickly at the appropriation of the footage from Der Untergang for a very different purpose. It might be understandable that these videos are instances of fair use, but according to the YouTomb archives, Hitler Memes have been removed from YouTube by Constantin Film Produktion GmbH over 50 times. Perhaps the uploaders of the parodies did not file DMCA counternotices, or there might be moral ambiguity in the fair use of this material; even though there seems to be a trend in online comedy toward associating humor with Hitler, typified by Godwin’s Law.

Second, even though “a dramatic recreation of Hitler’s last stand is not exactly a laugh-out-loud subject,” the director of the film, Oliver Hirschbiegel, has reacted to these fan(?)-producers of his work, positively. Very recently (15 Jaunary 2010), the Vulture section of New York Magazine Online reported that Hirschbiegel approves and supports these mashups of his film:
“Someone sends me the links every time there’s a new one,” says the director, on the phone from Vienna. “I think I’ve seen about 145 of them! Of course, I have to put the sound down when I watch. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I’m laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn’t get a better compliment as a director.

”What? They’re banning those videos? That’s the worst thing to happen to Youtube since they stopped allowing music videos to be shown in the UK! I think the Downfall parodies have actually done wonders for the film, I only heard about the film through the parodies myself. They’ve effectively brought the film itself a massive legion of fans, and are one of the best things to be on Youtube in a long time. I think Constantin are making a massive mistake, personally…”

”I’ll admit that I liked a lot of the videos on YouTube parodying Hitler in the the 2004 film, Downfall. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something hilarious about one of world’s most villainous tyrants throwing a hissy fit over banal pop culture events such as Tiger Woods’ affair, Susan Boyle and the Twilight DVD.

But, as many of you savvy news junkies out there already know, the film’s distributor, Constantin Film, asked YouTube to remove all Downfall parodies from the site. Many are still up, but it irks me that such a large film production company (or any company) is so completely dim that it would attempt to kill all viral content celebrating one of its products. Sure the videos are parodies, but they still have the potential of driving thousands of people to watch the original clip, if not the original film. How, in this Viral Age, can companies still think they can censor or destroy user-generated content online? ( Emory Cook )

The video-collage was great advertising for ”Downfall” which otherwise would have been completely unknown here. Many of the mash-ups were strikingly original; in each case it contrasted the silliness of everyday life with the most important moment of the modern era, the destruction of National Socialism. They represent a grand joke about the superficiality of our own time. It has also opened the door to parodies of other films like Twilight and other poor, mediocre or insulting productions that can be repaid in kind, leaving the initial joke and its subtleties lost .

”Apparently the peoples who do big screen movie parodies are planning to come out with a Twilight spoof.  Of all the movies in the past few years, ‘Twilight’ definitely deserves to be made fun of ruthlessly. I’ve never read a worse Young Adult novel series in my life, and I actually enjoy YA. Er, not that I read it all the way… I mean, um, I… skimmed it. Point is, they’re a little late, as the internet has already come out with a goldmine of ‘Twilight’ parodies”.

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