May 17, 2014

On Jaimie Baron's Discussion of (In)appropriation

Jamie Baron's Skype session with our class on April 9, 2014 raised some pertinent questions about the proliferation of appropriative film culture: When something is being repurposed, at what point does "past" become "history"? How much time needs to go by before it is acceptable to repurpose various forms of multimedia? As Baron's selections from past years of her 2009-founded Festival of (In)appropriation demonstrate, these questions can be answered and explored, from a curatorial perspective, in more ways than one. 

One standout selection from the festival's 2009 inaugural line-up was Tasman Richardson's The Game (2007), which is described in a director's statement from Richardson as follows: "A world of remote control warfare, hyper-reality, and military crafted video games for recruitment. Emilio Estevez, Matthew Broderick and even Burroughs join in. All edits are strictly JAWA style, a.k.a. what you see is what you hear and the edits are 100% responsible for the rhythm and melody. Nothing added and nothing synched. Most importantly, this is done entirely with manual cut and paste and layering. No triggers, no shortcuts. Pure JAWA." Richardson's emphasis on his own self-designed JAWA style, which is concerned primarily with direct audio-visual connections between repurposed source materials, implicates his 3 minute and 53 second short in a greater, more sweeping discourse about mash-ups, remixes and other forms of media appropriation that Baron's festival incites. 

That the name JAWA, in and of itself, constitutes an act of appropriation (being derived from that of the creatures of George Lucas' Star Wars, whose mode of survival is the re-wiring of old forms of technology) is perhaps what Baron deemed especially fitting for our class's entry point into the mission and vision of the festival. Furthermore, the film aligns itself with young characters (Emilio Estevez's J.J. Cooney and Matthew Broderick's David Lightman) whose respective films (Nightmares [1983] and WarGames [1983]) situate them in a world in which the emergence of new technologies carries many social and political implications. Baron's choice of The Game underscores a thematic tension between the film's appropriation of source material of and/or about the innocuous-seeming subculture of video gaming and its appropriation of clips depicting the markedly more serious events of military combat and training. The film's (in)appropriation, then, might be determined by the extent to which Richardson chooses to suggest that the two aforementioned appropriated materials are inherently linked. The Cold War commentary of a film like WarGames, here, seems hardly incidental, given the context Richardson and Baron's festival has afforded audiences.

Because Nightmares and WarGames are reflective of an era that made spectacle of now laughably outdated technologies (such as the IMSAI micro-computer), Richardson's recontextualization of their audio-visual components allows for a satirical critique on the trivialization of real world warfare by foregrounding their retroness. Blips, bleeps and other dated computerized noises comprise the rhythmic thrust of the film, and answer the question posed in my opening observations thusly: past becomes history when time has rendered its mass media fit for aestheticization, and, in turn, criticism. 

Baron's festival and her discussion of the wide-ranging implications one can derive from the ambiguous term, (in)appropriation, put the spotlight on a subculture essential to the analytic and artistic progression of post-modernist aesthetics. With the curatorial efforts of Baron, Lauren Berliner, and Greg Cohen, a vital friction, between old media and fresh perspectives imparted upon said media to shape and reshape its myriad meanings, is made increasingly apparent. 

Maxwell L. Weinstein

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