Monday, February 4, 2008

"Scorpio Rising", Avant-Garde, and Kitsch Culture

Re-visit Banes's discussion of Scorpio Rising and Greenberg's distinction between avant-garde and kitsch (p. 104-105). Why does she argue that the film is "neither fish nor fowl," meaning somewhere in-between avant-garde and kitsch?

"Kitsch," states Banes, "is the culture of consumption, easily digestible since it is already predigested..." By this note, Scorpio Rising can be said to be said to be partially kitsch, as it is offers a (relatively) linear narrative accompanied by thirteen popular songs from the era. By technicality, the film offers what most people desire out of a film: a story told through parameters understandable by most audiences with an appealing soundtrack. However, it isn't as simple as that. As Banes illustrates, the film's narrative is fragmented. While it does tell a story from beginning to end, it tells this story in a decidedly 'avant-garde' manner. By jumping between parallel actions, the gaps in time are hard to notice, but they are very much there.

In saying that the film is "neither fish nor fowl", Banes is not suggesting that Scorpio Rising is neither kitsch nor avant-garde, but rather both simultaneously. The film is avant-garde in its approach to kitsch. Scorpio Rising offers pop tunes, clips from biker movies, and all kinds of images from the pop culture of the time. In combining and assembling all of these pieces together, the film creates an new, alternative meaning. So by regurgitating pop culture at all, Greenberg might consider Scorpio Rising 'kitsch'. However, with the way in which Kenneth Anger meticulously edits his footage/music together, a new meaning emerges. So by utilizing kitsch culture to produce new art, Scorpio Rising can also be considered 'avant garde'. It is an imitation of kitsch in order to make a statement about it.

This notion of imitating and reconstructing popular culture lives on through not just film, but also digital media. The internet is littered, almost to the breaking point, with re-edits and fan-dubs, parodies, jokes, and all kinds of reworkings of what we consider pop culture. Through image editing and the addition of the "William Tell Overture", David Duchovny suddenly finds himself in a frenetic pie-eating contest. By looping a clip from a Betty Boop cartoon and adding a distinct piece of music, we find a walrus at a seafood buffet. Or, if you'd rather see Die Hard as a silent film, YouTube users will gladly oblige you.

But while the multitudes of internet users have embraced this culture of kitsch manipulation, a scant few have been able to transcend it and create something that might be considered 'avant garde'. This internet culture is, as Greenberg might put it, is "full of effects, rather than causes." This is true, as the end result of art is the inevitable imitation of it. Modern kitsch culture relies entirely on (relatively) high art from which to draw inspiration. Greenberg suggests that kitsch is the arena for which the masses can fight the elite culture. I think this is largely true. For all of its memes, jokes, and fan-dubs, little (if any) of what one might find on the internet would be considered art by anybody. So until the internet can produce a Scorpio Rising of its own, we'll just have to settle for flash cartoons.

No comments: