Command C, Command V, Command Shift V

Posted on Sep 8, 2013 in Audio Visual
Command C, Command V, Command Shift V

I once tried to get a student ID using some Warhol drag photos from the 80s… (that’s right, it didn’t work)

…and other thoughts on influence/appropriation/allegory in:

  • Johnathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Harper’s Magazine, February 2007.
  • Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas, “On the Rights of Molotov Man,” Harper’s Magazine, February 2007.
  • Allergy to Originality, Drew Christie, New York Times “Op-Doc,” 6-31-2012.
  • “Embrace the ReMix,” Kirby Ferguson, TED, October 10, 2012.

[For the moment, I’ve a adopted conversational tone and a slightly stream of consciousness sentence structure. If this needs to be more academic, just let me know.]


There are some lovely moments in here and I’m fighting the grad-student urge to pick at gaps in their presentation. In general, we can say that each argues that the core creative act is ‘copy & manipulate,’ particularly within modern culture, circa 1700 to the present. And, in each, emblematic works, episodes, or extracts are presented to re-frame the issues of copyright and the context(s) in which it is evoked today. Most, minus Ferguson, enacted the practice that they preach within their piece or show samples of those sited ‘copies.’

As someone tenuously bridging between documentary/archival ‘cultures’ and synthetic presentation, the dialogic form of Joy and Susan’s piece struck me as raising the most (personally) relevant questions or problematics. Not that I don’t appreciate Lethem’s literary perspective, Christie’s explicit and embedded animation allusions, or Ferguson’s folk bi-ways, but I think the step beyond acknowledging repetition and copying, beyond the very primacy of pop in all avant-gardist experiements is understanding that we’ve not eliminated difference (or the problem of originality). The difference between Joy Garnett’s search for an aesthetic reaction  and Susan Meiselas’s notion of history and iconology (more than her legal rights) brings to the fore the question of how we treat our copying: It’s not just that we copy, but do we seek to acknowledge that we copy, to show how culturally constructed we/our affects/our encounters are?   To what end, amidst which cultural milieu and its genres/semiotics/standards of reflexivity do we choose to display those knowing repetitions?  Does that reflexivity inform how we test, play, improvise…

For me, its not commodity or property vs. culture that feels problematic but rather, a la Susan, the question of how to hold the memory of multiple contexts, media uses, and citations for an audience. Of course the avant-gardist, Brechtian idea of accentuating cultural framing, by repetition and disruption, is/can become a mere formalist device. Lethem, for example, wears his knowning copies on his arm (or well at end of his article) but for him there is  continuity in the copy; literary tradition grows out of iteration and thus he presents both a spectacle of his own Bourdieu-ian cultural capital while furthering the search for transcendent subjectivities and fighting stale property law. (I’ve got Lethem issues, particularly his reading of the avant-garde and his notion of the gift, but that’s a different story.)

For me, operating from architectural history and the digital humanities, it feels like the territory of copies and conditioning to be addressed is not just literal copies or copyright, but the audience’s ambient enculturations and habits, which are historical but not nearly so easily tarried with as objects… Perhaps another media theorist has said it better (if also with a tad of over-reach),

Isn’t the content of any media another media (and isn’t it all media in the end)?


To move beyond meta-remarks, I guess I’d be interested to chat about technique or style within these pieces: (specific questions will be posted as they occur to me…)


  • Why pencil and watercolor and not, as would’ve been clearly possible, grab and paste digital?
  • Are there certain animation-film allusions that only work across that distance or particular types of sound overlay that (say within conceptualism) usually lacked a ‘realist’ visual or video representation?
  • The ‘face-off’ alternation of speakers and ‘face-off’ of browsers; soap opera technique and/or commentary on audience engagement?

to be continued…


Maybe, the easiest way to explain how I see media, technique, and manipulation working in a culture of ‘copies’ is to look at specific and comparative detail. (That’s right, not even a re-mix, just a juxtaposition!) So, to that end I’ve tossed a pair of videos below that I think draws out the power of technique or style within the realm of citation and reiteration- Warhol’s deadpan, structuralist screen test of eating a hamburger- no pans, no zooms, no real soundtrack, no affect (beyond mild annoyance), no delight/disgust/or projective relation to his objects of consumption- i.e. a lovely Warholian, machinic evacuation of an everyday task. And in contrast, we have Leth’s white, european, anthropological gaze that mixes the 19th century human ‘type’ with a saturated, eroticized, postwar, consumer relation to subjects and objects – note how the male profile (with pipe at the beginning) clearly draws from a different notion of personhood than, say, the profile of the woman taking off her tights. With her upper body cropped out, she becomes a perfect Freudian part-object as we-as-the-camera focus and occupy the white, male, 1960s gaze of desire. I don’t want to pick on Leth for sexism, but rather just want to point how those Barthes-esque stagings of visual consumption work in contrast to the flat, square, alientating frame of Warhol.

With the meal, they are working on the same object; they are contemporaries both pulling from the same mass cultural soup. And yet, it is harder to imagine more disparate relationships with/to that act of consumption, crafted through physical/visual layering of types and affects of objectification. I won’t bore you with any deeper readings, but enjoy! (Warhol with Jorgen Leth? Eating a Hamburger and Jorgen Leth’s The Perfect Human, popularized by Lars Von Trier’s Five Obstructions)