Is Repurposing Culture Really Accomplishing Anything New?

Drake looking all super warm and cozy

The Internet and especially new web culture have completely ushered in a new era of cultural reinterpretation and repurposing.  A large part of the underground artistic movements that are occurring online are sourced from previously existing culture.  The idea of sampling or remixing has become so commonplace for a net artist or a tech savvy Millennial, that sometimes no one stops to think if their reinterpretation is actually accomplishing something new.  There are definitely positive and negative attributes to this vantage point of creating new cultural models based on the old culture, but is this movement really benefiting the culture as a whole, or is it simply regurgitating the old principles without expanding on them?

Drake’s mad introspective Take Care album cover

The rapper / singer / former Degrassi maven Drake recently made an interesting statement on his blog about his decidedly negative outlook on the culture perpetuated by Tumblr:

“I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become. Because it like, it reminds me of those clique-y girls in high school that used to make fun of everyone and define what was cool, but in five years, when you all graduate, that shit doesn’t matter. No one gives a fuck about that shit. Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living. It scares me.”

Although Drake the musical artist has definitely had some backlash from the hip hop community for his Woody Allen-esque softly crooned testimonials, he definitely makes an astute point about the possible negative aspects that Tumblr culture creates.  A massive part of Tumblr are the Notes and Reblogging features that allow someone to grab content for their Tumblr without having to actually create any of it on their own.  It’s similar to someone curating an art show or a compilation where their keen eye is the only lens that creates the overall aesthetic of the package.  When a compilation, a mix, or an art show is put together well it really highlights the astute focus and necessary editing that goes hand in hand with a competent curator.  Within culture there’s a practical use for the curator, even with online culture, but what Drake mentions, and is definitely commonplace within some social media platforms, are the people who only create their brand through the culture and abstract identities of other brands and entities.

Hunting In Haute Couture via Everything Is Terrible!

The Internet and especially new web culture creates an atmosphere where the physical origin of this media becomes extremely secondary, and it’s really easy to forget that almost everything that exists online comes from the real world.  Besides of course CGI graphics created with computer programs or other forms of entirely computer created content, almost everything else existed in a physical version before it landed online.  Every single old press photo of embarrassingly dressed celebrities, magazine advertisements from the 70s, old TV show clips, Z-movies, ironic / un-ironic / post-ironic clothing; it all existed before the Internet and someone had to take the time and effort and their insightful aesthetic lens to actually archive or capture it to be preserved in the digital realm.  Besides for user created content, a large amount of the clips on YouTube are from dusty rundown VHS bungalows or someone’s grandma’s attic ensconced treasure chest.  It’s not that simply recycling this culture negatively impacts it, but it’s important to remember that the Internet is merely a point in its destination, but very often not the origin.

Nicki Minaj in Versace

Another tangent on the concept of repurposing culture are the recent influx of massively popular capsule collections that have popped up at H&M, Target, and other mass retailers.  A large portion of the interest for these collections is both the lower price point that allows the mass market to own a brand that might otherwise be out of their price range, and to also resurrect certain aesthetics and cultural motifs that otherwise would have slowly faded into obscurity.  One of the most recent collaborations that’s set to go on sale this week is H&M teaming up with Versace.  In a recent article on MTV.com both Nicki Minaj, Big Sean (a rapper on fellow fashion provocateur Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music record label), and Donatella Versace discussed why right now was the perfect time for a capsule collection at H&M:

Donatella could clearly sense nostalgia was in bloom. “It’s a moment that I felt was the right moment,” she said of launching the mass collection. “It’s a lot of requests for Versace iconic pieces like printed shirts, and everybody is doing homage to Versace so I decided to give them the real thing to H&M, to the kids!” she smiled.

What’s different about this concept is the culture is being repurposed and relaunched by the same person (or at least related to) that originated it.  As Nicki and Big Sean discuss in the article, there’s been a long standing love affair between the hip hop community and the Versace sense of gaudiness and absolutely outlandish ornate prints.  The Notorious B.I.G, famously referenced the label in the J.U.N.I.O.R. Mafia song “Get Money“ with the lyrics “My Moschino ho, my Versace hottie“ as well as him and P.Diddy garishly dancing around in matching Versace silk shirts in the video for the track “Hypnotize”.

P. Diddy and The Notorious B.I.G rocking Versace in their video for Hyptnotize

The real question though isn’t whether or not there’s an audience for this capsule collection, but is it really beneficial to the brand, the aesthetic, and the Versace legacy?  You can still find vintage Versace pieces on Ebay, Etsy, and other high end consignment shops, sometimes at a very similar price point to the new H&M collection, but is there some aspect of authenticity getting cleansed from history by reinterpreting your own landmark prints and aesthetic?  There’s a facet of it that’s almost nice of Donatella to dramatically decrease the price points of their staple Italy via Miami via Guido Renaissance prints, but as we’ve seen with similar capsule collections from Missoni, Vera Wang, Stella McCartney, and couture hologram himself Mr. Lagerfeld, the original price points are tripled and sometimes quadrupled in the resell market on Ebay and other sites.  Even though aesthetically the collection definitely maintains the original vision of the best Versace garments, doesn’t it make more sense to just buy an original vintage Versace piece instead of waiting all night in line to wail along with the throngs of agitated shoppers grabbing at racks of a derivative take on a classic fashion totem?

Vintage Versace Magazine Ads

More then anything there’s positive and negative aspects to cultural reinterpretation and repurposing.  A lot of it has to do with the intent and the overall contribution it’s making to the culture.  Even if someone curates their Tumblr with content solely created by other people, it’s still possible that their astute lens will positively accomplish a new vantage point or way of considering culture that wasn’t previously articulated.  It’s always important to remember that a large portion of Internet culture was harvested from physical artifacts, and someone somewhere had to put the effort and consideration in to archive and purposefully capture these items so they could live on in the digital cloud of perpetuity.  It’s not bad to repurpose and reinterpret as long as it’s expanding the culture instead of diluting and diminishing its original impact.

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