Carri Munden, the designer behind the avant garde streetwear brand Cassette Playa, writes a weekly blog for Vice Style and she recently talked about visiting New York City and seeing the Cindy Sherman Retrospective at MOMA. Munden discussed at length the impact Sherman has had not only on her own perspective on culture, but also the arts in general. So much of Sherman’s work is concerned with the idea of persona and a chameleonic identity that can be completely changed and altered through makeup, fashion, and specific stylistic cues. Sherman’s use of photography has anticipated so many different cultural trends and movements, including the ever-changing culture of the online world.
Munden’s blog sets up an almost linear evolution of both Sherman’s work over the years and how its influence has predicted different facets of the arts. From the ganguro trend of Japanese street culture where girls tan their skin and dye their hair blonde as an exaggerated version of common hip hop tropes, to Ryan Trecartin’s absurdly decorated, but oddly contemporary caricatures in his films that embody post-human persona and identity transformations. Even Tumblr culture stars like Molly Soda and bon vivant Lady Gaga are also referenced in retaining at least some her influence. Whether or not it’s purposeful they definitely both owe something to Sherman’s aesthetic, where both Tumblr and Gaga have a distinct focus on transformation, cultural identity, and the ability to utilize culture to create and elaborate on an infinite number of personas.
Munden’s own aesthetic for her label Cassette Playa also completely embodies Sherman’s idea of modern day dress up and subverting fashion and design culture to create any persona you can conjure up. Cassette Playa’s clothing is very often a complex pastiche of some of the best in vintage and one-off fashion trends completely altered into a one of a kind style that simultaneously encompasses familiar trends of the past while evoking an entirely alien futuristic feel.
One of the most prevalent examples of Sherman’s influence really lies in the world of Tumblr culture and online personas. So much of her vantage point and aesthetic is found in the creation of characters through makeup, fashion, and design which seamlessly translates to the current world of Social Media. Sherman creates these photographs to comment on what encompasses identity and how easily we can be manipulated through how culture is presented, which is exactly what’s become commonplace on Tumbler and Social Media in general. As Munden puts it Sherman basically invented the GPOY, or “Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself”, except her photos are purposefully imitating cultural norms and satirizing their aesthetic and expectations, while the current version achieves the same effect without actually realizing it’s become a parody of itself.
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?
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.
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-ironicclothing; 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.
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’sG.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?
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.
For the majority of teens and the Millennial generation that has grown up online the concept of Internet fame has become such a normal and conventional idea that it’s almost become part of their collective identity. Beyond their intended practical use, social media platforms are now commonly utilized as a means for teens to attain Internet fame while simultaneously expanding and reshaping their own real life identity. Online fame has become such a realistic and achievable idea for teens because they have so much free time to spend online and expand their web presence.
The virtual world of social media and new web culture gives teens an even playing field in a real world where they’re often not given the chance to be seen as equal in an adult dominated landscape. What’s so interesting about this concept is that due to their experimental nature, endless free time, and the rapid expansion of new technology, teens and Millennials have become the real innovators in a world that’s sometimes filled with stodgy, archaic ideas.
Especially with the proliferation of reality show culture and competition shows like American Idol, the ancient American ideal of passion and hard work equals success has been reinterpreted for the Millennial generation who have grown up with new web culture, and this mentality is seamlessly translated to their online presence. Instead of contacting record labels and casting agents teens are posting themselves singing covers on Youtube or self releasing albums through Bandcamp where they can build up a fanbase before deciding to reach out to real world venues. Their fervent online presence and ability to quickly learn new technology has given them an unprecedented advantage in a world where their older counterparts are frequently left in the dust.
Molly Soda has become one of the first breakout stars of Tumblr for her innovative aesthetic, laissez-faire attitude, and an overall decidedly new web mentality. She personifies the modern model of Internet fame and what’s so interesting about her is that exactly what she does or what she’s famous for isn’t always easy to discern. She’s an artist, a filmmaker, and a lot of what she does online (and basically what a lot of Internet famous people do online) is kind of just hanging out while posting media on her Tumblr and videos to her YouTube and Vimeo. For a lot people and especially those who are unfamiliar with Internet culture the distinction of what makes Molly Soda interesting vs. her thousands of similar counterparts is exactly what makes Internet fame so intangible and simultaneously sought after.
What Ms. Soda and tons of other Internet celebs encompasses is a very abstract almost minimalist perspective. It’s not that she posts Rothko or animated Mondrian gifs on her Tumblr, it’s that exactly why she’s famous or what she does is hard to articulate in a concrete sense that equates with real world fame. A vast of amount of the new web culture, especially what’s on Tumblr, is very dada esque in its application of a definitive vantage point. That’s one of the aspects that’s so appealing to Millennial Internet users and what’s simultaneously so confusing for anyone out of the loop; these new web platforms constantly reinterpret and perpetuate tons of different and innovative cultural perspectives, sometimes all at the same time, and with little to no explanation given for their creative origin.
That’s why a conventional ad agency or marketing group would have such a hard time trying to gauge the exact variables that need to be in place for Internet fame to happen. A lot of the output of the new Internet famous elicits an intangible visceral feeling that can’t be quantified or placed into a marketing equation, and the more culture evolves and changes the more this will become a common everyday occurrence. There’s always going to be a discernible level of internet fame within the mainstream that might be easier to quantify, but the real origins of most cultural movements and seismic shifts usually start with the cutting edge and next level artists in their respective fields.
As new web culture evolves so will the standards by which we gauge exactly how Internet fame is defined, but for right now, the most interesting and otherworldly Internet famous are either fly by night memes or carefully calculated creative endeavors that pull from the history of popular culture to mutate and transform everything in their path until the final product becomes unidentifiable and at the same time distinctly familiar.
The idea of an online persona has become so commonplace that it’s almost easy to forget how recent of a concept it really is. Over the last few years Facebook, Tumblr and other sites have become the go to platforms for teens and Millennials to seamlessly merge their real lives into an online persona that’s equal parts reality mixed with a good helping of hyperbole. Online personas and avatars have become a normal and conventional part of a social media presence where people can easily elaborate on their real world identity while creating a new amalgam where your real life becomes part of a virtual world.
Part of this phenomenon comes from the normalcy most teens feel when going online. They don’t really see any separation between the real world and social media and they view their online profiles as merely an extension of their actual personalities. If you literally grow up within Internet culture then it never really seems false or inorganic; it just becomes another layer of your actual life. Some people take this concept further and create online personas for themselves where they can evolve into any idea they want and shape and mold each and every variable that personifies their online presence.
With the Internet and especially the evolution of new web culture an online persona is easily attainable for anyone that wants to participate. You can create a multifaceted presence within social media by incorporating different elements of your persona through the various online platforms. You can tweet about your avatar’s daily minutia, you can post pics of yourself and your scope of influences on your Tumblr, you can post webcam snapshots or entire vids on your vimeo or Youtube while personally interacting as your persona on your Facebook wall. Each platform becomes another layer of your avatar that eventually accumulates and begins to personify your entire “brand” as a whole.
That’s almost what these avatars turn into, depending on the extent someone wants to get involved or what they’re attempting to accomplish with their persona. Dracula in Dior is a blog that covers current fashion trends from the perspective of a fashion obsessed vampire. Although it’s a persona that’s slightly less real world accented then some other examples, its still exemplifies the infinite possibilities one can incorporate when developing their own persona, avatar, or online brand
Molly Soda has definitely become one of the standout stars of the new web Tumblr era, and her brand has become really well represented through every online platform, eventually leading to physical press like her interview in the underground culture magazine SuperSuper. There’s numerous examples of people that develop an online persona for themselves, whether purposefully or letting it organically evolve over time, which could potentially become as influential for others as some of their own personal persona influences.
That’s another aspect that’s so interesting about the phenomenon of social media avatars. It’s still such a new concept that’s its evolving everyday and someone could start a Tumblr based on aspects of the avatars of other personas and if they’re innovative and standout enough their own “avatar” could eventually come to influence others, and the process and culture would keep evolving and changing from there.
That’s what’s so intriguing for the current crop of tweens, teens, and other Millennials that spend a majority of their waking hours online. Within a certain extent you really can be anything you want online. Sometimes when reality interferes with this concept as in the “documentary” Catfishthe results aren’t exactly what’s initially expected, but for the most part developing your own persona or avatar online in the context of creative pursuits only serves to expand your brand and the extent of your creative possibilities.
A lot of people’s online personas incorporate aspects of their real life personality but they expand upon them to include qualities people might feel their lacking or wish they had in real life. That’s why so much of this new culture is so attractive for tweens, teens, and almost anyone who’s grown up or to a certain was extent raised by the Internet. You can be anything online you can dream up and it doesn’t matter which aspects are real or which are hyperbole; they all eventually coalesce into an amorphous mush that’s one part organism and one part entirely virtual until the two are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
I’m so happy to share with you my new project Pluggedin! Pluggedin is a new web series where we invite our colleagues to debate digital platforms, relevant issues and new technologies affecting the New Media landscape. The audience decides the winner, and the winner gets a 30 second video plugging anyone or anything they like courtesy of thenewpop.com. Pluggedin is shot entirely on laptop cameras using Google + Hangouts. It definitely looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before!
In this week’s pilot episode we’re debating WordPress vs. Tumblr and which is the better blogging platform.Everyone has their own reasons for liking one platform over the other and our guests make great cases for each, and your vote determines the winner.
Which platform do you prefer? Tweet your comments @pluggedin_tv – The person with the most @ tweets will appear as a guest on an upcoming episode. This week’s featured panel of debaters include:
One of the things the Internet has accomplished more then any other medium is the extent of interactivity possible. Almost every other medium elicits a passive process where we ingest visual or audio content but it doesn’t usually allow us to alter or change it. The Internet and the rapid expansion of technology has truly created an almost universal remix culture that has increasingly become more interactive and easier to accomplish as time goes on. Literally the same week a rap album comes out the chopped & screwed version pops up on YouTube and mixtape sites, sometimes even with more acclaim then the original. YouTube itself is literally overflowing with every type of “remix” you can fathom, from Funny or Die esque meme parodies, to video mashups and collages that could span 50 years of visuals in 3 minutes. The more technology advances, the more established and advanced this remix culture becomes.
The interactive element of the Internet is one of the main reasons people are so attracted to it. Television, films, and to a lesser extent music has always been almost entirely passive mediums where the viewer is never allowed to alter any aspect of the original content. Before digital audio software became so affordable and easy to use, even music remixes were relegated to professional musicians or at least serious music hobbyists. Now because of the way culture exists on the Internet the passive nature of all these mediums has become completely reversed. Not only do some companies and artists encourage interpretations of their creative output, but some aspects of culture are entirely based on this concept.
Rap music is probably the genre most associated with the remix. It’s literally the only genre based on sampling, which is inherently a version of remixing. The earliest rap songs from the late 70s were for the most part based on breakbeats from disco records, and from then on rap culture has engulfed every other genre into a seamless melange that sounds distinctly like itself while still resembling aspects of every genre it’s based on. The Internet has created an environment for every single medium that rap could only achieve with music. Now instead of sampling old funk or some obscure idm record, people sample TV shows, movies, webcam snippets, images; literally anything that can be replicated and reproduced in byte form.
One of the most widespread current trends within remix culture is the new-web Tumblr aesthetic. Tumblrs are very similar to a concept of a blog minus the inherent structure and organization that comes with regular blogging. When a Tumblr is really executed well it’s a perfect pastiche of anything and everything you can imagine, very often with little to no explanation of the context or an inferred cultural message. Very often you’ll see YouTube clips next to a soundcloud demo underneath some 70s fashion advert and then a collage of webcam images superimposed over the exact time stamped dialogue of the webcam exchange.
That’s why the Tumblr aesthetic is such a great example of the new remix culture and the almost universal sampling that takes place in every facet of the web. They encompass everything the author is thinking about or wants to think about all in one place without needing to be placed within the canon or properly contextualized for the audience. I think that’s one reason Tumblrs and remix culture in general is so attractive to the web audience; people don’t need or want to have these cultural mashups explained to them and its possible the explanation might even ruin some of the mystique behind them. Just like a song or film or piece of art that you might enjoy on a visceral level, sometimes the unanswered questions that Tumblrs often propose are the most exciting and innovative aspects about them.
Another facet of the new-web remix culture is defintely video collages, and the homemade music videos that currently populate YouTube. Video collages are new videos specifically cobbled together from the remnents of old clips, whether they’re derived from dusty VHS tapes, a DVR archive, or even old scratchy Super 8 transfers. Video collages are one of the best examples of the current remix culture and a definitive cousin / accompaniment to the Tumblr aesthetic. Video collages have almost become the defacto visual element for the qusasi-nostalgic aesthetic of certain Internet based music genres, especially the tongue in cheek “chillwave” and some dream pop (or even dreamwave) and ambient electronic sub-genres.
That’s what the new-web culture has become; people that sample sounds from old songs and then make a video for their track sampling old videos they found in a thrift store or even some rubbish bin. The new remix culture is creating an entirely new medium based on the detritus of the old. Even record labels and media conglomerates can benefit from this recent massive trend of remix culture. By letting people put their own spin on a record label’s hit single or maybe even remix a television skit or commercial, it gives them a more direct and personal relationship with the media that’s impossible to create from passive participation.
Instead of thinking about remix culture and audience reinterpretations of media as a threat to the original concept, some companies can actually benefit from these ideas and very often people will develop a much deeper and more visceral appreciation for the media by personally interacting with it. Remix culture provides a level of interactivity that can potentially benefit everyone that’s involved, but most importantly it helps to advance and perpetuate the experimental nature of creative mediums which has become one of the most important tenets of new-web culture and the Internet as a whole.