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Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can be used to make newcombinations. The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or thejuxtaposition of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements ofproduces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy. Anything can be used.[1]

“A User’s Guide to Détournement,” Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman (1956)

In 1958, the Situationist International (SI) defined détournement as “short for ‘détournement of preexisting artistic elements’ [and] the integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, only a situationist use of those means.” [2] In 1959, the SI defined détournement more concisely as “the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble.”[3] Insofar as this essay focuses on détournement and music videos, hypothetical examples could be combining footage from the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935) with Night Ranger’s Reagan-era arena-rock anthem “(You Can Still) Rock in America” (1983) or combining news footage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots with Miley Cyrus’s Obama-era hit “Party in the U.S.A.” (2009). The music video mashups posted by Bill McClintock on YouTube reuse two or more preexisting songs and video across popular music genres to construct a new ensemble that drastically reconfigures and radically subvert the source materials. By placing “two independent expressions” a relationship of “mutual interference,” these mashups apply the aesthetic and political goals of montage as defined by Sergei Eisenstein: “an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots –shots even opposite to one another...[the] popularized description of what happens as a blending has its share of responsibility for the popular misconception of the nature of montage.”[4]

“Walk Like an Angel of Death”

The more intriguing McClintock mashups are the ones that place the sources in collision for a humorous comical effect that is also politically disruptive. “Walk like an Angel of Death” is a mash-up of the Bangles’ “Walk like an Egyptian” (a song celebrating the adoption of a cultural fad) juxtaposed with Slayer’s “Angel of Death” (a graphic song about Auschwitz). “Walk like an Egyptian” serves as the base: a bouncy New Wave song that topped the singles charts in December 1986-January 1987 while the video entered heavy rotation on MTV. This is intercut with fragments of live footage of Slayer performing “Angel of Death” at Ozzfest in 1996. The sound and images incorporate lead vocals of verses, brief insertions of grinding guitar riffs, and an alternation of the guitar solos on the respective songs. It becomes a jarring indictment of mass culture by turning mass culture against itself. The Bangles and Slayer are mass culture in branded differently: New Wave can be found on one side of the aisle and heavy metal on the opposite. The montage is formed between the collision of the Bangles and Slayer. The Bangles sing about people smoking hookahs, kids roaming shopping malls, and cops eating donuts all finding common cultural ground “walking like Egyptians” alternating with Slayer vividly describing the horror of the Holocaust. This suggests Theodor W. Adorno’s attacks on mass culture serving authoritarian ends with inevitably catastrophic consequences.

“Use My Mouth for War”

McClintock’s mashup “Use My Mouth for War” juxtaposes Bill Wither’s R&B song “Use Me” with the lead vocal and official music video footage of Pantera’s groove metal classic “Mouth for War” and live footage of Ted Nugent playing parts of the guitar solo from his FM radio rock staple “Stranglehold.” In this mashup, the three central figures are Withers, an African-American soul performer; Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, the subject of past controversy over questionable statements concerning race[5]; and Nugent, the poster-boy of alt-Right rock and roll who once referred to Barack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” In this way, the mashup reveals the less-than-progressive potential of rock music in regard to race relations.

“Tropicana Death Ensemble”

Along these lines, yet even more ambitious, is McClintock’s mash-up “Tropical Death Ensemble.” The base is “Club Tropicana,” a pop-soul-Latin music hybrid by the British duo Wham! The détournement is accomplished through adding lead vocal tracks and video footage from Slayer’s “War Ensemble.” Moreover, the bridge of the mashup incorporates Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo and attending music video footage from Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” The outro of the mashup is a second guitar solo supplied by George Lynch along with the music video footage from Dokken’s “The Hunter.” There is a thematic trajectory of “War Ensemble” as a song about domination by any means necessary, “Hot for Teacher” a song about raging teenage male lust, and “The Hunter” about the perpetual quest of a man to satisfy carnal desires. The political effect becomes a hilarious study in popular music homoeroticism through the displays of heavy metal “manliness” set against the constant musical and recurring visual presence of Wham! There is the masculine aggression of Slayer. Eddie Van Halen and George Lynch exemplify the masturbatory excess of metal guitar solos, what Steve Waxman termed the electric guitar’s signification as a “technophallus.”[6] These moments are undergirded by the song’s campy “tropical pop” backing track. Gay icon George Michael showers and lounges poolside and on a beach in a Speedo; he is constructed as the not-at-all obscure object of desire.[7]

“66 Movie Dance Scene Mashup with ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake”

In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord emphasizes, “Détournement is the ANTITHESIS of quotation.”[8] Mashups that categorically fail are those where the referential and the reverential become one, such as “66 Movie Dance Scenes Mashup...” which effortlessly blends a “timeless” cultural experience. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Elvis Presley, The King and I, West Side Story, and Saturday Night Fever (among sixty other points of reference) coexist with Justin Timberlake, the present-day popstar. If détournement is the antithesis of quotation, in his own way Bill McClintock puts in praxis what Debord and Wolman theorized:

The appearance of new necessities outmodes previous “inspired” works. They become obstacles, dangerous habits. The point is not whether we like them or not. We have to move beyond them...It goes without saying that one is not limited to correct a work or to integrating fragments of out-of-date works into a new one; one can also alter the meaning of those fragments in any appropriate way...It is thus necessary to envision a serious-parodic stage where the accumulation of détourned elements, far from aiming to arouse indignation or laughter by alluding to some original work, will express our indifference towards a meaningless and forgotten original, and concern itself with rendering a certain sublimity.[9]

Author Biography

Doyle Greene is an independent scholar who was written several books and articles on cinema, popular music, and television. His primary area of interest is ideology critique of American popular culture and mass culture. He currently serves as a co-editor for Film Criticism.

Notes

    1. Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman, “A User’s Guide to Détournement,” in The Situationist International Anthology: Revised and Expanded Edition, ed. and trans. Ken Knapp (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2006), 15. return to text

    2. “Definitions,” Situationist International #1(1958): Knapp, 52. return to text

    3. “Détournement as Negation and Prelude,” Situationist International #3 (1959): Knapp, 67. return to text

    4. Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1977), 49. The first emphasis is added; the second emphasis is in the original text.return to text

    5. The “skinhead” image adopted by Anselmo at the time “Mouth of War” was released in 1994 also becomes problematic in the mashup.return to text

    6. Steve Waksman, Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 188: “The electric guitar as a technophallus represents a fusion of man and machine, an electric appendage that allowed [Jimi] Hendrix to display his musical prowess and, more symbolically, his sexual prowess. Through the medium of the electric guitar, Hendrix was able to transcend human potential in both musical and sexual terms. The dimension of exaggerated phallic display was complimented by the new sonic possibilities offered by the instrument, possibilities he employed with aggressive creativity. Hendrix’s achievement therefore rested on a combination of talent and technology in which the electric guitar allowed him to construct a superhuman persona founded on the display of musical and sexual mastery.” return to text

    7. George Michael did not come out as a gay man until 1998. In this context, the homoerotic subtext of the video for “Club Tropicana” (released in 1983) becomes much more visible in a revisionist reading. return to text

    8. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 145. The italics and capitalization are from the original text. return to text

    9. “A User’s Guide to Détournement,” 15-6. Italics added to denote the section reused in “Détournement as Negation and Prelude,” Situationist International #3 (1959): Knapp, 68. return to text