Welcome Back From Where-Ever Your Summer Journeys Took You

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The above image was shared with me by a reader, Robert Spadoni, who spotted this mural outside Gap, Arizona, while driving with his family across the American west. Robert shared the following story:

We hadn’t seen a business or residence for a couple of hours at least, and hardly any cars. We pulled over to change drivers, and for no reason, just to be goofy, I pulled way in to the edge of this gigantic deserted turnout on the side of the road, right up to this empty structure. I’m a huge fan of the Original Series of Star Trek, and my 12 year old exclaimed, “The Star Trek symbol!” I was getting ready to say something like, “Yeah, It DOES kinda look like that,” when I looked up. Apparently, from my searches, this mural is below the radar even of Google—I didn’t think there was anything left that was.

 

Robert asked me to share a few thoughts. For me, this is a great example of the ways that each of us construct our own personal mythology from the culture around us, increasingly mixing and matching elements that have very distinctive histories and meanings. I suppose you could call this “postmodern,” since it reflects the breaking down of traditional kinds of fixed social identities and coherent cultural narratives, in favor of a process of continuous self-fashioning and ongoing appropriation and remixing. The result can be surprising juxtapositions of images and meanings. And on one level, what we see here — without knowing anything beyond what Robert shares — can seem idiosyncratic, highly personal, perhaps undecipherable to someone not on the same wave length with the artist. Someone like Frederic Jameson might talk about this in terms of the flattening of affect and the implosion of meaning, but I don’t think either is what is going on here — certainly not for the original artist and not to Robert, his family, or myself. We recognize the icons being deployed here; we understand some possible meanings for them, and if anything, there is too much meaning here for us to put easily into words.

At a most basic level, the image bridges between “Space, the final frontier” and the kinds of frontier imagery we associate with the American west. Yet, what is striking to me is the way that the Star Trek images are mapped not onto the rootless cowboy moving endlessly across the western badlands, but rather onto images associated with native Americans. Just as we’ve seen the emergence of Afro-Futurism which uses the juxtaposition of science fiction imagery with historic experiences of race, we have seen First Nation people all over the planet embrace images from science fiction as a means of inserting themselves into our imaginings of the future, as a way of signaling that their culture may be traditional but that it is not stuck in the past, that they will carry their traditions with them into the future. I have no way of knowing here whether the artist is native American or appropriating native American images for his or her own purposes, opening up some tensions around what we see as appropriate or inappropriate forms of appropriation. Even in an era of remix culture, as we discuss in my Reading in a Participatory Culture book, there are power relations such that the appropriation of minority identities and expressions by dominant groups have different political meanings than the appropriation of majority cultures by minority communities. (We might think about this image in relation to the character of Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager, a character who was variously read in terms of expanding representations within a multicultural narrative or in terms of the exploitation of stereotypes about tribal communities in ways that did not necessarily speak to how First Nation peoples understand themselves and their own cultural experiences.)

And part of what I find compelling about Robert’s image and story is that we don’t have any answers about who the author is, what motivated them to produce this mural, and in what ways they are seeking to make meaning of the relationship between Star Trek and Native American cultural traditions.

I am sharing this image (and my speculations about it) today as a signal that the blog is back up after my typical summer hiatus. I’ve had a very productive summer, which has included so far, the completion of my next book, By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics, which we sent off to be peer reviewed a few weeks ago and which we hope will come out in the not-too-distant future. I’ve also made significant progress on several other fronts, including a new essay on the current state of fandom studies, which will be published in the Journal of Fandom Studies; an essay on the history of aesthetic experimentation that has surrounded Daredevil in the Marvel universe; a collaborative essay on the many different political uses that have been made of the Superhero in recent years;  and some early work on a new project — a series of critical essays on 9 different contemporary graphic novelists. So, I may not be coming back from the break rested, but I do come back with a strong sense of accomplishment and a determination to hit the deck running as we move into the new academic year.

We have a great line-up of interviews for the coming term, which I will start sharing in just a few days.

The World is Yours: A Film About Hip Hop and the Internet

Marguerite de Bourgoing was among the first students I got to know when I arrived at USC, and she has been blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2010, I featured on the blog her grassroots media franchise, LAstereo.tv, which deploys YouTube and social network sites to showcase the Los Angeles hip hop scene.  At the time, I wrote, “de Bourgoing represents the Trojan spirit at its best — a social and cultural entrepreneur who is taking what she’s learned as a media maker and deploying it to serve her larger community.” SInce then, she’s taken this work much further, producing a documentary exploring the roles which new media has played in building and promoting contemporary hip hop culture, and she asked if I’d be willing to share a progress report with my readers, since she’s currently running a Kickstarter campaign to push this project even further. So what follows is her account of what she’s trying to do and why it matters. Full disclosure: I am one of the talking heads included in the film (even though I know less about hip hop than the average bear). She is collaborating on the film with my colleague, Taj Frazier,  from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, a gifted scholar whose work touches on the politics of race, globalization, sports, and popular music.

The World is Yours: A Film About Hip Hop and the Internet
by Marguerite de Bourgoing

The World Is Yours  looks at the web 2.0 revolution by following the rise of hip-hop artists. In these times of disruption, we face both angst and great opportunities–depending on your viewpoint and how you address it. Hip hop has always been ahead of the curve in technology, and its underground culture is bypassing the mainstream again. The words “the world is yours” were first immortalized by Shakespeare: “Why, then, the world’s mine oyster, which I with a sword will open.” Hip hop’s take echoes the engrained DIY ethos that has made it the most influential culture of the last 40 years and taken it from rags to riches.

Thanks to social media, today these words make even more sense: one can now access the world through one’s own perspective and interests and eschew the uniform vision constructed by the media. Spheres of influences are spreading and multiplying. Young hip-hop artists are creating their own movements and communicating directly to their fans without taking the traditional PR route. These young artists have re-appropriated the idea that it is better to make yourself discoverable than to be discovered.

The World is Yours probes the most innovative and enterprising of these artists. It focuses in particular on three different movements that have each been seminal in the recent changes that occurred in hip-hop and what those changes mean for the music industry.

Shooting star Wiz Khalifa went from being dropped by major label Warner Bros to becoming the biggest hip-hop breakthrough artist of 2011 with the massive international hit “Black & Yellow” — all thanks to the support of his fans, the “Taylor Gang.” He shows us why radio isn’t the be all end all for a rising artist, and how it’s essential to build a buzz on your own. Today he is one of America’s biggest stars.

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​Wiz Khalifa Pic: Kasey Stokes/ LA Stereo TV

Lil Bs bizarre creativity set a new precedent in the amount of music released by one artist in a short timespan. A marketing genius who does it all on his own, Lil B has been setting trends in style, fashion, music, and new producers ever since his first viral hit “Vans” in 2007 with Bay Area group The Pack. Since going solo, he has developed a strong cult following around his alter-ego, the BasedGod, which is cultivated through social media twenty-two hours a day. (see clip below)

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Lil B Pic: Kasey Stokes/ LA Stereo TV

Finally, media darlings Odd Future took the music industry by storm becoming the first DIY evangelists of this hip-hop generation, doing all production,  graphics and videos by themselves. We focus on their sound mixing engineer/dj/producer/singer Syd the Kyd, the only woman of the collective and one of the group’s pillars, whose homemade studio enabled the artists to created a cohesive sound before catching everyone else’s attention.

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​Odd Future Pic: Julian Berman

The Internet is giving birth to a new face of hip-hop, introducing artists who less than five years ago would have never been given a chance of making it as a rap artist. There is more diversity than ever in the new hip-hop landscape. Queens born Albanian chef Action Bronson raps about foodChildish Gambino is stand-up comedian Donald Glover, Iggy Azalea is a white Australian woman, Detroit’s Danny Brown was turned down by 50 Cent for wearing skinny jeans,  and Harlem-born rapper Asap Rocky takes inspiration from Houston. These are just a few examples of new artists who all owe their careers to the internet. New models are being created: Chance the Rapper collaborated with Justin Bieber on the strength of his free album Mac Miller has his own series on MTV, Macklemore was the first independent act in years to have several hit songs on the radio.

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​Thank you Based God or #TYBG – an ode to Lil B- is one of the biggest long running internet memes

In the film, we talk with the people who have identified those cultural shifts along the way (like Henry Jenkins!) as well as people who contributed to those changes. We focus on key moments like the closing of hip-hop record store Fat Beats, or the making of multi-million dollar rap lyrics website Rap Genius. We look at how this movement fits in the history of hip-hop and the recording music industry.  From the fans’ perspective on some of their favorite artists, to the camaraderie of The Foreign Exchange, the multimedia vision of a QD3 and the birth of a new music group The Internet composed of Odd Future’s Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians, the film offers offers unique point of views documented over several years.

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​The closing of Fat Beats Pic: Kasey Stokes/ LA Stereo TV

The World Is yours is the ultimate guide on how to navigate the digital era today.  One tweet, Vine, and Instagram post at a time, these artists and their communities are redefining the media landscape and pointing to the opportunities brought by these changes. This film is a reminder to think outside the box and cut new paths made possible by technology. The World Is Yours and everything in it if you get up and get it.
To find out how you can help and be in the film, check out our Kickstarter campaign.
The following clip is a excerpt of an abridged version of the film that just aired in France on France O that features artists rapper Lil B. We are working on getting the film out in the US.