Category Archives: back_to_the_future

if:book-back mountain: emergent deconstruction

It’s Oscar weekend, and everyone seems to be thinking and talking about movies, including myself. At the institute we often talk about the discourse afforded by changes in technology, and it seems to be apropos to take a look at new forms of discourse in area of movies. A month or so ago, I was sent the viral Internet link of the week. Someone made a parody of the Brokeback Mountain trailer by taking its soundtrack and tag lines and remixng them with scenes from the flight school action movie, Top Gun. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer are recast as gay lovers, misunderstood in the world of air to air combat. The technique of remixing a new trailer first appeared in 2005, with clips from the Shining recut as a romantic comedy to hilarious effect. With spot-on voiceover and Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” as music, it similarly circulated the Internet, while consuming office bandwidth. The first Brokeback parody is uncertain, however, it inspired the p2p/ mashup (although some purists question whether these trailers are true mashup) community to create dozens of trailers. Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times gives a very good overview of the phenomenon, including the depictions of Fight Club, Heat, Lord of the Rings, and Stars War as a gay love story.
Some spoofs work better than others. The more successful trailers establish the parallels between the loner hero archetype of film and the outsider qualities of gay life. For example, as noted by Heffernana, Brokeback Heat, with limited extra editing, transforms Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro from a detective and criminal into lovers, who wax philosophically on the intrinsic nature of their lives and their lack of desire to live another way. Or in Top Gun 2: Brokeback Squadron, Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer exist in their own hyper-masculine reality outside of the understanding of others, in particular their female romantic counterparts. In Back to the Future, the relationship of mentor and hero is reinterpreted as a cross generational romance. Lord of the Rings: Brokeback Mount Doom successfully captures the analogy between the perilous journey of the hero and the experience of the disenfranchised. Here, the quest of Sam and Frodo is inverted into the quest to find the love that dares not speak its name. The p2p/ mashup community had come to the same conclusion (to, at times, great comic effect) that the gay community arrived at long ago, that male bonding (and its Hollywood representation) has a homoerotic subtext.
The loner heros found in the the Brokeback Mountain remixes are of particular interest. Over time, the successful parodies deconstruct the Hollywood imagery of the hero, and subsequently distill the archetypes of cinema. This process of distillation identifies key elements of the male hero. The common traits of the hero being that he lies outside the mainstream, cannot fight his rebel “nature”, often uses the guidance of a mentor and must travel a perilous journey of self discovery all rise to the surface of these new media texts. The irony plays out, when their hyper-masculinity are juxtaposed next to identical references of the supposed taboo gay experience.
On the other hand, the Arrested Development version contains titles thanking the cast and producers of the cancelled series, clips of Jason Bateman’s television family suggesting his latent homosexuality, and the Brokeback Mountain theme music. The disparate pieces make less sense, rendering it ultimately less interesting as a whole. Likewise, Brokeback Ranger, a riff on Chuck Norris in the Walker, Texas Ranger television series, is a collection of clips of the Norris fighting and solving crimes, with the prerequisite music, and titles that describe Norris ironic superhuman abilities including dividing by zero. Again, the references are not of the hero archetype and the piece, although mildly humorous, has limited depth.
A potentially new form of discourse is being created, in which the archetypes of media text emerge from their repeated deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction. From these works, an understanding of the media text appears through an emergent deconstruction. In that, the individual efforts need not be conscious or even intended. Rather, the funniest and most compelling examples are the remixes which correctly identify and utilize the traditional conventions in the media text. Therefore, their success is directly correlated to their ability to correctly identify the archetype.
The users may not have prior knowledge of the ideas of the hero described by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Nor are they required to have read Umberto Eco’s deconstruction of James Bond, or Leslie Fiedler’s work on the homosexual subtext found in the novel. Further, each individual remix author does not need to set out to define the specific archetypes. What is most extraordinary is that their aggregate efforts gravitate towards the distilled archetype, in this case, the male bonding rituals of the hero in cinema. Some examples will miss the themes, which is inherent in all emergent systems. By the definition and nature of archetypes, the work that most resonate are the ones which most convincingly identify, reference, (and in this case, parody) the archetype. These analyses can be discovered by an individual, as Campbell, Eco, Jung and Fiedler did. Since their groundbreaking works, there is an abundance of deconstructing media text from the last fifty years. Here, the lack of intention, and the emergence of the archetypes through the aggregate is new. An important aspect of these aggregate analyses is that they could only come about through the wide availability of both access to the network and to digital video editing software.
At the institute, we expect that the dissemination of authoring tools and access to the network will lead to new forms of discourse and we look for occurrences of them. Emergent deconstruction is still in its early stages. I am excited by its prospects, but how far it can meaningfully grow is unclear. However, I do know that after watching thirty some versions of the Brokeback Mountain remixed trailers, I do not need to hear its moody theme music any more, but I suppose that is part of the process of emergent forms.