PC-zus 2.0

Link: alechemy.org/pczus

For my final project, I’ve chosen to revise my “unpaper” project, a stop-motion video critique of lyrics from Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo. Though I was happy with the visual and satirical aspects of my original short film, I felt the project demanded both a higher degree of user interactivity and a deeper investigation of the themes we’ve explored in this course.

In my revision, I’ve attempted to address both of these issues. Drawing on and developing my previously held skills in HTML and CSS while also gaining new proficiency in Javascript, I created a website that lets users hover over certain words from two of Kanye’s more troubling songs to reveal a text box with information on the background of the lyric. By contextualizing these lyrics both within Kanye’s discography and within the genre of hip-hop as a whole, I provide users with a better understanding of the trends and tropes that these lyrics figure into. Hovering over the word “bitch” on the first page, for example, shows both a picture of Kanye’s tweet defending his use of the term and a link to an essay tracing the history of the word and its entrance into nineties gangsta rap.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve implemented an interface that allows users to “re-write” Kanye’s these two lyrics by rearranging and editing the original contents. My intent here was to create an interactive playground where users can revise the lyrics to better reflect the values they hope the genre will someday uphold (while scrubbing away the ones it should have ditched a long time ago), thus presenting an idealized future for hip-hop. The overall effect, I’d like to think, is something akin to Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” which similarly invites readers to imagine a future where the boundaries between human and machine, and between male and female, have dissolved to form the cyborg, “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” (149). In the same vein, my project harnesses the power of imaginative fictions in the hope that they might eventually develop into fact.

Of course, any project that deals with censorship necessarily invites discussion of authorship, and of the author’s power over his/her own creations. By making new meanings of already-written works, users take on the new model of authorship – that of the consumer-producer or ‘prosumer’ – that Bruce Sterling proposes in his essay “The Death of the Author 2.0.” (Sterling). The “2.0” in Sterling’s title refers to Roland Barthe’s own seminal work (you can probably guess the title), wherein he argues that typical celebrations of the author as a cloistered genius free of societal influence ought to be abandoned in favor of a newly empowered reader; in other words, “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the author.” (Barthes 147.) I’d argue that a feminist reading of Barthes’ and Sterling’s essays is hardly out-of-reach here, considering that a dismantling of the idea of authorship simultaneously invites a deconstruction of (Western) ideals of the author – namely, that of the educated and powerful white man. This site thus displaces Kanye West’s authority – and more generally, male authority – over depictions of women in media, returning that power to its rightful spot in the hands of readers and consumers.

This project has been a unique challenge for my own feelings toward Kanye’s music (and the many, many hip-hop songs with similar content), since it can be difficult to reconcile my love for rap with my support for feminism. I’ve learned, though, that it is certainly possible to enjoy a work while also remaining intensely critical of it. In fact, I’d argue that the real danger of songs like Kanye’s are not simply that they exist, but that we so often accept them at face value as party anthems and background music. Though this route is undoubtedly the easier one, Londa Schiebinger’s chapter on the use of gendered metaphors and narratives in scientific research and their influence over subsequent work reminds us that the words we use have tremendous sway over the world they appear in (147-149). Lyrics – just like literature, art, and other media – deserve a critical eye, and this project is an effort to facilitate that very criticism.

 

Cited:

Barthes Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image / Music / Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-7. Web. 11 May 2016.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991, pp.149-181. Print.

Schiebinger, Londa L. Has Feminism Changed Science? Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999. Print.

Sterling, Bruce. “The Death of the Author 2.0.” Wired. Wired Magazine, 26 September 2007. Web. 11 May 2016.

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