Jasmine Wee

Pulp Fiction: The Greatest Mashup Movie That Ever Was

There are few film directors who utilize existing cultural references and refer to them or patently copy them in their own work more so than Quintin Tarantino, and there are few movies from 20th century American cinema that embodies the concept of dialogism and intertextuality more so than Pulp Fiction. Although Kirby Ferguson argues in his online series Everything Is A Remix that everything created is, well, a remix or combination of what has pre-existed it, Tarantino’s works, especially Pulp Fiction (1994), features so many cultural references and parodies, both overt and covert, that it firmly belongs to the postmodern category of extreme remixing that is so prevalent in contemporary culture.

Pulp Fiction is a perfect embodiment of Bakhtin and Kristeva’s theories on dialogue and intertextuality; in fact, the film
Pulp Fiction 1994 movie poster. This poster pays tribute to 1940s/1950s film noir design elements, while Uma Thurman's haircut (distinctly 1920s) spawned hundreds of lookalikes.
(and those following it) probably took these ideas further than they could ever have imagined at the time of their writing. Bakhtin’s concept of Dialogism infers that expression and “word” (or "utterance") is something deeply embedded in a history of expressions created by preceding ideas. This idea is echoed by Kirby Ferguson’s videos, an example in itself of Dialogism as he basically rehashes Bakhtin’s idea. Bakhtin also addressed “addressivity” and “answerability”, in which a word or idea is addressed to someone, and can generate a response. For this reason, Bakhtin argues, all historical development (including political, economic and cultural) is inseparable from history. Kristeva expands upon Bakhtin’s Dialogism that all literature is in constant conversation with other forms of literature, further reasserting the notion that “no text, much as it might like to appear so, is original and unique-in-itself” (Graham Allen). Pulp Fiction is littered with puns, parodies and pop culture allusions, even references to religious texts, either recycled or changed slightly from the original concept or simply plagiarized, scene-by-scene, into Tarantino’s movie; he takes ideas from the 1930s up to the 1980s, covering everything from film noir (obviously) to spaghetti westerns to Japanese samurai flicks to Blaxploitation and everything in between; the cultural products which inspired him, of course, also derived from cultural products which preceded them. Unlike other directors who try to erase the mark of influence of predecessors, Tarantino embraces the act of appropriation. This complete acceptance of (and open admission to) appropriating established a new realm for American cinema. For this reason I dub Pulp Fiction "The Greatest Mashup Movie That Ever Was". It is possible (and likely) that other films have made use of the appropriation and remix technique more so than Tarantino, but they tried to make it appear less obvious. Of course, the viewer does not need to know all the “origins” of each character, each dialogue or each setting to fully grasp Tarantino’s movie (and arguably most viewers do not pick up on all the references), but it still manages to be enjoyable because Pulp Fiction combines all these pre-existing elements, some which people know are pre-existing and some they do not, and forms an heteroglossic, polyphonic mash-up of violence, sex, black humor and kitsch that somehow makes these “old” elements “new” and palatable to a movie audience circa 1994.

Many books and essays are devoted solely to cataloguing all the influences and origins of Pulp Fiction’s characters, plot, dialogue, and settings; Tarantino himself had been forthcoming of his “appropriation” of movies and TV shows for use in this movie:

Therefore, instead of reiterating what numerous essayists before me have said, I would like to use a personal example to demonstrate the omnipresent and recycled qualities of contemporary culture and media. Sometime in 2007, while casually browsing YouTube for interesting videos, I stumbled upon a video titled “Marcellus Wallace”. It is an animated typography short in which the creator recreates the famous “What does Marcellus Wallace look like?” scene using just text:

I found the video interesting and hilarious, but the catch is, I didn’t know anything about Pulp Fiction at the time. I've heard of the movie before, but the only Tarantino movie I had seen up till then was Kill Bill, and naturally I had no idea what the typography animation was alluding to, until I searched for “Marcellus Wallace” on Google and the film came up. Only after seeing the cultural product that derived from the original, did I go watch the original. This “reverse discovery”—seeking out the original only after seeing a spin-off of some form of it—is probably unfeasible only a decade earlier, when the Internet barely existed and cultural products were more difficult to share and diffuse across a singular platform. Of course, according to Bakhtin, Kristeva and Kirby Ferguson, “ripping off”, appropriating, adapting ideas and combining pre-existing inventions, whatever you want to call it, is nothing new. But now, in the 21st century, it is becoming ever more apparent that our entire contemporary culture is unoriginal: it is, inevitably, built upon something that had already existed.

Fast forward to early 2011. I switch on the television, and I see a trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2, with the Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It” playing in the background. It suddenly occurred to me that “Pump It” sounded very familiar to something else, and it took me less than five seconds to realize that “Pump It” heavily samples the theme song for Pulp Fiction.

Similarities between "Misirlou" and "Pump It": “Misirlou” by Dick Dale and His Del Tones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5OHrQYwRac

“Pump It” by Black Eyed Peas:

Lin Lu

This week’s reading provides me new theoretical models to reconsider patterns of remixed cultures. Reading materials and slides suggest that “we cannot learn grammar from dictionary” because meanings of words are highly relevant to individual context and networks. Meaning of words and texts are determined by previous experience and responded by future interpretation. The meaning of text is shaped by other texts. This reminded me of the song named Gloomy Sunday. In 1933, Rezso Seress first published this song. Melody of this song remains in the past several decades but lyrics of this song have been changed several times. For example, László Jávor rewrote the song and lyrics to Seress’ version based on his experience and his understandings in 1933. In 1936, Sam M. Lewis made his new version of lyrics. Consequently, meanings of Gloomy Sunday were consistently changed and reshaped by new lyrics. More interestingly, there is an urban legend suggesting Gloomy Sunday as the "Hungarian Suicide Song". Individuals, networks, and external environment reshaped texts of Gloomy Sunday. More than that, Shakespeare’s work, Hamlet, is also a great example of intertexuality and dialogism. How does audience decode the story of Hamlet? Was Hamlet a hero because he committed a revenge for his father? Was Hamlet an ungrateful son? Was Hamlet cheating Ophelia? Answers are numerous because we interpret Hamlet based on our existing knowledge networks and past experience.

More than that, intertextuality also explains how new works are remixed or produced based on previous experience. The film industry is a great example to demonstrate intertexuality. For instance, stories of Chinese movies always borrow from the ancient Chinese literatures and hot topics in Chinese cultures and society. For instance, Romance of Three Kingdoms was one of the most favorite ancient story that inspired many Chinese movies. Some Chinese movies were directly depicting characteristics from Romance of Three Kingdoms, such as Red Cliff and The Lost Bladesman. By adding visual effects, contemporary social values, and dialogs, these films transform heroes from Romance of Three Kingdoms into the modern figures. This phenomenon also occurred in western film industry. Figures of hero are similar in all western cultural genres. For instance, hero coming from fictional comic books inspired film industry, including superman, spider man, iron man and etc…

Recently, intertexuality also generates a new subculture in China, called Fansub that is voluntarily responsible for translating foreign movies and dramas into Chinese. Interestingly, Fansub creatively brought Chinese cultures into the process of translation. For instance, Chinese slogans and hot topics will be presented if they perfectly match the situations in drams and movies.====


Nothing is said in a vacuum. This is the postmodern essence of Bakhtin. I almost entirely agree with his notion that words always already have political and cultural meaning because of the expression that have come before them—almost entirely. I can’t fully agree because, although he is right to say that different philosophies, cultures and epochs come together to give us our modern language, which is anything but neutral, I think there is one category of words that are neutral: first-person pronouns. For a media theory class last term, I read some Benveniste, who in his famous essay “The Nature of Pronouns” says that while normal nouns, like tree and face and guitar, evoke images in the collective consciousness, I has no such reference point. He says that I can “exist only insofar as [it is] actualized in the instance of discourse” and that it “corresponds each time to a unique human being”—in other words, I only has meaning until a speaker says it, and it refers to that speaker specifically. To couch this within Bakhtin, I (and its equivalents in other languages) may be the only word that is neutral—that is not polyphonous or heteroglot.

A cross? A microphone? Neon lights? Even the ads for "Sister Act" are a collage.
A cross? A microphone? Neon lights? Even the ads for "Sister Act" are a collage.
Anyway, Lethem makes a strong argument as to why collage “might be called the art form of the twentieth century,” stating that “appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion and sublimated corroboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act.” I found myself nodding when he contends that the price of success is being referred to, quoted, revised and parodied; instead of taking offense or scrambling to sue people, creators should feel honored that the public is so fascinated by their contribution to culture. As an example of the postmodern collage or remix, I present the following clips of the 1992 American film Sister Act, which was a fun box office success almost solely because it depicts a sensual black lounge singer enriching the lives of austere white nuns. That culture clash is highlighted in musical numbers that show the black lounge singer either putting a funky twist on traditional hymns, or turning Motown or country songs into hymns. Mother Superior resists the remixes at first, but (of course) comes to realize they're awesome. All the songs knowingly draw on previous artists and genres.

"My God" (Sister Act, 1992)

"My Guy" (Mary Wells, 1964)

Sister Act is entirely appropriation, mimicry, quotation and allusion, proving Lethem's point that all text exists "in a vast stereophony." It literally proves the multiple voices of polyphony proposed by Bakhtin. With reference to Kristeva, it makes the diachronic, synchronic, letting artists and melodies speak to each other across decades (intertextuality). Most songs in the film are memorable and lovable because they are collage; they comfort viewers with a melody they've already heard before, but then amuse them by changing small pieces just enough for the situation. Another musical number in the film--its finale, "I Will Follow Him"--has a long history, spanning many countries and artists. It was originally a love song, per its lyrics. But an entire cryptomnesiac (Lethem) generation views it as "the Sister Act song" because it was expertly reappropriated. Melody and lyrics are almost 100% in the film from the original: I will follow him... Ever since he touched my heart/hand, I knew... Only the setting changed. Yet, sung in a church by nuns, it has a meaning immediately understood by all--because, as Bakhtin says, all text is "historically contingent."

"I Will Follow Him" (Sister Act, 1992)

"I Will Follow Him" (Little Peggy March, 1963)

This point relates well to Crimp and Greenberg, who both seem to think that originality is more illusion than reality anyway, and that postmodern media collages simply make this fact more obvious. In discussing how Rauschenberg moved from painting to photography—“from techniques of production (combines, assemblages) to techniques of reproduction (silk screens, transfer drawings)”—Crimp describes “notions of originality, authenticity and presence” as a “fiction.” Greenberg, likewise, says how Braque and Picasso used painting “to spell out, rather than pretend to deny, the physical fact that it was flat.”

Yvonne Junya Yuan

As a descriptive umbrella term for conventional forms of reference of a text, intertextuality is no stranger to me. However, it was until I finished this week’s reading tasks that I gained a much deeper and wider understanding of this phrase. With regard to its exploding development, its influence goes beyond simple linguistics area. In line with the growing interest in the intertextual dimension of word game and my undergraduate background in advertising, the analysis below seeks to uncover some of the intertextual patterns inherent in advertising texts. Starting from a reconstructive view, I wish to analyze varieties of intertextuality that abounds in advertisements, i.e., decoding the association between human prior knowledge or experience and advertisements and the intertextuality within textual boundaries; pondering on the internal relationship within ad texts; so as to pursue how intertextuality is produced, comprehended and expressed by consciously bridging the images in advertising texts and that between human cultural texts and ad texts.

Based on Julia Kristeva and Mikhail Bakhtin's theory about intertextuality, we should define three dimensions or coordinates of textual space, which are writing subject/writer, addressee/reader and exterior texts. Thus, every word has its unique status both horizontally and vertically. Taken into the advertising text model, the vertical intertextuality refers to the conscious association of different image hidden in abstract old and new text information on ad text. Here, the ‘old’ means reader’s existing knowledge and the ‘new’ indicates the information about the product or service. While dealing with vertical intertextuality, the sense between an advertising text and other texts is interpreted as the delicate relations between old and new information. It is assumed that the old information consciously associated with the new ad information is usually the readers’ social experience and their cultural and historical knowledge. On the other hand, the horizontal intertextuality identifies all the relations between diversified codes. The horizontal axis is the occasion for links and references from word to word, from paragraph to paragraph, subject to subject and text to text. Such is the web, a fabric of interwoven texts, images, objects.The ultimate goal is to facilitate readers into better and easier comprehension the intertextuality between an ad text and other texts and consequently to arouse readers more attention and memory to the ad text. An excellent example of applying horizontal intertextuality is pun. The nature of puns in advertising is nicely captured by Attridge:”the pun is the product of a context deliberately constructed to enforce an ambiguity, to render impossible the choice between meanings, to leave the reader or hearer endlessly oscillating in semantic space”.

Think about such a sample of an ad for Pepsi Cola:”Taste that beats the other cold”. It literally sounds very plain words, but if you are given the potential context or the background knowledge the ad is produced, its charm will immediately jumps into paper. Before this ad designed by Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola Company has put into market an ad: ”You can’t beat this feeling”. This ad aims to inform the audience that the taste of Coca Cola is irresistibly good. The word “beat” is used very appropriately and precisely which impresses and attracts a lot of consumers. Under such circumstances, Pepsi Cola creates the ad is completely a pun to suggest that the repetition of “beat” exactly shows that the Pepsi ad is targeted at the Coca Cola ad and the other just literally means other cola but just refers to Coca Cola. The combination of pun and repetition puts the two lines-Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola intimately knitted together and the intertextuality between them shows the audience a marvelous ad argument campaign, which calls on the audience’s passion to buy the product.

external image w6558.jpg v.s.
external image pepsi-cola_taste_that_beats_the_others_cold_1968-610x793.jpg

As to its significance, if a recipient/reader masters the techniques of decoding the intertextualities in an ad text, he or she will probably interpret the ad in various individual ways by his or her knowledge until he or she finds the most interesting one which enables hime or her to best appreciate the ad and then most willingly consume the promoted product or service. If an ad producer/designer is skilled at constructing the intertextualities in an ad, he or she will produce an ad with most appropriate constructed intertextualities which may initiate the reader/recipient into intentional chewing of the ad and afterwards obtain fruitful economic profit.

Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

Wii Dance

Wii Dance is a video game in which the player follows the dance moves of an animated figure on the screen and gets points for timing and accuracy. The great “invention” of the Wii video games, by Nintendo is that they use some sort of motion detection technology between the Wii remote, which the player holds in their hand, and the video screen, turning the playing of video games from a couch-potato activity into a sport. Thinking about the idea introduced by Kirby Ferguson on his video Everything is a Remix: Part 3,(link) namely that inventions do not represent grand original ideals, but tipping points in a process, I clicked around a bit on the internet, trying to find the steps that lead up to the “invention” of the motion sensor video game. A scan of the Wii Wikipedia page, Nintendo’s home page turned up no information on the topic, however, upon searching Google for “forerunners to Wii”, I found that there existed before Wii a physical therapy device (patent number GB2288550) very similar to later Wii technology.(link)

Next, I though about the internal images, music, and text used in the game, and how these display dialogism and intertextuality. The most straightforward example of intertextuality is that Wii Dance has no original songs. Part of the game’s appeal is that the user moves to songs he/she already knows. For example, one of the dances is to a song called “Rasputin”, written in 1978 by the German pop and disco group Boney M. According to Wikipedia, this song was filled with appropriated parts even in the 1978 version: “ "Rasputin" is… distinctive for its incorporation of melody lines from a Serbian ("Ruse kose curo imaš") and Turkish ("Üsküdar'a Gider İken / Kâtibim") folk song, while the spoken line "Oh, those Russians" at the end of the song mimics a line in Eartha Kitt's recording of "Kâtibim".”(link) Besides these incorporations, the song is also a parody of Rasputin, in dialogue with what it expects the listener to already know about the Russian historical figure. A scratchy voiced male singer, and three female support singers perform the song; this is a trope that existed in thousands of songs before “Rasputin”.

Wii uses the “Boney M.” song, and combines it with the graphic of the dancer that the game player is supposed to follow. He uses a number of dance moves also used in the Boney M. music video, and moves considered a part of traditional Russian dance, at least in American stereotypes. Some of the dance moves remind me of dance scenes from such movies as Fiddler on the Roof; perhaps this is an influence. Also playing on stereotypical ideas of Russia in an American’s mind, the graphics show the figure dancing in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral on a snowy field. The text of the song, which scrolls up on the right side as the song plays, is reminiscent of older karaoke game models.

These are just some of the ways in which this video game appropriated from earlier works, and is in dialogue with its user. What I think is particularly noteworthy here, (but is arguably the case in most works of culture), is that Wii Dance’s very appeal comes from not especially from its originality, but from its effective appropriation and intertextuality

.</ref> Upon doing some research, I discovered that the piece is titled “Misirlou”, a folk song that was first performed in Greece in 1927, but later rewritten by jazz composer/recording artist Nicholas Roubanis and re-performed by American surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale; Roubanis was given composing credits for “Pump It”. There is a fine line between inspiration and appropriation, between being appreciated for doing a cover and getting sued; but as my personal experiences testify, cultural remixing is very much part of our contemporary culture, and we will just have to deal with the fact that everything comes from everything else, and even our own imagination and creativity—our “originality”—is nothing but rehashed ideas. Tarantino would be the first to tell you so.

Jen Lennon
The idea that Bahktin’s dialogism meant that the speaker’s own background, thoughts, and ideas influenced their utterances, while also considering his or her audience and the intention of the utterance, and then was responded to by the listener and his or her own background, thoughts, and ideas is a really interesting way of thinking about how information filters through people. This notion of putting things out there with the presupposition that people already have some prior knowledge, or according to the metapedia page on intertextuality , “function as a learned archive or encyclopedia of references, genres, background knowledge, and symbolic meaning”, is essential to understanding intertextuality and also serves as a pretty succinct idea of what’s expected of you in current pop culture. If nothing is truly new, then you should have some sense of past genres, ideas, and formats.

One television show that exhibits the ideas of dialogism and intertextuality specifically is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve been on a little bit of a Buffy bender lately, and am currently watching the last season, but this is a show that I never thought that I would like. I’ve never jumped on the vampire bandwagon and I have only a small amount of patience for sci fi. Yet it completely sucked me in because it mixes so many other genres that I know and love into a show that’s supposed to just be about a teenaged girl killing vampires. The most obvious reference that Joss Whedon, the creator and main writer, uses is old vampire lore which is then spun with a modern twist. These aren’t the chiseled vampires you see on True Blood or Twilight; most of the villains on Buffy look like monsters. Yet while Buffy’s fighting these vampires that are more parody than pastiche, she’s quipping with them and throwing out pop culture references and jokes. Her and her friends, they call each other ‘The Scooby Gang’ (another throwback), openly mock their adversaries and make frequent mentions of old comic books, Star Wars, Star Trek, you name it.

In the second half of the seven seasons of Buff, Whedon started playing around with genre in standalone episodes. In the fourth season, the episode “Hush” was filmed almost entirely silently. Never had a modern TV show done a silent episode and the result was an episode that completely fit in with the Buffy canon thematically, but was completely different from the rest of the series in tone. In the sixth season, they did a musical episode, which inspired shows like How I Met Your Mother and Grey’s Anatomy to try it out years later. The success of the musical episode “Once More with Feeling” was instant, and played in movie theaters years after the show went off the air. They managed to make the musical numbers make sense within the context of the show, yet it was a pastiche to a completely different genre. Every song of the musical episode was a nod to a different musical style from rock ballad to typical Broadway to a Bob Fosse type of song and dance. All of these one-off episodes presupposed that the viewer had some knowledge of these other genres and would understand what was going on. This presupposition allowed them to mix genres with ease while incorporating the horror/slasher film mentality one week, a thriller the next and referencing things like Dracula and vampire lore throughout and having a heroine with the kung fu skills of an old martial arts movie quip about going to the prom or a 90s band while killing a vampire.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has inspired academics to study the themes such as existentialism, morality, death and the afterlife, and feminism, along with a rabid fan base that runs a whole portion of the internet devoted to Buffy. NPR said “there are serious academic studies on the characters and themes in the series — titles like ‘Buffy the Vampire Disciplinarian: Institutional Excess and the New Economy of Power’” in the episode of All Things Considered based on Buffy. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1262180) Buffy led to more than 20 books being written and numerous academic articles, including the online academic journal Slayage. Academic articles on Buffy range from sociology, Speech Communication, psychology, philosophy and women’s studies – a topic Whedon himself is well-versed in and is evident in the way the show is written.

This isn’t the first show that I’ve watched with a fervent online audience playing along as the show goes along, Lost is another great example of this. Shows that spark more conversation shows the vertical intertextuality that Agger referred to with the reviews and criticism of a show being one secondary and the students talking around the proverbial watercooler as a tertiary effect, are much more apparent and very postmodern. But Buffy takes the horizontal intertextuality, that of the story and genre and scope, and really play around with different forms and feels. Each season of Buffy feels different and addresses issues in broad themes that then build the show’s mythology and canon.