Category Archives: Celebrity

auteur du jour: peggy ahwesh

Born: 1954 in Pittsburgh.
Currently a resident of: Brooklyn. (represent!)
Favorite themes: sexuality, language, vision, female experience/subjectivity, the manipulation of genre conventions
Style: found footage, Pixelvision, alternative narrative, documentary, digital animation
Most famous film (arbitrary): The Color of Love (1994) for appropriating graphic material in the service of approaching the beauty and sensuality of the medium as inherently haptic.
Films by her that I have seen: From Romance to Ritual (1985), Martina’s Playhouse (1989), The Deadman (with Keith Sanborn, 1990), Nocturne (1998), She Puppet (2001), The Third Body (2007), Beirut Outtakes (2007), Bethlehem (2009)   //  [check out her full filmography here.]
My favorite: Nocturne (1998), for breathtaking reverse sound and motion, complicated explorations of female desire, and requisite dreams within dreams.

Ubuweb calls her a “true bricoleur…her tools include narrative and documentary styles, improvised performance and scripted dialogue, synch-sound film, found footage, digital animation, and crude Pixelvision video. Using this range of approaches, she has extended the project initiated by 1960s and ’70s American avant-garde film, and has augmented that tradition with an investigation of cultural identity and the role of the subject.”  Her work spans myriad experimental media, and has evolved into the digital age in ways that challenge new technology while still engaging with theory, language, and vision as bravely as ever.

Language and cinema have had a long and complicated relationship.  (Not unlike that of language and philosophy, language and queer/gender studies, language and… etc.)  Many film theorists have tried to speak of cinematic language, to conceive of film in linguistic metaphors (enter semiotics!), and many filmmakers have argued for cinema beyond language (Godard’s next film is going to be titled Adieu au Language, although admittedly this is a slightly different case), because it is a visual medium; it shouldn’t need words to express itself.

So what makes the work of Peggy Ahwesh so fascinating is her total embrace of language: she frequently uses voice-over of herself or collaborators reading aloud from texts, theory and fiction and poetry, or includes reading and quotation within the diegesis of her films.  Hers is a cinema of allusion, appropriation, of dialogue, but where the practice of “folding language into, or asking it to hover above, the image is predicated on an understanding of the shortcomings of language itself”(Senses of Cinema).

She began her career on Super-8, drawn to the artisanal and home-made feel of the medium as a means for exploring both language and looking.  One of her earliest films, From Romance to Ritual (1985), invokes and inverts the title of the 1920 book by Jessie L. Weston as it, like the book, draws connections between pagan history and ritual and mythology, though Ahwesh’s myths are not those of not King Arthur but the (modern) woman.  Such titular references are common throughout her body of work, including one drawn from classic Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom (1987), which I have as yet been frustrated in finding a means of seeing (if anyone has a copy lying about, drop me a line!).

Martina tells a story to the camera in Martina's Playhouse.

Her 1989 Martina’s Playhouse, which she purportedly titled thus as a counterpoint to Peewee’s Playhouse, focuses on the young daughter of an artist friend playing at gender roles, intercut with footage of filmmaker Jennifer Montgomery in Ahwesh’s apartment and close-ups of flowers.  It is notable, however, for the voice-over of first a child (Martina) reading haltingly from Lacanian theory about the constitution of the Self and the desire for the Other, which is then re-read later by an adult voice.  As part of my comps (comprehensive senior thesis) project, I’ve been thinking a great deal of late about how one can “film theory” — that is, enact critical and scholarly work through the very means of production that we in the CAMS world are critiquing and studying.  One idea for my own film that I have been considering is having my self to staged readings of excerpts from various theorists (Eco, Irigaray, Butler, etc…), so seeing this played out in this film was very intriguing to me personally.

It speaks to the power of language as one of many tools of the cinema, not necessarily as a metaphor for cinema itself, and to the power of repetition and whose voice we record or listen to.  It gives me hope for the possibility of theorizing through film, but in Martina’s Playhouse, there is a lack of heavy-handedness that allows the voices, words, and images to create the potential for engagement in the viewer rather than forcing any interpretation, characteristic of Ahwesh’s ambiguous and open-ended style, who says herself that “the reason I’ve never liked narrative is because traditionally narrative film has to have resolution.”

Ahwesh directly captured footage of herself playing Tomb Raider to make She Puppet.

In this vein, her recent work She Puppet (2001), which consists of screen-captures of Ahwesh-as-Lara-Croft in Tomb Raider with a soundtrack drawing quotations from a number of literary sources,  has been called “the most succinct and powerful essay on the position of women in the field of cinematic vision since Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’.”(Senses of Cinema)  In She Puppet, the words and their accented readers complicate the otherwise straightforward imagery, creating a sort of serious-playful, poetic-theoretical discourse that does more for the rewriting of women’s place in cinema than Mulvey did with her seminal 1975 essay.

One other film by Ahwesh that I also have yet to see but would love to find a copy of is 73 Suspect Words (2000).  Her artist statement at Electronic Arts Intermix describes it as “a deceptively simple and ultimately chilling meditation on the power of text…based on a spell-check of the Unabomber’s manifesto, the work evokes the violence underlying the key words presented.”(EAI)

She is also known for her frequently graphic portrayals of sex and violence, but her female subjects seem to maintain subjectivity, or even when they don’t, it is really a case of the film lacking a subject altogether, suggesting that perhaps the subjectivity lies not within the diegesis but in the viewer and film themselves, as the mutually engaged viewing subjects that Vivian Sobchack posits in her “Phenomenology and Film Experience.”

As much of her older work (she’s been active since before 1983) is on Super-8 and other analog formats, some of it can be hard to get ahold of, but several of her films are archived online at UBUweb.  Ahwesh is currently a professor at Bard College, and is currently continuing to make more provocative and awesome experimental work as the 21st century complicates the meaning of cinematic experimentation.

auteur du jour: coming to a blog near you

Now that the most intense finals period and the most intense term at Carleton College in the history of the author has been survived, here at The Semioptician, we the editorial staff are happy to announce that break is over!  Or at least, the break from blogging. 🙂

And what better to inaugurate our triumphant return than the introduction of a new and exciting ongoing series, intended to educate and inspire both the author and her readers?

Yes, “Auteur Du Jour” has finally arrived.

A few words on the genesis of this (hopefully ongoing!) project: basically, when I am freed from the shackles of academia by such things as Thanksgiving Break (and believe, I gave thanks like never before), I tend to waste no time in becoming self-incarcerated — that is, filling in the holes in my education as a budding filmmaker, film theorist, feminist, and philosopher.  As I mentioned last month, there are a staggering number of films that I haven’t seen that I believe that I ‘ought to’ as a Cinema and Media Studies major, so the last several days have been a picture of happiness and personal growth centered on me curled up with my favorite laptop and my subscription to Netflix.  And what I realized is that the way I go about structuring my viewing becomes almost by default centered on filmmakers — I’m in the midst of a massive Woody Allen kick, a did a day of Godard, I could spend a week watching Jarmusch over and over and feel totally fulfilled.  I also realized that this is an even more applicable (almost necessary) approach to ‘educating’ oneself about the avant-garde and experimental cinema, where the independent and artisanal tendencies of the medium enforce an auteur theory unto themselves.  And between the mainstream and the avant-garde, there are plenty of filmmakers (Andrew Sarris can come over here and debate their status as auteurs with me if he feels like it) whose work I want to acquaint myself with in a more comprehensive way.

Thus, like every good little academic, I’m going to write about it, and share each new authorial exploration here — hopefully those of you who are interested in film will find out about some filmmakers you didn’t know, or find out things you didn’t know about the filmmakers you thought you knew, and those of you who aren’t interested in film will be interested enough in my learning process to hang on, because in that case you’re probably a close friend or my mother.  (But I know you’re interested in film, too, Mom.)  It will likely be a bit sloppy, as is the nature of the auto-didact’s endeavors, but it should be the fun kind of sloppy.

So tomorrow, I will prove Roland Barthes wrong and revive the author with my first installment, an introduction to the fascinating, raunchy, deliciously linguistic and theoretical work of Peggy Ahwesh!

Stay tuned, kiddos.

long time no see

Hello, my faithful readings public.  I’m ashamed to have gone almost an entire month (!) without exercising my rights to free speech here on this pedantic and personal platform.  It’s been a crazy month, even on the visual culture front, but I have come out the other side only a little worse for the wear.  Here’s what’s been going on:

  • I was hired as an employee of the CAMS Production Office here at Carleton, which means that I am getting to get paid to get more acquainted with the technologies of my media (and also tear my hair out when the equipment checkout system is failing us…)
  • I got to hang out with Focus Features CEO James Schamus quite a bit two weekends ago, including having the immense honor of introducing him as the Convocation speaker on the Friday of 5th weekend and seeing the very first American showing of the new movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • I wrapped shooting on my dear friend Sam D’s short film The Incredible Owlbear, for which I was serving as chief audio technician and sound recordist, which is a glorified way of saying ‘kid who holds the boom’ (albeit looking badass…)
  • I beasted a midterm in Film Theory, a midterm in Film History I, and a 10-page research paper on Marlene Dietrich in Vogue magazine during the 30s, all within 48 hours.  (And then I slept.)
  • I realized what I’ve been missing out on by not watching German Expressionism — finally seeing Fritz Lang’s M was revelatory.
  • I also made a couple of videos for Nonfiction, one which was a group oral history (fantastic) and one which was an ‘observation of a place or process’ (a watch of gales in a chapel — video still uploading, link to be added shortly).
  • I learned how to jump-start a car.  With jumper cables.  This is a useful skill.

I'm the second from the left. I think it's fairly obvious.

The biggest thing, though, is realizing how awesome it is to be really digging into what I love, which is film and media production and consumption and analysis and synthesis.  All day er’ryday, as they say.

When my life calmed down for half a second yesterday evening when I got done with class, I decided to just watch something that I’ve been meaning to for quite some time, which ended up being the Maysles brothers’ The Beales of Grey Gardens.  It is the new 2006 Criterion edition of the classic 70s documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy’s interesting East Hampton relatives, re-edited entirely from footage that was shot at the time but not used in the first edit.  I was both fascinated and made uncomfortable by the film, and given that I have not actually seen the original cut of Grey Gardens, I know what my next free-time viewing experience will be — you can expect some musings on the two pieces in contrast to and concert with each other in (hopefully!) the near future.

defending my rights

I have just re-read the opening on Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision.  Lately, I’ve been trying to re-evaluate how I approach Brakhage, or rather how to defend my enjoyment of his work.  When we screened The Stars are Beautiful in my Non Fiction class, it elicited quite dispassionate responses from some classmates (a reflection of a larger dispassion or antagonism towards the avant-garde in general by the non-CAMS major population as well, I would suggest).

The argument was raised that what Brakhage does in his films, technically or aesthetically, is being done “better” by other more mainstream filmmakers in more traditional narrative formats, to which our professor responded that the cynical interpretation of that point of view is that the avant-garde is constantly pushing the edge of what is acceptable in form and content, constantly innovating, and then the mainstream simply comes along and picks and chooses and appropriates what it likes aesthetically, without necessarily maintaining the conceptual or ideological meaning behind the techniques and styles that it acquires from pioneers such as Brakhage.

Which is exactly what I had been about to rebut with, so I was forced to pause and wonder: Am I a cynic in this regard? And if so, what’s up with that?  When did I become cynical about film, and where does that cynicism come from?  Is it legitimate?  I love the avant-garde and experimental traditions of the mid 20th century — is this love real or imagined?  Why do I love it?  Not because I find it more captivating (in the easy, narrative-drags-you-along-without-your-even-noticing sense), necessarily, but perhaps… These films do not exist in a vacuum, and the context of the artists, and their lifestyles, and their ideologies, and my own artistic aspirations, and certainly their writings create a world of captivation that is larger than but functions in concert with their films — hence my musings today beginning with my return to Brakhage’s own elliptical-poetic treatises in Metaphors on Vision.  Even when I watch a structural film that seems to resist pleasure, such as Wavelength, there is a certain kind of elitist, intellectual self-gratifying feeling from simply sitting through it, from the process of engaging with something that is not just a piece of film for entertainment or even edification, but a questioning of art and meaning and consciousness and perception.  And knowing that one has made the decision to turn your attention to these ‘higher’ questions of form and content is a different kind of good feeling, but good nonetheless.  While narrative film may message the senses, these films can also work on the level of massaging the intellect.

This is why returning to my copy of Essential Brakhage is exciting for me.  Brakhage is not Saturday night with coke and popcorn fare (he even, in fact, invokes popcorn as his anthithesis at times, or at least as a powerful synecdoche for the commercial theatrical cinema to which his work is perpendicular).  I think Brakhage demands repeated viewings.  I think you start to get so much out of it, too, when you let him create a context for his art, especially since his prose is itself as beautiful, arcane, stimulating, and challenging as the hundreds of films that make up his body of work.

There.  I have defended my right to take pleasure in difficult cinema.

why yes, i did meet kate millett

…I also saw Barbara Hammer outside of the IFC screening of her new documentary Maya Deren’s Sink.  Oh yeah, and I’ve seen Maya Deren’s sink.  Like, the actual artifact.  And I have a few of Joseph Cornell‘s paperclips.  (AND HAVE I MENTIONED THAT I’VE PEELED ASPARAGUS WITH ROBERT BEAVERS?  Cause yeah.  That too.  And gotten tipsy with P. Adams Sitney.)

But seriously.  The extent to which I can name-drop in the small but self-loving world of experimental and avant-garde cinema seems astounding to me, and maybe to a handful of people who I hope are reading this blog, but it probably won’t get me far in the “real world” — whatever that might be.

I would, however, like to take a moment to acknowledge the kind of eerie fact that in the last week or so, since having the great honor of returning some film reels from Anthology to famed feminist (and filmmaker) Ms. Millett and her partner, Sophie Keir, the search terms for The Semioptician have included hits for three distinct Kate Millett-related searches, two of which include my name as well.  Which, given that I hadn’t yet blogged about this lucky encounter, was at first rather disconcerting.  It seemed as if WordPress or some unseen search-bot was predicting my blogging predilections.

Then of course I remembered that I had, in fact, tweeted about it.  And Facebook-chatted my friend Rebekah with a rather enigmatic “also do you know who Kate Millett is??”  In light of these remembrances, it’s no longer totally unprecendented that I had a strange deja-vu-ish moment of looking at my blog stats (and yes, I do that, sucker for numbers and ego boosts that I am…) and wondering — did I mysteriously write a blog post that I’d been thinking about writing and then completely forget that I had…?  So thank you, whoever (all three of you?) searched for Kate Millett and found your way here.  It made my (several) (unheimlich) day(s).

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

so many outstretched hands

Robert Beavers shows us his workspace — so, so inspiring.

Being in Berlin, we’ve had the chance to brush shoulders with the likes of P. Adams Sitney, Robert Beavers, and Ute Aurand on several occasions — which if you’re at all conversant with avant-garde and experimental cinema, is a BIG, BIG deal.  Check out my post for the trip blog here to read about our time with Beavers and Aurand, and my classmate Josiah’s post about the talk that Sitney gave at American Academy in Berlin.

まだキラキラ!

Or, as the title says, I’m still glow-basking.  Last night, I attended a film talk with three of the main members of CALF Animation, a recently formed independent animation collective in Japan.  Beyond being a great discussion and a chance to hear from Mizue Mirai, Doi Nobuaki, and Nagata Takeshi in person, it meant that I was suddenly sitting in a room with two people I have ‘known’ through the internet for ages but have never met in real life.

This light-painting animation by Tochka reveals another facet of the festival - a major focus on raising awareness and relief funds for the victims of the recent crises in Japan.

Although I didn’t realize it before sitting down and pulling out my laptop to take notes, the film talk was being moderated by Cathy Munroe Hotes, whose blog Nishikata Film Review I have been following since I attended the Kyoto Media Arts Festival last fall.  And then, when they opened it up to questions from the floor, JASPER SHARP raised his hand.  I actually wrote in my notes:

I AM IN THE SAME ROOM AS JASPER SHARP!!!!!!!!”

He is a major contributor to KineJapan, but more importantly, the mastermind of Midnight Eye, which is basically THE online Japanese Cinema journal/website.  I’ve been reading it for ages, I’ve cited him in papers…so realizing I was within 15 feet of its illustrious author was a bit like seeing Justin Bieber last month, only way more academic and legit.  The excitement one can have over finally encountering the index of someone’s digital self, of seeing someone in real life who you had only ever conceived of through the means of the internet and virtual interactions, reflects in a very interesting way on the post-modern sort-of-dichotomy between digital and ‘real’ selves — or rather, the inescapable intertwining of the two.

So, having seen Jasper Sharp and Cathy Munroe Hotes, now to find Tom Mes, who also runs Midnight Eye and is as iconic in my mind as Jasper Sharp, is one of the jury members for the competing films here.  I haven’t seen him yet, but I’ve got a day and a half left…for SO MUCH GEEKING OUT.

tv on the internet: a few thoughts inspired by rac105

One thing that struck me right away in Barcelona was the predominance of chart-topping American pop music — I could hear it pumping from this booth outside El Corte Ingles every day when I went to class, it played in tiendas and supermercats all over the city, and on my first evening in the area, I distinctly heard some Justin Bieber flowing out of the club Razzmatazz near our housing in Poble Nou.  (This is in opposition to Paris, where I was during spring break, and where I was constantly hearing very mediocre American hip-hop/R&B that I had never before…  Also while in Paris, my friend Clare introduced me to the videos of the French artist Yelle, who is beyond the scope of this current post but merits further consideration.  I think there is something distinctly French about French music videos.)

As may have been implied in my post on remix, one of my favorite focuses of visual culture is the music video.  But music videos on TV – Spain has a channel called RAC105, which is what MTV would be (what MTV should be, at the risk of inciting argument…) had it not become predominated by reality TV and other programming that seems to have forgotten its roots in avant-garde video and, oh yeah, music.  My beef with MTV aside, RAC105 was fascinating in its selection of videos: almost all American pop, plus some local Spanish color, and one random house single from Eastern Europe called Mr. Saxobeat by Alexandra Stan.  Pop songs and music videos tend to have a shelf-life in the context of radio-play and MTV-play (when MTV gets around to playing music videos…), but RAC105 defied a lot of my expectations about what would get played — it was not uncommon to have Miley Cyrus’  “Party in the U.S.A.” followed by “Born This Way” followed by something Annie Lennox recorded in the 80s.  It reminded me, in its programming and ordering, of the often-eclecticness of KRLX, my beloved home college radio station (where, incidentally, I DJ when I am on campus).  Maybe this connection is related to the relative lack of commercials on RAC105, such that it, like college radio, can sort of play whatever it wants – or rather, whatever it is that it thins Spain wants, which seems to be this intriguing mélange of American music (plus the token Romanian house stuff…).

There are also definitely videos that I saw for the first time on RAC105 (Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”, in which the relevance of Rocky Horror and Tommy references elude the best of us…).  The channel was on most of the time we were all in our lounge/kitchen, and was very popular with my fellow study abroad students, but we would often ask each other, is this popular in the U.S.?  Is this what Spain thinks is popular in the U.S.?  I never had definitive answer for either of those questions.  Nonetheless, I find it fascinating to consider how music videos that may or may not reflect our culture and its values are being received abroad – what is catching on in Spain, and what, through the lens of Spanish TV, we can assume is catching on at home while we are away.

start wearing purple

One of the things I love about visual studies is that, for the most part, it can be applied to anything.  To the extent that what we see and how we see it shapes our world (our worldview, one might say), that world is our oyster for the analyzing.  And visual studies makes no hierarchical distinction between “high” and “low” culture – giving me an excuse, or rather an invitation, to think critically about the experience that I on Wednesday evening.

There is a performance artist touring the world right now, or rather My World (His World?) – and that artist performed live on April 6, 2011 at 20:00 on the Palau Sant Jordi stage, and yes, I was there.  I SAW JUSTIN BIEBER IN CONCERT.

Classic crowded concert...plus Justin Bieber.

Posting about this requires two revelations on my part to you, my readers – firstly, that I do identify as a hipster, and secondly, that, yes, I do identify as a Justin Bieber fan.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am a Belieber – my cynicism tends to prevent me from blind belief, which is a useful trait in the realm of visual studies – but I do legitimately enjoy him.  There are many cognitively dissonant aspects of the two identities I just professed, but I like to think that my slight cynicism allows me to cut through the crap of unconditional fandom and be an even truer fan.  Rather like how a true friend will tell you if you have spinach in your teeth – I would do that for Justin.  Most fangirls, I imagine, would not.  As both a critic and an appreciator, I can operate like the child in the Emperor’s New Clothes.  If ever I see the J-Biebs unclad, I shan’t let him go on believing that he is wearing a beautiful violet v-neck and matching Pirates cap when he is fact wearing nothing at all.

The concert didn't start until 8 pm, but I got there around 5 pm in order to get a decent spot to stand, and to observe the attendance practices and attire of the locals.

Which brings me to one of the more fascinating visual aspects (among many) of the concert and the whole phenom that is Justin Bieber: the color purple.  The construction of any given pop star’s image through iconography is common (rampant?) enough, but the ability to monopolize one particular color to this extent has not been seen since The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was known as Prince – and I doubt that he was able to mobilize thousands of tweenage girls and their parents to arrive at the Palau Sant Jordi in a sea of lavender the way Bieber did on Wednesday.  I am hard-pressed to come up with any other artists with such strong color association – if anyone else can, let me know, and we can start writing a legitimate academic article on this (I may do this anyway).

From a visual studies point of view, the proliferation of screens in the venue was fascinating, as was the the matching of light to costuming (all purple of course).

So even though I only cursorily Google Maps-ed the location of the arena in advance of arrival, I had absolutely no trouble finding it – I started seeing the purple Yankees hats, the Nike kicks, the purple shirts and shoes and tank-tops and hoodies, and their wearers, who were on average at least 5 years younger than me, as soon as I got on the Metro heading towards Placa Espanya.  Tracking the increase in the color density as I got closer and closer to the epicenter was shockingly easy and kind of fascinating.

The tide of purple begins...

Justin Bieber t-shirts come in a beautiful variety of shades of purple.

...and keeps on coming.

In a March 19 interview on Nightline, Justin Bieber had the following interchange with Christ Connelly:

Justin: “Favorite color is purple.”

Chris: “You laughed there. Do people ask you what your favorite color is sometimes?”

Justin: “Yeah, sometimes.”

Chris: “Is it really funny to be asked what your favorite color is?”

Justin: “Yeah. Like, who cares what my favorite color is?”

To answer Justin’s question, clearly, a lot of people – not just the swarms of swooning Spaniards, but every company that is branding products with his signature color, a shade that serves to make every Yankees cap, pair of JustBeats headphones, and more, signify the growing and complex discourse of celebrity that surrounds the young star.  The color is indexical for his person.  He comes off as nonchalant, but he must realize the strength of the iconography that is being built up around him (and its significant economic implications) – the image is sexy, and very much a selling point.  A symbiosis of advertising that balances selling Justin Bieber through his easily recognizable branded and color-coded image with selling a dizzying array of products and clothing that are conversely ‘branded’ with Justin Bieber’s constructed celebrity.  Celebrity branding and image construction is a given in the present day, but the extent to which it is succeeding with Bieber, particularly through its reliance on the simplicity of laying claim to a single color, is impressive.  We are capable of seeing only so many shades, and the power of association with such a basic aspect of our visual experience cannot be escaping whoever is masterminding the Justin Bieber phenomenon.

I'mma tell you one time...

A silhouetted fan.

This all of course begs the question of why purple – yes, he claims it as his favorite color, but it is being co-opted into an index for his image, and it carries its own cultural semiotic baggage that is hard to ignore.  Common connotations are those of royalty and nobility, or homosexuality, but these are connections that make much more sense in the case of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, as Bieber is not particularly kingly (his fans may feel otherwise) nor has he come out (although speculations likely abound).  My more jaded moments of musing on the subject lead me to simply suspect that the historical popularity of the color among Bieber’s target audience, such as the thousands of young Spanish girls at Palau Sant Jordi, is the primary factor in the (economic) choice to promote the color iconography of the star.  As jaded as it may sound, perhaps it is all a ruse and Bieber has no fundamental love of the color purple, and the semiotics of self-construction and advertising are simply being mobilized with staggering power in the building of a united fan base.

Needless to say, I wore my hipsteriest black and yellow to the concert.  As a visual text of conformity, I read the event counter to its ‘intended meaning’ of interpellating me as not just a viewer but a consumer.  Judith Butler says that analysis kills pleasure – but I speak from personal experience when I say that rocking out to “Somebody to Love” and considering critically the dynamics of the creation of spectacle in the concert venue can go hand in hand.

All of the above pictures plus more photographic evidence from the course of the evening, in a handy slideshow!

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