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Fear and loving in Las Vegas.

Postmodernism concludes that artistic style, genre, and technique have finite combinations and that all the possible amalgamations have been exhausted, leaving only pastiche as a means of assembling what is ostensibly art. As delineated by Fredric Jameson in Post-modernism and Consumer Society, pastiche is a key component in a new aesthetic which is actually the death of aestheticism in the arts. Pastiche is a re-assemblage of former practices and procedures, to borrow--which is, after all, all I can do in postmodernism--a title from Trinh Minh-ha. It is simply the reiteration of dead styles, the result of the eradication of individualism, auteurs, personalities, and potentialities, and potentially my two nephews. Previous theoretical discourse found my two nephews safe, even human--but now they must endure a postmodern epoch of vapid aesthetics and live a postmodern life devoid of meaning or distinction. Worse yet, they must come to visit their uncle in Las Vegas.

Here in the former Sin City 1995, where the mega-resorts dominate the landscape both architecturally and culturally, the locus of value has been placed on the ability, necessity, and pseudoexcitement of recycling, rebuilding, and re creating cultural icons and relics. One can stroll through the colossal maw of Goldwyn's Lion, witness the sinking of a replicated Spanish galleon, or praise Pharaoh as his $1 million-a-year beam of light refracts through the clouds. Masquerading as art, casino pastiche--like MacDonald's or Jack in the-Box--knows there are only so many ways to package a burger and therefore simply reinvents and utilizes that which has been previously designed and used. The microcosm of a consumer society, the skyline of Las Vegas epitomizes pastiche reorganized around a virtual reality of electronic cards housed in inhuman spaces. My nephews are counting the days until their first boring drive across the Mojave to the new Sin City--Send Infants Now is the appropriate acronym.

I claim no originality for my ruminations on pastiche; I simply parrot much of Jameson's work. Is then plagiarism a precept of pastiche? Not the question I (if there indeed is an I) had in mind to answer. Besides, it would only be a recitation of something written before me in a style that would hardly be considered new and innovative. But let us assume that I am a constituted individual and, for better or worse, full of ideological contamination bestowed upon me by the patriarchal, capitalistic, bourgeois cinematic and TV-atic apparati. If for only a few moments I can be a tele-spectator--part consumer, part viewer, part lover, part writer, part professor, the sum of which may be greater than the pastiche of the whole--I can quickly, before I am relegated back to the perpetual ignominy of an effaced persona, ponder the issue of postmodernism as related to the construction of the viewing/consuming subject and my nephews.

Before I read Jameson and Jean Baudrillard's The Ecstasy of Communication, at least in the history of theoretical discourse I was a subject. Prior to evolving into a postmodernist-era film professor, the Hollywood cinema--invasive and relentless in its attack on my being --at least informed me, influenced me, excited me, tricked me, politicized me, swayed me, charmed me, teased me, castigated me, taunted me, pleased me. Like my homeboy Frank, I've "got to be me," whether I was interpolated or interpreted, exploited or anointed, gendered or surrendered. In postmodernism, pastiche--a component of the total simulacrum of culture--cannot and does not construct me because I do not exist independent of the real world. The Bazan myth of the total cinema is no longer legend but an existential gospel. "Today," says Jameson, "that older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists." Perhaps the inverse of Rene Descartes' philosophical incantation is applicable. "I do not think, therefore I am not," which paradoxically is my own pastiche showing through--pirating a fragment of the history of rationalist thought which actually no longer has any connection with my perpetual present enslaved by Carl's Jr. burgers, Carl Laemmle theaters, and Carl Reiner television.

I--if I am still I--worry about my two southern California nephews. Their video trained reflexes, twitch muscles, and hand-eye-joystick coordination are all operating at the peak of performance. The electronic wonderland of Las Vegas will no doubt prove to be the ultimate challenge to these video athletes, if not to their parents' bank account. Quarters will fall as quickly as the digital records that earn a stuffed Popeye the Sailor or a glow-in-the dark anklet. Whether in Vegas or on their home computer, I have no chance to beat them (the nephews, of course--to give them names would individualize them, which is untenable in the new postmodern world order) at Street Fighter VII or Super Nintendo baseball.

When I was their age, I could, however, sometimes make the proverbial deep throw from shortstop, consistently turn two for the double play, and hit .365 during my final year of Little League. Yet, like Bo used to, they, too, believe they know baseball--the rules, the players, the teams. The nephews watch TV and boo the Los Angeles Dodgers, cheer the San Diego Padres, and are characteristically apathetic toward the California Angels. They collect baseball cards and memorabilia and even possess Nolan Ryan's autograph. And they can kick my butt at Nintendo baseball, while a click of the mouse enables them to exploit the multimedia skyway and check in on the Atlanta Braves via the team's satellite-linked superstation. No longer is it necessary for them to experience the discomfort of the infield's brick dust filling up one's cleats that never fit or being treated to a post game meal of sticky snow cones and enough gum and candy to rival a prosperous Halloween trick or beat campaign. In the total simulacrum of mass culture, they experience baseball as reflected by the "shimmering screen" --not as subjects but as undifferentiated components of a media event.

"Simulators of leisure or of vacations in the home--like flight simulators for airline pilots"--are no longer just conceivable, as Baudrillard suggests; they now concretely exist. The new desert kingdoms reverberate Baudrillard, and media recruitment for consumers of simulation continues unabated, exploding city, state, and national boundaries. Weighing the 18-wheelers and stopping cars for a vegetable check is pointless, for the lines of demarcation are now measured in lines of resolution and inches diagonal.

As I said, I worry about my beloved nephews. They no longer exist as subjects, denied all historical referents with which to establish an identity. Theirs is a world of luminous pixels, THX Dolby surround sound, and ever-increasing CPU speed. They will never experience the exultation their uncle felt while being subverted with the ideological effects of the cinematic-TV mechanisms. I have lost them forever--beings that in previous theoretical thought I could have at least hugged and kissed or truly reached out and touched. My poor nephews! They are doomed to witness the mitotic growth of Sony and Matsushita as these corporations deploy a policy of I revocation identified by a pastiche of products fusing what was the past and cannot be the future. My nephews are but video chips in a neverending cycle: a Samsara of the anti-aesthetic. They cannot wait to visit their uncle in Las Vegas.

Kevin O'Brien is an assistant professor in the film studies department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
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Title Annotation:concept of pastiche in postmodernism
Author:O'Brien, Kevin
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Words:1213
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