Everything (Old was New) Already: Theories, Histories, and Politics of Appropriation, Contemporary Art, and Culture
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The past decade and a half of technological innovation and explosion of historical multiplicities have reignited the debates on appropriation. This dissertation contributes to the discussion for the purposes of understanding appropriation’s significance to our fluctuating conceptions of authenticity and originality, and to our long-standing cultural institutions (specifically, copyright). Critics of certain kinds of appropriation (like pastiche) have argued it is nothing more than a vague, empty form of mimicry, more closely related to theft than to creative production. On the other hand, advocates for certain kinds of appropriation (like parody, satire, or collage) have regarded it as a useful form of criticism and as a catalyst for inventing new modes of expression in a postmodern moment. Some of the most conspicuous and effecting conversations about appropriation and creative production have lately occurred in relation to intellectual property legislation. Although it is often taken for granted that copyright laws protect creative producers, this dissertation follows recent revelations in literary, and communications studies which have revealed the complex tension between these producers and the economically directed industries that are both driven by, and support those producers. This thesis updates arguments about appropriation for a contemporary context by critically examining these claims from a postcolonial, Marxist perspective considered largely through contemporary Western visual art, film, fashion, and music. This thesis argues that it cannot be predetermined as to whether acts of appropriation are wholly laudatory, or wholly critical. Instead, I argue that appropriation has always carried the ability to oscillate between both poles in an intertextual exchange that remains dependent on the variables of the viewer’s context and the artist’s production. However, this intertextuality is often impeded by our fetishization of artists and creative works, and by the institutions that benefit from those fetishes.