A Mixed Up Mashed-Up World

I haven’t confessed this publicly before, but I love mashups. I think they’re an exciting, fresh art form that does syncretism, combination, and extension out in the open, whereas it has always been done “behind closed doors” before.

In case you aren’t familiar with this new form of self-expression, the American Heritage Dictionary online officially defines mash-up as an audio recording that is a composite made up of other recordings, usually from different musical styles.

Although the world of music is where mash-ups started, and where they probably have had the biggest impact, I’d certainly say that we have examples in all other media. The great cultural theorist Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, for example, was essentially a mash-up of other people’s writings about consumption and culture.

Warhol’s Monda Lisa SeriesThe opening to Grant McCracken’s magnificent Plenitude book is a mash-up of quotations about the multifarious aspects of contemporary consumer culture.

Andy Warhol mashed up contemporary images of art and advertising, for example in his Mona Lisa series.

The entire video style known as montage could be considered to have a large subset of work that is very much made up of mashups. A nice example of that would be the use of advertisements in Sut Jhally’s brilliant anti-consumption video “The Ad and the Ego.”

How much of contemporary marketing could be thought of as a mash-up? I wonder. That level of combination, and the different ways it can be applied, might be worth thinking more about.

Consider how ads play on other ads (Linda Scott has written nicely about this in some of her work on rhetoric). Even how product categories are riffed and ripped when marketers position new products.

Is there a science of mashups? A cultural studies set of scholarly works (I’m sure there is and would appreciate being pointed in that direction). Are there interesting global patterns?

I’m always on the lookout for new mashups. If you have any good ones, please send me the link or post them in a comment here.

Add Comment