Saturday, March 7, 2009

never more meta

YouTube allows you to be as meta as you want, picking up pieces of other pieces and creating your own piece. Justin Yoshida, in this post, links to an amazing musical example of this. Imagine scouring the Web for musical pieces, then editing them together into a coherent funk soundtrack.

In a sense, something like this has been happening since the beginning. Why are old comedies often less funny or witty than newer ones? Because newer ones contain jokes that riff off our knowledge of the older jokes. The result is an archaeology of references and meta-references, with those of us alive today riding that constantly self-updating referential wavefront (we do this for as long as we can before dropping off, settling into a particular groove, and losing touch with that front). Steve Martin's version of "The Pink Panther" would have been hilarious back in the 1960s, but because Martin did little more than recycle Peter Sellers's old jokes, the movie (and its recent sequel) fell flat for 21st-century audiences.*

Of course, we often lose track of the original datum to which all the later references refer. Just today, I watched the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still" for the first time, and saw where the Cylon centurion got its face: right from Gort the robot! Wish I'd known this earlier.

That a current phenomenon is the result of other, preceding phenomena is a central tenet of Buddhist metaphysics. All phenomena are dependently co-arisen; it's not just music that works this way. And if we follow this line of thinking a bit further, we begin to see that there was no original datum, because even that datum arose from antecedent causes.

In any case, enjoy your meta-funk. Thanks, Justin, for the link.

*At the same time, many forms of physical comedy retain their humor even today. The classic Mr. Creosote scene in "Monthy Python's The Meaning of Life" is a good example, and the long-ago international success of the traveling Commedia dell'Arte is another example of comedy with wide and long-standing appeal.


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