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April 20, 2006

Ironic Recontextualization

So you're at a fancy restaurant, and you've ordered a nice meal. Pasta perhaps... or maybe the grilled fish special. Eventually, your waiter arrives and serves you -- not the dish you ordered -- but instead, a large pile of dog shit. Do you eat it?

No, of course you don't. You're a classy individual and you generally choose not to eat dog shit.

Now, let's repeat this scene, with one minor change. Again, you're at the restaurant and the waiter serves you a pile of dog shit. But this time, as he places this plate of canine feces before you - he WINKS at you. He winks at you as if to say, "Heh, it's dog shit. Get it?" This time, do you eat it?

"No Joey, I would never eat dog shit! Ape shit, maybe... but NEVER dog shit!"

Don't be so sure, hypothetical respondent! You might be eating metaphorical dog shit right now, and not even know it.

You see, it all relates to something I like to call "ironic recontextualization". I could probably call it something else, something more descriptive and less pretentious, but SHUT UP I'LL CALL IT WHATEVER THE FUCK I LIKE!

Anyway, ironic recontextualization is what happens when you take something that sucks, and repackage it so that suckiness becomes its chief selling point. It's sort of like a Jedi Mind Trick -- if the Jedi had been a bunch of assholes who worked in marketing departments.

Here's an example of this troubling phenomenon. Many young, hip people enjoy Adult Swim, the late night adult-themed programming block on the Cartoon Network. They show reruns of Futurama and Family Guy, as well as original animated series such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Boondocks (which is TEH AWESOME!). Being on the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim only showed animation -- until now. A couple of weeks ago, Adult Swim announced that they would be airing episodes of Saved By the Bell.


Yes, that Saved By the Bell. Adult Swim fans, such as myself, wondered why they had decided to disrupt their quality adult-animation block with a hideous live-action kids show from the late 80s. At first, I assumed it was a rather delayed April Fool's joke. However, as the network continued to run promos for the show, I realized that Adult Swim was actually executing a quintessential act of ironic recontextualization. Adult Swim is no longer a mere "programming block", it has become a BRAND. People associate this brand with edgy and original programming. With the brand thusly established, they decided that they could take any old piece of crap out of the anals (sic) of television, slap an Adult Swim watermark on it, and it would retain the supercool brand image.

Remember that pile of dog shit you got served at the fancy restaurant? Ironic recontextualization in its purest form.

Of course, everyone doesn't respond positively when they' were served a steaming pile of recontextualized irony. When Adult Swim announced they were showing Saved By the Bell reruns, their message boards went batshit crazy. So what did Adult Swim do? They recontextualized all that angry feedback. Ironically.

Another example of this dubious marketing strategy can be seen on VH1's So NoTORIous. One can imagine what transpired when VH1 put this show concept in front of a focus group.

TV Executive: "We're going to be doing a new show, totally centered around Tori Spelling. What do you think?"

Focus Group Participant: "Tori Spelling, that ugly chick from 90210? She sucks! Wasn't she only on that show because she was the daughter of the guy who produced it?"

TV Executive: "Yes, we know she sucks. Even Miss Spelling knows she sucks. That's the point of the show! Tori Spelling plays herself, and you get to see her sucking in a lot of unusual and unlikely situations!"

Focus Group Participant: "Why the fuck would I want to watch that?"


So NoTORIous is a star-vehicle for an actress who absolutely, positively sucks. However, in the show, VH1 slyly lets us (the viewers) know that they know that we know she sucks. By doing so, the network would have us accept the suckitude as if it were satire, spoof, "campy fun". Though, in reality, it's none of these.

It's just more dog shit. With a wink.

Posted by Joey at April 20, 2006 04:40 AM

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