Monday, July 19, 2010

Pastiche Culture: Jessi's Blood on the Dance Floor

One of the biggest stories bouncing around the internet right now involves an 11-year-old girl named Jessi Slaughter, whose online identity has spawned a viral video, a couple of novelty t-shirts, a few memes, and a battle between Gawker Media and the users of 4chan's notorious /b/ board. The trouble started when Jessi posted a video responding to internet "haters" who had been critiquing her supposed relationship with Dahvie Vanity, the lead singer of Blood On The Dance Floor. In the dizzying, four and a half minute webcam video, Jessi profanely confronts her critics.

While it is unsettling to watch a foul-mouthed 11-year-old launch into a personal screed on the internet, what is most jarring about the video is the strange collection of cultural sources that Jessi draws from. She evokes everything from gangsta rap ("pop a glock in your mouth") to fetishistic sex ("fist yourself to your beastiality magazines") in attacking her online haters. In the video, she sounds less like an emotional adolescent coming unhinged and more like a web browser that's gone haywire. Jessi, like the bands she listens to and the haters she combats, speaks the language of internet-fueled pastiche.

Jessi's favorite band, Blood On The Dance Floor, isn't so much a musical group as it is a whirling mash-up of genres and styles. Vanity and his bandmate Jayy von Monroe, crib from an array of fringe musical genres like screamo, crunk, and horrocore while incorporating style elements of bondage, glam punk, and cosplay. Their song "I Heart Hello Kitty," for instance, pairs the cutesy Japanese brand with boasts about rough sex. Over a mindless disco beat, Vanity rap-sings phrases like "H-E-L-L-O Show me how you're such a hoe/ K-I-T-T-Y Bitch I'll make you fucking cry." BOTDF, as they're inevitably known online, is part of a growing collection of mash-up groups, with 3oh!3 on the mainstream end and brokeNCYDE on the fringe end. These groups mix and mash musical styles with such recklessness that their songs are often baffling. Like Jessi Slaughter, they are post-post-everything. August Brown of the Los Angeles Times wrote that brokeNCYDE "exists so far beyond the tropes of irony and sincerity that to ask 'are they kidding?' is like trying to peel an onion to get to a perceived central core that, in the end, does not exist and renders all attempts to reassemble the pieces futile."

The danger of this hyperactive cultural clustering is that the results are increasingly divorced from history and meaning. As a piece of media knocks around the internet--often repackaged and repositioned by Twitter's ReTweeting, Tumblr's ReBlogging, and YouTube's Remixing--it gradually transforms into a foundation-less commodity. Recycling media is not a new concept, of course, but what the case of Jessi Slaughter evidences is that the rate of recycling has become so rapid that the concepts of suitability, and even quality, are now often rendered moot. Like a YouTube video that has been repeatedly downloaded and re-uploaded, the humanity originally associated with videos, articles, and songs is gradually degraded.

After posting her haters video, Jessi was hit with a barrage of harassment and she eventually posted an emotional follow-up in which her father makes an angry cameo. The follow-up video went viral and inspired a slew of remixes and mash-ups. Jessi's father has become simply the "You dun goof'd Guy"--his fear and concern have been autotuned. A recent post on Stickydrama, a social media site for internet-savvy adolescents that was ground zero for the Jessi Slaughter drama, promotes one such remix, calling it "catchy and funny as hell." Highlighting the rage and vulnerability of the viral video over a propulsive disco beat with elements of hip-hop, the remix is well on its way to becoming a Blood On The Dance Floor song.

1 comment:

  1. CBS's "The Early Show" had a segment last week on the Jessi Slaughter videos. Speaking with a child psychologist, anchor Harry Smith questioned whether or not the video was authentic. "Was this really her voice?" he asks.
    The answer is, I guess, Yes and No and Yes.