The Musical Madeleine: Communication, Performance, and Identity in Musical Ringtones

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In this paper, we consider musical cell-phone ringtones as virtual, communicative and cultural performances. They appear unpredictably, they are interpreted by variegated and dynamic audiences, and they establish stages upon which cultural meanings are portrayed. We will argue that the musical ringtone functions as a musical madeleine in Marcel Proust's sense, an involuntary mnemonic trigger of a complex web of individual and collective memories. Having this quality, the ringtone lends itself perfectly to the performative manifestation and display of (sub)cultural identities in the public sphere. We will illustrate these workings of the ringtone by way of a small case study taken from gangsta rap culture, the song and ringtone “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2010

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