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Open Access Death, beauty, and iconoclastic nostalgia: Precarious aesthetics and Lana Del Rey

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The obsolescence of analogue media along with a rapid succession of digital formats has sensitised us to the mortality of media. It has also spawned what Dominik Schrey has called ‘a golden age of nostalgia for these allegedly “dead media”’, now explored by visual artists, filmmakers, cinematographers, Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts, Polaroid fans, Instagram users, music video directors and others. Since the mid-1990s a partially-iconoclastic impulse focused on exploring the mortality of media materials has often taken the form of medium-specific noise. However, in recent years alternative strategies that counteract clarity, involving iconoclastic disruptions of the process of mediation, supported by a host of degrading techniques and strategies that thicken and foreground the medium and its materiality, have partially replaced uses of medium-specific noise.

Cultural analysts awake to these and related developments have responded with a series of productive interventions. Drawing on many of these, I propose a media aesthetic approach where the disruptions in question are conceived as involving instances of precarious mediation to be examined within a precarious aesthetics. The music videos of Lana Del Rey effectively articulate ways in which precarious mediation is used in contemporary popular culture. In many of her music videos, like Summertime Sadness (2012) and Summer Wine (2013), the precarious mediation is given a nostalgic inflection, where an ambiguous yearning for the past is imbricated with cunning attempts to perfect imperfection. This nostalgia appears iconoclastic on the level of mediation as well as in its yearning for the past greatness of America. Thus, Del Rey may not merely be taken to contribute to the exploration of precarious mediation with a nostalgic inflection but also to touch on, in conflicting ways, aspects of the precarity which provides an important part of the experience of the present moment.
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Keywords: Lana Del Rey; beauty; imperfection; medium-specific noise; music video; nostalgia; precarious aesthetics; vintage

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Arild Fetveit is Associate Professor in the Department for Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen. He has published in the field of reception studies, convergence, medium-specific noise, music video, and digitalisation of film and photography as well as written a dissertation on the discursive possibilities between documentary and fiction film. He is currently directing an international research project on precarious aesthetics.

Publication date: September 1, 2015

More about this publication?
  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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