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

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  • Arild Fetveit
The obsolescence of analogue media, along with a rapid succession of digital formats, has sensitized 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 set on exploring the mortality of media materials has often taken the form of medium-specific noise. In recent years, however, 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 in the videos for 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.
Original languageEnglish
VolumeAutumn 2015 ‘Vintage’
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2015

ID: 151345401