Why Die Antwoord made me care about American copyright law – by “Vance W”

Die Antwoord 'Zef Side'
Die Antwoord 'Zef Side'

My current obsession at the moment is with the South African Zef crew Die Antwoord (or, “The Answer”). The group is comprised from a mix of global youth symbols: at a glance one can clearly see homage towards early 90’s rave culture, American hip-hop, the white trash Juggalos movement, and of course, the overt nod to Vanilla Ice. The visual makeup of their debut video “Enter the Ninja” is a hellish mix between the visuals of Roger Ballen and some sort of psychiatric ward version of a Keith Haring mural.

Roger Ballen
Roger Ballen
Keith Haring
Keith Haring
Die Antwoord
Die Antwoord

From Weird Al Yankovic to Chromeo, parody is not a new device in pop music. But what makes Die Antwoord so interesting is their ability to blur the distinctions between what’s real and what’s actually satire. The tension here between aspects novelty and what’s contemporary becomes quite fertile as a mode of production. But what does all of this have to do with copyright?

As a metaphor, Die Antwoord embodies the post-modern attitude by attacking the notion of a static or fixed symbol. Wether in literature, film, art, music, product design, etc, etc, the product in question is never completely original. Instead, it is always built from those cultural forms that preceded it. While this notion was most famously illustrated by Roland Barthes in Death of the Author, it was made truly tangible to my generation by Nicolas Bourriaud in Post Production. In it, he states “with music derived from sampling, the sample no longer represents anything more than a salient point in a shifting cartography. It is caught in a chain, and it’s meaning depends in part on its position in this chain.”

It is within this line of thinking that I advocate for regulation married to James Boyle’s idea of purchasing copyright duration in short durations. Within The Public Domain he states “..if copyright owners had to purchase each additional five years of term separately, the same way we buy warranties on our appliances, the economically rational ones would mainly settle for a fairly short period.” In turn — while still protecting authors from direct plagiarism — cultural symbols so crucial to artistic progress would enter the public domain at accelerated speeds.

My point is this: the idea of a pure work is false. The assertion that I could formulate my ideas centered around copyright and communicate them to you here without reference is of course absurd. The greater the toolset made available to a generation of makers the greater the cultural output. As Umberto Eco wrote in Postscript to the Name of the Rose “I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, ‘I love you madly,’ because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, ‘As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.'”

5 thoughts on “Why Die Antwoord made me care about American copyright law – by “Vance W”

  1. I agree with you. There are very few works that are truly original, through and through–there always seems to be some source of inspiration. I also like the Boyle’s idea–having these works in the public domain would allow for a richer culture and would be sources of inspiration for new works. Sure, some works would be renewed over and over again, but there would still be a significant amount that weren’t renewed, rather than having everything last the entire life of the author + 70 years, which locks up our culture.

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  2. Well written article and like you i am starting to see the cracks in post-modernity. The passive aggressive approach that is hardly informing or enriching people’s lives. Die Antwoord in my eyes are trying to break from that mold, while using the tools such as pastiche of postmodernity to make this comment, in a more aggressive manner. I really enjoyed your no researching approach, i say go for it, be a little bit arrogant and see what happens

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  3. You make a very good point, but the example of imagery you’ve used has a twist. Roger Ballen actually works with Die Antwoord; your sample is not a misappropriation (perhaps Ballen is influenced by Haring?). Ballen has directed at least one video of theirs that I know of and decorated the sets in another.

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  4. Comfortabl y, the article is really the sweetest on this precious topic. I concur with your conclusions and also will eagerly look forward to your upcoming updates. Simply just saying thanks will not simply just be enough, for the phenomenal clarity in your writing. I will certainly directly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any kind of updates. Pleasant work and also much success in your business endeavors!

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