This paper proposes a new conceptual frame for the study of analogue video aesthetics in digital culture. Updating Guy Debord’s notion of a “society of the spectacle” (1994), it will argue that we have entered an age of retrospectacle whose dominant signifier is an aesthetics of “remanence”—a term that fuses the magnetic materiality of analogue video with the cultural situation in which it finds itself today.
Today, a variety of digital media objects have rendered the “VHS style” look ubiquitous. As retro fixation fixates the image of remanence decay in digital code, it raises important questions about the tension between historical authenticity and artifice. Comparing three very different works produced through processes of analogue-digital remediation, the paper will show how the aesthetics of remanence constitutes a shared visual variable of digital culture, whose relation to the concept of authenticity remains highly heterogeneous and irreducible to simulacra.
Mark Leckey’s video art work “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” (1999) is a “disarmingly sincere” (Higgins 2015) treatment of technostalgia; rapper Joey Bada$$’s music video “Fromdatomb$” (David M. Helman, 2012) manifests hip hop’s credo of keepin’ it real by adding traces of analogue grain to its digital texture; and the ‘80s action pastiche Kung Fury (David Sandberg, 2015) playfully undermines both historical authenticity and medium specificity through its indiscriminate alloy of analogue and digital problems.