For Romeo and Juliet, High School Never Ends

Myyki Blanco’s music video High School Never Ends riffs off Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to explore homophobia, violence directed at an identifiable Other, and the thin line between being designated as “in” but not “of” Europe or other geopolitically defined spaces. Directed by Mark Lambert, with cinematography by Martin Ruhe, the video is styled as a short film. Set in rural Germany, the video features Blanco, an American hip-hop artist who identifies as transgender, in a relationship with a member of a street gang.  There is a dense visual language here, with Shakespeare’s iconic lovers as only one among a range of cultural references. But the video cues its audience to its Shakespearean intertext, quoting from the play’s prologue – “Two households, both alike in dignity […], From ancient grudge break to new mutiny” – in its opening titles. In this queer adaptation, Romeo and Juliet are less signifiers of amor vincit omnia than of violence and hate crimes as recurrent, relentless realities. Blanco and Lambert have drawn analogies between their production and the contemporary refugee crisis in Europe:

“It never once overtly comments on orientation or race, but only ideas of ‘us’ and ‘them,’” explains Lambert.

Blanco adds:

“I had once thought Europe was my safe haven from American white supremacy, and how wrong I became.”

From the invocation of place – of America, of Europe – we move to the suggestion of heterotopias and alternate stories to the binary logic of “us” and “them”. The video intercuts images of the adult Romeo and Juliet figures with scenes of their teen counterparts, at once suggesting a lost innocence, a time before their bodies and desires were named and categorised as aberrant, and at the same time reflecting on the destructive repetition of phobic attitudes to successive generations of those deemed queer or deviant based on race, gender, or sexuality.

The video adapts the play’s own conjuring of Romeo and Juliet as existing beyond the space and time of their family’s grudge, bending it to contemporary iterations of race, gender and sexuality without reducing text or context. Blanco and Lambert might be said to identify the play’s legacy or its affect not as tragedy but love, in terms provided by Carlos Antônio Leite Brandão when he writes that

“the play makes us rediscover a kind of love that is free, a way to construct our humanity and our fate, which we are responsible for in a world dominated by business and by pragmatic, banal, and utilitarian relationships. Such love […] is really what must also be performed in our twenty-first century Veronas.”

Working by implication and a transfer of meanings, High School Never Ends suggests one kind of contemporary Verona based on violence, intolerance and hatred of the racialized Other, while it also gestures toward a space of possibility for Europe, a symbolic “Verona” in which an ethical responsibility to the Other is recognised. Romeo and Juliet emerges in this iteration as “European,” not in some essentialist sense of primary origin but rather as a text that speaks to the vicissitudes of contemporary European identity politics.

For more on Romeo and Juliet’s afterlives, see Stephen O’Neill’s “‘In fair [Europe], where we lay our scene”: Romeo and Juliet, Europe and digital cultures'” in Romeo and Juliet in European Culture, eds. Juan F. Cerdá, Dirk Delabastita, Keith Gregor (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2017).

Chicken Shop Shakespeare

It is great to see another film short from the North England based collective Chicken Shop Shakespeare, with Henry V‘s “Crispin day” speech getting the group’s distinctive treatment. This short marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. It will be especially interesting to watch out for Chicken Shop Shakespeare this year to see how they mark another anniversary – Shakespeare400.

The Henry V short features Lladel Bryant, who delivers Henry’s call to arms on his way to a football match (the video was shot at Bradford City FC). Director Tyron Maynar makes good use of a hand-held camera to provide close ups, which contribute to Chicken Shop’s cinéma vérité style. The short operates through a discourse of the real – this is an urban, contemporary Shakespeare, a Bard for and of the streets. These reality effects are a staple of Chicken Shop’s videos. They speak of the culture and demographic of the collaborators, and probably help teachers to make Shakespeare (more?) appealing to young students in the classroom. Of course, YouTube offers up  earlier examples of urban or street Shakespeare such as Craig Bazan’s Hamlet on the Street from 2007.

 

Recalling this video raises the question as to what Chicken Shop’s next move might be in 2016 – perhaps a new style or theme, one that addresses Shakespeare as something increasingly experienced through digital culture? Either way, hopefully we’ll be provided with more slices of Shakespeare from Chicken Shop this year.

 

For further information see Chicken Shop Shakespeare

 

What if Hamlet used social media?

In this YouTube video Hamlet Gone Viral, Leia Yen takes the dominant elements from our contemporary mediascape (Facebook, Google search, Google maps, Yahoo, Twitter, Tumblr, Gmail, YouTube, the blog) to tell Hamlet’s story. As the Hamlet plot unfolds through a series of media screens, it’s tempting to interpret the video as instance of what Doug Lanier dubs “post-textual Shakespeare”. But the text of Hamlet remains here. It is also creatively re-purposed. In using Facebook’s update culture as its primary narrative device, the video suggests that posting online through social networking and media are communicative acts, modes of self-formation and even biography. Hamlet Gone Viral captures the tension or paradox of online lives, lives that communication brands (from Facebook to Google) enable and, at the same time, frame and, to a degree, contain. We serve their visibility and value as much as our expression. The video also says something about the role of media in knowledge construction. In this twenty-first century characterization of Hamlet, Google emerges as a form of authority. Search assumes something approaching epistemological standing. In Shakespeare and YouTube (Bloomsbury 2014), I suggested that through the platform, “Hamlet never dies. In their productions, tubers partake in a Hamlet-like desire for story and for remembrance, a desire to leave a digital footprint in the contemporary mediascape, via the paternal Bard”. This video takes things further, noting how expression is not simply filtered through a single platform like YouTube but is rather a function of the interrelation of multiple media. This is social media. This is social media Shakespeare. And all three components carry equal weight. But perhaps we are moving towards a post-Shakespeare phase, never mind a post-textual one. The Shakespeare quotation or reference may primarily function here as a conduit for connectivity. Hamlet Gone viral is, then, less about Shakespeare or Hamlet than about the workings of social media itself. The extent to which Shakespeare might get lost amidst different technologies is evident in an earlier video The Internet Tells the Story of Hamlet

But is loss a productive way of thinking about what is happening to Shakespeare – or Hamlet – in these videos? The description accompanying the The Internet Tells the Story of Hamlet video is interesting: “19 separate programs tell the story of Hamlet”. There is a sense of boast here about the number of software programmes that have been used to make the video. But perhaps there is also a suggestion about how the medium or technology simultaneously displaces and transforms Shakespeare.

For the creators of these videos, using Web 2.0 technologies to respond to Shakespeare may not be about displacement or transformation but simply their default, habitual mode of expression. And because of YouTube’s system of tags, as well as its algorithmic tracking of viewer selections, we begin to notice yet more videos where creators use the language of social media to tell Hamlet. What at first seems to be an original conceit, turns out to be part of a wider practice:

These videos are examples of how YouTube and social media platforms are being integrated into teaching. Students are being encouraged to use their familiarity with social media as an entrypoint into their study of Shakespeare. We encounter plot summary but also video as a form of interpretation and close reading.

Shakespeare and YouTube (Arden Shakespeare 2014)

Shakespeare and YouTube (Arden Shakespeare 2014)

The first ever full-length analysis of YouTube Shakespeare, Shakespeare and YouTube shows the importance of the video-sharing platform to the twenty-first century’s reception and adaptation of Shakespeare’s work.

By exploring YouTube’s function as patron, archive and distribution channel, my book seeks to analyse how the platform extends and challenges Shakespeare’s cultural currency. Investigating the intersection of YouTube’s participatory culture – its invitation to ‘Broadcast Yourself’ – with its corporate logic, the book argues that YouTube Shakespeare is a site of productive tension between new forms of creative interpretation and the homogenizing effects of mass culture.

Emphasising the need for critical media literacy,  I also explore YouTube’s usefulness as a pedagogical resource within Shakespeare studies. The book provides practical guidelines on using YouTube in the classroom, including detailed assignments designed to facilitate interactive, student-centred learning. Including a wealth of online resources, Shakespeare and YouTube will prove essential to an understanding of how Shakespeare is being appropriated and adapted in the digital age.

 

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Interpreting YouTube Shakespeare

Chapter One: Searchable Shakespeares: Attention, Genres and Value on YouTube

Chapter Two: Broadcast Your Hamlet: Convergence Culture, Shakespeare and Online Self-Expression

Chapter Three: Race in YouTube Shakespeare: Ways of Seeing

Chapter Four: Medium Play, Queer Erasures:
Shakespeare’s Sonnets on YouTube

Chapter Five: The Teaching and Learning Tube:
Challenges and Affordances

Bibliography
Index