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In the age of globalization, digitization, and media convergence, traditional hierarchies between media are breaking down. This book offers new approaches to understanding the politics and their underlying ideologies that are reshaping our global media landscape, including questions of audience participation and transmedia storytelling.





Adaptation is all about change: from one work of art to the next. Therefore, adaptation is also about power. On one level, there has been the power of the ‘original’ text over its adapted version, which has in many cases automatically been considered a polluted or otherwise inferior copy of the primary text — the Hegelian slave to its more authentic master. But the ways in which adaptations are used in our contemporary context of ubiquitous computing and global capitalism enforce a power dynamic that is even more explicitly political: a continuous negotiation of existing social, cultural, and economic hierarchies that can be reaffirmed but also challenged by the new ways in which adaptations are circulated and appropriated.

Dan Hassler-Forest, Pascal Nicklas

Adapting the Past: Politics and History


1. History as Adaptation

When we consider the politics of adaptation, it is only natural that we should gravitate toward the political motives in adaptations of different kinds. In accord with Fredric Jameson’s ‘“transhistorical” imperative,’ ’Always historicize!’ (Jameson, 1982, p. 9), most of the contributors to this volume focus on placing different adaptations in historical contexts in order to unmask these political motives. Before I yield the floor to my distinguished colleagues, however, I would like to approach this subject from more or less the opposite direction. Instead of discussing the historical contexts of adaptations, I propose to discuss the status of history itself as a series of adaptations. My goal is to establish a context that foregrounds not only the historical determination of adaptation, but the adaptive nature of historiography.

Thomas Leitch

2. Voyeuristic Revisionism? (Re-)Viewing the Politics of Neo-Victorian Adaptations

It is perhaps one of the least disputed points among neo-Victorian scholars that the twin practices of adaptation and appropriation lie at the heart of neo-Victorianism:

Adaptation is a fundamental part of neo-Victorianism as a concept because all engagements with the Victorian in contemporary culture … are necessarily adaptations or appropriations — be it of plots, characters, or intellectual concerns and cultural preoccupations. (Heilmann and Llewellyn, 2010, p. 244)

Neo-Victorianists’ interest in adaptation studies is evidenced by two special issues of the e-journal

Neo-Victorian Studies

(2.2; 5.2). In many cases (see Lepine, 2008; Poore, 2008; Byrne, 2009; John, 2012), however, the focus of interest lies on adaptations of


texts into films, TV series, musicals, or plays, which are scrutinized for ‘neo-Victorian’ acts of ‘self-conscious (re)interpret[ation], (re)discover[y] and (re)vision’ of the Victorian era (Heilmann and Llewellyn, 2010, p. 4). In addition, recent films set in the Victorian age, such as

The Piano

(1993) or

The Governess

(1998), have also attracted a modicum of critical interest (see Kaplan, 2007, pp. 119–153; Brosh, 2008, pp. 142–153; Primorac, 2012). Film or TV adaptations of neo-Victorian novels, in contrast, have received significantly less critical attention.

Caterina Grasl

3. Cultural Nostalgia, Orientalist Ideology, and Heritage Film

Writing about the phenomenon of the ‘selfie’ and the changing role of photography today, Julian Stallabrass points out how ‘some of the most popular camera apps play with nostalgia for the snapshot’ (Stallabrass, 2014, p. 20). The popularity of Instagram alone, with its ever-growing number of users (currently at 150 million and counting) who use this application to make their digital photographs look like analogue, aged Polaroids, testifies to the current nostalgic cultural bent. From AMC’s

Mad Men

(2007–2015) and ITV’s

Downton Abbey

(2010—) to Wes Anderson’s

The Grand Budapest Hotel

(2014), a strong trend in Anglophone TV and film production of late has been that of the past refashioned and remade — with a heavy dose of nostalgia — for contemporary audiences. This attitude to the past can, perhaps, best be described in Eric Hobsbawm’s words as:

a twilight zone between history and memory … For individual human beings this zone stretches from the point where living family traditions or memories begin — say, from the earliest photo which the oldest living family member can identify or explicate — to the end of infancy, when public and private destinies are recognized as inseparable and as mutually defining one another. (Hobsbawm, quoted in Walder, 2009, pp. 935–936)

Antonija Primorac

Adapting Authorship: Politics and Convergence


4. Emerging from Converging Cultures: Circulation, Adaptation, and Value

The play of value — or what I will call adaptive value — has always been a powerful underpinning of both adaptation practices and adaptation studies. By adaptive value I mean something fundamental: what makes an adaptation significant and important, or why does a particular adaptation matter? Historically this question has always been a dimension of any film adaptation, either intentionally or unintentionally, and, since at least the 1907 adaptation of Ben-Hur and the landmark copyright case it provoked, adaptations have generated and measured a myriad of values, ranging from the legal and economic to the aesthetic and moralistic. Indeed, as this range suggests, adaptive values have mapped, across different registers, the pervasive and often oblique ways in which ideology and politics have consistently infused the layered practices of cinematic adaptations from their production to their reception.

Timothy Corrigan

5. Transmediality and the Politics of Adaptation: Concepts, Forms, and Strategies

Current media production is characterized by two major trends. On the one hand, giant conglomerates like Disney stream their content across as many media as possible. On the other hand, non-professionals become ’produsers’ themselves by sharing digital productions on the Internet. In both trends, practices of adaptation and remediation thrive. This chapter deals with the relations between transmediality and adaptation, more specifically, with adaptation in the political and economic context of transmedial ‘supersystems’ (Kinder, 1991) or ‘multitexts’ (Parody, 2011), that is, constellations of texts in different media.

Jens Eder

6. Bastards and Pirates, Remixes and Multitudes: The Politics of Mash-Up Transgression and the Polyprocesses of Cultural Jazz

This chapter discusses viewer engagements with and appropriations of transmedia franchises. It explores the political dimension of participatory mash-ups of transmedia storytelling, taking the BBC franchise Sherlock and a variety of Internet memes such as supercuts, lip dubs, and the ‘Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop’ as case studies — memes which are spread via social media platforms run by media corporations such as Google or Facebook, whose objective is the monetization of user creativity.

Eckart Voigts

Adapting Postcolonialism: Politics and Race


7. ‘Bergman in Uganda’: Ugandan Veejays, Swedish Pirates, and the Political Value of Live Adaptation

In early May 2014, the Swedish artist Markus Öhrn premiered the first part of his project ‘Bergman in Uganda’ at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, Belgium. The premiere involved a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s signature film Persona (1966), interpreted by a Ugandan ’veejay’ who goes by the name of Veejay HD. On two adjacent screens, Öhm presented viewers with Bergman’s film and Veejay HD’s face, as he translated the film into Luganda for Ugandan audiences, with Veejay HD’s words, in turn, translated into English subtitles. The festival blurb describes veejays as ‘a new kind of folk storyteller … people who work in makeshift cinema halls in slums and remote villages’ and who translate foreign films (mostly Hollywood blockbusters) for Ugandan audiences (Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 2014). It explains Öhrn’s motivation for initiating the ‘Bergman in Uganda’ project as one invested with irony, as a way of allowing ‘the European spectator to see how the African viewer looks at him’ and as a ‘confusing reversal that induces us to reflect on our own perspective’ (Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 2014).

Lindiwe Dovey

8. Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning and the Politics of Adaptation in African Literature

African literature has often been theorized through an implicit act of adaptation. If orality is the material foundation of African literature, as many have claimed, then the story of modern African literature often turns out to be the development from spoken to written forms (Chinweizu and Madubuike, 1980, p. 4; Irele, 2001, p. 11). But it is easy to find other examples of ‘adaptation’ as an implied metaphor or metadiscourse for the African literary. Chinua Achebe, for example, inspired fiction writers to take up the work of writing history by describing the African novel in terms of its recovery (or rediscovery) of the past (1964; 1965); Okot p’Bitek wrote poems as ‘songs,’ melding musical performance with the written word (1966); the Sundiata epic was rendered as a prose narrative by Djibril Tamsir Niane and Camara Laye (Niane, 1965; Laye, 1978); and Wole Soyinka recast Greek drama in an African context (1973). One might even regard the broad appropriation of Africanist narrative itself — the monopoly on representation enjoyed by texts like Heart of Darkness — as a kind of adaptation: Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, for example, adapts Joseph Conrad’s famous novella, a revisionary inversion which reframes and reconceives the object of its quasi-oedipal antagonism.

Aaron Bady

9. Michael Jackson and Afrofuturism: HIStory’s Adaptation of Past, Present, and Future

In his eulogy for Michael Jackson in the Village Voice on 1 July 2009, Greg Tate wrote: ‘I have always wanted to believe that Michael was actually one of the most secretly angry Black race-men on the planet’ (p. 14). This wish may appear paradoxical, both in contrast to music often seen as more explicitly political — from soul in the 1960s to hip hop in the early 1990s — but also in relation to the wider cultural reception of Michael Jackson. A closer look at the oeuvre of the King of Pop, however, reveals multiple intersections of commercial popular music on the one hand and political questions on the other, and arguably nowhere as clearly as in his music videos.

Erik Steinskog

Adapting Nationality: Politics and Globalization


10. The End of the Hollywood ‘Rip-Off’? Changes in the Bollywood Politics of Copyright

Although ‘Bollywood’ has, over the years, become a more and more neutral and descriptive term (Dissanayake, 2004, p. 143), the apparently simple blending of ‘Bombay’ and ‘Hollywood’ has a long history of critics, especially from within the Hindi film industry, who reject the term’s allegedly pejorative connotations. Their complaints are comprehensible. Even at a very basic level, the neo-colonial overtones of the term are obvious, since it designates an Indian entertainment industry via the globally hegemonic Western entertainment industry. Moreover, the reference to Hollywood emphasizes the commercial imperatives and industrial production processes dominating popular Indian cinema, thus implying formulaic film fare rather than works of originality and artistic merit. This goes hand in hand with the notion that films made in ‘Bollywood’ are often derivations and imitations of Hollywood films, which, due to a lack of financial, technical, artistic, and organizational resources, have difficulty living up to their American models. Derivativeness, with all its connotations of secondariness and unoriginality, thus emerges as a central tenet of the Bollywood stereotype, so much so that the English Wikipedia entry on ‘Bollywood’ features a full paragraph on the topic of plagiarism.

Lucia Krämer

11. Adapting Tasmania: Terrorizing the Past

In this chapter, I am primarily interested in exploring the performance of national and regional identity through the adaptation of national literature and folklore in the screen adaptation process. The two recent films I use as my main focus adapt a convict confession from nineteenthcentury Tasmania in various ways. These films are adaptations of an historical event — although one which depends on the reliability or otherwise of a first-person confession, itself recorded by more than one individual — and mediated through repeated fictionalized recreations since its occurrence. The films are therefore not adaptations in any straightforward sense; but they are adaptations all the same because they rely on an original event for their wider meanings. They represent also an accumulation of the meanings and morals ascribed to this confession; they are ‘political’ in their impact, in that they both revise and entrench particular views of Tasmanian history they rely on for their meaning. As films, they deploy recognizable film genres to facilitate the symbolic structures they wish to foreground, including horror and docu-drama; additionally, both films exploit the broader notion of the ‘Tasmanian gothic’ to add specific weight to their meanings.

Imelda Whelehan

12. Laibach’s Subversive Adaptations

Laibach is a Slovene underground rock band that has been performing for over 30 years. The group’s founding members are Milan Fras, Ivan Novak, Dejan Knez, Ervin Markošek, and Tomaž Hostnik, who all hail from the mining town of Trbovlje in central Slovenia, where they grew up under the socialist system of former Yugoslavia. As a complex and highly controversial national and transnational cultural phenomenon, Laibach has been much more than just another hard rock band. Their work in fact situates itself in the in-between realm of pop culture and avant-garde performance art, where the group’s continuous mixing of categories, discourses, and objects foregrounds processes of adaptation in a strongly charged political context.

Darko Štrajn

Adapting Genre: Politics and Popular Culture


13. Game of Thrones: The Politics of World-Building and the Cultural Logic of Gentrification

It has become commonplace to proclaim that we live in a new Golden Age of television drama. Since the late 1990s, we have experienced a deluge of serialized television that is routinely compared (often favorably) to masterpieces from the literary canon. HBO evangelists have proclaimed that the television series is already the dominant narrative form for the twenty-first century, as film was for the twentieth, and the novel had been for the nineteenth. Whether or not this kind of hyperbole is justified remains to be seen, but when the most frequently discussed question within a university’s English literature department is no longer ‘what book do you recommend?’ but ‘which series should I be watching?’, it seems obvious that our media hierarchy has undergone some kind of shift.

Dan Hassler-Forest

14. You Think You Know the Story: Novelty, Repetition, and Lovecraft in Whedon and Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods

Adaptation studies has frequently been hamstrung by its own habituated drama of fidelity, where evaluation of each adaptation becomes a game in which the adaptation must be shown to be an insufficiently faithful and thus inevitably inferior copy of a sanctified original. (Puckishly declaring the adaptation to be superior to the original is, alas, only the champions’ tier of this sport.) Recent developments in adaptation theory, however, have begun to move beyond this impasse, turning to texts that have no clear and privileged source material — either too many or too few — and inviting us to consider them as adaptations anyway. Such works push us past the bad conscience of fidelity and infidelity towards a new notion of transtextual exchange that networks varied narratives, genres, and media, reframing adaptation not as some marginal practice of quasi-legitimate textual banditry but as a central component of any creative act.

Gerry Canavan

15. Stop/Watch: Repressing History, Adapting Watchmen

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 graphic novel Watchmen was long understood to be an unfilmable work. This opinion surely has a great deal to do with the novel’s notorious chronological density: over the course of its 12 chapters, Watchmen’s narrative moves backwards, forwards, and sideways in time, now with jarring suddenness, now with subtle ease. In the process, it weaves together a dizzying array of real and imagined histories in a way ill suited to the limited scope of Hollywood narrative form. Against this playfully plural approach to history, the polarizing 2009 film adaptation defines itself by a fidelity to the original novel’s historical moment so absolute that it all but abolishes the chronological gamesmanship of its source material.

Jacob Brogan

Adapting the Body: Politics and Gender


16. Biopolitics of Adaptation

This chapter looks at the intersections of biologistic and cultural discourses of adaptation. ‘Biopolitics of adaptation’ is understood here as the ideological and manipulative use of biologistic terminology in cultural contexts that carry political agendas by employing the objectivist, scientific cultural coding of the terminology to camouflage these agendas. The inappropriate conflation of biologistic discourse and cultural critique is shown as participating in a lingering socio-Darwinistic or pseudo-Darwinist notion of adaptation and natural selection when natural and cultural processes are equated. To provide evidence, this chapter looks at two very different examples, the film Adaptation. (2002) and the Jeep advertisement campaign ‘Never Adapt’ (2011), while discussing terminology and the interdisciplinary intervention by Bortolotti and Hutcheon (2007).

Pascal Nicklas

17. ‘Restrained Glamour’: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, Postfeminism, and Transmedia Biopolitics

Feminist scholars have bemoaned the post-political character of contemporary media presentations of femininity, which also carry contradictory messages as to what is socially expected from post-millennium women (Gill, 2007). As an adaptation of a nineteenth-century text, Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012) uses the ‘exotic’ backdrop of Russian society to address the conundrums of contemporary femininity. With its intermedial focus on theatricality and performance, the film responds to the now clichéd postfeminist emphasis on performativity and addresses the manifold expectations women confronted in the nineteenth century and still encounter today. While Joe Wright’s film may be read as a reflection on the conflicted femininities of today, it envisions Karenina’s femininity as destructive to the family, and thus to the whole society. What it offers as a solution to the traps of postfeminist womanhood is an idealized version of fatherhood as the new ideal.

Monika Pietrzak-Franger


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