Avant Pop?

(This is from 2000, or maybe 2001 – an old project from my degree course, relating to emerging hypertextual literature. The original is gone, I fished this out of the Wayback Machine, and I’m keeping a copy here. Links are all missing, presumed broken.)

In a manner this entire project gravitates around the question ‘what is Avant-Pop?’ just as much as it does ‘what is the relation between it and the internet?’ – in this section, though, I intend to focus mainly on Avant-Pop in terms of its evolution from previous literary trends and its basic aims and forms.

Being one of the most recent artistic developments/trends to be identified ‘Avant-Pop’ (often referred to simply as AP) is as of yet one whose definition is very much under debate. The most useful definition has to be found in Mark Amerika’s Avant-Pop Manifesto, a copy of which is included in this site here. To boil it down to two ideas, though, it is thought that (click on a link to go directly to information on that topic):

~ Avant-Pop is the art born of a collision between Postmodernism and a mass media age.
~ Avant-Pop is, or should be, subversive.

Avant-Pop and Postmodernism

The relationship between Avant-Pop and postmodernism is close, so much so in fact that some have suggested (although the idea is now widely rejected) that the former is a subset of the latter. Avant-Pop retains many of the trademark features of postmodern fiction (heteroglossia, heavy irony, use of metafiction) and many postmodern works can be seen as prototypical Avant-Pop. Avant-Pop artists reject postmodenism, though, on account of two flaws they see with it:

~ Postmodernism writing is often obscure to the point of becoming elitist
~ Postmodern fiction fails to address a concern fundamental to life today – that of living in a society saturated by and obsessed with media information

Avant-Pop, then, makes itself more accessible through infiltration of the forms of modern media we are all so accustomed and open to. As Larry McCaffery writes :

‘What AP writers recognise is that more is better – the massive expansion of mass culture (the pop culture represented and celebrated by Warhol et al., has been replaced by AVANT POP CULTURE, which is not uniform and banal but highly individualized, and at least potentially interactive) isn’t something to be gotten rid of (replaced, presumably, by “high art”) or conquered but used, incorporated, interacted with, etc.’

Hallmarks of Avant-Pop include:

~ Adoption of the forms and style of modern media
~ Tendency towards fiction in short ‘soundbite’ style
~ ‘Pla(y)giarism’ – integration of excerpts from other works within the text

All of these characteristics also appear in postmodern fiction, but the difference lies in the extent to which Avant-Pop fiction utilises them. Simulucra, or imitation of other literary forms within a text, can be seen in many postmodern works but Avant-Pop tends to gravitate particularly towards use of the forms of modern media (film, television, advertising, news rhetoric); similarly Avant-Pop tends, also, towards material from the media when excerpting. Also, just as much postmodern fiction uses short ‘chunks’ of prose Avant-Pop fiction often takes the form of brief, dislocated bursts of prose comparable to the 30 second self-contained advertising soundbites with which we are all so unconsciously familiar.


Just as postmodernism revelled in the same sense of emptiness and disillusion with the world that modernism attempted to negate Avant-Pop, whilst joying in the possibilities of our information-bombarded lives for art simultaneously recognises the danger of such a society and attempts to subvert it. Ron Sukernick explains:

‘actually what we have here is a reversal of the old consumerist tactic of “co-optation”, i.e., if some rebel-rousing movement comes along, de-fang it, package it and sell it, absorb it into the mass market, render it harmless – avant-pop, on the other hand, co-opts mass market schlock, twists it and tortures it till it becomes dangerous and injects it back into the market as a virus that destroys its host from within, rotting it like ice on a lake in the spring to free up a more fluent and various relation between art producer and consumer – where monolithic mass market was many mini-markets there shall be, making clear the difference between consumerism’s “free market”, and a democratic market which offers the consumer a wide spectrum of choice’

This idea of turning the corporate-mass-media-soundbite against itself from within is perhaps best exemplified by the definition of Avant-Pop used by many of the artists who create it – The Real Thing (TM)