Détournement

A détournement [deh-tern-eh-mahn] is a variation on a previous media work, in which the newly created one has a meaning that is antagonistic or antithetical to the original. The original media work that is détourned must be somewhat familiar to the target audience, so that it can appreciate the opposition of the new message.

The artist or commentator making the variation can reuse only some of the characteristic elements of the originating work. The term is borrowed from French, and the practice was popularized by Situationist International (an anti-establishment political movement that formed in Italy in the 1950s). A similar term more familiar to English speakers would be ‘turnabout’ or ‘derailment.’

Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but employs more direct reuse or faithful mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original. It may be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media. One could view detournement as forming the opposite side of the coin to ‘recuperation’ (where radical ideas and images become safe and commodified), in that images produced by the spectacle get altered and subverted so that rather than supporting the status quo, their meaning becomes changed in order to put across a more radical or oppositionist message.

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