Louis Montrose and the Spider-Man Tribute

Saturday, August 26

I didn’t have to read more than the title of the article to be reminded of one of the many things I learned from studying with Louis Montrose at the University of California, San Diego. I took several seminars with him, even though I would have met my breadth requirements with a single quarter’s worth of work. Montrose was a Renaissance specialist, but his analysis and the texts he assigned often intriguingly applied to contemporary 20th century work. (By the way, I say “was” not because he has died, but because he retired over a decade ago and has gone on to become a highly respected photographer.)

One of Montrose’s key insights is that “All representations of power are appropriations of power.” In Renaissance England, for instance, this would have meant all instances of kings and queens being on a public stage, whether or not the royal figure was historical or not. Montrose’s rule of thumb can easily apply to other categories other than monarchies. Tyrants certainly understand what must seem to them to be insidious intrusions on their authority when comics get on a stage and mimic them. Truep certainly hated Saturday Night Live. Most importantly, though, is the way that the appropriated power can be brought to bear to also empower other attitudes and characterizations of other issues, such as race, gender, and class, that are brought into direction conduction or immediate association.

A “tribute” is inherently an appropriation of power. Think of “tribute” bands in which look-a-like perform a set of greatest hits. An enjoyable evening for the band’s insatiable fans, but there is an element of appropriation to it, even if the band has a financial arrangement with the original. The singer or musician may not be the original, but getting applauded while you pretend to be someone famous must release an extra dose of dopamine that no one can allege to be self-indulgent fantasy. After all, you’re working for your high!

Well, I guess I’d better read the article before I say anything else, but I enjoy any excuse to think about one of my favorite professors at UCSD. I would not have been able to work at CSULB the past 17 years if it were not for the training I received from him, as well as Michael Davidson, Donald Wesling, Kathryn Shevelow, Marcel Henaff, Page Du Bois, Winnie Woodhull, John Carlos Rowe, David and Eleanor Antin, and Stephen Cox.

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