Joy Devotion : Adventures in Image and Authenticity through the lens of Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis

Otter, Jennifer. 2013. Joy Devotion : Adventures in Image and Authenticity through the lens of Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Looking through the lens of iconic singers Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Joy Devotion examines how social interest groups feed the canon of the martyred crooner, creating a postmortem posse of mythologized figures from the threads of actuality. The specters of Curtis and Cobain grow, mutate and are re-invented with each YouTube view, each video link passed and pasted, each blog written and commented upon in what amounts to a global community connected by the invisible tethers of the world wide web. The ease and speed of communication via the Internet's social networking sites allows for the continued evolution of the myths that surround the singers, granting them qualities in death they never possessed in life. The reality of what these cult heroes accomplished seems to be washed away in a tsunami of branding, consumer goods and annual tributes. This marketed, copyrighted, corporatized version of memory is sold back to consumers just as the 'real' underpins Factory Records chief Tony Wilson famously saying, 'Fiction is better than fact'. This ‘fiction’ has bloomed, blossomed and continued to play a role on the pop and cultural landscape thirty years after the singers physical demise. Joy Devotion explores the mediated nostalgia created in the wake of their passing and the cultural materialism key to the propulsion of global faux shared memory.

Utilizing the framework of Siegfried Kracauer’s essays “The Mass Ornament” and “Photography,” Joy Devotion analyzes this fabricated past, specifically disassembling the assumed perception created by widely available images. Kracauer uses the Mancunian dance troupe the Tiller Girls to illustrate the process of blurring, and often erasing, individuality and criticality in the haze of mediated consumption and meaning. Within this context, Joy Devotion illustrates how such production, procreation and currency of icon has historical foundations across a diverse array of fundamental belief systems, including even the most sacred texts. By dissecting the means by which the stories of saints are recorded through hagiography, parallels between the evolution of religious myths dovetail closely with the symbolization applied to specific cult figures, thus allowing Curtis and Cobain to act as hallowed archetypes in the ever-increasingly secular world. Worship of the singers comes by bowing to the grinding wheels of capitalism, purchasing items featuring their youthful countenances and band logos or by taking sonic pilgrimages to areas associated with the artists, either in real time or as an on-line voyeur. Each journey, whether perpetuated by the click of a mouse on a computer or through retracing of footsteps taken by an idol, transform these places to a sacred space, mecca for fans, believers, in a world dependent on the world wide web.

To further investigate the behavior at such sites of worship, this work includes a practical aspect. For one year, pictures were taken on the same day on a monthly basis at the Ian Curtis Memorial Stone. The trinkets, tributes and trash on the Stone is in constant flux, reflecting the ever-migrating myth of the vocalist himself- a harsh and glaring contrast to the finality of death. Joy Devotion captures for the first time a year in the life of the rock shrine- existing almost as a destination unto itself. With each visitor, identity, ‘memory’, meaning and the legacy of Curtis and Joy Division changes and flows- similar to the seasons rotating, and the movement in the landscape of the cemetery itself. Similarly, a visit to Seattle coinciding with the 17th anniversary of the Kurt Cobain’s death illustrates an ever-growing disparity between the rupture of perceived importance as perpetuated in the 2.0 world, and real-time activities occurring in physical space.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)



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Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2013 10:45

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:06


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