détournement

A term used by Guy Debord and the French politicized avant-garde group known as the Situationists to describe a creative appropriation that attempts to radically change the intended meaning or direction of the original work.

The term is French for “hijacking, diverting, changing the course of something.”

Détournement as an artistic practice means “hijacking” the media of those in power of the established culture and turning it to a new meaning, one that is antithetical to, or at least not completely in line with the original intentions.

It also involves hijacking media that reproduces tired reactionary attitudes or values to give them a new, more progressive meaning; or hijacking media that presents a point of view that is largely unquestioned by the general public to throw it into question.

In 1956 Debord and Gil J. Wolman wrote a short “User’s Guide” that includes ideas like these:

The literary and artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes. It is, of course, necessary to go beyond any idea of mere scandal. Since opposition to the bourgeois notion of art and artistic genius has become pretty much old hat, [Marcel Duchamp’s] drawing of a mustache on the Mona Lisa is no more interesting than the original version of that painting.

It is in fact necessary to eliminate all remnants of the notion of personal property in this area. The appearance of new necessities outmodes previous “inspired” works. They become obstacles, dangerous habits. The point is not whether we like them or not. We have to go beyond them.

[Detournement] is a real means of proletarian artistic education, the first step toward a literary communism.

The idea is a forerunner of Negativland’s Culture Jamming.

See also culture jam.