Postmodernism – what is it? Historical period? Style? Theoretical approach?Academics such as Jean Baudrillard and Francois Lyotard would argue thatwe are now living in a post-modern era for the following reasons:1. Culture and society have collapsed into one another o Marxists such as Gramsci and Althusser saw the media as an integral part of maintaining the existing social structure (Althusser defined the mass media as one of the Ideological State Apparatuses), thus being part of the system that holds people in their social positions, and, for Gramsci, being one of the ‘battlefields’ in which the cultural ‘war’ is fought. o Theorists such as Baudrillard and Lyotard argue that the mass media has come to increasingly dominate how we learn about the outside world – the events of September 11th are a good example – disasters in America are told to us by the mass media virtually as soon as they happen. Also, with the development of television programmes such as Big Brother, we now have a situation where people lives are shaped by TV – both the participants and the viewers. So, for Baudrillard, we now live in a media-saturated society.2. Emphasis on style over substance o Because we can be said to be living in a media-saturated society, we live in an age where style matters so much more than ever before – style determines if someone will become Prime Minister or not – one of the reasons Tony Blair became leader of Labour and got elected as PM was because of his grasp of the importance of style – making sure he wears the right clothes for the right occasions, making sure he always smiles in photographs. This obsession with style over substance in politics has become known as ‘spinning’ – which essentially means putting the best possible gloss on things.3. Breakdown over distinction between art and popular culture o With an increasing emphasis in style over substance in a number of areas, traditional demarcations between art and popular culture, or high and low culture are breaking down. Taking the BBC’s annual coverage of ‘The Proms’ – a series of classical music concerts. A ticket for the biggest events in the series – the Last Night – can change hands for £900 – plus there is a very firm dress code too – you would have to spend money on the right clothes. Therefore, to attend the concert, you would need a substantial amount of money – which directs to the relatively wealthy middle classes and upper class of Britain. However, the BBC show this concert series on TV – therefore making it accessible to all, and all also hold Proms in the Park concerts at a variety of venues around Britain to enable you to participate too – therefore breaking down barriers between high and popular culture and making culture accessible to all, regardless of social class or income.
4. Confusion over time and space o With advances in technology, the world is now a smaller place – the ‘global village’ predicted by media theorist Marshall McLuhan in the early 1960s has materialized – through increased access to travel – more people than ever are flying to destinations – many European cities are within an hours reach of Birmingham – Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels. Also, technological advances have made things like the internet possible – where ‘virtual communities’ have sprang up, particularly using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can join groups and communicate with strangers, enabling people across time zones and continents to be communicate with each other. These ‘virtual communities’ offer a stiff challenge to older notions of communities being centered on geographical factors – such as ‘Brummies’ ‘Geordies’ ,‘ Cockneys’ and ‘Brits’. o This compression of time and space makes things like September 11th that much more immediate to us and has the capacity to affect us more personally than the murder of millions of Jews, communists, gypsies and disabled people by the Nazis during World War 2 – this is what makes this era a postmodern one. However, the sharing of information is not always perfect – how many people died in the war in Congo in the 1990s?5. Decline of grand narratives o With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the end of communism with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unification of Germany, and the spread of capitalism through eastern Europe and into China, ideologies – or grand narratives such as Marxism are said to have crumbled, because, arguably they have been proved to be unable to give a complete account of the movement of societies as Marxism has tried to do. o As scientific knowledge has grown and we have increasing understanding of the world, in some parts of the world, with some religions, religion is ceasing to be the grand narrative that it once was
A2 Media Studies Postmodern MediaPost-modernism and media textsHere are some qualities to look out for in post-modern texts: 1) Self-reflexivity and subversion: texts that refer to themselves are known as self-reflexive, for example, in a movie, when an actor looks directly at the audience and says, “Hey, don’t worry, it’s only a film!” Post- modern directors like to position their audiences at some distance, as if to compel them to realise that what they are seeing is only a constructed reality. Recent examples – the comedy series ‘The Trip’ with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing versions of themselves and the new series ‘Episodes’ with Matt LeBlanc playing a version of himself. 2) Intertextuality: many post-modern films make playful references to other texts, teasing the audiences to spot the references. This is done constantly in the popular TV animations The Simpsons and can also be seen in The Matrix where lots of references to Baudrillard, Lewis Carol, and martial arts films are made, to name but a few. The best example of intertextuality can be found in the blockbuster Shrek, see how many you can spot. 3) Mixing genres and periods: post-modern texts often deliberately mix up different genres and periods to create interest in their audience. A good example of this is in A Knight’s Tale where the high culture of medieval literature (Chaucer) meets the popular culture of the 1970’s bands Queen and Thin Lizzy. Recent example – Night at Museum 1 and 2 – characters from a variety of time periods and places exits within the same fictional space 4) Using representation deliberately: audiences have become very sophisticated, post-modern directors like to show how fragmented our world has become, how we make sense of the world through media images, that are themselves copies of other texts. Life has become a hall of mirrors, which image is real?
Jean BaudrillardJean Baudrillard, a French media theorist, has been dubbed the prophet ofpostmodernity. Baudrillard’s best-known work is a series of essays calledSimulacra and Simulation, in which he examines the power of representationsin the pre-modern, modern and post-modern worlds. If you watch the first tenminutes of The Matrix you will see Neo/Anderson reading Baudrillard’sessays, a telling insertion by the directors, hinting at the narrative to follow.According to Baudrillard in the pre-modern world (before 1500) audienceswere rarely confronted with representations of the real because thetechnology was simply not available, so there could be no confusion betweenthe virtual and the actual.In the modern world (1500-1900) industrialisation and mass productionallowed an endless series of representations to enter the collectiveconsciousnesses of the audience (starting with the invention of the printingpressin 1439), but it was still more than likely that people could distinguishbetween the simulation and the real.In the post-modern world, audiences are so saturated in representations, thatthese now precede perceptions of the actual, subtly changing them in theprocess. An example of this can be seen in how many victims of 9/11described their trauma as the twin towers collapsed as “..like a film…” Thissmall comment has enormous consequences when one considers it fully – asimulation of the real (a film) was the reference point for something actual, abizarre reversal of normality.Another interesting aspect of Baudrillard’s description of post-modern societyis the multiplication of simulacra: texts that are copies of each other, with nohard bed rock reality behind the original creation.Baudrillard discovered more and more simulacra appearing in post-modernsocieties, from themed pubs, theme parks, computer simulation ‘God games’(The Sims), virtual online communities – all ‘realities’ that have no actualitybehind them. A study of Baudrillard’s ideas can be extremely disconcerting asyou realise the degree to which post-modern societies have no anchor toanything substantial. Baudrillard’s prophetic role is assured, and hisquestioning of where the world of simulacra may end is of critical importanceto media students who want to really think about the societal consequences oftheir studies. The best text that explores many of Baudrillard’s questions isThe Matrix: study the French master, then see the film again, and it willbecome clear how much the film owes to his work