Discuss Two or More Media Texts That You Would Define as Postmodern and Explain Why You Would Give Them This Label
A large part of what makes the human personality so impressive is its capacity to conform and even oppose to the conditions of its environment. This is perhaps why, through the course of history, we have come to witness the emergence and disappearance of eras or different periods marked by distinctive characters wherein people held on to certain ideals which define their cultural values and political situations. This malleability of the human personality was the same phenomenon which brought forth the style and concept of postmodernism in the late 20th century. The purpose of this essay is to provide a thorough discussion on postmodern media texts. The major points for discussion will start with the exploration of the postmodernism concept. This will be followed by the significance of time and space and how such themes are represented in postmodern works. Lastly, this paper will examine how postmodernism is being represented in films by exploring three selected movies from the European cinema.
Postmodernism: Exploring the Term
There is no general definition for postmodernism except that it is a variation of the standards or norms of the modernism, a movement which developed during the late 19th and early 20th century periods which transformed traditional beliefs particularly those related to the ideals of the Roman Catholic Church (Oxford University Press 2013). But what is modernism in relation to postmodernism? Modernism is the product of what others would refer to as an experience called ‘modernity,’ wherein time, space, the self, and others are confined in an environment that assures adventure, power, joy, growth, and transformation while uniting mankind. However, this objective for unity would actually turn out to be suffocating, an issue which postmodernism has attempted to address (Harvey, 1989, p. 10).
Some critics of postmodernism actually viewed it as a cultural and historical human invention marked by superficial philosophical theories that mocks the standards of modernism. On a more favorable note however, there were also who considered postmodernism as that which affirms the role of a diversified culture in giving freedom and equal rights to every individual. This is opposed to the totalitarian principles of modernism which tends to become submissive to a centralized and dictatorial system (Harvey, 1989, pp. 7-8).
In Todd Gitlin’s (1976, p. 67) The Postmodern Predicament, at least nine styles and qualities of postmodernism are presented:
- Pastiche which is work of art that imitates a previous work;
- Blankness or emptiness of feeling;
- A sense of exhaustion which usually paves the way to a process of rediscovery;
- Mixture of levels, forms, and styles which provides volatility or unpredictability;
- Relish for copies and repetitions which is concerned more on making better replicas rather than maintaining original works;
- Knowingness that dissolves commitment into irony;
- Acute self-consciousness about the formal, construed nature of the work;
- Pleasure in the play of surfaces; and
- Rejection of history.
Postmodern Media Text
Postmodernism was brought about by the process of rediscovery as well as the shifting of already existing ideas on the origins and social relationships of human beings, resulting to a broader perspective of other disciplines such as the sciences of philosophy, history, mathematics, ethics, politics, and other studies (Harvey, 1989, p. 9). Its emergence was due to the reaction against the strict standards of traditional modernism (Jameson, 1982, p. 1). Furthermore, unlike the modernist concept, postmodernism principles are presented on beliefs that personal views, interpretations and opinions should be without restrictions. Therefore, any idea of truth during the modern era should be deconstructed and challenged. This is the same premise where the structure of postmodern media text is based upon, wherein the content of an original material is no longer an issue since it is basically a process of using classic genres in an altered form, some examples of which are the parody, a form of satirical mimicry and homage, an artistic work reproduced in order to show advantage to the original one. The main concern of postmodern media is to stimulate the imagination of the audience by allowing them to visualize different competing versions of a certain story, text or image. However this does not necessarily guarantee that whatever truth is being represented in postmodern texts is already the absolute one (McDougall, 2012, p. 90).
Time and Space in Postmodern Works
It is almost hard to imagine how certain shifts in economic trends can also affect the composition of media texts. For the past decades, there has been the increasing demand to accelerate turnover time when it comes to the production of mass products (e.g. clothing, ornaments, decorations) and services (e.g. entertainments, spectacles, happenings). The turnover time for these goods and services even became faster with the increase in speed communications and information technology. In relation to media works, particularly with advertising, these economic and technological trends have allowed capitalists to manipulate the taste and opinion of the market group through the bombardment of images that are deemed acceptable in the society. Unfortunately, this focus on image defeats the purpose of informing and promoting reliable products and services to the public. Postmodernist Jean Baudrillard even emphasized this reality by stating that the Marxist analysis of commodity production is outdated due to such focus on images and signs rather than the goods themselves. This is why success and image building has been one of the most profitable formula in trading nowadays. It also paved the way for the production of counterfeit goods such as the case of a firm in California which successfully manufactured and sold imitation car telephones because the latter has become a status symbol to the public. This only proves that the public is no longer concerned mostly on the product itself but on the image it provides on the individual, thus it is no longer an issue if that product is just a replica (Harvey, 1989, pp. 285-289).
The aforementioned issue is being addressed by the concept of ‘simulacrum,’ a concept which means “a state of such near perfect replication that the difference between the original and the copy becomes almost impossible to spot” (Harvey, 1989, p. 289). In relation to this concept, Baudrillard also presented the idea of hyperreality which was described by using Disneyland as an example. Disneyland is real place which occupies a physical space but at the same time it is just a replica of Disney’s magical world as seen by the public on television shows and illustrations. Postmodernists assert that the world we live in is made up entirely of simulacra or imitations of the real world thus there is no longer a distinction between what is real and what is imaginary (McDougall, 2012, p. 90). This also brings to mind the acknowledged television genre called reality TV. One of its best examples was Big Brother wherein the participants get to be part of an unscripted show, thus allowing the audience to relate better with the cast unlike those with movies or TV shows. Big Brother creates the impression that anyone can be part of this media presentation. However despite the seemingly authentic selfhood being projected by the participants of this reality TV, the real self is actually still being manipulated and projected as would be deemed favorable in front of the camera, another demonstration of how the real and the hyperreal can be easily confused (Goody, 2013, no page).
Media scholar Henry Jenkins provided this interesting view on the realities of postmodernism (McDougall, 2012, p. 91):
We are entering a period of prolonged transition and transformation in the way media operates. Convergence describes the process by which we sort through those options. Audiences empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture.
The internet is one example of media tool which has become easily accessible to the public. From desktop computers, this technology is already within reach 24 hours a day through gadgets like portable laptops and cellular phones. People are constantly exposed to media representations in their day-to-day activities whether at home, at work, or even while travelling. Postmodernists argue that because of this situation, the distinction between actual and virtual media representation already becomes confusing and sometimes even completely lost (McDougall, 2012, p. 92).
Some of the privileges of postmodern films is that they exist in an era that is blessed with many technological advantages that allows the information storage in great quantities. Computer graphics, CD-ROM, computer memory, and imaging have allowed postmodern artists to create more while saving time and money. These technological facilities have allowed the postmodern cinema to create films with scenes and stories that offer diversified perspective for the audience. There is also a different level of attention when it comes to details which are constantly scrutinized through an almost endless process of rereading and rewriting. The difference is also seen with the manner in which the narrator treats his audience, whose perspective is carefully analyzed through the camera lens, unlike the modernist cinema where the focus is merely on the actors (Degli-Esposti, 1998, p. 6). Technology and the audience’s opinion are important elements in the creation of a postmodernist film. In order to demonstrate the influence of these two, the following discussion will examine three films which, at the same time, will also demonstrate the theories of postmodernism. The movies to be examined are films from the European cinema starting with Germany’s Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders and Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer, and Ireland’s Intermission by John Crowley.
Wings of Desire
Wim Wenders’s movie tells the story of Damiel, an angel who falls in love with a mortal. The story occurs in Berlin where the two separate worlds of angels and humans coexist albeit both beings are unable to make physical interaction. Under the theories of postmodernism, this setting is a demonstration of cultural fragmentation, wherein the spaces and culture of very different worlds seem to fold upon each other. This is shown in the film through alternate scenes of black and white and colored films, as well as with the existing mental and emotional strain between the celestial and earthly beings. Author and geographer David Harvey further affirms the movie as being a postmodern text although partly modernist on its second half which, according to him, tries “to resurrect something of the modernist spirit of human communication, togetherness…” (Caldwell & Rea, 1991, pp. 46-47). Damiel and his friend Cassiel, who is also a divine being, are able to see, hear, and read the minds people. During such scenes in the movie where the angels are reading the minds of mortals, the focus is more on the Berliners. But when the angels are done listening to people’s troubles and they interact with each other like ordinary humans, their characters become significant. Time-space compression also comes to mind, at least from the angels’ perspective, wherein the latter can simultaneously hear different human thoughts, an example of overcoming time and spatial barriers. If one takes a closer look at the film, several aspects are actually symbols of certain realities in human life. For example, Berlin represents all the cities in the world where inhabitants are constantly connected by information, transportation, and communication which serve as tools to bridge the gaps of human division. The film ends with Damiel becoming human and finally being with his love interest, Marion. From a postmodernist point of view, this final part of the film is like liberation from the indifferences of the modernist culture. Furthermore, the characters’ openness to learn new things about each other is similar to rediscovering old modernist concepts in order to create a more lively and colorful environment. In essence, postmodernism is actually an uninterrupted connection of modernism (Olivier, 1992, pp.1-5).
Run Lola Run
Perhaps not everyone was very happy with the conclusion of the box office hit Titanic where Leonardo Dicaprio’s character died at the end of the movie. It would be possible also that many of those who watched the film had wished for a different ending but unfortunately that was the only way to make the story end. But for hyperfilms like Run Lola Run, the possibilities are endless. The film is composed of three scenarios with three different endings. The plot’s flexibility which made use of styles called circularity, repetition, and quanta is another demonstration of postmodernism because of the way it presents different options on how the story is going to turn out. There was also the clever use of time and space which were used in order to allow the retelling of the three versions of the story, wherein the third and last one had a happy ending while the first two did not. The overall result was a creative storytelling of a somewhat very simple movie. Run Lola Run is among the many different movies such as the remake of Bedazzled back in 2000 which makes use of alternative endings and hyperrealistic styles. Filmmakers nowadays are very lucky in such a way that they can change the original endings of their stories but without having to get rid of them. By allowing the audience to see different viewpoints, they are also provided with non-traditional perspectives which may either be artistic on one hand or humorous, immoral, and inappropriate on the other. Furthermore, despite the inappropriateness of some stories, the audience has already become more tolerable of multiple options and possibilities. In fact the issue no longer lies on how realistic the story is but rather, possibly, how real can a story get? The purpose of the film is geared toward the playful experimentation of hyper-reality and multiple perspectives which does not only tell the audience of what really happened in the story but also what will, could, would and, should happen (Lauer, 2003, pp.1-12). Furthermore, the system of arrangement is chaotic rather than organized in order to create a sense of individual freedom, a trait which definitely invokes the concept of postmodernism.
This 2003 film has an ambitious plot with over 11 interconnected storylines and 54 characters. The movie has been shot in a documentary film format which invokes a sense of reality which the audience can easily relate to (at least with Irish natives). It begins with the scene of a seemingly casual romantic conversation between Lehiff and a shop assistant. Just when the latter was already showing signs of giving in to the romantic gestures of Lehiff (and presumably the audience was enticed as well), the latter suddenly punches her in the face and goes straight to the cash register to steal some money. This offensive act from the actor is a deliberate representation of the postmodernist concept and has drawn different reactions from the audience such as shock from the scene’s unexpected violence or amusement from its dark humor. The opening scene is followed by interwoven chain of events with twist and turns that captivate the audience who are caught unaware of what might happen next due to the chaotic transitions and contradictions of the scenes, until the movie becomes meaningful in its conclusion (Flynn & Brereton, 2007, p. 174). The film’s interweaving plot also brings to mind Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, another epitome of postmodernist film.
There is no doubt that the objective of postmodernism in liberating the minds of the people through mediums like TV shows and films has its advantages. After all, expressing one’s opinion about certain issues or against any established universal truth is a right and not a privilege, especially if this will help pave the way toward social equality. However, a word of caution: the present technological condition has allowed limitless social networking and media information. Countless information are being thrown from different parts of the world regardless if their sources are credible or not. These agents of postmodernism must still take into consideration the possibility of endangering the important values of human nature where great characters are built upon. Without these values, the society will be vulnerable to corruption and other forms of degradation. It is therefore recommended that whether it be in written or visual mediums, the practice of good values must still be encouraged. The destruction and reconstruction of any established truth may however be tolerated. After all it is only mankind, who has the tendency for manipulation, who created these standards for truth, which are not necessarily free from error.
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