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Evaluation of Theories of Postmodernism in Relation to Media

Updated on July 4, 2016

Postmodernism involves ideas such as bricolage, pastiche, the flattening of affect, and the dislocation of time. Whilst postmodernism is "a slippery concept" (Lapsley and Westlake, 2006), the abundance of the aforementioned ideas in contemporary texts can be analysed with the employment of theorists such as Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Hélène Cixous.

Perhaps one of the most well-defined theories is Baudrillard's levels of representation of reality. This describes four stages: (1) a reflection of basic reality, (2) a misrepresentation of reality, (3) a disguised misrepresentation of reality, and (4) the full simulacrum. One highly relevant text is 'The Hunger Games' (Ross, 2012, US); the use of screens to bridge the boundaries between the worlds of the arena, the Capitol, the outlying districts, and indeed our own world, is prevalent. There is no grand narrative, as we are all so diverse. This belief of Jean-François Lyotard is also applicable; the level of reality is relative. From the perspective of the "real" audience – us – the audience in the Capitol could be interpreted as a misrepresentation (stage 2), since the crowd is almost a parody of ourselves, but with an exaggerated passiveness.

From the perspective of the characters in the Capitol and districts, the games are presented to them through screens, with images filtered by the Gamemakers. Hence, this is a disguised misrepresentation (stage 3). However, from the perspective of the "real" audience, which has a position of global awareness, the misrepresentation is not disguised, as it it shown both the "real" actin, and the manipulation of the action, hence it drops to stage 2. Baudrillard's theory is evidently highly applicable to postmodern media.

'Gogglebox' (Channel 4, 2016) is based on intertextuality and fragmentation, both of which are described by Jameson as core postmodern elements. The blurring of boundaries between "high" and "low" culture is also prevalent, culminating in a programme centred around juxtaposing the opinions of, for example, a chess master from Cambridge, with a teenager from Newcastle. These core ideas, along the the dislocation of time – the programme is filmed on one night, but using references to shows from the previous week – are all indispensable tools for analysing the postmodern nature of such texts.

The Gogglebox logo.
The Gogglebox logo. | Source

The producer of 'Gogglebox', Tania Alexander, said herself that "the show is created in the edit". Therefore, it could be argued that the programme is verging on becoming a "full simulacrum", as Baudrillard puts it; it bears almost no resemblance to reality, in terms of the myth of community that it creates – people very rarely sit down to watch television with relatives in the evening anymore – and the falseness of the whole product, as presented to the audience. For instance, Josef and Bill live far apart, and one has to travel far across the country each week.

Jameson, in addition to fragmentation and intertextuality, proposed that the flattening of affect is a key postmodern concept. This explains that technology has a dehumanising effect, and that the audience's ability to feel empathy, even when shown extreme violence, is reduced, due to the obstruction between the world behind the screen and "reality".

'The Hunger Games' lends itself to an analysis of the flattening of affect, since the audience in the Capitol is clearly a parody of the "real" audience, and younger members are seen playing with swords, imitating action from past games. With the enhanced understanding of this parody, as provided by Jameson's theory, this situation can be transposed into the context of "real" life; perhaps the majority of people show minimal empathy over news programmes for the same reason.

Jacques Derrida suggested that bricolage is another postmodern element, i.e. the creation of new meaning from the combination of diverse objects. This rather indirect concept can be applied to almost any recent text, if enough effort is spent doing so. 'Welcome Home' is an advert for T-Mobile, filmed in Heathrow airport in 2010. It creates a combination of pastiche – the utilisation fo the flash mob, a fad previously confined to internet-based videographers attempting to create an unoriginal viral video – and the myth of community, in a similar way to 'Gogglebox'; the scene appears to happen over three minutes, but was in fact filmed over twelve hours, with around five hundred actors.

Jacques Derrida.
Jacques Derrida. | Source

The commodification of the flash mob and the false sense of community hint at a full simulacrum; the text was, again, likely "made in the edit". However, the meaning created by this combination is equivocal, and dependent on whether or not the viewer is aware of the falsity. Without the combination of commodification and community, the advert would engage the audience much less, and possibly lose its meaning as an explicit advert. Derrida's idea is a relatively complex one, but is applicable to a wider range of texts than, say, the dislocation of time, and so it may imply that a larger number of texts are higher on the scale of postmodernity, but its effectiveness is subjective.

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