Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marcus - PoMo/Thoughts for the Week

Sorry these are late, it’s been a crazy week/weekend. And I’m also inclined to agree with David – PCL frustrates me like nobody’s business. I know how to use the catalog, but every now and then, finding what I’m looking for – somehow – takes a surprisingly long time. I’m probably doing something wrong, but still.
Anyway – here’s my definition/discussion topics for “Postmodernism,” or “PoMo.” I think these were supposed to go on the blog? My memory could be fuzzy, but even if it is, this is another topic to discuss.
Postmodernism, in short, is an art/media form that is very aware of itself as an art/media form. It draws its basis by rejecting the foundation of every other art/media form, and in doing so acknowledges its existence as a new art/media form. But Quentin Tarantino can explain it better than I can, so I’ll start there and pull it back to this class afterwards.
Traditionally, movies have all followed the same format – liner plot progression, predictable characters, commonplace circumstances, that sort of thing. There is an established formula, with a beginning and an ending and a good guy and a bad guy, and most movies follow that rubric pretty closely. But there have been a few directors – the best recent example being Tarantino – that have rejected those cliché standards. When Pulp Fiction came out in ’94, it turned every one of those elements on its head. He chopped up the plot, starting near the middle and jumping around sporadically so audiences only got a piece of the story at a time. His main characters were “bad guys” that had humanity to them – they weren’t cutout gunslingers, they were hitmen that worried about religion and their boss’ temper. Oh – and they discussed European Big Macs. Not exactly intimidating bad guy conversation.
So, back to media and journalism. All the conventional notions of society, government organization, and media follow fairly predictable patterns. Gabino summarized them well earlier – “idealism of a perfect humanity, the belief in a essence and the blind trust that they had in the idea that through rational management and a controlled development of new technologies we could achieve a better world.” It’s the classic ‘I can change the world if I just work hard!’ sort of attitude. Postmodernism rejects that, arguing that perfect humanity doesn’t exist, that absolute truth doesn’t exist, and that such ancient rhetoric is just tying humanity down. Marx, you could argue, was a powerful postmodern thinker because he rejected so many of his society’s accepted notions.
Now, as for modernism being “dead,” there’s still a problem with that argument – sure, I’ll agree that justifying political policy with morality or theology is very dangerous, and I’d like to think recent events have made American society a bit more pragmatic. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that that’s true – modernism is dead, and we’ve all accepted a thorough rejection of its principles. Well, then PoMo becomes standard fare, and it’s not postmodern anymore, it’s the status quo. Pulp Fiction worked because nobody had seen a film like that in years, but if everyone and their dog started copying his rubric, it would lose its originality. Then we’d have something else, post-post-modernism maybe, or neo-modernism, that rejects all those notions and establishes its own status quo. It’s all cyclical, so I’m still not sure we can declare any one of them “dead.” People will always give structure a certain authority, and how we individually feel about that structure is a matter of personal preference, not societal identity.
Also, I happen to like capitalism. It’s not perfect, but I’ve lived in company towns that came very close to a practical form of socialism, or even communism. It was really, really boring. And unfair. Just throwing that out there.
And now that I’ve babbled for a bit, here are my questions for this week. I’m trying, again, to play off y’all a bit to spark discussion. It was really Tereasa and David’s idea originally though, not mine. –
1) I agree with Seongbae about Horkheimer and Adorno’s article on media violence. It’s certainly true that television is more violent now than it was in the past, and I’ll agree that people are getting used to it. But there’s a serious difference between watching Bruce Lee beat up an army, which everyone knows is a movie, and watching Baghdad explode on live television, which everyone knows is very real. Their argument hinges on serious immersion – that audiences are really connecting with the fantasy of film, and it desensitizes them. But even a kid knows the difference between real and make-believe. How can researchers split those two, and why haven’t they tried to do so more often? Or have they, and I’ve just missed it?
2) I still have an issue with this concept of “low” and “high art.” David mentioned it in his post on Kellner. I think he’s right that the British Cultural Studies are more okay with “low art,” but I still think it’s more a matter of perspective. Art is, by definition, impossible to define. A blob of paint thrown against the wall could be a great metaphor for the decline of individual creativity among workers trapped between the bars of the modern cubicle … or it could just be a blob of paint. Isn’t there a way to discuss culture without being so judgmental?
3) And how, too, thinking about that, did Kellner and like-minded theorists come up with that distinction? I understand the argument that “low art” is designed for mass consumption and is (arguably) designed just to sedate them. That’s why we get sequel after sequel after sequel in the movie theaters. But where do you draw the line? A great deal of HBO is predictable and base, but no one calls it low brow. But if someone makes an enjoyable film without including controversy, that’s somehow different?
4) I think Gabino’s analysis of Kellner is right on, and I like his question about a possible new theory. But, as I mentioned earlier, how could you tell? Would a new theory really revolutionize the way we see the world, or just influence how we talk about it?
5) Picking up on Tereasa’s comment about Hall’s point – perhaps British cultural studies resonated better with Americans has more to do with the cultures than the actual studies. For one thing, the two use a common language, and for another, there have been times in our history where the German perspective wasn’t considered very credible. Since my name is Funk, I am, of course, appalled by that bigotry. (Not really). But I wonder if it’s even simpler than Hall suggests, and it was just trade connections and common language bonds?

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