Although Postmodernism sometimes refers to architectural movements in the 1930’s the most significant emergent point is to be found in the 1980’s with clear philosophical articulations from eminent thinkers such as Jürgen Habermas, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Fredric Jameson and others. From which develop a number of key terms which are important to understand as they not only shed light on what is clearly a complicated and confusing topic, but they also form the body of knowledge that students are most likely to be assessed on.
The loss of a metanarrative
A good starting point would be to return to the concepts of PASTICHE and PARODY, as Fredric Jameson claimed that Postmodernism is characterized by pastiche rather than parody which represents a crisis in historicity. Jameson argued that parody implies a moral judgment or a comparison with previous societal norms. Whereas pastiche, such as collage and other forms of juxtaposition, occur without a normative grounding and as such, do not make comment on a specific historical moment. As such, Jameson argues that the postmodern era is characterised by pastiche (not parody) and as such, suffers from a crisis in historicity.
This links to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s proposition that postmodernism holds an ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives‘ (1979:7) those overarching ideas, attitudes, values and beliefs that have held us together in a shared belief, For example, the belief in religion, science, capitalism, communism, revolution, war, peace and so on. Lyotard points out that no one seemed to agree on what, if anything, was real and everyone had their own perspective and story. We have become alert to difference, diversity, the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and desires, and for that reason postmodernity is characterised by an abundance of micronarratives. It can be also characterised as an existence without meaning, as Žižek suggests it is an existence without ‘The Big Other’ , an existentialistt crisis of existence when we realise we are alone (Lacan).
Strinati points out that ‘the distinction between culture and society is being eroded’ (231) and suggests that our sense of reality (the overarching metanarrative) appears to come from the culture (eg the media), rather than from society which is then reproduced, represented and relayed through media communication. In terms of media studies, this marks a juncture from previous conceptions of mass media communication, for example, as a ‘relay system’ – a process which just relays information and events in real time to a mass society, or the conception of the media as a ‘window on the world’ (Strinati:233). From a societal perspective the ‘real’ seems to be imploding in on itself, a ‘process leading to the collapse of boundaries between the real and simulations’ (Barker & Emma, 2015:242). A process which the French intellectual Jean Baudrillard would describe as IMPLOSION which gives rise to what he terms SIMULACRA. The idea that although the media has always been seen as a representation of reality – a simulation, from Baudrillard’s perspective of implosion, it is has become more than a representation or simulation and it has become SIMULACRUM not just a representation of the real, but the real itself, a grand narrative that is ‘truth‘ in its own right: an understanding of uncertain/certainty that Baudrillard terms the HYPERREAL.
A way of understanding this comes from Baudrillard’s provocative 1991 book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place which suggests that not only was our experience and understanding of this war a ‘mediated reality’, but it was also constructed as a media experience to the extent that reality did not match mediation. Put another way, the media was used to construct and propogate a myth about this conflict. Similarly, we can look at the the Twin towers terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 which were organised as a media event, suggesting perhaps that reality only exists as a mediated experience?
Another way to understand this approach is to reflect on the emergence of, often off-shore, leisure and theme parks which are ‘highly commercialised, with many simulated environments more ‘real’ than the original from which they are copied’ (Urry 2014:81). Illustrating this point with references to ‘newly constructed sites of consumption excess’ (79) Urry highlights Macao described as ‘a laboratory of consumption, as the Chinese learn to be individualised consumers of goods and services being generated on an extraordinary scale’ (81). Or Dubai, which up to 1960 was one of the poorest places on earth and yet by the 2000’s was the number one global site for ostentatious shopping’ and other forms of hyppereal consumption – a domed ski resort, and copies of the ‘real’ more perfect than the originals – the pyramids, Taj Mahal, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a snow mountain etc.