The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
Lecture: What is Conservative/ Respectable/ High Status Dress?
Lecture: The Media as Dominant Ideology
Lecture: Postmodernism
Lecture: Can Ads Ever Be Radical?
Lecture: Types of Media Analysis
Lecture: Is Xena a Feminist Heroine?
Lecture: Radway's approach to Romance Novels
Lecture: Popular Media as Patriarchal Ideology
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Lecture: Soap Operas and Feminism
Lecture: Walkerdine on Rocky
Lecture: Feminist Arguments Against Pornography
Lecture: Postmodernism

Week Eight: Postmodernism in the Popular Media

Reading by Jameson:


A: What Kind of Thing is Postmodernism?

A periodizing concept - i.e. we are in the postmodern period.

The term links certain aspects of culture in this period with certain aspects of social life and the economy. The postmodern period begins approximately in the late 40s. (p15)

In what follows it is clear that the postmodern period is really defined by Jameson in terms of certain aspects of culture in this period. Viz:

1. It is a reaction to high modernism in the period when modernism has become the high culture, high art establishment (p13).

[Leads to the question - what is modernism?] He provides a list of examples (p 14)

2. Represents the erosion of the distinction between high culture and popular culture. (p14)

Serious artists use popular culture as a vehicle for their artistic endeavours [show Richard’s postcards].

Popular culture is full of ideas and imagery taken from high art (p27) [ e.g. the Simpsons as abstract art; Romeo and Juliet by Bazz Luhrmann].

Popular culture is taken seriously as art by the academic cultural establishment - e.g. learned tomes on the Beatles, Dylan, Madonna etc, as artists and social commentators. One of the implications is that much of modernism is now popular culture as well as high culture [ p 27 see how this comes out of point 1].

3. There is no one voice that speaks for society as a whole. There is a fragmentation of cultural styles, with different idiolects - language variations - e.g. think of different youth culture styles, etc.

4a Pastiche becomes a common form of cultural production. (p16) In a pastiche different styles and genres are stuck together - pastiche means a collage. For example Buffy or the X-Files -what styles are joined in these programs?

4b (p 18) It is impossible to create anything really new these days. i.e. pastiche is the only possible form of cultural production.

4c (p 18) The nostalgia mode. What is really popular is cultural products that in some way or another create a version of a past cultural form. i.e. the most common form of cultural production is a pastiche of old styles in a new context - for example X-Files recreates aspects of the horror movie of the past, of the Twilight Zone, of Film Noir detective genre etc. All the originals of these genres basically seem a bit corny in the present day, and X-Files as a result has a kind of tongue in cheek quality - you are not supposed to take it too seriously.

5. There is no such thing as the unique individual anymore. (p17) People see themselves and others less as individual creatively different beings but as members of some kind of collectivity or group culture.

e.g. the ad for, which treats the uniqueness of individuals as a pastiche of recongisable styles - what is unique is just the individual way these are put together.

Artists are mostly seen as representative of a style, rather than as unique, creating what no one has done before - e.g. Madonna is a disco performer, INSYNC is a typical boy harmony group; Killing Heidi is like Silverchair or Nirvana - an alternative band that has started to go a bit Poppy, etc.

He divides this cultural aspect of postmodernism into two alternative versions:

(a) This represents a social change - in the past people actually were individuals and acted as such. Now they don’t.

(b) This represents a social change in the way we perceive people. We now realise that no one is or can be a unique individual and we are happy to see things that way whereas in the earlier period before postmodernism people accepted the illusion that individuals were uniquely different from each other. (p17)

6. The autoreferentiality of all modern culture - it turns upon itself and designates its own cultural production as its content. (p23)

e.g. Popstars is a prime example - the content of the show is the weekly making of the show and the popstars who are the stars of the show. What is the show really about? It pretends to be aboout the development of a new girl pop-group but since we know that the pop-group is being established so they can be seen on the show and so that the show itself can be a successful TV product, there is a certain amount of circularity in this which is disturbing. e.g. the media reps who turned up to the first performance. Are they coming along to see a new pop group or are they extras in the show Popstars, like the famous people who are dragged along to take part in ‘the Nanny’?

7. Postmodern culture is intended to be confusing so that it becomes impossible for people to see how they fit into a real external world. (P25)

e.g. shopping centres like Myers, Charlestown Square, rave parties and drugs, daily life in the car, mass tourism etc.

Relates to the impossibilty of understanding the global economy at the level of the individual - e.g. where does all this stuff come from and what are the conditions of its production?

B An Explanation of Postmodernism in Culture:

Relates to a stage in the economic structures of capitalism (p28):

Consumerism based in planned obsolescence and ever changing styles; the penetration of media into every aspect of life; the growth of the suburb and the global standardization of everything; the dominance of automobile culture in rich countries and centres of the world.

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