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How do postmodern media challenge the relationship between text and viewer? Discuss with reference to at least two examples of your own choice.
“Postmodernism” is a term used to describe the eras and movements that occurred after the turn of the 20th century. This period contrasted greatly with the era that had come previously, a period known as “modernism” which occurred before the 20th century.
Postmodernism emerged post-1968 during the time of late capitalism. Compared to modernism, postmodernism was more concerned with what was underneath the art’s surface; who the artist was, what was its meaning of their art. This differs from modernism where the main concern is consumer’s intake and therefore what is on the surface.
Notions of “parody and pastiche” are important when examining postmodernism as, within this movement, the original art source is changed or reenacted. Parody is when humour is added to text or art that the viewer is already familiar with. This enables the viewer to understand the meaning of the added ironic and exaggerated humour. On the other hand, pastiche is when the style of a text, period, or art is imitated; pastiche can be considered as borderline plagiarism. An example of where pastiche has been used in postmodernism is in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was this land of casinos and simulations that began to develop into the Las Vegas we recognise today in the late 1980s. With competition with other states in America legalising gambling. “Concepts of postmodern space have tended to focus on simulation and the emergence of non-places” (Sturken, M and Cartwright, L 2009:337) Las Vegas continued to reinvent itself and began building hotels with themed and stimulating environments.
Las Vegas is an example of pastiche as opposed to parody, as it imitates capital cities and famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and locations in New York. “Appropriation, pastiche, and bricolage were everywhere apparent in the design of the Vegas strip…” (Sturken, M and Cartwright, L 2009:339) However, it does not re-create these landmarks to create humour, but to create the feeling of the visitor being at the original place. “La Vegas hasn’t turned itself into a clone of Disney, of course. Instead, it has created a new variation, which reveals the changes that are taking place in postmodernism culture, at least within the realm of simulation and themed attractions” (Las Vegas: Postmodern city of casinos and simulation).
Additionally, it has been noted that frequently in Las Vegas buildings are not built to look like its function but built for the pleasure of the observer. This effect can create confusion between what the function of the building is and its decoration. “Churches that look like a factory, and factories that look like a church.” (A history of architect). An example of this within Las Vegas is their Luxor Hotel & Casino. This hotel is famous for being built to look like an Egyptian Pyramid with a Sphinx in front of it. Therefore, it can be argued that a first glance the hotel could be thought to have no function at all as it is just a pyramid.
Postmodern media often relies on the audience’s own knowledge of other texts and media to allow them to identify purposefully make connections with the media they are being presented with, and its original source. An example of this movement in postmodernism media is the Quentin Tarantino-directed film Django Unchained (2012). Within this media, Tarantino “challenges normative dominate ideologies” (Pillarella, M 2014) through using some accurate historical facts, black slaves owned by white when in 1950s Southern America, for example. However, the film is mainly based on Tarantino’s unrealistic and fantastical portrayal of a black slave in the south during the 1950s, who kills his slave owner as well as other white men and then rescues his wife from her owner. Thus, it can be argued that the film is highly unrealistic and makes one question whether hyper-reality is one of many factors Tarantino explored within Django Unchained. Tarantino’s inspiration for the film specifically comes through when looking at the costumes chosen for Django. Throughout the film it is noticeable that Django is always dressed with a Renaissance flair, with his first chosen outfit being a blue jacket; juxtaposing two different time periods.
With Django unchained considered as one of many postmodern films directed by Quentin Tarantino, it could be debated that whilst be try and place Django unchained into a specific genre of a western, drama or as a comedy; Tarantino is attempting to blur the lines of genres and what constitutes to them, breaking the laws of filmmaking it difficult to place Django Unchained into a specific genre.
On the other hand, postmodern media is not always created in such a serious tone as black slavery. Postmodernism can be found in films created for entertainment and labelled as ‘comedy’. An example of this is being the film “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” (2010), directed by Edgar Wright. This film is based on a graphic novel written by Buran Lee O’Malley and follows a teenage boy who must battle his girlfriend’s seven evil ex-partners. The postmodern aspects of the film shine through with intertextuality as it interprets the world of comic books onto the big screen by using colourful freeze frames and flashy special effects. The film focuses on ensuring that the viewer is made to believe they are watching or playing a video game rather than just watching a film. This is done through changing the opening sequence of the film by adding ‘game-like’ music and a video game style Universal logo with pixelation which emphasises the film is to be watched as if the viewer was playing a video game. Therefore, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World demonstrates postmodernism from the very start.
Intertextuality is very prominent in the film when referring to the source of the film being a graphic novel. It is seen in one clip when the words ‘DING DONG’ appear on screen while the doorbell is rung. This is shown in the opening sequence of the film, therefore straight away referencing graphic novels. As well as intertextuality, hyper-reality is also a significant factor that is prominent throughout the film as it is not set out as a film normally would be. We see the hyper-reality within the film especially in scenes where the characters’ fight with their superpowers. Usually, superhero films are made to look as realistic as possible in order to make it believable. However, Wright’s film is splashed with over-exaggeration with energy level bars on the screen to emphasise on the feeling that this is not a film but a video game.
References are also made throughout the film that only fans would understand. For example, the word ‘famous’ is added on screen in the film that is recognisable to almost every viewer. One of which being a Harry Potter reference, ‘She Who Shall Not Be Named’.
Alike Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright relied on the viewer’s previous knowledge on comic books and video games to understand the references placed throughout the film. Wright referenced various genres in the films, these including TV, Comics and Video Games. By doing this, it allowed the film to appeal to a wider audience as it was not singled into a specific genre. However, it can be claimed that the film is placed within a specific genre of its own as a postmodernism film as it appeals to those who enjoy films that reference texts from other sources. This is due to the audience being able to recognise and appreciate the presence of the reference.
To conclude, I believe that postmodernism media challenges the relationship between the text and the viewer as it heavily relies on aspects such as textuality. Therefore, the media is only able to be fully understood by an audience who are familiar with the original source of the reference. Because of this, it can be argued that some viewers may lose or not find any interest in the media they are being shown because they are unable to recognise the origin of the reference and therefore understand the references being made within the media. Therefore, postmodernism media challenges the relationship between the text and the viewer as it relies on the viewer being familiar with the original source.
- A History of Architecture – Modernism (no date). Available at: http://www.historiasztuki.com.pl/kodowane/003-02-02-ARCHWSP-POSTMODERNIZM-eng.php (Accessed at: 27/11/16)
- Las Vegas: Postmodern city of casinos and simulation (no date). Available at: http://www.transparencynow.com/vegas.htm (Accessed: 1/12/16)
- Michael Pillarella (2014) Postmodernism and Django Unchained. Michaelpillerella. 13th October. Available at: https://michaelpillarella.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/postmodernism-and-django-unchained/ (Accessed at: 26/11/16)
- Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
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