From what I’ve read here at Café Whispers I would say quite comfortably that we are postmodernists. From what I know of the media puppets in this country, I’d say they are not.
I will argue my case.
Postmodernism is a term, or set of ideas that emerged as an area of intellectual study in the wake of the social and economic transformations of the 1960s. Despite being one of the most important paradigmatic changes of the last half century it has been difficult to define because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion and technology. If we looked at postmodern as a word, we could readily place it among a network of ‘postist’ concepts and modes of thinking, such as ‘post-industrial society’, ‘post-structuralism’, ‘post-colonialism’ and ‘post-rationalism’. All of these – and this is relevant – appear to represent the attempt to articulate the sense of a new age dawning.
Postmodernism, to some, is a crisis of meaning and confidence in Western culture. For the most part of the last two thousand years the West has identified itself as a global authorising culture, but challenges have now been made to this authority by other cultures. At the same time, a number of groups – such as women or minority groups – have made claims from within Western culture that have questioned standard assumptions about Western theories of knowledge.
Does that sound like us?
There are lots of questions to be asked about postmodernism and one of the most important is about the politics involved – or, more simply, is this movement toward fragmentation, performance and instability something good or something bad? There are various answers to that; in our contemporary society, however, the desire to return to the pre-postmodern era (modern/humanist/Enlightenment thinking) tends to get associated with conservative political, religious and philosophical groups. In fact, one of the consequences of postmodernism seems to be the rise of religious fundamentalism, as a form of resistance to the questioning of the grand narratives of religious truth.
On another level, postmodernism seems to offer some alternatives to joining the global culture of consumption, where commodities and forms of knowledge are offered by forces far beyond any individual’s control. These alternatives focus on thinking of any and all action (or social struggle) as necessarily local, limited, and partial – but nonetheless effective. By discarding grand narratives (such as the liberation of the entire working class) and focusing on specific local goals, postmodernism offers a way to theorise local situations as fluid and unpredictable, though influenced by global trends.
The last decade has been a decade of tremendous change. Ancient certainties, trusted ideologies and tested methods all came under immense pressure once postmodern ideas and concepts gained wider currency and postmodernism come to signify a wide range of positions. Three major themes can be identified:
- A rejection of both the all-encompassing and frequently teleological theories of human history and social change associated with Enlightenment ideas about reason and progress.
- A linking of claims about social life, human nature and criteria of truth and validity with strategies of power.
- A replacement of the emphasis on the individual subject and the contents of the consciousness of that subject by an emphasis as language as inter-subjective.
It is worth staying with this for a while. In providing a critique of positivism and macro-theory postmodernism has established an intellectual position that has challenged a variety of intellectual traditions. By arguing for subjectivism and micro-sociological analysis, postmodern thinkers have instituted a theoretical and practical shift away from the once dominant traditions.
This conflict in theory manifests itself in a sharp division between the digressive constructions of postmodern thought. Postmodern discourse, in emphasising a new perspective and difference, establishes an orientation towards history and knowledge that denies the existence of material truth.
Central to Marxist theory is the notion of ideological control by the dominant class, implementing a framework that supports the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships. The postmodern construction of power deviates from the Marxist viewpoint through a definition of ‘truth’ as an exertion of power, attempting to restrict or subvert the plurality of discourses existing in society, identifying truth in the same light as the Marxist conceptualisation of ideology. Pivotal to the Marxist theory is the notion of ideological control (hegemony) by the dominant class. Acting as an instrument of ideological control, hegemony allows for the ruling class to guide the praxis of the rank and file. In this way hegemony provides a vehicle for the constant assimilation of change and necessity in culture, appropriating the discourse of social movement while promoting the agenda of the dominant group. Postmodernism challenges the epistemological foundations of such thought.
Again, that sounds like us.
The media, however, attempts to permeate the entirety of our consciousness. Acting as an instrument of ideological control, the media allows for the ruling class to guide the praxis of the masses without directly intervening in personal affairs. Journalists reject the roles of power established by the postmodernists, acting as a social construct that promotes the existence of the groups employing them.
Any reader here will be aware that the media has recently been under serious and sustained attack. The aim of this attack has been to create a great deal of agitation about what the media is on about and to render its message all but moribund. This attack has generally been directed at two presumed failings:
- Failure to Culturally Relativise all Forms of Knowledge. The presumed failure to recognise the cultural relativity of all knowledge, including scientific knowledge; ie, scientific knowledge is not objective and is just another of the endless ways humans have of portraying their interpretation of events.
- Failure to Take a Moral Stand Against Oppression. The presumed failure to take a firm moral stance against oppression of all sorts; oppression against Aborigines, against visible minorities, against Third and Fourth World peoples, against refugees, etc.
Postmodernists could argue that the media should be directed at exposing and unmasking the various cultural factors maintaining hegemony (ie, dominance, dominion, heavy authority) of one human group over another human group. They further advocate that the media, as an instrument, maintains hegemony of one human group over another group. Here at Café Whispers, the media has been variously characterised as an essentially non-objective and ethnocentric enterprise: a disguised ideology supporting the domination of oppressed groups in society.
In this sense postmodernists may see their position as politically correct, that is, iconoclastic and subversive of ascendant hegemonic categories. But postmodernists tend to apply the logic of cultural construction more relentlessly in specifying and de-constructing points of view, regardless of authorship.
Further, we postmodernists are concerned with questions of the organisation of knowledge. In a postmodern society, however, knowledge becomes functional – you learn things, not to know them, but to use that knowledge.
What, in closing, are the major differences between we postmodernists and the media? Consider the following and the answer becomes clear:
- Reason is the ultimate judge of what is true, and therefore of what is right and what is good.
- Language, or the mode of expression used in producing and disseminating knowledge, must be rational also. To be rational, language must be transparent; it must function only to represent the real/perceivable world, which the rational mind observes.