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Does postmodern popular culture signal the end of originality?
Without doubt, postmodernism is a term which has always been counter argued considering the clump of means it is consisted of. However, in this essay, it will be characterized regarding its more later definition in contemporary culture, specifically, the reproduction of the old. Postmodernism coined around the 1950‟s as a concept that defied the principles on which modernism had developed. Clement Greenberg, a 20th century visual art critic, defined modernism as a „discipline sought to free itself from extraneous influence‟ (Bertens 1995, p3) In other words, when creating art, adepts of modernism disposed of the narrative in favour of a self-reflexive „reconnaissance‟; in favour of seeking the individual truth that had no reference whatsoever to anything that had been done before. On the other hand, considering the premises on which postmodernism had been established, it was meant to return to the representational structure and prove the „emergence of alternative forms of culture‟ (McRobbie, 1994, p 20) through the reinterpretation of already grounded mundane affairs. Bearing in mind the context on which postmodernism will be analyzed, the aim of this essay is to argue whether postmodernist culture signals the end of originality or not.
Dick Hebdige describes postmodernism by starting chapter eight of his book „Hiding in the Light‟ through a massive phrase enumerating a variety of examples of how postmodernism could be defined. Moreover, he also states that „the more complexly and contradictorily a word is, the more likely it is to have formed the focus for historically significant debates, to have occupied a semantic ground in which something precious and important felt to be embedded.‟(1988, p182) From Hebdige‟s view, it appears that postmodernism is simply more than the inauguration of the past‟s originality and regards it as an „activation of all meanings‟(McRobbie, 1994, p23) that have been encapsulated in time. Hence, it drives attention to how former creations can be freed of their secrets by voicing their interpretation throughout debates, allowing the nurturing of new ideas, thus, their reinvention.
Anamaria Dumitriu In order to sustain the assumptions made before, postmodernism can easily be related with Aristotel‟s holism theory, where the „component parts of the universe function in a cooperative way to achieve a final purpose or end product‟ (http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/aristotle.html). In other words, an entity is considered to be the product made of more than the mere sum of its parts, where all the parts have an existence of their own. Aristotel also believes that the rationale must be exploited at its full potential in order to reach a greater good. Considering this theory, when it comes to postmodernism, it can be said that the involvement of others in already achieved foundation leads to a textual thickness, an intensification of change (McRobbie 1994), which will ultimately follow the pattern of giving birth to the „new‟, ad infinitum. Thus, „originality‟ here can also be a counter-argued term, given the fact that everything is connected to everything for the continuum cycle of evolution. This cyclicity strikes again as a defiance of modernism where „art‟s self-sufficiency‟ can be regarded as a limited and isolated creation having „its special and separate status within the larger world‟(Bertens 1995, p4).
One other aspect that is linked to postmodernism is the concept of pastiche. Frederic Jameson talks about modernism as a theory that insisted on personal identity, on the uniqueness of every individual‟s vision and truth, on self-originality. However, acknowledging the fact that modernism is „over and done‟, so it is argued to be this individualistic theory that it adopted. Based on this hypothesis, it is believed by some, that this is the end of the „original‟. Modernism left behind a great thesaurus which signaled the end of creativity, where there were „only a limited number of combinations possible‟ and „the most unique ones have been thought of already‟ (Jameson, 1985 cited in Foster 1985, p114). Thus, here is where pastiche makes its presence; by imitating the past since there can be no innovation.
Despite all the previous reasoning, modernism is based on a quite conflictive theory. Since every individual is supposed to be unique and have a distinct vision of the world, innovation could have only died once with humanity, whereas people are born every day still. This only leads on to state that originality is not dead, yet it is continuous as the cycle of life. Moreover, Plato‟s „Allegory of the cave‟ sustains the strength of this theory. Modernism is the representation of Plato‟s prisoners, which
Anamaria Dumitriu were limited by their condition, only able to see a dark corner of the life they had, whereas postmodernism is represented by their freedom to discover there is a whole world outside that cave. (Christensen, 2012)
„Art proceeds from artist to artist, from idea to idea, in a golden chain of contingency that endows culture with its character and coherency.‟(Keller 2000, p3) Julia Keller‟s reasoning reinforces the fact that the world works based on a system of connections, where everything is borrowed in order to enable the upgrades of progress. Within this hypothesis we can link examples of film, digital media and music (beside others), which were exposed to changes in the economy of media interdependency, where the modus operandi involves the mixture of cultural grounds. Throughout the help of nowadays technology, everything can be easily interconnected, as domains of singularity have broadened to the extent of intersecting each other. Examples of support for this affair would be found, on a majority scale, in cinematography. Its beginnings consisted of stilt images put together on a reel of film in order to create a stop-motion sequence which ultimately led to contemporary film industry. However, until it reached that stage, the process of film-making has ascended from the basics of stop-motion to a complex compound of video footage with sound, colour and eventually digital effects. Following on previous words, in the history of film there have frequently been released upgraded versions of past productions where the narrative has been slightly shifted from its initial pattern in order to mould aged ideas to our modern times. One such example would be the remakes of „Batman‟. The original version was brought out to the public in 1966 by Leslie H. Martinson, who carved the idea on the premises of the comic book. Later on, directors such as Tim Burton (“Batman Returns”-1992), Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Tim (“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”-1993), Joel Schumacher(“Batman Forever”-1995 and “Batman and Robin”-1997), Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”-2005, “Dark Knight”- 2008, „The Dark Knight Rises‟ - 2012) etc (www.imdb.com ), have inputted their own visualization of the story throughout their work. Technological refinements have enabled them the possibility of remodeling the original „Batman‟ project to the point where the legacy left behind a greater viewpoint of the character‟s pioneer version. This only leads on to state that a collection of interpretations did not just imitate, but gathered in order to shift what was a blunt foundation to a complex and refined concept which will duel through
Anamaria Dumitriu time.
Another field that needs to be put under the loupe would certainly portray art as an eligible subject. Proceeding from paintings, pop-art has made a statement in the post-modernist cultural environment, mostly as a result of the well-known work of Andy Warhol. In this spectrum of circumstances, it has to be noted that pop art is a visual art movement which concentrates in essence, on artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement. The roots of it can be traced back in the 1960‟s where it was nurtured once with the youth and pop music phenomenon as a result of a number of artists‟ interest in the images of mass media, advertising, comics and consumer products (West, 1996). The aforementioned Andy Warhol was one such artist, a commercial illustrator who achieved a name for himself by means of rising mundane objects to an artistic scale, while also joggling with iconic subjects within the pop-art sphere (Keneally, 2012). A „Daily Mail‟ article, titled „Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: How Warhol‟s Approach to Pop Culture Is Still Influencing the Art World Today‟, makes a reference at Warhol‟s power of imprint by pointing out there is „no surprise that his iconic picture of an oversized can of Campbell‟s Beef Noodle Soup is granted the same reverence as the Hollywood stars that Warhol immortalized in bright hues.‟ (Keneally, 2012) By way of explanation, the citation evaluates the consumer‟s culture potential when manifesting through such art, even if by the expense of it being more popular and less academic. (West, 1996)) However, popart generated some of the earliest examples of postmodernism and is another different display of postmodern work which carries on thriving in the urban society.
Music, on the other hand is a much wider scene of exploration. Since the invention of the phonograph, artists haven‟t stopped from linking to each other, either by „borrowing‟ fragments of style, referencing their influences or simply reconstructing entire sound treasures from the past. Digital technology has, as well, simplified methods of composition, where anything can be now remixed and altered by the use of sound manipulation. In addition, this enabled revolutionary ideas within the music area, allowing space for the expansion of genre through intertextuality. The art in this sense is exemplified by countless musicians, yet some cases presented more concern than others. „Venetian
Anamaria Dumitriu Snares‟ is the stage name for Aaron Funk, an electronic sound designer who diversified his work by going from „"breakcore" style of complex, brutal, distorted, skittering, whirling drum programming‟ to „blending drum'n'bass and classical music in the form of frantic breakbeats coupled with snippets of orchestra.‟ (Scaruffi, 2006) His most popular musical production is „Szamar Madar‟, a wonderful blend of samples, synths and drum breaks, where his source of inspiration was founded by Edward Elgar's "Cello Concerto 1st Mov" (Scaruffi, 2006). This fondness for classical music was as well asserted by Clint Mansell in many of his electronic compositions, particularly popularized through films such as „Requiem for a Dream‟ or „Black Swan‟(www.imdb.com) where the fulfillment of sound through orchestral harmonies takes larger proportions within electronic adjustment of sound, bringing out the emphasis of audio and visual mixture. All in all, postmodernism has unwrapped itself in a wider angle throughout its evolution, where there is a future in which the majority of us can choose for.
Nonetheless, it is necessary to be said that the making of the „newness‟ is not as easy as it once was, but this only gives way to the peripheral vision, to open-mindedness and perseverance. Postmodernism „allows what were respectable sociological issues to reappear on the intellectual agenda‟(McRobbie 1994, p14), but not by integrating them in the accounts of pastiche, but moving forward and acknowledging the whole landscape. The extensiveness and flexibility of the term itself is a new form of culture aestheticization (McRobbie 1994, p15). „The only originality left‟, claims artist David Salle,‟ is the choice of what to borrow from.‟ (Salle cited in Keller, 2000)
Fredric, J (1985), Postmodernism and Consumer Society. In: H. Foster (ed. 1985) Postmodern Culture, London: Pluto Press, pp. 111-123
Hebdige, Dick (1988), Hiding in the Light, London: Routledge
McRobbie, Angela (1994), Postmodernism and Popular Culture, London: Routledge
West, Shearer (1996) The Bulfinch Guide to Art History: A Comprehensive Survey and Dictionary of Western Art and Architecture, London: Bloomsbury
Bertens, Johannes (1995), The Idea of the Postmodern: A History,[e-book] London: Routledge, Available through: University of Huddersfield Library website http://webcat.hud.ac.uk [Accessed 2 December 2012]
Encyclopedia Britannica, Aristotle [online] Available at: http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/aristotle.html, [Accessed 2 December 2012]
Keller, J (2000) The End of Originality, Chicago Tribune, [online] Available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-04-09/news/0004090034_1_gerard-manley-hopkinsmusicians-originality/3 [Accessed 5 December 2012]
Anamaria Dumitriu www.imdb.com [online],[ Accessed 5 December 2012]
Kenneally, Meghan (2012), Making the ordinary extraordinary: How Warhol‟s Approach to Pop Culture Is Still Influencing the Art World Today, The Daily Mail [online], 11 September, Available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2201380/How-Andy-Warhols-approach-pop-cultureSTILL-influencing-art-world-today.html [Accessed 5 December 2012]
Piero Scaruffi, 2006, Venetian Snares [online] Available at: http://www.scaruffi.com/vol7/venetian.html [Accessed 5 December 2012]
Wise Geek, Tricia-Ellis Christensen 2012, What Is the Allegory of the Cave [online] Available at http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-allegory-of-the-cave.htm [Accessed 2 December 2012]
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