Sunday, March 3, 2013

Welcome to Pluralism

I'm not sure if people quite understand the gravity of this commercial. Society doesn't seem to comprehend the individuals ability to capture "the entire gallery of humanity." "A billion photojournalists" roaming the world is written off as a billion adolescent-minded individuals sexting each other. People tend to forget the news' lack of on-the-ground reporting and reliance on YouTube, Twitter, and other mobile uploads. What's more, society accepts this as a  as a way of establishing the group consciousness/opinion on things. Now, why this is important is because its the signal that the Digital Age has really begun and with it, a new way of seeing life.

The dawn of the Industrial Age wasn't important just because society got trains, but because it was a shift in how society thought (Modernism). As industrialism developed, grew, and morphed into what it was at the end of the 20th Century, Modernism developed, grew, and morphed into what's called Postmodernism. Today the Industrial Age (of America) fades away and Post-Modernist thought is shifting into Pluralism. The term Pluralism hasn't quite found its footing; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy vaguely defines it as  referring "to the view that there are many of the things in question (concepts, scientific world views, discourses, viewpoints etc.) The issues arising from there being many differ widely from subject area to subject area." I'm using the term as a concept which takes into account its past uses, but also as an entirely new term. [Think, What was Modernism in 1860?]

Because Pluralism is this 'radical' new concept that will continue to change for decades, it'll be easiest to talk about Pluralism by describing how it departs from Postmodernism.* Because this blog is about pop culture, and most people are familiar with pop culture, I'll be using it to help illustrate my points. Here we go.

? ? ?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy starts its page on Postmodernism as such:
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
If that makes you say wtf, watch this:

This 'destabilizing'/'questioning' mentality has been around since the end of McCarthyism, blossomed with the flower children, changed the world with the civil rights movements, became academic with the goths, hung out with youth culture, and started to break down in the 2000s.

In addition, this questioning was aimed towards exploring individualism, history, and purpose through postulations such as 'Who am I?', 'How do I fit into this world?', 'What's the point of it all?' without any real answers. To sum it up in one word: Lost.

Lost is all about the WTFs

As I recall, millions of viewers were outraged/blown-away by the series' vague un-conclusion. They all wanted to know what it meant, where the answers were. They had invested in six seasons just to be left with a giant question mark. But, you see, JJ Abrams is a Postmodernist and never had any answer to begin with. It was all about the questioning.

Pluralists will continue asking questions, but instead of letting them linger like the smell of a unbathed hippie, they will actually try to answer them. Uncertainty will remain, as pluralists ackowledge several viewpoints exists for each question asked, so don't expect the ? to disappear completely.

ABC's Once Upon a Time illustrates this concept with its character background stories which reveal each character's motivations as neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Snow White is equally a dumbass little girl as as a sweet sacrificial woman. Her step-mother is just as much of a protective mother as a vengeful witch. Although the characters have their own conceptions of who is good or evil, the viewers get to see what events made those notions come about, and judge for themselves whether hatred is warranted. What's more, Once Upon a Time investigates the ethical and moral questions of Lost on a wider social level instead of the individual's.

Emma (Blonde): The woman who gave up her baby for adoption and now wants to snatch him away.
Regina (Brunette): Adoptive mother who would do anything to keep the son she raised and loves.
Now who's the baddie?

What did I do to deserve to be put in this isolation? Here are some things that I did, but why? Is it fate? Is it punishment? Is it salvation? What's the point? wtf? ? ? ? ?

Once Upon a Time
What did I do to deserve to be put in this isolation? Oh yea, I pissed off the evil queen. And she had a rough childhood. That doesn't really excuse her behavior, but maybe we should stop giving her a hard time. After all, we're all in this together. Shouldn't we trust her?


Modernism was about breaking down hierarchy and rejecting tradition. Postmodernists, in my opinion, focused their efforts on rejecting tradition more than dismantling the hierarchy. Nonrepresentational paintings became high art, but paintings were still considered the highest art form. Women were given the right to vote, but they weren't encouraged to climb the political ladder. Universities opened their doors to anyone that could pay, but only on the notion that having a degree makes one superior to one without a degree. In a sense, Postmodernism was more about equal opportunity, not equality.

The popular media hierarchy placed each media (and genres) on a scale from most to least important to society. I'm not saying that all movies were better than TV shows, but generally  movie premiers were more anticipated than TV, and certainly more money was dumped into movies than TV shows. Looking at the hierarchy ten years ago, we can better understand how movies, television, and print media shaped society's outlook.

I probably ought to have named television comedy as television fairy tales.

You should note that Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Pianist also kept with a clear Good vs Evil hierarchy system, in which Good is always the hero. The reality TV and drama series also relied on the ? of Postmodernism: Reality TV was literally unscripted, and the next move was unknown, and the dramas were all about whodunnit/howtofixit.  Print media were not nearly as influential as they had been 50 years earlier, but they still influenced the movie industry (See: LOTR, HP). Magazines were only important as dumping grounds for information on the other media- people still bought TV Guides. Meanwhile video games remained in its own little bubble; its flirtation with other media was limited to Lara Croft and Pokemon. This 'thing' called the internet was used to send emails and instant messages. MySpace didn't even exist until the following year.

Now if we turn to the media hierarchy of last year:

... we can see its a lot more messy. Things are overlapping, feeding each other, and becoming more blurred overall.

Movies still rank supreme, but endure the same acclaim as quite a few miniseries. We have Game of Thrones, Girls, Newsroom, Downton Abbey, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire, all of which have caused as much stir within the general public as Argo, The Avengers, or The Dark Knight Rises. If someone said you could watch either Game of Thrones OR Man of Steel, but not both, which would you pick?

Video games have replaced print media, giving players the opportunity to experience the heroics on their own terms. The dialogue between movies, television, and games has shifted into a two way street, where the making of one influences the making of the other. With additional non-video games influencing movies, such as GI Joe or Battleship, it's safe to say [Video] Games deserves a place in the media hierarchy. Meanwhile, print media has dropped magazines but embraced comics. Print does not hold as much say as the other media (with perhaps the exceptions of Fifty Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games), and are more notable for their contributions to the higher media. 

The genres are shifting as well. People still watch American Idol and the X Factor, but they are way more concerned about the recent death of a Downton Abbey character than the elimination of singer. We also have literal fairy tales becoming Heroics (Once Upon a Time, Snow White and The Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer**, etc).

(Twilight) Book -> Movie- > Fanfiction -> (50 Shades) Book -> Movie
Anything is possible with Pluralism!
And here's a Entertainment Weekly telling you this information.

Pluralism, at this point, has not destroyed the hierarchy, but it definatly has shifted things to more equal ground, largely thanks to the internet. It shows society the potential of a formally inconsequential entity (video-games), warns against dismissing the lone voice on the internet (fanfiction), and gives the hierarchy structure less power overall (Kickstarter). In other aspects of society, Pluralism suggests people confront 'the system' head on; from the radical Occupy Wall Street to the more banal Twitter contributions to the news. The people's opinion is just as important as the expert's analysis. (That's why Wikipedia has become a semi-legitimate source of knowledge.) We don't yet recognize congress as equal to congress or gay marriage equal to straight marriage, but I believe we'll get there sooner rather than later.


If you hang around educated art types, you've probably heard them say Post-Postpostmodernism or postpostpostpostmodernism or postpostpostpostpostpostmodernism and laughed at them because they were trying to be funny. Right? Nope. That's what they call it. It's not a joke. Why keep adding post, why not just make a new word? Because they're Postmodernists that's why. Unable to commit to hard facts they tentatively stick there toes in the water and tell you its a different temperature. There's even a thing as Postmodern Pluralism (as opposed to Post-Postmodern Pluralism). The hanging chads of 'post', to me, represent Postmodernism inability to let go of history.

Postmodernism was all about what baggage you were carrying. Did you use the ultramarine because it used to be reserved for the Virgin Mary's cloak? Oh, you use gunpowder because you're Chinese and that's a part of you ancestry? Your abstract paintings still discuss painting's ability to create movement without moving even though we have things like video? These sculptures are impressive but they're still narrative ceramics pieces so let's ignore them. (Do you see the hierarchy of history here?)

In pop media, we see that movies 'have to be good' just because they star Bruce Willis, Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise, or Denzel Washington. Of course, if you're not that into stars, why not catch Fast & Furious 6, from a series which took its name from a 1955 film. Then you can watch Planes, a spin off of Pixar's Cars and Cars 2. We also have Charlie's Angels, both the movie and television remakes, True Grit, Dark Shadows, any comic book movie, Hawaii Five-O, and so on.

Getting over Postmodernism's attachment to history will probably be the hardest task for Pluralists. Its not as if we'll be ignoring history- Postmodernists have made that impossible. Instead of keeping the past just off center, Pluralists will have to turn their heads away and keep it in the corner of their eye. By doing this, they will have the change to create something new, to adventure into the unknown.

Arguably, Django Unchained represents this transition best. Tarantino used the familiar and dated, format of the western to explore themes of the current black man's hardships. He showed, quite graphically, the history of slavery without explicitly pointing it out as 'a camera pan about slavery'. The scenes of slaves lined up about to be auctioned off was not Spielberg-ian lament for our past, but a matter of fact display of history. Tarantino does not force sympathy onto the audience, but allows them to slip into empathy on their own. Django represents the black man of today, who walks around carrying that history with him; it's not something to be erased or lamented, but something that needs to be acknowledged. Django Unchained did not stick to all the trademarks of westerns, but used them to frame a new perspective of the black American. The use of the western genre allowed the audience to see Django as an American hero-Cowboy, rather than the  angry black man.

So what's the difference between Postmodernism's, Post-Postpostmodernism's, and Pluralism's history? It's the way they use it.

Postmodernists say to themselves, "Ahah! People like X, so if I add a little bit of my own Y here, they'll like XY, and I'll do well."

Post-Postpostmodernists (which are really Postmodernists) come along blabbing, "People love XY, I'm going to add with M, N, P, to get XYM, XYN, or XYP, They'll love it too."  [Yes, these are awful examples. I'm sure good Post-postpostmodernists exist somewhere...]

Pluralists, on the other hand, think, "So people know about A. I'll multiply it with my B and get C, D, or F. Let's see if they like it."

It's time to let go of the past, Postmodernists. Drop the extra baggage of 'posts' and embrace Pluralism.


You can see how answered questions, a destabilized hierarchy, and a looser grip on history relate to one another. By answering your questions, you destabilize the hierarchy of knowledge or power. By taking away the hierarchy you make history (inherited knowledge/power) less of a concern. By not relying on history, you can find the courage to ask the questions that need to be answered.

Obviously, the introspective unanswered questions, the hierarchy, and the use of history will not be the only things that change because of Pluralism. They are the things that are easy to illustrate and easier to see happening in our culture at this moment in time. The Digital Age evolves and mutates so quickly that society can hardly keep up; but if we look close enough we can see a new species of thought form in front of our eyes.

The Hierarchical filing system of Windows 98 vs the Pluralist One-for-All screen of Windows 8
We owe a lot to the Modernists and Postmodernist, many of whom created the tools we use today.  We shouldn't fixate on their ideas, but bounce off them and create our own hard-to-follow declarations. Trying to emulate the past won't make us thrive in the present; we are no longer the society that stares in wonder at tubed paints or fears a communist invasion or blames women for sexuality. Let's shift our focus to the wonders of technology, our unsettling relationship with capitalist China, and the great accomplishments of women.

Pluralism isn't about stopping to ponder why a raven is like writing desk, nor is it about finding your feelings. Those times are over. The recession demands people not wait for something to happen, doing so just make things worse. It's not a time to linger in the dank cave of familiarity. It's a time to shift our perspectives and communicate with each other.

*While reading this, remember that I'm better versed in the world of Visual Arts than the other liberal arts. I also have my own opinions of what Modernism/Post-Modernism is. If you're using this for your book report instead of doing actual research, don't.  If you're looking for an easy academic comparison go here. Personally, I think it has some things wrong, but that's me.

** I saw Jack the Giant Slayer this weekend. It's not a Heroic Epic; despite the epic battle scenes with deafening sound effects, the ending is clearly that of a status-quo Fairy Tale. (Also, there's not a single person of color in it. Not even in the background.) 

2002 Magazine Circulation
2002 Movies
2002 Television

The internet is for dialogue. Please comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment