Publicity shot for "Mad Men," 2007-present
Publicity shot for "Mad Men," 2007-present
Ad for Banana Republic's "Mad Men" collection
Ad for Banana Republic's "Mad Men" collection
Mad Men advertisement from the MTA subway system, with some creative reinterpretation.
Mad Men advertisement from the MTA subway system, with some creative reinterpretation.
This week marked the return of AMC's Mad Men to television, which despite its meager ratings remains a popular program which has influenced everything from peers in the television industry to fashion and even back to advertising. I have always argued that Mad Men represents a piece of post-modern literature, but I'd like to posit that the Mad Men phenomenon could only occur in a post-post modern sensibility where art is fundamentally remixed and rewritten.

I have always felt that Mad Men was conceived as a deconstruction of contemporary conservative nostalgia for "the good old days," a not-so-subtle reference to a time before the Civil Rights movement, when the dominance of conservative rich white men went unchallenged. Nostalgia for the past is certainly not a new or post-modern idea (check out this Horace poem, or Hesiod's idea of man's degradation from the Golden Age to his present). It is Matthew Weiner's unflinching look at the racism, sexism, and predatory behavior of those advertising agencies that helped to create the illusion of a wholesome "good old days" that make the show so powerful. Deconstruction is one of Ihab Hassan's characteristics of postmodernism, the "vast will to undoing, affecting the body politic, the body cognitive, the erotic body, the individual psyche, the entire realm of discourse in the West" (Hassan, 2001). Mad Men specializes in tweaking and attacking the body politic, not only breaking down the neoconservative illusion of pre-Civil Rights paradise but using its characters to comment on today's political movements (for example, when elderly character Bert Cooper, who often appears as senile, bemoans that “If they pass Medicare, they won’t stop until they ban personal property,” an effective slam that the heated rhetoric around Obama's health care reforms).

What makes Mad Men such a post-post-modern phenomena is the thriving remix culture that surrounds it. Mad Men has, to date, only middling ratings in comparison with other popular TV shows. Its ratings for the Sunday premiere were 3.5 million Nielsen households, a record for the program but middling in comparison to shows like American Idol, which on a down week pulls in 15 million. Yet American Idol hardly has the reverberating quality of Mad Men. Its unique aesthetics have been appropriated and reformatted by a multitude of artists, whether its the recent influx of its clothing designs into today's popular fashion, The Simpsons or Sesame Street satirizing the opening credits, or graffiti artists turning Mad Men advertisements into their own personal canvases. In effect, a niche product (a TV program that only a few watch, albeit a critically acclaimed one) becomes a mass mediated product endlessly redone and remixed to serve the need of other artists. The aesthetics of Mad Men are re-purposed or sampled without sourcing, yet it's taken for granted viewers will be able to make the connection, or at least the viewer's parents will in the case of Sesame Street.

There's a deliberate differentiation between evoking 60's style and evoking Mad Men's highly produced television version of the style. This is where the difference between postmodernism and post-post modernism lies.

-Tracy Carlin




In attempting to distinguish between modernism, post-modernism and whatever it is that comes afterwards, I found it helpful to define three film movements and to root them firmly (or as firmly as possible) into each of the categories, or eras. In his book, Douglas Kellner clearly delineates postmodernism from modernism through the former’s focus on “a loss of geographical and sociological centrality...moral superiority and rights over ‘uncivilized’ peoples; an incredulous attitude toward progress as the trajectory and goal of history, accompanied by a dark pessimism toward the future and a decline of utopian values”. Thus modernist themes often center around not necessarily nationalism, but feature the belief in the existence of some form of national identity - especially one that possesses a linear and teleological sense of finality.

My first film example, a clip from Sergei Eisenstein’s “Aleksandr Nevsky” (1938), reveals some of these modernist tendencies:



With regard to plot here, the Germans, or Teutons, are the ones with the powerful sense of ‘right’ and national identity - but they act as a foil to reveal the emerging superiority of Medieval Rus’ - a country that considers itself spiritually privileged by God. With regard to what could be called “modernist cinema”, this film is demonstrative of its ‘auteurish’ character - in other words, we like to think of Eisenstein’s films as a direct translation of his artistic vision and technical control.


Let's consider another representation of the medieval knight in 20th century cinema. In this clip from Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975), King Arthur, played by Graham Chapman (who is also credited in the film as Voice of God, Middle Head, and Hiccoughing Guard) challenges the Black Knight to a fight - a fight which subverts almost every notion we have of the chivalric code:



While some might argue that this film is no more than a satire, others view it as a successful satirical deconstruction of not only the religious and aristocratic ideologies of the Middle Ages, but also as a deconstruction of the legacy of cinematic representations of knights, as well as of any hero consumed by quixotic goals. Thus "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" aligns itself with Jean-Francois Lyotard's argument that postmodernism is constituted by the "breaking up of grand narratives". The film is also a mish-mash of different styles, skits, and genres, echoing Ihab Hassan's contention that postmodern works are constituted by "openness, fragmentation, ambiguity, discontinuity", while always bridging the gap between 'high' and 'low' culture. (Legend has it that the reason Arthur's horse is really a servant clicking coconuts together is due to budget constraints).


Finally, if these are acceptable representations of what could be considered 'modernist' and 'postmodernist' examples of cinema, then what would the "post-post modern" equivalent look like? Some film critics point to works that are part of the so-called "New Sincerity" movement - a movement which is not necessarily a coherently articulated genre but rather a large net with which to catch similar works that feature a style that is both post-ironic and 'post-self-reflexive'. Often, the 'sincerity' of these films emerges in a sense of spirituality that permeates both the lives of the characters in the film and directorial/cinematographic style itself.

How do you think films by directors such as Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier, and Andrei Tarkovsky, which combine both modernist and post-modernist film aesthetics in the production of a new artistic synthesis, fit into this description?


A 'sincere' trailer for Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011):




Another 'sincere' trailer. For von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" (2000):




Two stills from Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood" (1962):

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- Jen Feldman

Barry McGee, Installation at Deitch Projects, 2005.
Barry McGee, Installation at Deitch Projects, 2005.
Everything has already been done. While it may sound fatalistic or pessimistic, for the most part, I would contest that this statement is true. There is no new shock to be made, no jarring idea to come in and break all the rules. "Formerly subversive and embattled styles...for the generation which arrives at the gate in the 1960s, felt to be the establishment and the enemy- dead, stifling, canonical..." Jameson explains of the movements of post-modernism as a reaction to the modern structures. With the shattering of boundaries and borders, such paradigm shifts do not allow us to go back in time and this we are irrevocably in the present. The old shocks become the present traditions. While Warhol blew minds with his dissolving of high and low art, his work is now some of the most prevalent and overwrought work in our cultural conscious. Even the concept of graffiti as art is fully entrenched in the canon and established as fact. With no rules to break, how does one achieve new and interesting ideas? The ideas of postmodern and post-postmodern movements seem to me to be an extension of the concept of the chain of signifieds. Recontextualizing an object or idea into a new framework of understanding creates a new set of meanings, which overtime, become the standard, and are then again recontextualized, creating more signifieds in the chain. In his article on “altermodern”, Menendez-Conte speaks to this, saying “Contemporary art is a displacement of signs, in which materials are interconnected, developing a chain of references that are dialoguing with each other in order to produce a narrative.”
Jameson talks about major movements in art and in postmodernism being reactions to the previous established norms, saying that postmodernism’s unity “is not given in itself but in the very modernism it seeks to displace” This leads me to wonder if the way to reach innovation is to simply not react to anything.

A great example of post-postmodernism is the recent development of the music genre, “Chillwave”. Chillwave is a movement which takes direct samples from 1980’s music and recreates them by looping and adding effects. Sometimes the remixing is very minimal, to the point where the authorial process can be called into question. Above, we see what could be argued as one of the most seminal songs of the genre, by the act Washed Out. Next to it, we can hear the original source material, which has basically been simply slowed down to create the new song. Where as before we have samples, such as in hip hop records, being used but so manipulated that the artist hand is clearly observed, here we have a postpostmodern take on sampling, where almost no changes are made and new works can still be created. This also speaks to Jameson’s idea of the Death of the Subject. With such lengthy and direct cribbing and pilfering from the archives, individual voices are lost in favor of collage and bricolage to the fullest extent. Washed Out choses to minimally add to the song, and in doing so keeps his personal voice and identity as a creator buried under layers, making it ostensibly nonexistent.
The genre holds other attributes that Jameson attributes to Postmodernism (and po-po-mo). It’s use of such samples is in no way parody or satirical. The pastiche is bereft of irony and done in a sincere manner. It speaks in a way to the marriage of high and low art, where in what could be considered “cheesy” to many (the goofy synth noises of 80’s throwaway pop music) is used to create, to the artists, sincere and serious works.

Finally, a major component of the movement is a heavy use of nostalgia for what is seen as simpler times. This includes imploying vernacular and blurry images of by-gone (30 years ago) eras, with people on the beach or at parties, complete with the telltale signs of 35mm film (note the album cover above). These images become of paramount importance and go hand and hand with the music, sometimes holding equal wait. In an illumination article published on pitchfork.com, Nitsuh Abebe writes

"If there's anything that sets this current wave of chill apart from the long list of acts who've struck the same tones before, it's the way it's made that visual sense work to its advantage. These musicians can sound like as many blurry, danceable, blissed-out classics as they like, but when we listen to them, we don't think about other music-- we leap straight to images, TV shows, beaches, sunglasses, animation styles."

Here we are presented with ideas similar to Debords "spectacle", where even music is mediated and subsumed by images.

And of course, the sound directly harkens back to days gone by. Even the name (and many of his contemporaries) hints at age, patina, nostalgia in its purest sense, free of anything but the good feelings. This ecstasy of nostalgia works by “reinventing the feel and shape of characteristicart objects of an older period”, “seeking to reawaken a sense of the past associated with those objects”, says Jameson. The entire movement, sometimes maligned as much as it is loved, is a prime example of how the ideas of postmodernism continue on in the present day, no matter what number of “post” prefixes we are currently on. As Abebe explains, "it's taken a set of sounds that was already out there, languishing, and drawn people a picture of what they could use it to 'mean'- what contexts they could put it in, what vibes they could draw out of it, what kind of cool they could surround it with."

-Christian Storm



9-11: Exploiting Postmodernism …………..

The Arab countries of the Gulf region are especially unique in their wealth and historical /cultural traditions than those of the Levant and other areas of the Mid East. As tribal Bedouin cultures, they were thrust into Modernization with the advent of oil, many going instantly from tents to high rises and camels to Rolls Royce’s in a matter of a few years. They basked for years in the luxuries of modern capitalism imported largely from the US but also from Europe and the Orient. If, as Jameson claims, Postmodernism was the result of a desire to break free of the cultural confines (artistically, culturally, ethnically, historically, morally, politically and even economically) of Realist thinking, extreme capitalism embodied in international commercial practices and Western hegemonic ideals, I would observe that these Gulf states were thrown into a new paradigm that disrupted the Modernism they were most comfortable with.

Tribalism -------- Postcolonialism/Modernity /Modernism ---------- Postmodernity/Postmodernism

After the British left the area as Colonists, these nations found common ground based on commercial interests. Each nation basked in its own metanarrative (grand theories), myth of cultural unity, focus on science and technology for progress, traditional family units/values, nationalism, hierarchical tribal systems, inclusion in the world of mass consumption, single broadcast media entities, clearly defined artistic and architectural boundaries….all elements of a “determinant” society. But with the emerging impact of the Information Age and the new Postmodernist “inderterminance”, the comfortable world of Modernity gave way to an identity crisis that caused socio-political alliances, economic ideals and basic social structures to be called into question. Traditional modern allegiance to consumerism and pacts between Arab and Western leaders in which vested oil interests and regional security concerns depended became issues intertwined with Identity – an identity that was shaky from the get go since it never had a chance to reconcile tribal factionalism, Western domination, cultural modernization, education, political participation and plurality.

Western hegemony was rejected as an element of the postmodernist movement in the West, and simultaneously was used by the outcast of a prominent wealthy and respected construction industry family, Osama Bin laden. He capitalized on the largely uneducated and religiously unrefined populations who were averse to the abstractness of Postmodernism and the threat it posed to the comfortable Modernist- Wahhabi relationship that existed for years. The mobilization of individuals to carry out attacks on the West began with a desire to see the US out of Saudi Arabia where it had gained a presence in the defense of Kuwait during Desert Storm. As a child of Modernization, Bin Laden himself was comfortable with capitalism as a concept but the postmodernist threat to religious identity to rally people to his cause. The schizophrenia, anarchy of thought and the advent of the internet and mass marketing gave plenty of fodder for creating a rationale to conduct horrific acts such as 9-11. Never mind the personal chip on his shoulder from years of devotion to fighting as a Mujahideen alongside Bosnians and Afghans, modernization was giving way to a new phenomenon of postmodernism which threatened the essence of religion and the values of the places he recruited from.

Consider the architecture of many of these states that reflects a desire to embrace the new, but is still very much a reflection of lingering Modernism...

Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia/ Mecca Clock Tower, Saudi Arabia/ Dubai Fountain, UAE
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Dubai Lighthouse, UAE/ UAE Dubai Opera House, UAE
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Also consider below, Randall Niles' interpretation of Postmodernism in which he touches on the theocratic, ethical, social, economic, political dimensions of reality - it would seem that OBL created a "reality" or "truth" and a following based on both a rejection of postmodernist anarchy as well as a rejection of mainstream Islam (eg, its repulsion to mass killing of innocent civilians). While many have referred to OBL as a " postmodern Jihadist" by equating his social mobiliztion with the European leftist socialist movement, I would argue (much as Ihab Hassan and Randall Niles would agree) that such an anlogy is questionable. First because there are no clear lines that definitively put him in a postmodernist box and secondly because as a product of modernization, he was rejecting America and its hegemony and NOT invoking a universally accepted version of justice and social sense, but rather some politically charged, vengeful brand of Islamic justice that dangerously catered to war torn and downtrodden elements of society.



- Sarah

Comic art as entertainment
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(Scrooge McDuck is Donald’s uncle in the comic Donald Duck. He started a gold coin collecting business in his early years. It turns out to be hugely successful, and he becomes a kagillionaire. He could be a typical representation of American Dream.)

A cartoonist named Greg Beda explained how comics have been changed with a modern view (comic art as entertainment), a postmodern view (comics art as social commentary) and a post-postmodern view (comics art as medicine). I totally agree with it. Before the invention of television, comic played the role of TV series. People read comic books for fun. The content of those comic books reflected the mainstream culture and narratives of the American society. For example, the heroic plot in the Superman and the narrative of American Dream in Mickey Mouse. The drawing style of modern comics is complicate and detailed.

Comic Art as Social Commentary

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Postmodernism comics like Simpsons and South Park usually have a common theme, irony. Postmodern comics satirize mainstream culture, politics, classic and other common social issues by exaggerate realities with a dramatic representation. They appropriate pop culture elements and laughing at them. They remix social issues and comments on them. The drawing style of postmodern comics is simple and makes an exaggeration on major characteristics. For the following piece, Simpsons is satirizing the high divorced rate in the United States.


Comics Art As Medicine

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Post-postmodernism is a reaction of postmodernism theories. Different from the emphasizing of individuality in postmodernism, post-postmodernism emphasize an integrity worldview. Greg Beda said that, for a post-postmodern view, comic art works as medicine because post-postmodern comics are the voices of common people and reflect common emotions of human beings. Rage comic is an “Internet meme for a comic centering on a titular rage guy, created from a character, or rage face, which expresses rage or some other simple emotion."(here). It mainly used for sharing different kinds of emotions and voices from inner heart. The drawing is very simple even not pretty, but focus on expressions. Everyone can use create your own by rage comic builder.

-- Xind

-The Y2K scare and the fear of forward time
-Contemporality- the perpetual present
-historical amnesia and temporal malaise
-Capitalist consumption as a placebo for progression
-the cultural treadmill

Y2K And the Perpetual “Present”

Our society’s ushering into the new millennium was greeted by great anxiety due to the Y2K scare. Soon after computers became common household items, a panic was unleashed about a possible impending break down of society, as we knew it. The crux of the matter was due to a computer software issue over resetting the computer clocks from 1999 to the year 2000. This problem helped to lodge a great and insidious fear into the psyche of the then modern society – an anxiety towards forward moving time, a fear of the future.
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In order to assuage this anxiety we have relinquished our cultural evolution in exchange for the comfortable familiarity of a perpetual present. Our cultural inertia is fueled by the recycling of fragmented histories through a nostalgic lens. We have lost our ability to retain history in order to give our contemporality some sense of the next, which is only a revamped version of history. It is our “historical amnesia” as Jameson puts it, that allows for this perpetual present. Capitalism also aids in soothing our temporal malaise. Capitalism falsely gives the sense of a forward movement through the act of consumption. However, in actuality its only consumption is with how much and how fast we consume.

"intertextuality" as a deliberate, built-in feature of the aesthetic effect and as the operator of a new connotation of "pastness" and pseudohistorical depth, in which the history of aesthetic styles displaces "real" history. -Jameson

the producers of culture have nowhere to turn but to the past: the imitation of dead styles, speech through all the masks and voices stored up in the imaginary museum of a now global culture.-Jameson

Take for example a futuristic or post apocalyptic renditions of society as seen in movies or books. Most weather aesthetically or chronologically begin the “end” at some point in the 90s. Or in the case of the Matrix, perpetuated “modernity” with the temporal setting of the 90s, implied by the narrative as the apex of human civilization; the quintessence of contemporary. What disturbs me most about this phenomenon is that seem to be running on a cultural treadmill, going nowhere but consuming more with each step

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-Metasebia Yoseph