Reorganizing different contributions to reflection

- theory, theorists and texts
Theories of Genre
American Professor of Communication Arts, 2000s
Fiske develops Barthes’ semic code:
A representation of a car chase only makes sense
in relation to all the others we have seen - after all,
we are unlikely to have experienced one in reality,
and if we did, we would, according to this model,
make sense of it by turning it into another text,
which we would also understand intertextually, in
terms of what we have seen so often on our
screens. There is then a cultural knowledge of the
concept 'car chase' that any one text is a
prospectus for, and that is used by the
viewer to decode it, and by the producer
to encode it. (Fiske 1987, 115)
Theories of Genre
French semiotic theorist
A scene from the
Hollywood film ‘The
Day After Tomorrow’
Theories of Genre
French semiotic theorist
A ‘real’ image of
people fleeing the
dust cloud in the
aftermath of ‘9/11’
Theories of Genre
French philosopher
Jacques Derrida proposed that
'a text cannot belong to no genre, it cannot
be without... a genre. Every text
participates in one or several genres,
there is no genreless text'
(Derrida 1981, 61).
Derrida is a structuralist and therefore this
principle goes against postmodernist
Theories of Genre
French philosopher
Derrida’s point helps to explain
why commentators on
September 11th could only
understand what they were
seeing as ‘like a movie’. This is
perhaps what Fiske means by
saying ‘we make sense of it by
turning it into another text.’
Compare this to what Fiske says about never
having experienced a car chase. If we
encounter a real-life genre experience the
decoding system in our brains becomes
Theories of Genre
French structuralist, 1970s
Levi-Strauss developed the concept of bricolage
Levi-Strauss saw any text as constructed out of
socially recognisable ‘debris’ from other texts.
He saw that writers construct texts from other texts
by a process of:
Theories of Genre
French structuralist, 1990s
Genette developed the term transtextuality and
developed five sub-groups, but only 4 apply to film:
•intertextuality quotation, plagiarism, allusion
•architextuality designation of the text as part of a genre
by the writer or by the audience
•metatextuality explicit or implicit critical
commentary of one text on another text
•hypotextuality the relation between a text and a
preceeding hypotext - a text or genre on which
it is based but which it transforms, modifies,
elaborates or extends (including parody,
spoof, sequel, translation)
Which of our viewed films give examples
of each type?
Postmodernist Theory
Postmodernist theory grows out of and
extends modernist and structuralist thinking.
Postmodernists might reject Derrida’s
proposition that no text can be without a
Postmodernists take bricolage (Levi-Strauss)
and the various intertextualities identified by
Genette, extending their work into pure
intertextuality that breaches the bounds of
Non-postmodernist Theory
Talcott Parsons
Structural Functionalism
Talcott Parsons was a sociologist in the 1950s who made
observations of society leading to the ‘structural functionalist’ view.
This view suggests that society (like literature and film) has
necessary structures that keep it together. Like Propp’s spheres of
action, structural functionalism sees roles in society, particularly
gender roles in the nuclear family. Structural functionalists believed
that if roles were not fulfilled or changed then the structures would
adapt, entrenching new roles and society would progress into the
furure base on a new structure.
Postmodernists reject structures and defined roles.
Postmodernist Theory
The term ‘postmodernism’ was coined in 1938 by an
English historian, Arnold Toynbee, after a term used by a
Spanish historian Federico de Onis. Toynbee used it to
mean the declining influence of Christianity and the
Western nations post 1875.
This is definitely not how it is used in current Media
Studies. Jencks’ definition is nearer the mark:
‘Post-Modernism is fundamentally the eclectic mixture of
any tradition with that of its immediate past: it is both the
continuation of Modernism and its transcendence’ (Charles
Jencks, What is Post-Modernism?, 1986).
Postmodernist Theory
Marshall McLuhan
Some theorists see postmodernism beginning after the
Second World War, when the major ‘modern’ political movements of
Nazism and Communism were called into question by Western
Others date the movement to the 1960s, notably to Marshall
McLuhan’s coining of the phrase:
“The medium is the message,” (1964). By this he means that the
manner in which the message is mediated becomes more important
than the meaning of the message itself. In a era disillusioned by the
failure of great political hopes, by the holocaust and by the loss of
influence of religion in Western society, mediation seemed set to fill the
vacuum. Out of this grew the idea that theories were possible for how
mediation works - how it is built (representations), how it influences
audiences (hypodermic theory, uses and gratifications, male gaze),
how it references itself (intertextuality). Previously, serious thought was
reserved for the messages (religion, politics, philosophy) behind the
Postmodernist Theory
Baudrillard developed the ideas of McLuhan to the point where it is
possible to deny that the message underneath the medium has any
substance at all. Therefore, the audience comes to perceive through
the media a world that appears ‘real’ but is not.
In some ways this reflects what Rene Magritte painted in 1928 in his
work called ‘The treachery of Images.’
Magritte captions an arrangement
of paint on canvas with the
denotative words, “Ceci n’est pas
une pipe.” (This is not a pipe).
Our eyes tell us it is a pipe because
we are used to decoding images,
colour and perspective; but it is not
a pipe for it cannot be smoked.
Postmodernist Theory
Baudrillard developed the idea of simulation and simulacra
simulation: the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented .
. . the representations become more important than the "real thing”
4 orders of simulation:
1. signs thought of as reflecting reality: re-presenting
"objective" truth;
2. signs mask reality: reinforces notion of reality;
3. signs mask the absence of reality; eg Disneyworld, Watergate,LA life:
jogging, psychotherapy, organic food
4. signs become…
simulacra - they have no relation to reality; they simulate a simulation:
Spinal Tap, Cheers bars, new urbanism, starbucks, the Gulf War was a video game, 9/11
has become the coverage, not the event.
Postmodernist Theory
From the simulacrum, Baudrillard developed the idea of hyperreality
hyperreality: - a condition in which "reality" has been replaced by simulacra argues that
today we only experience prepared realities-- edited war footage, meaningless acts of
terrorism, the Jerry Springer Show.
The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent
reproduction. . . The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always
already reproduced: that is the hyperreal. . . which is entirely in simulation.
Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible.
Postmodernist Theory
Circular referentiality
Baudrillard admires the Mobius strip as an image of
hyperreality - it is never ending, it is a product of itself, it
looks like a circle but is not:
Postmodernist Theory
Lyotard rejected what he called the “grand narratives” or universal “meta-narratives.”
Principally, the grand narratives refer to the great theories of history, science, religion,
politics. For example, Lyotard rejects the ideas that everything is knowable by science or
that as history moves forward in time, humanity makes progress. He would reject universal
political ‘solutions’ such as communism or capitalism. He also rejects the idea of absolute
In studying media texts it is possible also to apply this thinking to a rejection of the Western
moralistic narratives of Hollywood film where good triumphs over evil, or where violence and
explotation are suppressed for the sake of public decency.
Lyotard favours ‘micronarratives’ that can go in any direction, that reflect diversity, that are
Postmodernist Theory
Jonathan Kramer
postmodern music theory
Courtesy of Theo Miller.
Kramer says "the idea that postmodernism is less a surface style or historical period than an attitude.
Kramer goes on to say 16 "characteristics of postmodern music, by which I mean music that is understood in a
postmodern manner, or that calls forth postmodern listening strategies, or that provides postmodern listening
experiences, or that exhibits postmodern compositional practices."
According to Kramer (Kramer 2002, 16�17), postmodern music":
is not simply a repudiation of modernism or its continuation, but has aspects of both a break and an extension
is, on some level and in some way, ironic
does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present
challenges barriers between 'high' and 'low' styles
shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity
questions the mutual exclusivity of elitist and populist values
avoids totalizing forms (e.g., does not want entire pieces to be tonal or serial or cast in a prescribed formal
considers music not as autonomous but as relevant to cultural, social, and political contexts
includes quotations of or references to music of many traditions and cultures
considers technology not only as a way to preserve and transmit music but also as deeply implicated in the
production and essence of music
embraces contradictions
distrusts binary oppositions (see Theories of Narrative and Genre powerpoint)
includes fragmentations and discontinuities
encompasses pluralism and eclecticism
presents multiple meanings and multiple temporalities
locates meaning and even structure in listeners, more than in scores, performances, or composers
Jonathan Donald Kramer (December 7, 1942, Hartford, Connecticut � June 3, 2004, New York City), was a U.S.
composer and music theorist.
Postmodernist Theory
Frederic Jameson
Jameson rejects postmodernism!
Jameson essentially believes that postmodernism provides pastiche, humorously
referencing itself and other texts in a vacuous and meaningless circle. Pastiche is distinct
from parody, which uses irony, humour and intertextual reference to make an underlying
and purposeful point. Postmodernists would have no problem in making no particular point that is their point, but for Jameson, literary and cultural output is more purposeful than this
and he therefore remains a modernist in a world increasingly dominated by postmodern
Jameson also sees reason for the present generations to express themselves through
postmodernity as they are the product of such a heavily globalised, multinational dominated
economy, which carries the multinational media industry as one of its main branches. The
onmipresence of media output helps explain postmodernists’ merging of all discourse into
an undifferentiated whole "there no longer does seem to be any organic relationship
between the American history we learn from schoolbooks and the lived experience of the
current, multinational, high-rise, stagflated city of the newspapers and of our own everyday
life” (p.22 Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press. 1991.)
Postmodernist Theory
Mr. Ford
Media teacher and blogger from
Lutterworth College
A definition of postmodernism Label given to Cultural forms since the 1960s that display the following qualities:
Self reflexivity: this involves the seemingly paradoxical combination of selfconsciousness and some sort of historical grounding
Irony: Post modernism uses irony as a primary mode of expression, but it also
abuses, installs, and subverts conventions and usually negotiates contradictions
through irony
Boundaries: Post modernism challenges the boundaries between genres, art forms,
theory and art, high art and the mass media
Constructs: Post modernism is actively involved in examining the constructs society
creates including, but not exclusively, the following:
Nation: Post modernism examines the construction of nations/nationality
and questions such constructions
Gender: Post modernism reassesses gender, the construction of gender,
and the role of gender in cultural formations
Race: Post modernism questions and reassesses constructs of race
Sexuality: Post modernism questions and reassesses constructs of
With acknowledgement.
Postmodernist Text
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Intertextuality - This film mixes original footage from well known films noir with
modern footage set in the noir period, using black and white. Levi-Strauss might
refer to this form of intertextuality as transposition and/or addition.
Parody – using homage, to show a genuine appreciation of the noir style, period,
performance, although it is partly postmodernist in the way that it is ‘knowing’ in its adoption
of a slightly superior, benefit of hindsight humour, making some of the extracts looks
overblown in their acting style.
It is very self-referential and uses ironic self-awareness. It is postmodern in that it can be
understood on a variety of levels, depending on how familiar we are with the original
extracts and how far or how amusingly they have been taken out of context. Postmodern
political ideas such as the male gaze are shown in pastiche (eg ‘The case of the girls with
the big tits).
The film does not establish a style of full hyperreality although it is clearly not a naturalistic
piece or full set in versimilitude.
Compare to Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds
Postmodernist Text
Pleasantville dir Ross, 1998
Intertextuality - The film plays with images from American soap opera and images
of a ‘bygone’ age of America in the 1950s. Although the soap ‘Pleasantville’
within the must never be mistaken for a real 1950s soap, it does parody TV
Programmes of that decade. It also echoes images from TV shows like ‘Happy Days’ and
films like ‘Grease.’
Parody – there are elements of homage in David’s obsession with the TV soap
‘Pleasantville’ there are also sharp criticisms of its unrealistic and escapist nature. The
naïveté and excessive innocence of the characters is a pastiche not so much of the actual
decade but the portrayal of America as an ideal society in the 50s and 60s. There are also
elements of nostalgia for the childhood of the filmmakers - Gary Ross was born in 1956.
Consider issues of sensorship at the time and the way film/TV companies were in thrall to
the Catholic League of Decency.
Pleasantville is massively self-referential and creates a hyperreal world through the
metaphor of David and Jennifer actually entering the television set - which is the opposite of
Baudrillard’s threory of the media simulation and simulacra engulfing our ‘real world’
existence. It is a very similar metaphor to that of British TV programmes Life on Mars and
Ashes to Ashes where the distant echoes from the world left behind by Sam Tyler or Alex
Drake come through a TV set breaking transmission and speaking directly to those
Postmodernist Text
Pleasantville dir Ross, 1998
What is most clever about Pleasantville postmodernism is that the world of the
TV soap is portrayed without full verisimilitude - it is not just that it is black and
white but it is over-idealised, too clean, too ‘pleasant’ in a world visually similar
To that occupied by Truman in The Truman Show.
The key to the film is the way that whilst Jennifer starts out as a ‘corrupting influence’ on the
youth of Pleasantville, she also learns how to improve her own life. David and the
Pleasantvillians learn from the modern world but Jennifer learns about books and the value
of education in the emancipation of women from what she has seen in the historical
situation of Pleasantville. This fits Jencks definition of postmodernism very well - an ‘eclectic
mixture of any tradition with that of its immediate past.’
The ambiguous ending of Pleasantville - suggesting that change is okay per se, even if we
do not know what it will be - places it in the postmodern idiom by defying the need for a film
to end conclusively or with certainty. The world has not necessarily improved for David,
Betty, George or Bill - it’s just different, and that’s okay. Unfortunately, this in itself could also
be seen as a cheesy version of a postmodernist moral - and postmodernist art should not
carry a moral, by definition.
Postmodernist Text
LA Confidential dir Hansn, 1997
In many ways, this is a conventional film but it does contain elements of
Postmodernism both in its ‘message’ about ‘sellin’ an image’ and in the danger
of its approach to historical interpretation.
The film is self-referential in that it deliberately challenges images of reality portrayed by the
contemporary media and suggests that the media was in the pockets of the political authorities. The TV
show ‘Badge of Honor’ (pastiching the real series, Dragnet) presents the image of the LAPD that the
mayor desires to public to have - the ‘walk on water’ as Sid Hudgens puts it. Sid Hudgens embryo tabloid
journalism is clearly shown to fake its stories, with the collusion of Sergeant Jack Vincennes. Vincennes
describes his role as adviser to ‘Badge of Honor’ by saying that he ‘teaches Brett Chase to walk and talk
like a cop.’ When his companion points out that ‘Brett Chase doesn’t walk and talk like you’ Vincennes
replies with the actor/character’s full ironic self-awareness that ‘America isn’t ready for the real me.’ Kevin
Spacey has said that he modeled his portrayal of Vincennes on the persona of Dean Martin - 50s cool and in a scene of multi-layered intertextuality, he looks into the mirror behind the bar in the ‘Frolic Room’
(a real LA bar), sees his life disappearing into drink, corruption and illusion while Dean Martin sings
‘smile, smile, smile’ in the background.
The film also challenges binary oppositions through James Ellroy’s use of the three-man structure of
having three detective heroes of equal status and no particular antagonist, although it could be said that
Dudley Smith assumes this role when he shoots Jack Vincennes.
Postmodernist Text
LA Confidential dir Hanson, 1997
Any period piece set in the past and selectively choosing what elements to
suppress and which to emphasise is in danger of making a postmodern
re-interpretation of that past. The film avowedly avoids noir style in its approach to
cinematography and lighting and locations are chosen to create a mise-en-scene that feels
both 1950s and contemporaneous with today. The film is not constrained by the Hayes
Code, as would have been a crime film made in 1953. This raises the question of whether
the audience sees a more or less ‘accurate’ representation of LA in the 1950s than we
receive from a film made at the time. In this sense we can question whether.
This fits with a historical approach to postmodernism and challenges the view that there
was a better, more innocent time somewhere in the past because the film seeks to blend
images and interpretations of the past with images of the present, perhaps proving that the
1950s were more similar to our own times than we have been led (or have led ourselves) to
believe or perhaps creating a never-time that is nothing but a hyperreality.
Postmodernist Text
Enchanted dir Lima, 2007
It seems odd to propose a Disney film as postmodern because that studio
seems the quintessence of innocent plotlines and happy endings. This film,
however seems to show postmodernism creeping into the mainstream. Like Shrek, the film
is full of irony and self-referentiality in the guise of humour for Mums and Dads. In fact, the
whole intertextual concept of crashing together a Disney cartoon princess with the jaded
real world of a New York divorce lawyer is very postmodern and totally self-referential.
The plot moves through familiar stages of the present day world learning from the
innocence of the past world (represented by the Disney fairytale) and the cartoon
characters learning from the real world - even Prince Charming comes to accept the value
of dating before marriage. It’s all quite corny - but in a very humerous and ironic manner.
Traditional elements are all there - functioning as structures - such as the defeat of the
wicked step-mother, an icon of failed marriage and dysfunctional family relationships.
Perhaps most ironic is the way the women swap worlds - Princess Giselle remains in New
York whereas the feminist Nancy loves the spontaneity and romance of Prince Charming,
returning with him to Andalasia.
Postmodernist Text
Twin Peaks
Intertextuality - This TV series by David Lynch, a director well known for his
postmodernist texts, has many intertextual references. Such references were
sometimes explicit and explained by the characters involved, or were more
obscure. For instance, any reference to the black lodge or the white lodge in
Twin Peaks is a reference to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but also to Christianity and its
notions of heaven and hell.
Like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks "provides an improbable and disturbing stitching together of
different genres and genre expectations" through its "running together in a postmodern
fashion the tradition of the small town film" with a rhizomatic mix of the unpresentable and
the common place.
Twin Peaks' small town locale, affluence and lack of children is reminiscent of other night
time soap operas of its era, including Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knot's Landing. However,
the fact that its male hero resolves the central narrative of this series through a mix of
traditional detective work and intuitive techniques questions gender stereotypes in the extra
filmic world and poses a challenge to the conventions of the detective genre.
Postmodernist Text
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks surrealistically used a variety of characters with mythic
proportions including dancing dwarves, giants, doppelgangers and owls
plus the spiritually charged black and white lodges to depict the role of
divine influence in people's lives. And as within postmodern culture, everything about Twin Peaks was
plural. It lay within two mountains, had two creators, numerous directors with broad film and television
experience plus two versions of its double pilot and finale episodes.
This postmodern spirit is also evident in the numerous popular culture references found in Twin Peaks
which are used to extend upon its intertextual meaning.
For instance, the series murder victim Laura is loosely based around a character from the 1950's noir film
Laura. Indeed, Laura's presence as the central, absent figure in Twin Peaks' narrative is also somewhat
reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca'.
The Sheriff of Twin Peaks, Harry S Truman, gained his name from an ex US President; while Dale
Cooper is named after a prominent Northwest American figure.
The brothers Ben and Jerry, who are food obsessed, are named after a gourmet icecream and the brothel
in the series is named after the 1950's Marlon Brando Film 'One Eyed Jack.'
In addition to this the one eyed character in the series, Nadine Hurley, is a female version of one of the
most popular soap characters of the eighties, Patch from 'Days of Our Lives'; while biker James Hurley is
intended to be a nineties version of James Dean.
The utilisation of double coding, double genres, intertextual references, plural meanings and irony in Twin
Peaks and Fire Walk With Me reflects the plurality and spirit of postmodernism as a whole.
Postmodernist Text
Chris Morris - JAM
Jam was a postmodern British comedy series created, written and directed
by Chris Morris and broadcast on Channel 4 during March and April 2000. It
was based on the earlier BBC Radio 1 show, Blue Jam, and consisted of a
series of unsettling sketches unfolding over an ambient soundtrack. Many of
the sketches re-used the original radio soundtracks with the actors
lip-synching their lines, an unusual technique which added to the programme's unsettling atmosphere. So
why is it classed as Postmodern?
Meaning is superficial, not deep - It’s a work of pop culture championing the slipperiness of meaning –
like Twin Peaks, some sketches can be taken at face value (lizards in a TV), whilst others are far darker
(little girl hitman). Does Chris Morris ‘mean’ anything by creating such disturbing sketches? Or rather,
does the audience bring meaning to the text? We, the audience, interpret what we see and decide
whether it’s funny, unsettling, sad, shocking etc…not Chris Morris.
It’s self-referential, as Chris Morris takes what is normally represented by ‘a comedy sketch show’ and
subverts this. Audience expects to find comedy sketches funny, jokes with a build-up then a punch line, to
feel comfortable, to watch recognisable character types, for meaning to be clear…Jam does the opposite.
Whilst many comedy sketch shows purport to show (or to exaggerate) ‘real’ characters or situations
(remember ‘Little Britain’), Jam doesn’t pretend to represent reality or to exaggerate it in a normal sense;
it subverts it and plays with our expectations.
It uses decontextualisation – he uses objects outside normal context (lizards in the TV)!
It uses Juxtaposition – two ‘extreme’ objects put together that shouldn’t (young girl as a hitman)
Baudrillard tells us audiences makes sense of the real world by using the ‘hyperreal’, images we have
watched and processed from the media. Ask us what a car chase is like and we describe a film version,
not something based on reality. Chris Morris knows that for many people, what they see on TV is what is
real…so he gives us something that is wholly unreal, that doesn’t pretend to show ‘reality’.
Postmodernist Text
Chris Morris – The Day Today
The Day Today was a surreal British parody of television news programmes
broadcast in 1994. Each episode is presented as a mock news programme,
and the episodes rely on a combination of ludicrous fictitious news stories,
covered with a serious, pseudo-professional attitude.
So why is it postmodern?
Lyotard says that in a postmodern world we tend to question everything, we don't trust what we see
before us, and we look for hidden meanings in things. The Day Today clearly does this, as Chris Morris
wants to highlight how ‘unreal’ the news actually is. News programmes purportedly represent truth,
represent what’s really happening in the world. Yet, as we’ve seen from Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe
programme, the news is often misleading (cardboard boxes in Haiti). Chris Morris uses over-the-top
graphics, sound, interviews and silly sketches (Elvis fan on death row) to highlight how unreal the news
It is also, of course, self-referential – on the face of it Chris Morris’s news presenter represents what we
expect (smart suit, clear authoritative voice, neat hair, studio based etc). Yet he plays with this
representation and breaks down what the audience expects – a seemingly pleasant interview about
making jam for charity has his character crushing the interviewee, he mocks his fellow presenters, chats
up and uses obvious innuendo with another presenter, etc…The sketches are also self-referential: on the
one hand typical of news reports, but the stories are often ridiculous or, in the case of the weather
reports, simply meaningless.