What is postmodernism and how to spot it

Simply it is when a media text borrows or makes reference to others.

Example: The Simpsons – look at the title of any episode!


1) Self reference and humour
  • Post-modern texts jump up and down and draw attention to the fact that they are constructed. Classical texts draw us into the narrative and attempt to create a belief in the experiences of the characters, a post-modern one reminds us that it isn’t real.
  • Example when Malcolm talks to the camera in Malcolm in the Middle or JD has his day dreams; also seen in Ally McBeal.
2) Generic blurring
  • Example: Minority Report which is Sci-Fi but also so much more: film noir, love story, murder mystery etc.
  • Toy Story 2 refers to the shops selling out of Buzz Lightyear toys which actually happened after TS1 when toy manufacturers underestimated demand.
  • This habit compliments the audience’s intelligence at recognizing the references.
  • Another example is how many films can you recognize within Shrek?
3) The battle between popular and high culture
  • Critics of post modernism dislike the way that modern music can be used in a supposedly     ‘old’ film e.g. A Knight’s Tale and the use of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ or in Moulin Rouge whose story line comes from classic opera La Bohème and Orpheus in the Underworld yet has a modern soundtrack with songs by Madonna and Nirvana and that in these films all     culture is equally valued.
4) Fragmentation and the death of representation
  • As David Fincher says in Fight Club when he stands next to a photocopier, ‘everything’s just a copy of a copy of a copy.’ The trouble is that we are so used to reading media texts     that we now read all life through what we know from the media i.e. second hand.
  • Example : Moulin Rouge again, when Satine is first introduced she is represented by means of her clothes, camera angles and her vocals as a mixture of Madonna, Dietrich and Monroe whose images were constructions themselves.
5) Uncertainty and loss of context
  • The above can result in a lack of confidence in previously understood beliefs and roles and this can be seen in Fight Club’s narrative when the male characters seek to reassert themselves by fighting and Project Mayhem.


Intertextuality – when one text refers to another or to current events


  • Life of Brian
  • Monty Python and the holy Grail
  • Shrek (Lord Farquaad and his kingdom which is just like Disney land so Disney were sending themselves up – it’s a small world!!)
  • Stargate SG1 and the cover up programme Wormhole Xtreme!!

Pastiche – a medley of existing themes / forms / styles…


Bricolage – giving a new meaning to an old form

  • Western – Firefly / Wild, Wild West
  • Vampire / Gothic Horror – Twilight

Simulacra – created artificial life forms / places etc. The boundaries of artificial and reality blur.

Associated with Jean Baudrillard’s belief that technological progress effects social change. Influenced by Marxism but believed that consumption not production drives capitalist society.

Hyperreality – fulfilment found through fantasy rather than reality; people who send flowers to dead soap characters.

  • The film 300, live action filmed in front of green screen then CGI’d in after!!
  • Vegas and the Venice Casino
  • Second Life
  • Touched up magazine photos
  • Reality TV
  • Baudrillard regarded Main Street at Disney World as a major example