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Postmodern Period Traits

One of the most important traits of Postmodern world is that it has erased boundaries which have existed, for better or worse we don't know.

Read on to learn about postmodernism and its traits, including erasure of boundary, the Simulacra, and a-historicity.

Read on to learn about postmodernism and its traits, including erasure of boundary, the Simulacra, and a-historicity.

What Is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse that leans toward skepticism and tries to explain reality. It is characterized by the technology boost in the sixties. The world went from mechanical to digital. Media, academia, and communication were revolutionized. It is also characterized by visuality.

The influence of technology was in everything, and it changed the period. The shift in spirit was rooted in technology. Plus, it is a European concept, not American. All the early theorists were European, such as Jean Baudrillard and Jean Francois Lyotard. Postmodernism is a periodizing concept because it promotes the unconventional but also strengthens the conventional. Some defining features of Postmodernism are erasure of boundary, Simulacra, consumption, metanarratives, and A-historicity.

How Is Postmodernism Different From Modernism?

Postmodernism differs from Modernism as it is not a fixed stance on things. Modernism searched for truth and tried to give the correct explanation. It offers versions, explaining rigid, fixed versions of the truth, and stresses a particular version as true. Modernism deals with morality in black and white. In contrast, Postmodernism looks at the nature of things and doesn’t go out looking for truth.

The fixed notion of truth is not actually true. There are several versions of it. It discusses the very nature of truth. Postmodernism makes us question things instead of providing answers. It tells us what morality is and that there are twenty other versions. This grey area that nothing is a fixed notion gives way to erasure of boundary.

Erasing Boundaries in Everything

Erasure of boundary is the blurred line between good and bad, negative and positive, etc. There is no difference between business and education anymore. Educational institutions are now business corporations. Before, education was given to enhance quality of life and help individuals be successful. But, in the postmodern world, education is given at a price. Education and knowledge are also governed by hype and trend. These trends keep changing because of historical amnesia (Chomsky, 2010). We are exposed to so much that we can’t keep up.

A couple of years ago, being a doctor or engineer was all the hype, but now it has changed to being an IT specialist or software engineer. So knowledge is not legitimate; it can be created by anyone who has the means to create knowledge. As long as it is written using culturally dominant tools it would be considered knowledge, even if it is trash.

Is There a Reality of Us?

Jean Baudrillard developed the concept of simulacra, which means an image that is based on other images and has no link with reality, but that is taken as reality. A particular sort of image is based on other images. For example, every day, we dress, keeping fashion trends in mind, which is again an image, and try to follow that image.

So, we become the image of someone who is a fashionista. Or, when we go to a funeral, we have to act according to a set standard, which we also learned through images, so we don’t act inappropriately. The simulacrum is so strong that it is taken as reality. The reality does not exist and the image becomes reality, not just versions or aspects of reality.

Images?

Images are based on our imagination. To illustrate, aliens and sci-fi movies exist, but aliens don’t exist, yet, we based them on images. So, if no one has seen them, how do we know how they are supposed to look and act? Our images of aliens are imaginary constructions we’ve invented—they aren’t based on anything material. Thus, images are now generating more images. In a similar way, we learn our behavioral norms through images in society.

Baudrillard says we have no reality because we are based on images, meaning we don’t have anything original in us anymore. Images keep changing with time. We have molded ourselves on images, and our unique identity is lost. As a result, we don’t exist. Purity is not to be found anymore. Our every decision is based on an image, including simple things such as what to wear on a daily basis, which restaurant to go to, which car to buy, and so forth.

We Are Images

Images influence even our spontaneous decisions. We perceive these images through media and advertisements. These corporations know how to manipulate us. In the postmodern world, there are no fixed ways or standards to acquire wealth. For example, Jeff Bezos made a website and is now a billionaire, while Jannat Mirza makes fifteen seconds videos on TikTok and is a millionaire. In the postmodern world, we can pretend to be rich and portray images of wealth without actually having wealth.

Simulation means to pretend to have what one has not. For instance, during conversations about politics, we might feign knowledge that we don’t actually possess. Dissimulation means to pretend not to have what one has. We can pretend to have or pretend to not have with simulation and dissimulation because reality is shaky.

Baudrillard wants us to think about what this implies for reality. If reality was a definite thing, then pretending wouldn’t have been possible. Reality is not a fixed notion as we think it is. If simulation and dissimulation are possible, then reality has a shaky foundation. Reality should not have buts and ifs, but it does.

How Consumer Culture Is Part of Baudrillard’s Simulacrum

Concepts of images and not an extra-human reality is part of consumer culture. Consumer culture is the consumption of every image available, which is one of the important traits of the postmodern period. We are consuming images of everything like love, knowledge, patriotic values, religion, morals, fashion, literature, etc. Advertisement enhances consumer culture. First, a product is made; then demand is created for it through the media.

Our greed leads to consumption. Even the value of products is determined by corporations. We are getting images through media, and we are consuming them. Think about how we collectively celebrate Valentine’s Day. Movies show us that the boy needs to bring flowers and chocolates for the girl and if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t love her. This consumer culture has become a metanarrative in the postmodern period.

Having Various Versions Should’ve Killed the Metanarratives but Didn’t

According to Lyotard, metanarratives are dead because there are a lot of versions of everything. Multiple versions of the same thing. For instance, news channels. This multiplicity makes us question the metanarrative because so many narratives exist now. Before, knowledge was controlled, and it was easy to believe one narrative; now, there are so many sources of knowledge that it’s hard to believe just one version.

With the multiplicity of brands, the notion of best is not attainable because everyone is delivering one thing better than the other. We look at different versions and then derive our own truth, like synthesizing a situation and making it our own. And this is how metanarratives lose their power. For example, think of Robert Frost’s poems “Mending Wall” and “The Road Not Taken.” Everybody has their interpretation of these poems, and I will synthesize all that and then have my own interpretation. So, metanarratives can’t exist because we will question all of them. There is disbelief in everything.

For Lyotard, metanarratives are impossible because their idea is unattainable. But even today, metanarratives are thriving, like racism, consumer culture, and communism. He thought people would make use of media, but it takes effort to educate people, and that’s why metanarratives are thriving.

A-historicity

We are changing our history because no fixed version exists. We have distorted every version of it. Also, distortion is part of consumption because we are fed a certain version of history that glorifies us and which isn’t the ultimate truth. Nobody knows the truth because we weren’t there. History is also just images presented to us as history.

Like watching the movie The Harder They Fall on Netflix, the costumes are so elaborate, and it is in the Midwest, which is hot, dusty, and just dirty. But it shows women wearing these costumes and implies all the women wore clothes like that, which is untrue. They filmmakers distorted history to please the audience.

Postmodernism Is a Valid Answer

Postmodernism is a valid answer to the world around us that is full of images, a-historicity, consumption, etc. The postmodern world does not believe in a fixed notion or a fixed version of events. There is a multiplicity of truths and explanations. The postmodern world is not black and white but rather a grey one. This happened because of the technology boom that revolutionized communication and media.

It erases the boundary between good and bad and low and high art because low art is just as important as high art. The visual aspect of postmodernism determines the value of knowledge. Postmodernism says that there is no real truth. It says that knowledge is always made according to the trend or hype. Because people make knowledge, a person cannot know something with certainty—all ideas and facts are “believed” instead of “known.”

Further Explanation of Simulacra and Hyperreality

Sources

Chomsky, Noam. (2010). Hopes and Prospects. Haymarket Books.

Felluga, Dino. (2011). “Modules on Baudrillard: On Postmodernity.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory – Purdue U, https://cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/postmodernism/modules/baudrillardpostmodernity.html.

Mambrol, Nasrullah. (2016). “The Postmodern as ‘The incredulity towards metanarratives, Literary theory and criticism.’” Literariness.org, https://literariness.org/2016/04/03/the-postmodern-as-the-incredulity-towards-metanarratives/.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.