13 Dec. 2010
TV, Will You Marry Me?
There is something tragic arising with this new postmodern self. It has turned into creating a new “depth-less tradition,” rather than exercising what modernists intended in the first place. Modernism was a reaction against earlier literary movements, especially realism. Up until the 20th century, mimesis was the dominant theory. Mimesis would imitate reality. Literature was a mirror one held up to nature; a way to accurately reflect reality. The goal of modernist writers was to break away from the slavery of the real representation of the world, and hale to the imagination of the individual. Modernist writers wanted to represent the subject, rather than a depiction of the object. There was a de-emphasis of the object being represented, and an emphasis on how the subject is the creator of the object. In other words, modernists were trying to be more real than realism.
There was also a demoralization of the self with the modern crisis of WWI and capitalism arising. There were new industrialized cities being created, where as William Wordsworth said, “people were half awake and half alive.” With the war, came a great loss— without purpose— along with alienation and dehumanization of the individual. The modernist movement began to grow and develop with “the promise of technological and social progress, urban development and the unfolding of the self” (Barker 183). Without tradition —that the modernist writers were trying to hold on to—society became full of isolated and dead people pursuing instinct and desire. The concern for needing tradition in an alienating world began during the period of modernism and two world wars. Unlike postmodernism today, modernist writers hoped for the love and understanding of tradition.
Is there any good arising from the individualization, commodification, and fragmentation of society? When post-modernism has no essential identity, how are its products—the people born during post-modern times—supposed to represent a true self?
Language, is the only way to communicate with one’s self and with other selfs. Without language there would be no understanding of the self. The postmodern self is a fragmented self. The person is an assembly of so many small fragments, pieced together to create a whole. Not only is the self created, it is "rearrang[ed], transform[ed] and correct[ed]" (Bordo 1099). With all the technology available to us today, god— as the creator— has been replaced by surgeons. This postmodern rhetoric of choice and technology has allowed people (mostly women) to constantly find a reason to be dissatisfied with their bodies. This dissatisfaction leads to the postmodern plastic discourse. In this discourse, "all sense of history and all ability (or inclination) to sustain cultural criticism, to make the distinctions and discriminations which would permit such criticism, have disappeared" (Bordo 1104). This means that because the postmodern self is relative, no one passes judgment anymore. There is this "you do what you want and I'll do what I want" attitude in the air. This discourse no longer allows there to be an underlying truth.
Because of this, there is a postmodern angst developing. These non-judgmental people seem respectful towards the actions, comments, and opinions of individual others, but under that veil there are true bottled up opinions that are not voiced. Susan Bordo writes, "Television is of course, the great teacher here, our prime modeler of plastic pluralism" (Bordo 1104). Through this postmodern discourse, instead of judging each other or setting limits for the postmodern self, society finds television to be the exemplary role model. As long as someone on television says it looks beautiful, or it will make everything look and feel okay, then society feels that it is worthy of being mimicked. Technology has taken away the role of human contact and communication. The postmodern self has created a dialogic relationship with the television, rather than humans. With this said, how are relationships between male and female supposed to arise in this world lacking true communication? Is love based off traditional concepts anymore? Is there a decline in marriage? Has it become yet another institution governing the lives of many? Living in the 21st century, in a time when identity is constantly produced and reproduced, the fragmented idea of love and relationships is constructed by the core of postmodern culture, television
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s true story, Eat Prey Love, Elizabeth is on a radical quest to find her true self. Elizabeth is unsatisfied with the cultural norms. She is tired of the traditional path she took towards marriage, and is not ready to complete it by forming a family. Elizabeth has come to a point in her life where a home, car, job, and an outgrown soul-mate no longer suffice. The agony of living in this "in-between,”, where she's neither happy nor sad is far more painful than the thought of breaking both her and her husband's heart. Elizabeth finalizes the divorce and soon after is on a journey to find her true identity.
This film is comprised of bits and pieces of the radical, sex, and romantic comedy. This is the story of "girl divorces husband, girl finds a younger man, girl is not satisfied with younger man, girl tries to find herself, girl meets man again, girl and man fall in love." This film does not follow the typical arc of the romantic comedy, because "a romantic comedy is a film which has as its central narrative motor a quest for love, which portrays this quest in a light hearted way and almost always to a successful conclusion" (McDonald 9). This story is not about the quest for love. It is about the quest for spiritual love, faith, courage and happiness. It does not start out with a girl meeting a boy, it begins with a divorce.
Eat Pray Love, is a twisted version of a traditional romantic comedy, because there are so many sub-genres weaved into it that interrupt the linear play of the usual romantic comedy arc. After Elizabeth’s divorce, she finds a rebound partner. She is satisfied with his youth and free spirit, as well as their sexual connection. Although Elizabeth abolishes the idea of marriage, she also does not find happiness when she has no strings attached with her rebound partner. She realizes that finding another man is not going to be the solution to the void she is constantly experiencing. She still has no idea of what it means to have a true self.
Once Elizabeth realizes her relationship with the younger man needs to end, she decides to take a yearlong trip to Italy, India, and Bali. The film and Elizabeth are on this profound non-conservative journey of finding one’s true self through exploration. Now is it a postmodern characteristic for a woman to leave a traditional marriage in order to find her self? In today’s society, it is a rightful choice to be able to divorce and change one’s life. Even though there are people who disagree with one’s choice of divorce or taking off to different countries, no one is really able to force their opinion on each other in a postmodern society. Elizabeth is free to make her own decisions without worrying about their repercussions. She is unhappy and she has one life to live… right? There is not one truth when it comes to the happiness of an individual. Two people could have different perceptions on the idea of happiness and marriage. There are multiple truths available in a postmodern world. The sky is the limit, and Elizabeth can build her identity wherever she pleases.
What are the implications of this radial romantic film on its viewers? The truth is, it is not difficult for people to feel bored of their life and full of nothingness. It is only natural to grow conscious of an emptiness one can experience in their life. Barker writes, “Television is at the heart of image production, and the circulation of a collage of stitched together images that is core to postmodern cultural style” (Barker 203). Eat Prey Love justifies that “it is okay to want change!” The film throws images of travel, faith, love, self-reflection, beauty, nature and freedom that are unbelievably inviting. Does it speak to society as a whole? Is everyone who feels like Elizabeth able to pick up and indulge in a journey of self discovery? Realistically, there would be the issue of time, responsibility, and money! In order to find her true self, Elizabeth has the freedom and flexibility of using MONEY! Money is a commodity that very few people in the capitalist system are able to freely enjoy. When there are no means in enjoying the happiness Elizabeth experiences, films like Eat Prey Love only exist to convince people that traveling and cultural awareness is a cure to emptiness and loss of self.
Jean Baudrillard, is a French theorist who believes that postmodernism is a flow of superficial images: “He argues that a series of modern distinctions including the real and the unreal, the public and the private, art and reality have broken down, leading to a culture of simulacrum and hyperreality” (Barker 208). Hyeperreality is the overload of images and stimulations that television and visual advertisements provide to fascinate their viewers. Like Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson also sees the postmodern world as being depthless. This lack of depth goes back to the modernist writers who wanted to bring back tradition. Tradition is lacking in a postmodern world. This fragmented world of images, simulacrums, and blurring of boundaries creates a superficial distorted world. When truth is relative, how can the individual have a true identity? This means that identity is relative too.
The issue with postmodernism is the lack of self-control. People are bombarded with so many images and possible representations of life that there is this inability to be one true person. Yes, there is access to many cultures, countries, speed, ideal lives, romance, and technology, but which world does one pick? How can one person ever be satisfied with themselves or their chosen path, when there are so many bigger, better, and newer additions to society? Give the Twilight series for example; so many young girls are infatuated with the idea of love and vampires. Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, is a classic interstitial novel about horror, romance, history, science and nature. It depicts a love story through a systematic use of journal entries and real live events. There is a depth to his fiction writing, that today’s fiction films do not portray.
Although the existence of vampires is not plausible, Stoker’s Dracula is the history of a true character. Today, Isabella Swan is considered a pop idol for many girls. In Twilight, Isabella portrays a teenager who was never satisfied with her mundane life up until she meets Edward Cohen. Edward is portrayed as a dreamlike, white complexioned, pure, strong, smart, compassionate, and gentle hearted man. He is a vampire, and out of all the girls in his high school, he falls in love with Bella; a simple, depressed looking, brown haired, brown eyed girl who just moved to Forks, Washington. There is nothing wrong with the Twilight book series. It is a great example of a fiction novel that can be read to allow the young mind wander to imaginative places. The problem is, what television turns a novel into. When children view these images of love and surreal characters, they begin to obsess over something that is not real. This is a perfect example of the blurring of reality. Visualizing characters in a book is not the same as seeing live actors and actresses on television.
Television transforms the characters of Isabella and Edward into a commodity. Their love is unattainable. There is no such thing as a love between vampires. The idea of love shown through film is easily distorted! What businesses start doing is trying to sell this unattainable love. The media is saying, “You can not have your very own vampire, but you can buy his posters and t-shirts!” One sees children wearing Isabella Swan and Edward Cohen t-shirts, buying their backpacks, costumes, cups, folders, and games. They are creating their own identity through the identity of fiction characters. The scarier part of all this is that the actual actor and actress who plays Isabella and Edward are a couple in real life, representing that real life fairytales exist as well. There are big shopping centers like, Target, selling Isabella’s outfits. All she wears in the movie are regular pants and t-shits, but even that simplicity turns into something to buy in order to portray that same exact self.
The postmodern subjects are “Person’s composed not of one but of several, sometimes contradictory identities” (Barker 220). While learning psychology and biology, one always comes across the “nature vs. nurture” dilemma. Is one born with his/her knowledge, characteristics and specific traits, or is it all learned? Unable to prove this puzzle completely, let us say that it can be a combination of both. Two hundred years ago, children were born and either grew up in a wealthy traditional home, or on the streets. A wealthy child would be playing instruments, learning language and history, while the child who was working on enjoying playtime with the neighborhood kids, learned life through experience and daily adventures. There were not too many roads to take. You were either rich, or poor.
Today, if a boy is born to a high-income family, he has the money to buy all the games, toys, mechanics, cars, and latest technology possible. A girl begins to infatuate over obtaining the best material accessories possible, including an obsession over the latest teen pop star or adult actress. There is no time to play on the streets, because if children aren’t at home bombarded with homework, they are watching television, on the phone, or texting in order to relieve their stress. The definers of ideology are not the parents anymore, it is the media: “Primary definers are taken to be politicians, judges, industrialists, the police and so forth, that is, official agencies involved in the making of news events. In translating the primary definitions of news, the media, as secondary definers, reproduce the hegemonic ideologies associated with the powerful. They also translate them into popular idioms” (Barker 319). The time that most kids use to enjoy innocent and carefree leisure, turns into a moment where an overload of images are easily accessible by kids at all ages, due to the hegemonic control of computers and televisions.
Today, there is a loss of innocence and tradition beginning at a young age. When most of the time allocated for a child to develop in their early years is spent committed to following the latest trends, of course no true identity is formed. Everyone ends up owning the same accessories and thinking the same way: “The western search for identity is premised on the idea that there is such a ‘thing’ to be found” (Barker 217). Is there such thing as a true identity, or do fictional films like Twilight, or films that seem to imitate reality like Eat Prey Love, construct the way people feel about themselves. Barker writes, “Identity is not a thing but a description in language. Identities are discursive constructions that change their meanings according to time, place and usage” (Barker 217). There is no more room for imagination, because everything including the portrayal of originality is provided for us. John Fiske writes:
[T]elevision broadcasts programs that are replete with potential meanings, and…
its attempts to control and focus this meaningfulness into a more singular preferred meaning that performs the work of dominant ideology.
We shall need to interrogate this notion later, but I propose to start with a traditional semiotic account of how television makes, or attempts to make, meanings that serve the dominant interests in society, and how it circulates these meanings amongst the wide variety of social groups that constitute its audiences. (Fiske 1087)
When there is no room left to think critically, because everything is spoon fed, how then can there be the urge to imagine one’s own way of thinking out of the box.
Capitalism is the invisible force driving these notions of technology, production, and exploitation. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism states that "under capitalism, human relations are increasingly characterized by more or less thorough alienation, monetization, and commodification. Relationships between worker and owner, buyers and sellers, are mediated through the things produced. These objects become objects of fetishism- seeming to have an objective existence of their own that obscures the individual labor involved in their production" (650). Man is equal to the products they produce. You hear Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, addressing a worker as "nothing" based on the kind of car he drives. What does this mean? A person who drives a Honda is not half the person who drives a BMW? In between the lines there is a shadow of freedom which emanates when people utter that everyone has the chance to move on up, but reality is that the more you make, the more you crave more. The more you crave, the more life turns into a search for more money, rather than a search for true purpose, and self. This is why, today, there is a lack of true essential self.
In The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx says, "The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation" (659). How then can romance exist between a man and woman? Capitalism, production, money, and capitalist hierarchy play a role in choosing a marriage partner. Getting married means having two incomes, being able to make enough money to buy land or a home together. It can also mean marrying into a family who is part of the exploiters rather than the exploitees. Then there is the yearning of the workers to climb up the ladder, and assume a greater capitalist role. We then have the married, stable women, like Elizabeth, realizing that her ideal picture of marriage is shattered, because she becomes aware of the lack of self and wants to find her real place in this postmodern, capitalist society by traveling. Traveling requires money— that most people do not easily obtain— and after a year, she needs to return back to the reality of a capitalist system. She needs to unfortunately return back to the very thing she was fleeing from. Unfortunately, trying to find oneself in this postmodern society means going in constant, endless circles.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. London: Sage Publications,
Bordo, Susan. "'Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture."
Fiske, John. “Television Culture.”
Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticsim.
2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York, NY, 2010.647-660. Print.
McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower
Press, 2007. Print.