A month ago I was flattered that the blog Trial of the Century mentioned me in a post about an interesting infographic “If your blog were a beer” and named my blog an IPA, which are “blogs that make you feel something.” Thanks Joe! With that in mind, after spending a month away from home driving across the Western US (scroll to bottom for boring landscape pictures), I’ve had plenty of time to let my thoughts brew. So I thought instead of just skimming the surface of Millennial culture, why not just dive into the depths of philosophy and talk about…*drum roll*… Postmodernism!
Postmodernism died in 1990?
While on vacation, I read the article The Death of Postmodernism and the Beyond that has some interesting implications for millennials, and clarified some gut feelings I’ve had for a while. But I’ll get to that later. To sum up one of my opinions about postmodernism, while it’s a complex philosophy, at times it can descend into nothing more than essentially turning all punctuation into question marks. For example, and emphatic, “Lemons are the best!!” Could turn into “Lemons are the best?” So in saying Postmodernism is dead! you may be thinking:
Wait, I hear you cry. How do they know? And what was it? Postmodernism—I didn’t understand it. I never understood it. How can it be over?… You are not alone. If there’s one word that confuses, upsets, angers, beleaguers, exhausts and contaminates us all, then it is postmodernism. And yet, properly understood, postmodernism is playful, intelligent, funny and fascinating… It has been the dominant idea of our age. –Postmodernism is Dead, Prospect Magazine, Edward Docx
I guess the gut feelings I have, and implications for millennials are TWO things:
1) Postmodernism is our common sense. How is a philosophy that is meant to question common sense able to do so if it is our common sense? Millennials were taught to have no preconceived notions, or at least question them. In that light, postmodernism seems quaint and irrelevant.
2) Many of the first cultural references of postmodernism are from a world millennials never experienced.The article above goes as far as to say millennials find postmodernism about as “hip as shoulder pads.”
Another cultural example is the trailer for the Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense from 1984 (1984!!). The video flashes questions like: “why a film?” “Why the Big Suit?” “Why the odd movements?” But I think the novelty is lost on millennials, leaving us wondering why he’s asking those questions. Perhaps the break from postmodernism is that a millennial thinks “why ask why?” Maybe a millennial says: “The suit, film, movements are really none of my business, and totally the prerogative of the artist.” Or perhaps a millennial would have a simpler answer, as we have the advantage of historical retrospect: “Because it’s 1984 in your video. That’s why.” Hindsight’s 50/50!
Acknowledging the time frame of these cultural references shows that perhaps millennials are the first outside critics of postmodernism. We were raised in the midst of postmodernism, and now we’ve inherited a world formed by it’s ideas.
Millennials + Postmodernism
So now that I’ve clarified a couple problems with postmodernism for millennials: it’s our common sense, and we have the advantage of historical critique, what do millennials bring to the smorgasbord table of ideas? Millennials are not afraid to make up their mind, or have an opinion. Postmodernism perhaps assumes that humans can remain inconclusive, but millennials know better. Why ask why, unless it’s to allow the individual to eventually answer “because.” No truth is innately better than another truth, but millennials know that humans have an intimate relationship with their chosen worldview, truth or opinion.
Think of a worldview as a child. No child is better than any other child, I think we can all agree to that. But it’s emotionally dishonest to say you don’t value your own child more than any other child. Even if a child is 40 years old and living in the basement of his mom’s house, no doubt a mother will still love him. When he wanders up from his domain, and his mom’s friends ask “Is he going to move out?” he may triumphantly interject that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is!” His mom will proudly gives him a affectionate squeeze, before he bounds down the stairs to continue watching Battlestar Galactica.
This 40-year-old man, in my mind, is personified postmodernism. Though not doing much, he is still a prized and beloved child by some. And he is still up to his cheeky ways, by occasionally shuffling up the stairs to cross out exclamation points and replace with question marks, before returning to his den after a hard days work. Gah
As post-1990s children, millennials know that “why” tends to become “because” eventually. To not acknowledge that is cloying because finding your “because” is liberating and very human. And perhaps, at least for millennials, the honest reason to ask “why” at all? Like cupid striking our hearts, our values/opinions/worldview/truth tend to kill questions. I think millennials aren’t afraid to be intellectually honest about this.
Postmodernism is dead
Whew! I usually try to eschew obfuscation, but hard it’s difficult when discussing philosophy. If you got through this article, what do you think of postmodernism, and it’s place in the foundation of Millennial thought?
I’m biased but I think the Western US is pretty beautiful.
- Boise, Idaho
- Reno, NV
- Bay Area CA
- my son, what a trooper
I have to honestly say, I have never considered postmodernism except as an art movement. And in that sense, I have often wondered “what comes AFTER postmodernism? aren’t we ALWAYS postmodern since it implies a pre-modernism and modernism stage? was there ever an art movement called “right-now-ism”?”
I digress – to your point, I have to agree that the reason to ask why is to answer because. And the pursuit of that because is as exciting as raising the question to begin with.
I agree, I think that while Modernism was all about absolute truth in order to end all arguments, Postmodernism sprung up to challenge truth with questions. But, I think it’s descended into only asking questions to end a conversation. Which is not helpful and intellectually dishonest.
Well after this I might have to make some changes to the equation, because I’d argue this is very stout material.
Stop Making Sense is still amazingly relevant, though admittedly the style is clearly dated. For a long time (10+ years) I’ve stuck with the philosophy that the way to live a life of consequence is to ask the right questions. Heck it’s even been the title of a blog I wrote a ways back, and is right there on my LinkedIn profile.
I do agree that Millenials seem bent towards providing/being out front about their perspective/opinions. Since I’m a journalism nerd to me that is a great quality, because I’ve seen time and again that putting your biases out there is useful (since “the truth” is always subject to a person’s perspective).
But, I worry about that whole filter bubble thing that Eli Pariser addresses. Expressing your opinion is different than asking questions. “I like this” is not the same as “I like this?” ……I guess I just proved that I think post-modernism is still important. hah.
(p.s. the west landscape is beautiful. nothing like it. I’m up in the Bay y’know, you & fam should say hi next time you come through)
I think semantics quickly become a problem with philosophical discussions. I don’t think you “proved” the need for Postmodernism. You proved an assumption that Postmodernism is the only philosophy that questions truth statements. Getting past Postmodernism brings a death to the bias of questions.
I think the problem Postmodernism doesn’t address is that QUESTIONS say just as much about someone’s worldview as statements. Both are forms of opinions, yes? Postmodernism just adds a bias toward the question, which is equally unhelpful as being biased toward a statement. So it actually enables, not diffuses bias. I’m sure you see this as a journalist.
Personally, I don’t believe there to be qualifiers in the statement “judge not by the color of skin but content of character” You could argue since there are no qualifiers it’s an absolute truth, as postmodernism calls an “innate grab of power”. But to question that statement says just as much as about the questioner, no? “race based judgement is demeaning” “race-based judgement is demeaning?” They’ve just essentially “won” the argument, and diffused any power of what I believe to be true. In doing so illustrating that absolute questioning is a grab at power.
IMO we need to progress to the idea that the questioner of statements is under just as much scrutiny as the stater. AND I believe millennials do, it’s just not recognized. I agree with what you said getting your biases out there is helpful. More helpful than just diffusing and accusing others while being dishonest that you’re not above having biases because you’re ‘questioning’.
Perhaps we shouldn’t just question all statements of truth, but explore the RELATIONSHIP between the statement and stater. Question and questioner. I think that’s called philosophy.
Qualifiers *to the statement “judge not by the color…” Not, qualifiers *in
You’re speaking my language now – the relationship / connections between things, that’s where the interesting stuff/value really is (as various social media / tech co’s are discovering). My mom was a huge fan of philosophy, and while I’m a little wary of long winded texts I do see the importance of engaging it in our modern lives. I don’t have any serious data, but so far there’s nothing that I’ve seen to suggest Millenials are less or more able to take that tack. I know and interact with Millenials that don’t seem to sharp there, but just as many that are really working that angle.
I think millennials see the transparency question-bias. Qs that are really meant to end conversations, not continue them. Anti-modernism is maybe a better term for it. It’s as anti-intellectual as Modernism can be. But you’re right, I don’t see millennials utilizing this mode of thinking. So I think this element of Postmodernism is dead to millennials.
Here is the article I read, you might find interesting: http://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond
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