Merriam Webster defines “postmodern” as “of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one.”
My philosophical icons, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, taught me to embrace irony and deconstruction of common conventions. I remember, in my intro to English class during freshman year, my professor asked us rhetorically, “What is a classroom?” With postmodern inventions such as HuskyCT, a classroom doesn’t have to physically exist. In the time of coronavirus, all of our classrooms are postmodern, in this liminal space of existence and non-existence. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To be, or not to be: That is the question.” To a postmodernist, the answer is irrelevant, instead thriving in uncertainty and skepticism.
Postmodernism takes strong footholds in contemporary music as well. As British pop star Lily Allen opined in an aptly appropriate-to-the-coronavirus song, “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore / And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore / And when do you think it will all become clear? / ‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear.” Coronavirus is a looming fear as the uptick in people diagnosed surges. A source claims of Allen’s lyrics, “Contemporary critics complimented the song and its themes of consumerism and the postmodern condition.” Consumerism and postmodernism are inevitably linked as many at home in quarantine binge-watch a plethora of TV shows on streaming services. The streaming services, themselves, are postmodern, but the necessity to binge-watch them in lieu of being home-bound is consumeristic.
Much of postmodernism can be attributed to our screen time, or as Charlie Brooker calls them, our “black mirrors.” In an article, Chris Newbould described Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” as being “a postmodern masterpiece” and the show as a whole “frequently reaching into the very darkest recesses of the human psyche as it ruthlessly dissects our relationship with the technology around us and its effects on us as individuals and a society.” Our attachment to our phones during social distancing exemplify postmodernism, either as an asset or something different entirely. He continues, “Brooker and Jones have delivered a postmodern masterpiece which leaves viewers unsettled and ultimately unsure whether they’re controlling what’s happening on screen or being controlled by it themselves.” This, too, can be said about the media in times of social distancing and coronavirus. Are we in control of what we post to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or is the daily news of the next outbreak controlling us, unable to separate ourselves from screens as we watch in anxious servitude?
Coronavirus is a product of the postmodern era. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, postmodernism began in the late 20th century. Being that it is currently 2020, a year relatively close in time to the 1970s, both social media and coronavirus are linked to this specific time frame. Another postmodern invention is hip hop, which began with Grandmaster Flash in the 1970s. Our integration of these forces, coronavirus, social media and hip hop leads to a consumerist culture where we’re inundated with new art forms. Our relationship to these art forms cannot be parsed from coronavirus; we are socially distancing because of it, therefore our interactions are getting more postmodern than ever, screens isolating, yet paradoxically connecting our every move.
Inventions produced by the postmodern internet have their pluses, most notably that I’ve become a global citizen. I’m sure other quarantined students have as well. The first two art sources I cited in this article are British. I’ve been added to Facebook groups, such as Zoom University Hillel, which seek to slash geographic barriers and unite us all on the internet, regardless of location. We are all going through this transition to online classes together and this streamlinization of online students adds a sense of community we never before had.
Postmodernism isn’t bad or even scary when utilized for the greater good. Honestly, I’m relieved to have more time at home to research economics and philosophy, as well as to read books I was formerly behind on. In fact, most of the books I’m reading I first heard about through the internet. There is a way to be relegated to home productively, and I am currently thriving in this vast amount of information I am free to consume.
Postmodernism is empowering and I love it. We would never be able to have online classes or communities if the coronavirus became a pandemic in another era. Everything is so accessible, though physically far away. What should not be out of reach is education for the masses, both formally and informally, with the invention of the internet and other postmodern conventions.
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Samara Karow is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.