As a filmmaker, animator and screenwriter I spend a vast majority of my time thinking about the themes of a piece rather than constructing the work itself. I have an intense desire to make honest, genuine, intelligent motion pictures that resonate with people by mirroring their daily lives. The best way to do this is to create an intricate architecture of “a home that we all have lived in”. Creating universal stories from existing archetypes is a great advantage in connecting to the core of the audience. H. Porter Abbott provides an example of such an archetype in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative:
All national cultures have their masterplots, some of which are local variations on universal masterplots. The Horatio Alger story, for example, is a variation on the quest masterplot that speaks directly to cherished values in broad swathes of US culture. It takes its name from Horatio Alger, an enormously popular nineteenth-century novelist who published over 120 books. Most of these books narrativize the same masterplot featuring a youth (Ragged Dick, Tattered Tom), who, through born in poverty, rises by his own hard work and clean living to the highest level of social standing and often-great wealth. (Abbott 47)
This long-standing means of slight appropriation has been to the advantage of the writer since the very beginning, however such normative stories have since been rejected by the very audience they were once written for. All while broadening the world in which we are able to tell stories; postmodernism created this new trial for writers and liberation for consumers. The subject of these universal stories has greatly changed through the lens of postmodernism. For the first time in art history these universal stories are starting to examine what is universal in the world rather than what is universal in art history.
Postmodernism is an important movement that rejects most of what came before it, because much of what came before it rejected certain races, gender and social class of the time from being presented and represented. Postmodernism puts an importance on creativity and the thought behind a work. The thought means little at all if it doesn’t come from a diverse perspective and awareness of the lack of such perceptive presented in history. Postmodernist intently tries to break the long held convictions of the art world that came before their own. Breaking how we view the work, breaking how we discuss it, breaking how we judge it. Postmodernism pushes the thought of diversity and difference into the art world itself, by allowing the merit of a work to be its difference from the preexisting art world rather than it’s conformity to it. Without question we live in a unique age, past needing happy endings, past the all mighty creator, and past the per-condoned notions of good art. Postmodernism not only gives the tools to challenge art but the tools to challenge society itself.
My work has been pictorial and often convictional to the art history I have been taught. I have made a series of student short films that focus on the genres depicted in film history, such genres as film noir, western, science fiction, medieval, romantic comedy etc. Even though I have made all of these short films it is hard to say I came up with much at all. I have always watched movies and loved history, so for me to mimic styles from film history involved little creativity and originality on my part at all. In the last year I have challenged myself greatly over the stories I wish to tell. The amount I write and the amount of time I spend on each work has both increased, and good writing has become good re-writing. The burden on the postmodern author is greater than other movements because the postmodern writer is no longer writing for a demographic but for the world. To have a true multi-cultural world perspective is to have great personal delusions, because one cannot know how everyone from everywhere feels and why, but it is the human experience to try.
It’s an odd experience thinking about what artist movement you and your existing work may fall into. For me, a white male born and raised in a middle class suburban environment with deep beliefs in social and economic equality, it can get very odd indeed. Through minor meditation it is clear most of art history was created with someone in a privileged patriarchal position. White males are the overwhelming focus in a traditional study of art history, not only the dominant artistic voices but also the subject matter and intended audience. Why would I choose an art movement that rejects the very undeserved privilege I was given? It is beyond fairness and equality. It is about what art should have always been striving for, by understanding and representing all, as I am represented. Hearing personal stories of worlds foreign from one’s own made by artist in whom the stories are personal too, creates the most insightful artwork. Such as Black Girl from Ousmane Sembène, a narrative depiction of a black woman that moves from Senegal to France for work, only to be treated like a slave in this new world. This is what inspires me to make art and to share my voice, the knowledge that my voice is merely apart of the larger mosaic of the local, regional, national and global voices. However, the unfortunate truth is that these personal films often are never presented within pop culture. Fifty years after the release of Black Girl, we are beginning to see more representation of marginalized people within American pop culture by the means of the marvel super hero series Luke Cage, an adaptation of a comic book series under the same name, depicting a black male super hero living and protecting Harlem from “the man” and New York’s crime rings. Minor growth at a glacier speed, but positive growth nevertheless and the type of content that needs to be further incorporated with the future of entertainment. The only chance we can ever have to widen our own perspectives is looking into the perspectives of others as if they are our own. Personal films give the best opportunity for this to happen, but any fair representation moves in the right direction. Our own problems, our own fears, our own quality of art can all be shared and respected in postmodernism, but postmodernism only works if the world works in a fair and balanced manner.
The problem with postmodernism is that the world is not fair and balanced. The world seemly loves hate, divide, and forced segregation. In this sense postmodernism creates more problems than solutions. Postmodernism implies we are together, that everyone can be represented in the contemporary art scene, which is for the most part false. Many more demographics are represented today, but how much they are in control of how they are presented is to be questioned. Since we live in a world with higher hopes then goals and brighter fantasies than reality many already assume enough has been done, that the world is already universal and equally represented. But in actuality this is a product of postmodernism’s misconception, which is, the things we say are the actions we take. We say we’re accepting and diverse but the proof is limited and the pop culture news works nearly as a juxtaposition element to postmodernism universality.
Art is responsible to change this misconception by focusing on the positive representation of marginalized stories and people, while retaining the hero’s journey and retention for good. As a writer of narrative works I find it possible problematic to dismiss story conventions while changing the nationality, gender or race of our protagonist in new postmodern tales. We must change and continue to change the typical protagonist characters of stories today, because we live in an ever-changing landscape of cultures in represented society, as well as our past of the dramatic monopoly of protagonist representation as a white male with some marginal problems. However, the part I find problematic is changing the typical protagonist while also changing the typical hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is quite possibly the only thing that is shared and understood across cultures. As Joseph Campbell summarizes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
It is the hero-cycle of the modern age, the wonder-story of mankind’s coming to maturity. The spell of the past, the bondage of tradition, was shattered with sure and mighty strokes. The dream-web of myth fell away; the mind opened to full waking consciousness; and modern man emerged from ancient ignorance, like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn from the womb of mother light. (Campbell 387)
We all understand the trials and earned triumphs of a hero and life in general. To change the protagonist and the hero’s journey construct is as effective for working towards equality, as changing nothing at all. We must give the same level of glorification, success, and victory to the new untypical protagonist as we gave to the protagonist of the past. We must find parallels of trials within the newly represented protagonist’s society, and parallels of success, but the road to heroism must be presented similarly. To take away the hero’s construct in tandem with adding new diversity to protagonist will only add to the unreachable quality of equality. If we can’t achieve equality in how we represent all people on screen, we will never reach equality in our world.
Postmodernism is a gift that comes with a serious promise for writers of popular culture. It is a gift in a sense that nothing is taboo or off limits in the realms of the stories we tell. We can break archetypal characters, we can write for any character from any background, we can suspend belief past the credits and we can seemly curse as much as desired. But in all of this excitement, the folks that truly want to work in postmodern frameworks have a promise to live up to as well. A promise not only to themselves and their work but also to the world postmodernism implies they are projecting to and ultimately representing. It’s a promise of similarity in this great freeing wave of difference. Writers must change the world and protagonist they depict, while putting them through the familiar hero’s journey construct we all know well. If for no other reason to prove that we all are very similar, we dream, face fears and chase aspirations the same.
Ending with another passage from Abbott, that speaks to this power the writer has:
Given the enormous arsenal of available resources in fiction, an author can fashion characters into representative types and combine them in such a way as to bring out vividly the moral and practical consequences of their actions. The facts all belong to a fictional world, but narrative is meaningful for us as we think and act in our own world. (Abbott 153-154)
Once the world becomes aware of this, who knows, we all may be able to truly be postmodern thinkers after all. For now, I’ll continue to write with the intentions and thoughts expressed in this essay and hope others will do the same.