A playful responce to Postmodernism

Perhaps the most significant thing about postmodernism for the student of popular culture, is the recognition that there is no absolute, categorical difference between the high and low. With the collapse of this distinction, if this is the case, it may be possible to use the term popular culture and mean exactly that, nothing more than culture liked by many people (Mambrol, 2018).

According to Fredric Jameson, an American marxist cultural critic, postmodernism is a culture of pastiche. A world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible and all that is left is to imitate dead styles or borrow old techniques (1991). In postmodern pastiche, styles and images from every region and period coexist in the same space.

The postmodern condition describes a skeptical, often playful response to established concepts. This has been represented profoundly in recent times through television, especially considering the success of self-referential American sitcoms such as The Office, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother and Arrested Development (Idea Channel, 2013).

Another such series is Community. Originally created by Dan Harmon, the show successfully ran for 110 episodes over 6 years and makes heavy use of meta-reference, paying homage to cliches and tropes from the film and television of yesteryear. Set at a community college in a fictional Colorado town, most episodes of Community are send-ups or pastiches of well worn narrative forms. It approaches the meta-narratives of family and education by replacing it with a dysfunctional group of mature aged students in a study group.

What it does differently to other classic postmodern series however, is an experimental take on genre. It does not restrain itself with any rules (Sander, 2012). Typically genre is the primary way to classify televisions vast array of textual options. Most genres have clear cut rules that are already obvious and agreed on by the creators, viewers and broader industry.

“The most important knowledge a viewer brings to the viewing of Community is the subconscious recognition of indicators for other formal systems (meaning other genres or specific texts) with help from subconscious hypotheses and charts that are built on previous experiences with similar works” (Sander, 2012, p.12).

The cast of Community (2009)

Community balances its pop culture references and ironic moments with characters who sincerely desire human connection. There is an introduction of sincerity and a move away from the cynicism of previous postmodern movements within TV, which offered no solutions to the cultural problems they raised. This is could be credited to the ideas of David Foster Wallace, a staunch critic of postmodernism, who believed it lacked optimism and was too individual in its thought process. He believed irony had no redemptive qualities and would eventually dull the masses, leading to narcissism and detachment (Schoder, 2016).

There are those however that welcome postmodernism, such as Angela McRobbie (2003), who see it as the coming of age for those voices who have been historically drowned out. She argues postmodernism has enfranchised a new body of intellectuals that speak from positions of difference, be it ethnic, gender, class or sexual preference.

This has been particularly relevant to my own discipline within the music industry. One catalyst of postmodern influenced popular music has been the spread of the mass media. While this has extended the reach of hegemonic mainstream media discourse, it has at the same time enabled local, lower class and marginal groups to make their voices heard like never before (Manuel,1995).

Ethnic minorities are key performers in the postmodern music world, because their exclusion from official culture allowed them to cultivate a sophisticated capacity for ambiguity, juxtaposition and irony (Lipsitz, 1986). In this essence, it is difficult to understand if the mainstream is the traditionally dominant culture group or the marginal ethnic group.

Conner (1997) argues that pop music is perhaps the most representative of postmodern cultural forms. “It embodies to perfection the central paradox of contemporary mass culture, its global reach and influence, combined with pluralities of style, media and ethnic identity” (p186). Pop music insists on repetition and plural identity. No one owns a sound or a rhythm. You just borrow it, use it and give it back to the people in a slightly different form. The aesthetic of the new version can be likened to the celebrated post modern principal of intertextuality.

The important thing about styles like hip-hop, rap and reggae are the opportunities they give for affirmation and cultural identity within subordinated social groups around the world (Conner, 1997). The present cult of sampling, the use by musicians of audio technology to appropriate and manipulate recordings by other musicians, provides the clearest example of the postmodern aesthetic, as well as showing willingness to love off its own history and forms.

Popular music articulates plural cultural identities, of groups belonging to the margins of dominate cultures. Secondly it celebrates the principals of parody and pastiche much in the same way as the TV show Community does. Like the ethnic groups within modern music, the characters in Community learn to understand they are more appropriate spokespersons for their society than mainstream groups unable to address the causes of their alienation.


Connor, S. (1997). Postmodernist Culture : An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary. Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Idea Channel. (April 4th, 2013). Is Community A Postmodern Masterpiece? [Video file].Retrieved from https://youtu.be/YanhEVEgkYI

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press

Lipsitz, G. (1986). Cruising around the Historical Bloc: Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Los Angeles. Cultural Critique, (5), 157–177

Mambrol, N. (2018) Postmodernism and Popular Culture. Retrieved from https://literariness.org/2018/03/29/postmodernism-and-popular-culture/

Manuel, P. (1995). Music as Symbol, Music as Simulacrum: Postmodern, Pre-Modern, and Modern Aesthetics in Subcultural Popular Musics. Popular Music, 14(2), 227–239.

McRobbie, A., & Mcrobbie, A. (2003). Postmodernism and popular culture. London, England: Routledge.

Sander, J. (2012). The television series Community and Sitcom: A case study aimed at the genre of contemporary American sitcom television series. (Thesis). Retrieved from http://www.divaportal.org/smash/get/diva2:558088/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Schoder, W. (2016, October 6). David Foster Wallace — The Problem with Irony [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=2doZROwdte4&t=3s&ab_channel=WillSchoder

The cast of Community [Image] (2009). Retrieved from https://georgespigot.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/community-02.jpg



Music producer, Pianist, Father. Currently studying Masters of Creative Industry with SAE. Based in Brisbane, Australia.

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The Chass Lounge

Music producer, Pianist, Father. Currently studying Masters of Creative Industry with SAE. Based in Brisbane, Australia.