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Weekly Opinion by Lindsey Eck

22 August 2000 POSTCULTURALISM 101

Handout for the first class lecture

Welcome to Postculturalism 101. In this first lecture it is appropriate to define ‘postculturalism’, trace its origins, and place it within the greater context of its milieu — not, of course, within a “culture,” since the whole point of postculturalism is that “culture” is an outmoded and unnecessary notion.

What is postculturalism?

Postculturalism is the recognition that culture, as it was understood in the last century, is passé, since culture requires the possibility of work challenging the status quo. The history of painting, for example, during the cultural era, showed a succession of styles, each rooted in the changing societies; thus late 19th-century France saw the replacement of academic art with the experiments of the Impressionists, followed by Post-Impressionism, and a new fragmentation under the Modernists that went along with the devastation of European mores by the First World War, and so on.

In the postcultural era, though, meaningful change in styles representing a society in ferment has ceased, reflecting the aimless self-satisfaction of a humanity with no purpose except commercialism and consumption. Since the only changes in human affairs are the meaningless ones of Republicans succeeding Democrats, Survivor succeeding Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?, Tiger Woods succeeding Michael Jordan, naturally one American product similarly succeeds another one but there is no longer a direction to the succession. Postculturalism is the recognition that the products of what was once a society are no longer connected to a culture, as such, and even holdovers from the cultural era have lost their significance. For example, Harley-Davidson motorcycles are as much a plaything of middle-aged stockbrokers as the hog of the Wild Bunch.

Origins of postculturalism

Postculturalism is a natural growth of posthistoricism, the movement that begin with Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 piece “The End of History?” Fukuyama’s insight was that history had “ended” because “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” had been reached. Now, in the year 2020 (though, since history has ended, one wonders why we even bother to assign numbers to years anymore!) we have reached a further equilibrium. Not only dors liberal democracy (or, more properly, neoliberal corporatism) stand triumphant as the final form of government, but commercial expression has displaced all private expression as the final form of human product. Hence, there is no need for culture, understood as meaningful human production intended to influence the masses and promote change. Production, of course, continues, but with the goal of satisfying consumer appetites, not with influencing them. Of course, marketing continues to manufacture demand for products people might not otherwise realize they need but this is not cultural in the old sense.

Just as the end of history was not supposed to mean the end of conflict or instability, just the end of progress, similarly the end of culture does not mean the end of production, nor of changing fashion, simply that there is no direction or meaning to the change.

In fact, the postcultural era has been marked by some extreme conflicts, especially the Warner vs. Disney struggle for hegemony that was only settled last year by arbitration that prevented further violence. We will devote several weeks to how Warner and Disney came to own virtually all of the channels formerly used for cultural products and converting them into decultured consumer goods. We will look at the case study of how edgy bisexual performer Elton John became the composer of the seminal postcultural work Aida, and how Greek and Chinese myth were purged of all archetypal and psychological significance and converted into cutesy, unchallenging, decultured entertainments in Hercules and Mulan.

Postculturalism in context

Postculturalism includes several corollary studies. There is post–political science, which recognizes that both parties represent the same set of corporations, hence they no longer require platforms or issues and simply present the most appealing personalities in a popularity contest. We will examine the rise of today’s postacademia, in which all subjects (except for sports competition) are reduced to vocational training and technical studies, with a quick historical look at the quaint notion of “liberal arts” education, a notion so odd it will require several lectures’ worth of explanation.

We will also look at postarchitecture, the movement to create structures that express either corporate needs as with Fastfoodist chic, or the currently ascendant pastiche of past styles now that all possibilities have been done once, if not several times. Again, we trace the genesis to Disney, with their artificial small town, Celebration, FL. And, with the new trends in body alteration through mutation and the resulting possibility of posthuman speciation, we will examine the probable need for postanthropology by the end of the 21st century. Which raises several important questions: Will a posthuman and a still-human species study each other as the “other”? Will resulting conflicts mean history never ended after all, just took a vacation?

This course is a prerequisite for Postsociology 101.

We recognize that in a postcultural world there is no reason to take a course such as this one for one’s own edification or curiosity — what is the use of curiosity in a world devoid of meaningful change? — but we note that most marketing careers require a working knowledge of postcultural theory. If you are not a marketing major, I urge you to drop the class. It will be a waste of your time.


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