The postmodern perspective on globalisation and popular culture

Postmodernists see the media as central to globalisation and emphasise the positive effects media globalisation has on society.

Before reading this post you might like to review the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism and globalisation.

More individual choice

The globalisation of the media means that people are now more aware of hundreds of diverse cultures all over the world, and this gives them more inspiration to break with their own local traditions and live the lives they choose to.

There are also many more consumption opportunities: more choice of films, music, travel opportunities and of course global products.

The boundary between high and popular culture has also blurred: some classical music artists have sought out popular audiences for example, making high culture more accessible to the masses.

Finally, there are more opportunities for individuals to express themselves via social media.

The rejection of metanarratives

Postmodernists argue that media saturation means there are now an incredibly diverse array of voices and opinions online.

This challenges traditional ‘metanarratives’ – or any viewpoint which holds that there is one truth – as is found with traditional religions, political ideologies such as Marxism and science.

As a result of media saturation, people are now more sceptical of the ‘truth claims’ of experts, which means it is harder for those with power to manipulate people because ‘they know better’.

Participatory culture

Audiences are now more involved with the creation of media content, so the global media space is now more participatory than old style one-way media.

Many people create and upload their own content to platforms such as YouTube, or write blogs, or spend time maintaining their social media profiles.

Audiences also contribute by sharing and critiquing other people’s content on social media.

The globalisation of protest

New media has been used effectively to fight oppression.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) conducted an analysis of protests against military violence in Burma – he found that in 1998 very little media attention was received, but that by 2007, once Smart Phones had penetrated the country, widespread global media coverage of the protests was achieved.

Some political campaigners have also used Twitter and Facebook to fight oppression – during the Arab Spring for example. Another example is the use of Facebook by Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

Cultural hybridity

Thompson (1995) argues that global media products are modified by local cultures which results in various new hydbrid forms. Bollywood is a good example of this.

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Posmodernity and the New Age

Paul Heelas (1996) points out that the New Age Movement seems to have much in common with postmodernism:

  1. It seems to involve de-differentiation and de-traditionalisation. De-differentiation involves a breakdown of traditional categories, such as that between high and low culture. The New Age movement seems to be doing something similar with its fusion of traditional and popular religious beliefs. The New Age Movement also rejects the authority of the established church, with its belief that spirituality is within, and that it is up to each individual to find their own path to inner truth.
  2. The New Age Movement accepts relativism – there are diverse paths to spiritual fulfillment, and no one authority has a monopoly on truth, which fits in with postmodernism’s rejection of metanarratives.
  3. The spiritual shopping approach of the New Age seems to correspond with the centrality of consumer culture to postmodern societies.
  4. Like postmodernism, The New Age movement is, at least to an extent, about individuality and identity, focused on individual experience.
  5. Finally, there is the simple fact that both postmodernism and the New Age Movement emphasise the onset of a ‘new era’.

Why the New Age is not Postmodern

Despite the above apparent similarities, Heelas argues that the New Age Movement is, in fact, not postmodern:

Heelas argues that while the New Age Movement rejects ‘cultural metanarratives’ (about changing society) it still has a strong ‘experiential meta narrative  at its core. New agers are united by a self-spirituality metanarrative which claims that if people just strive deeply enough, they will realise absolute truths which will will help them to improve their lives. Their metanarrative is ultimately one of a faith in a radical individualism.

Although there might be different paths to inner-wisdom, New Agers still feel themselves in a position to make value judgments about themselves and others based on these beliefs. They tend take their spiritual beliefs and practices very seriously, and distinguish them as sacred, apart form other areas of their lives. This is far from the frivolous play like attitude normally associated with postmodernism.

Finally, many New Age practices are actually quite old, rooted in ancient traditions. For example, astrology, tarot and even Buddhism and Taoism, while most psycho-therapeutic practices are rooted in modernity.

Ultimately Heelas argues that the New Age movement does not represent a clear break with the past.