Is Community A Postmodern Masterpiece? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios


Here’s an i-dean. “Community” is a
post-modern masterpiece. [THEME MUSIC] So in case you’re suffering
a sudden bout of Changnesia, we’ll do a little recap. Created by Dan
Harmon, “Community” is and probably
soon will have been an NBC sitcom about a group
of friends attending Greendale Community College. Abed, Annie, Britta,
Jeff, Pierce, Shirley, and Troy are seven students
from couldn’t be more different but actually weirdly related
backgrounds who become “friends”– but also,
like, actual friends– when they join a
Spanish study group. The show focuses on this
differently-functional group, their constantly-shifting
interpersonal relationships, their community college,
its theatrical dean and unique instructors. I am a Spanish genius. Monkeys steal pens,
this guy has starburns, Leonard gets told to shut
up, and in the process, we are led to wonder
whether or not there really is such a
thing as objective truth. OK, so but really,
much of “Community” suggests that it might–
put on your seatbelts– be perfectly
post-modern television. But before we talk about
“Community’s” pomo-nism more in depth, let’s just jump
right into the briar patch and ask, what is post-modernism? I’ll give the philosophy
and art history students a moment to finish
their collective ugghh. And, we’re done. First, to be clear,
as far as any label– Impressionist, Brony,
nerd, minimalist, jock– is problematic, post-modernism
is quite possibly the most problematic. Referring to visual art,
literature, philosophy, film, architecture, music, the
post-modern condition describes a skeptical,
often playful response to established concepts. French philosopher
Jean-Francois Lyotard described post-modernism
as “an incredulity towards meta-narratives,”
a sort of skepticism towards the stories which help
us organize all other stories. For example, capitalism
is a meta-narrative which legitimizes economic
and political narratives. Religion is a meta-narrative
that organizes and legitimizes countless economic, political,
and cultural narratives. For post-modernists,
meta-narratives like these and even truth,
progress, reason, and science lose their luster in a world
that is totally constructed, managed, and representational. It’s sort of like we don’t
know whether or not we’re living in the Imaginarium. Or as Jeff Winger
so aptly put it– I discovered at
a very early age that if I talked
long enough, I could make anything right or wrong. So either I’m God,
or truth is relative. Now, post-modernism is
potentially problematic because the disassembly
of meta-narratives might itself be a
meta-narrative, thus leading to some sort of
theoretical autosarcophagy, but that’s a rabbit hole that
we’re not going to jump into. Post-modern artworks, like those
of John Cage, Robs Rauschenberg and Ryman, Lawrence Weiner, Yves
Klein, and countless others, are characterized by confident
uncertainty and admission of the fact that universal
acceptance or enjoyment of something is impossible. Lack of interest in
progressions, narratives, of course, and the
constant pervasive presence of contradiction. Or not. Because again, there is no
such thing as a shared truth. So why give it such a
high dean-stinction? Many post-modern works
are built on reference, pastiche, genre
agnosticism, and not so much the betrayal of
expectation as the question of whether expectations are even
important in the first place. Expectations are
kind of like “Glee.” They’re built on
empty narratives which are compelling only
to teenagers with low IQs. So how does “Community”
fit into all of this? Well, I’m glad you asked. Allow me to
dean-splain- actually, we’re just– I’m not
gonna do that anymore. First and foremost, many if not
most episodes of “Community” are send-ups or pastiches of
well-worn narrative forms. The Western, the love
story, the action film, the sci-fi adventure, the
heist, the feel-good movie, the documentary, the morning
show– the list, guess what? It goes on. And whatever elements,
micro and macro, which are not lampooning
the more-traveled paths in the yellow wood
are strongly critical. They are self-consciously
referential, skeptical, and playfully
judgmental of culture. They’re generally
not in service of and sometimes even hostile
to meta-narratives. Like two quick examples.
“Community” confronts the meta-narrative of
family by replacing it with a study group and the
meta-narrative of education through a book-learning setting
which is dysfunctional at best. Not to mention, the show
is built on contradiction. Or not. A lawyer who doesn’t practice
law, an inactive activist, an innocent, naive,
homeless former drug addict– and the most kind,
compassionate, outgoing character is the one who
stereotypically would be the hardest to interact with. Shirley, would you consider
spinning off with me? Just riffing, but we could
open a hair salon together. Oh, I– I don’t understand. Is this you being meta? The Spanish study group
doesn’t study Spanish, and even the theme song
seems to call into question the very existence of the show. THE 88: (SINGING) I can’t count
the reasons I should stay. One by one, they
all just fade away. Now am I saying
that “Community” is the only post-modern
television show? No. No! Not at all. “The
Simpsons,” “The Office,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and
even most reality TV shows have elements of the
post-modern practice. “Arrested Development,” too, is
highly critical, referential, self-conscious,
narratively disinterested, but not nearly as many
streets ahead as “Community.” If you have to ask,
you’re streets behind. In “Death of the
Author,” Roland Barth says that “we know
the text is not a line of words releasing a
single theological meaning, but a multi-dimensional space
in which a variety of writings, none of them original,
blend and clash. The text is a
tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable
centers of culture.” “Community,” almost one by
one, absorbs, comments on, and challenges the
legitimacy of all of the elements in that
multi-dimensional space. And it does it more
often, more critically, and I think more successfully
than “Arrested Development,” “Family Guy,” and all the
other highly self-conscious television shows. Or maybe this is the AT&T
of Idea Channel claims, and “Community” isn’t
post-modern but just contemporary. Or post-post-modern. Or post-post-post-modern,
or wherever we are. We need a Jesus movie for
the post-post-modern world. Much of post-modernism
has found its way into our “everything
is a remix,” comment-as-content
media practice. And maybe instead of being smart
and challenging and critical, “Community” is just performing
disinterest in an attempt to be hip and cool. Cool, cool, cool. What do you guys think? Is “Community” a
post-modern masterpiece? Let us know in the comments. And a subscription is
not a meta-narrative, so you don’t have to
be skeptical of it. I think a Venn diagram of Idea
Channel subscribers and people who went to go see John
Carter is a circle. Let’s see what you guys had
to say about Kickstarter-wood. First, just to be really
clear, I loved “Real Steel.” It’s Hugh Jackman and “Rock ‘Em
Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie.” What is there not to love? To IntroMakerFTW
and everyone else asking for closed
captions, this is a thing that we are going to try
really hard to get better at. Bear with us, but we’re
going to figure out. We promise. Michael Hamer says
that Kickstarter isn’t going to replace
Hollywood any time soon, because Hollywood is great
at recognizing, courting, and employing talent. And that’s something that,
as an industry, Kickstarter just doesn’t come close to. So yeah, that’s a good point. I don’t know what
to say to this, so I’m not going
to say anything. A bunch of people pointed
out that there is, in fact, a “Twin Peaks” movie– it’s
called “Fire Walk With Me”– which I totally forgot about. Maybe I just want someone to
Kickstart a better “Twin Peaks” movie? I don’t know. mina86ng and triangletime
say that it would be great if there was a version of
Kickstarter where you could actually invest and get
some money back, which yeah, is complicated, because
Kickstarter would then have to be regulated by the SEC,
which is a whole other really complicated thing. But this is a legal
thing that you can do. It just– the service
doesn’t exist yet. So when it does,
yeah, movie-making is probably going
to change a lot. And this is actually written
about in the JOBS Act from a few years ago. So we’ll put a link
in the description so you can check it out. It’s really– it’s fascinating. Daniel Johnson points out
that another thing working against Kickstarter is the fact
that it’s hard to actually earn money from most
Kickstarter projects, and so you’re not going to get
a lot of big names or people who want lots of zeroes at
the ends of their paychecks. IronCoredKnight,
this is– yeah, this is a really interesting topic. And if you missed
it, Vice actually recently did a really
interesting piece. We’ll put a link
in the description. But yeah, we have some ideas. Maybe– maybe someday. Seth Broadback thinks
that Kickstarter is just going to end up being
part of the marketing process of a lot of
Hollywood movies, as a way to just get
the word out for a movie and to line some more
pockets in the process. Which yeah, I mean, I could– I
could see that being the case. And yeah, you make a really
good point, about whether or not it edges out indie,
other indie movies. Yet to be told. This. Just a million times, this. This week’s episode
was brought to you by the awesome work of
these awesome people. And the Tweet of the Week
comes from @spockgrrl, who points us
towards Liam Dryden’s video about the ethics of
shipping real people, which you should watch. We’ll put a link
in the description. And also, if you
have a television, there are going to
be some Idea Channel promos on the TV
after “Nova,” tonight and on the 10th of April. It’s gonna be weird. You should watch it. [THEME MUSIC]




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