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Music Video and Postmodernism

Central Issues and Related theories


Central Issues
  Postmodern Boundary-Breaking --  
  • ". . . [postmodern] cross-over between: (1) the fine arts/avant-garde tradition, (2) the mass-media [e.g. TV program and commercial, fashion catwalk, film pastiche]  (3) vernacular culture (or sub-cultures), (4) the new technologies (mainly electronic)" (Wollen 229)
  • ". . . videos are said to forsake the usual oppositions between high and low culture; between masculine and feminine; between established literary and filmic genres; between past, present and future; between the private and the public sphere; between verbal and visual hierarchies; between realism and anti-realism, etc." (Kaplan 237) 
  • 1. [MTV''s] fusion of high art and popular culture discourses
    2. The abandonment of grand narrative structures . . .in the non-realist construction of the video clips and in the MTV text itself 
    3. intertextuality and pastiche 
    4. Intertextuality and pastiche . . . blure historical/chronological distinctions, so conventional notions of past, present and future are lost in the pot-pourri of images, all of which are made to seem contemporary.  
    5. ''schizophrenic'' abandonment of rational, liberal-humanist discourse which creates a nihilistic, amoral universe of representation  -- lack of political social engagement or new forms of political resistance (Goodwin 45-46)
e.g. program and commercial -- MTV and Channel V''s commercials 

Reproduction & Simulation --  

  • A postmodern aesthetic of appropriation and replication: "As Benjamin ''age of mechanical reproduction is replaced by our ''age of Electronic reproduction'', . . . Reproduction, pastiche and quotation, instead of being forms of textual parasitism, become constitutive of textuality.  Repetition and citation become the typical forms of postmodern cultural production. . . . We can expect the production of both image and sound to become more and more a matter of combining and altering already existing images and sounds extracted from one or other information store." (Wollen 230-31)
  • image culture, implosion of information, dominance of TV screen --  "With the television image . . . our own body and the whole surrounding universe become a control screen.  the satellitization of the real, . .. ''hyperrealism of simulation'': the elevation of the domestic universe to a spatial power, to a spatial metaphor, with the satellitization of the two-room-kitchen-and-bath put into the orbit in the las lunar module" (Baudrillard "Ecstasy 127-28). e.g. the use of "outer/computer space" in music videos such as Aerosmith''s "Amazing" and 張惠妹''s〈〉.
  • "Have we (as Baudrillard would argue) replaced Marx''s ''drama of alienation'' with the ''ecstasy of communication'', and Freud''s old ''hot sexual obscenity'' with ''contactual and motivational obscenity of today''?  Is TV, as Kroker and Cook argue, ''the real world of postmodern culture which has entertainment as its ideology, the spectacle as the emblematic sign of the commodity form, lifestyle advertising as its popular psychology, pure, empty seriality as the bond which unites the simulacrum of the audience, electronic images as its most dynamic, and only form of social cohesion. . . the diffusion of a network of relational power as its real product''?
e.g. A. reproduction of live performance -- Bruce Springsteen; esp. "Dancing in the Dark" 
       B. reproduction/re-interpretation of old songs -- "True Color" (Phil Collins); "Time After Time" 
壯前明之〉(情乙爭); "Killing me Softly" (Fugees); "Kung-Fu Fighting" 

  Parody, Pastiche and the treatment of history
e.g. Weird Al'' Yonkovic -- ''Like A Surgeon''; ''Fat'' ; ''Eat It''; ''One More Minute''; ''Living in the Fridge''  
Elements of timelessness: no classic plot; repetition of the same clips; 

history in MTV: 1. programme-identification and VJ-talk in locating the clips historically; 

2. "many MTV slots depend on a temporal experience for the delivery of pleasure; e.g. MTV Countdown (Goodwin  58-59);
3. MTV''s special broadcast.

e.g. 妹妹洩MTV at Channel V, Jan.1999

[But how about the sense of history in the music videos?]

  Fragmentation or Unity of Identity 
A. examples of unity -- VJ or the singer(s) as the anchoring presence; story in the video 
B. flow of signifiers --  
e.g. challenges of personal identity''s unity --  互娼 壯是炭〉and Peter Gabriel 
e.g. coherent star-identity Michael Jackson''s "Black or White" 

    How do we deal with the contradictions in meanings between the lyric and the video, or  (sometimes) between the former''s simplicity , and the latter''s complexity? 

  Representation of Gender and Race -- the subject positions constructed in music videos 
"Narrative/non-narrative is no longer a useful category within which to discuss videos.  What is important is, first, whether or not any position manifests itself across the hectic, often incoherent flow of signifers which are not necessarily organized into a chain that produces a signified, and, second, what are the implications of the twenty-four-hour of short (four-minute or less) texts that all more or less function as ads"(Kaplan 238)  

  • the showing of women''s bodies: exploitation of women''s bodies or sexual liberation? 
    e.g. Robert Palmer''s ''Simply Irresistible'', Salt & Pepper 
    Cf. "Dreamworlds II: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video" Written, edited and produced by Sut Jhally --Dreamworlds II combines powerful imagery from some 200 videos with   incisive narrative to educate viewers on the impact of sexual imagery in music videos. 
     Dreamworlds II addresses, more powerfully than any other tool available, the impact of pop   culture on how young men and women see themselves (and each other) in terms of sexuality   and gender. Shocking and often disturbing, Dreamworlds II allows its viewers to reflect   critically on images which have such power precisely because they have become so common. 
  • subject positions in Madonna''s videos, TLC''s "Waterfall," George Michael''s "Outside"
  • new Orientalism? 
    e.g. "If"; "Kung-Fu Fighting"; 〈壯前明之〉(情乙爭)
  The Vernacular and the Local --  
How is the "vernacular or local" presented in popular music videos?  Co-opted or still resistant? 
Are there distinct characteristics of Taiwanese, Korean or Japanese music videos? 
e.g. "Paradise" (Southern Allstar); "I Have Seen" (安拮洹奈子), Puffy''s 豆之, the use of the aboriginal in 洮頭和膨版夜惇A-O-O〉and Enigma''s  

  Is postmodern reading of music videos (or MTV) a-historical?  Does it contradict a materialist study of them? 

Goodwin''s criticism of postmodern readings: 

  1. the neglect of musical coherence, imitation of live performance, lyric and timbre;
  2. the history of MTV -- from "narrowcasting"  and continuous flow to discrete programs (including mini series) and a wider range of music;
    • four stages: 1) focusing on New Pop in 1983; 2) 1983-1985: heavy metal; 3) 1986-1988: cut-back on heavy metal, widening of the scope and then the return of heavy-metal in 1987; 4) 1989- expansion [Goodwin sees only three phases, and predicted the beginning of the fourth phase in 1993.]
  3. the VJ''s -- a secure point and their "girl/boy-next-door point of identification" (55); the VJ talk is "absolutely conventional" (56)
  4. ''Day-parting" & "stripping" (57) make MTV more similar to the other TV. stations 
  5. Not always nihilistic: MTV''s slogans -- some inconsistent and irreverent -- it takes many different forms and is often presented through visual jokes.  . . . However, there is another cluster of discourses . . . a group of quasi-political, volunteerist, socially responsible and sometimes counter-cultural riffs. . . (62-63)
  6. The Other MTV:  MTV can be read politically.

  • MTV online (remote)


    • Goodwin, Andrew.  "Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern  Theory."  Ed. Simon Frith, et al.  Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader.  New York: Routledge, 1993.
      • major argument: MTV channel, or the music videos it shows, should not be read as postmodern [fragmentary, a-political], at least not completely so.  We should do a historical and materialist reading.
    • Kaplan, E. Ann.  "Feminism/Oedipus/postmodernism: the case of MTV."  Postmodern After-Images: A Reader in Film, Television and Video.  Eds. Peter Brooker and Will Brooker.  London: Arnold, 1997: 233-47.
      • major argument: MTV channel belongs to the "co-opted" kind of postmodernism (but not the utopian kind).  Some  videos may appear to be transgressive or critical, but a lot of them are superficial or easily co-opted.  [e.g. Madonna''s narcissism and self-indulgence co-opt her texts back into a consumerist postmodernism.]  music 
    • Wollen, Peter.  "Ways of thinking about music video (and postmodernism)."  Postmodern After-Images: A Reader in Film, Television and Video.  Eds. Peter Brooker and Will Brooker.  London: Arnold, 1997: 229-32.
      • major argument: Music videos signal a breakdown of several categories, and we should use a postmodern (anti-)aesthetics (which accepts appropriation and replication, and disregards unity or originality) to appreciate it.
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