The Role of the Artist
The artist has taken a step into the role of authority on content and social commentary. Earlier postmodernism was described as exhibiting a sort of unabashed, and vicarious exploration of unrelated symbols. “Anything goes, and it doesn’t matter anyway” is an interpretation of postmodern art making that I often hear.
There is more and more evidence to suggest, that the role of the artist is shifting from that of the “replicator of symbols” to a role of social engineer and/or commentator. Artists now develop works that require viewer interaction in order to create the meaning of the work. In fact, I would argue that artworks are designed with the concept of how the viewer/user will interact with the artwork, now more than ever. Artworks take on the incorporation of a wide range of approaches to inviting user interaction. The question then becomes, “How does behavioral interaction by the viewer/user, with creative works, shape how the viewer/user thinks and emotes?” Culture industry and popular media are the most obvious examples. Toy designers study this issue extensively. Video game developers know how this changes the thought process of the user, to such a point that the U.S. military is intimately engaged in the development of combat strategy games (Aaron Ruby, Heather Chaplin, SmartBomb).
One of the more disturbing trends in contemporary (recent postmodernist) culture, is the comprehensive effort to suppress the intelligence of populations. The torture, brainwashing and interrogation scenarios from the 1940’s through the 80’s have been exposed in the news media. But, all of these techniques have already been extrapolated to the wider population as control devices. Governments have a much easier time managing populations by maintaining a cult mentality among constituents and by waging information warfare on their own citizens. The election protests in Iran of 2009 would be a classic example: the Iranian government was blocking and posting disinformation about protest rallies on social networks. Web searches for “Tienanmen Square” are restricted if you live in China. Political party loyalties in the United States are now inseparable from cult mentalities as there seems to be a rabid push for a pseudo-polarization of what is supposed to look like a two party system. This cult mentality is on display as an accepted matter of critical discourse in the “news” media.
In the latter stage of postmodernism, governments needed the military to control their own citizens. We currently attempt to use our military to control the citizens of other countries. In the United States, the last real protest (to my recollection) of a worldwide governmental/economic entity occurred in the late 90’s, in Seattle during the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference. The protesters were apparently calling for an end to police brutality, fair wages for workers and other similar issues. These messages seem to have emerged from individuals who possessed some understanding of global economics. You were able to find out about these issues just by reading the paper, or watching the news. More recently, in Pittsburgh, we had the G-20 Summit. Most of the media outcry brought forth headlines such as “What is the G-20” and “Peaceful Protests at the G-20 Summit”. Coverage by the “local news media” showed protesters wearing masks and strolling down a street, some locals telling the “idiots” to go home. The “news media” didn’t convey that the protesters had any grasp on the socioeconomic issues at hand. As a final slap in the face, the President of the United States, thanked the city (a town with 2 major University Campuses) for a very “tranquil” hosting of the summit.
There is more evidence to suggest that debate and discourse surrounding serious macroeconomic and societal issues exists solely as a fictitious narrative in the media. However, this is an aspect of recent postmodernism. This writing isn’t an attempt to bring forth a complete overview.