Postmodernist Perspectives

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Postmodernist Perspectives
Postmodernist theorists believe that much of what has been written about culture in the Westem world is Eurocentric- that it is based on the uncritical assumption that European culture (including its dispersed versions in countries such as the United States. Australia, and South Africa) is the true, universal culture in which all the world’s people ought to believe (Lemert, 1997). By contrast, postmodcrnists believe we should  speak of cultures, rather than culture. However, Jean Baudrillard, one of the best-known French social theorists, believes that ~e world of culture today is based on simulation, not reality. According to Buudrillurd, sociallii~ is much more a spectacle that simulates reality than reality itself. People often gain “reality” from the media. where reality is not always as it might  appear. Many U.S. children, upon entering school for the first time. have already watched more hours of television than the total number of hours of classroom instruction they will encounter in their entire school careers (Lemert, 1997). Add to this the number of hours that some will have spent playing computer games or surfi ng the Internet. Baudrillard refers 10 (his social creation as hyperreatity=« situation in which the simulation of reality is more real than the thing itsclf. For Baudrillard, everyday life has been captured by the signs and symbols generated to represent it. and we ultimately relate to simulations and models as if they were reality. Baudrillard () 983) uses Disneyland as an example
of a simulation that conceals the reality that exists outside rather than inside the boundaries of the artificial perimeter. According to  Baudrillard, Disney-like theme parks constitute a form of seduction that substitutes symbolic (seductive) power for real power. particularly the ability to bring about social change.

From this perspective. amusement park “guests” may feel like “survivors” after enduring the rapid speed and gravity-defying movements of the roller coaster rides or see themselves as “winners” after surviving fights with hideous cartoon villains on the “dark rides”-when they have actually experienced the substitution of an appearance of power over their lives for the absence of real power. Similarly. the anthropologist Stephen M. Fjellman (1992) studied Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and noted that people may forget. at least briefly, that the outside world can he threatening while they stroll Disney World’s streets without fear of crime or automobiles. Although this freedom may be temporarily empoweriag, it may also lull people into accepting a “worldview that presents an idealized United States as heaven…. How nice if they could all be like us-with kids. a dog, and General Electric appliances- in a world whose only problems are avoiding Captain Hook, the witch’s apple, and Toad Hall weasels” (Fjelhnan, 1992: 317).

In their examination of culture. postrnodernist social theoristsmake us aware of the fact that no single perspective can grasp the complexity and diversity of the social world. They also make us aware that reality may not be what it seems. According to the postrnodernist view, no one authority can claim to know social reality, and we should deconstruct-take apart and subject to intense critical scrutiny=-existing beliefs and theories about culture in hopes of gaining new insights {Ritzer, 1997). Although postmodern theories of culture have been criticized on a number of grounds. we will examine only three. One criticism is postrnodernlsm’s lack of a clear conceptualization c.f ideas. Another is the tendency to critique other perspectives as being “grand narratives,” whereas postmodernists offer their own varieties of such narratives. Finally. some analysts believe that postmodern analyses of culture lead to profound pessimism about the future. The Concept Quick Review summarizes the COmponents of culture as well as how the four major perspcctivcs view culture.