Notes Toward an Essay on the Evolution from Postmodernism to Metamodernism as Tracked Through Popular Comedic Forms. – Wesley Hunt

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Image: Paweł Czerwiński

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Track the progression of comedic methodologies from the 1990s through the early and late 2000s, as demonstrated in the different stages of The Simpsons (from satire—early ‘90s—to sitcom—mid ‘90s—to absurdist comedy—late ‘90s—to deconstructionist meta-parody—early 2000s—to randomized pop cultural overload—current)—as a show that persisted while changing to align with the comedic zeitgeist, to demonstrate the shift from postmodernism to metamodernism. Do this and don’t look out your window—one of many belonging to the tenement building you and your father have lived in all your life—and, whatever you do, definitely don’t go out the door and catch a cab to the hospice, at least not until you’re finished.

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Connect these Simpson-stage-shifts to the shifts orchestrated by other popular comedies.

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Anchor Man (which you and Dad would quote), in tandem with Family Guy (which only you would quote) popularized the absurdist non-sequitur pop cultural references and self-referential allusions to the pop cultural references (the ones they make). Anchorman as the shift toward absurdity and Family Guy toward non-sequitur meta-referential pop culture—FG commenting on the humor of Will Ferrell, and eventually even on itself (deconstruction). Simpsons had to change to keep up.

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Remember the hinder-sounds of the door opening and closing around 8pm every night—after the two of you ate dinner, where he helped you with your homework, and if you finished quick enough he’d watch the first fifteen minutes of a rerun with you while getting ready (this happened less and less as you both grew older)—and how you’d strike out all the lights, after he’d said love you as the door shut, so the room danced with the shadows of the movement on the screen, and remained there in the dancing light until the door opened and closed again, around 6am (this time without a love you but instead a soft groan), and until the dancing shadows drowned in the sunlight streaming through the window you rarely looked out then, back when he could work, and even more rarely now.

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Connect to Frederic Jameson’s diagnoses of postmodern culture, and thereby late capitalism, as schizophrenic—i.e. extends the symptoms of the psychoanalytic qualifications of Schizophrenia (unable to accede into the realm of language, thereby unable to form a solid identity—no “I”=no ego) to the masses in the form of pop cultural overload of disconnected webs of signifiers (e.g. MTV rapid fire television) that confuse the subject and make critical thinking near impossible—let alone clear thinking, let alone human connection outside the network of pop-cultural reference. Argue that pop culture has only increased its rapid fire pace.

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Connect to escaping into the naked glow in the dark of the living/dining room (first from the television, then the computer, now both), and to the way the nature of that escape changed as plot and image changed, and how the shouting and the crying and the laughing from the other apartments, and out the window, first made the quiet of yours feel loud but eventually became indistinguishable from the shouting and crying and laughing from the screen and from your body, as did the hinder-sounds of the door opening and closing and the love you’s and soft groans (which became first a light cough and then a violent hack and then a quiet but constant groan that you barely hear anymore because you don’t visit the hospice).

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In postmodern pop culture the rapid fire imagery was slow enough to still allow for some forms of critique—thus the satire, sitcom, and abusurdist stages of the Simpsons. He wasn’t sick during these stages, though the coughing began toward the end of the third.

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Anchorman as the justification for the type of absurd humor that makes the pop references of Family Guy a valid form—i.e. it executed absurdity in such a way that the masses could embrace. This is the limit of postmodernism and thereby late capitalism. The overload of the convoluted webs of interwoven signifying chains as only made possible by the existence of the internet. This shift is the movement toward meta-modernism: e.g. Youtube culture. You remember this shift because he bought a computer, despite the voicemails from the medical billing agencies, and he gave it to you for homework and said Stay classy San Diego, and instead of saying thank you, you said I feel like a talking baby punching Ferrell in the face for making Bewitched—in a good way, and he might have laughed were it not for the coughing and for not getting the reference.

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Family Guy and Simpsons picked up on this shift, and the rapid-fire webs of signifiers became more convoluted, randomized, and meaningless outside of its own network of reference. He thought the Simpsons had fallen off. You disagreed.

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Argue that postmodernism was less insidious than metamodernism because the speed and volume of despotic webs of signifiers has exploded with the development of the internet. The overload of self-referential nonsense make subversive critique near-impossible in that it is sucked into the meta-ironic whirlwind. When Dad said love you, you used to say it back, but then you just started to quote shows, and he knew what you meant; then you started to quote YouTube videos of clips from shows, and he didn’t.

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Finish this soon so he can read it before he dies.

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Wesley Hunt hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and is a writer, experimental filmmaker, musician, and connoisseur of fine Salisbury steak. He is a former editor at the literary magazine The Welter, and graduate of University of Baltimore. His words have appeared in publications such as Horror Sleaze Trash and The Fine Print. Listen to his music at treeforts.bandcamp.com. Or don’t. This is a democracy, after all.