a report the other day about math and science scores in American public
schools as compared to the rest of the world. We don’t do very
well, folks, and that has all the usual suspects pointing fingers of
blame. Politicians on both sides of the aisle use statistical stories
such as these to argue their own agendas, but everybody seems to miss
the reality that we, as Americans, live in a culture that views such
teaching as increasingly irrelevant. Whether that’s good or bad
is not the point of this essay. I merely wish to point out that my daughter’s
calculator makes her legitimately ask why she needs to memorize math
What is postmodernism?
Modernists share a universal faith in logic and science. Postmodernists (Pomos) see the realism of limitations.
Words like purpose, design and hierarchy are modernist, while postmodernists would rather use play, chance and anarchy. Pomos don’t completely reject logic, but their own experiences tell them that order isn’t over all, and they passionately despise what they see as the inherent elitism of hierarchy.
Modernists view much of life of life at arm’s length. Postmodernists experience it as participatory. Life is not "out there" to Pomos; rather, it is all around us — something that we can have as little or as much of as we choose.
One of the most defining differences is with God, where the modernist would first see God, the Father. The postmodernist would see God, the Holy Spirit. God, the Father, represents distant authority, which Pomos reject, while God, the Holy Spirit, is among us, something we can experience for ourselves.
For the modernist, the parts logically make up the whole, but the Pomo views the whole as greater than the parts.
Most people I know today are a combination of modern and postmodern thinkers, but the shift from one to the other is unmistakable, if you allow yourself to see it. What’s interesting is exploring the various writings about postmodernism, because everyday events begin to make sense. My generation has helped create a world wherein this postmodern thinking can flourish. My daughter’s calculator, for example, permits her to use math, something that I couldn’t do without memorization and discipline. Likewise, the Internet enables her to use science, because knowledge is there at the click of a mouse. "Use it" is very postmodernist, while "Study it" is very modernist.
Armed with knowledge and information promised by the Internet, postmodernists are a serious threat to every institution in America whose power is derived from protected knowledge. Why do you think the American Medical Association was quick to create a lobbying arm that would keep informational medical Websites under its purview? The AMA is an entity governing a modernist institution whose members are licensed based on knowledge. Pomos don’t believe anybody should have to pay for knowledge, and they reject the idea of governing bodies, because they view them as self-serving. Modernists would argue this is really about protecting consumers from the unscrupulous, but postmodernists would say it’s about the AMA protecting its own interests first.
I believe this cultural shift has significant ramifications for the news business. Postmodernism wants to play and experience, and it will not sit still for lecturing and passive participation — both of which are fundamental essentials of TV News. The anchor is a traditional authority figure. Postmodernists abhor authority, especially what they view as elitist, and the more we try to promote that, the more the postmodern world moves away. The more we try to educate, the farther away moves the audience. They don’t wish to be taught; they wish to learn by participating. Postmodernism sees through our bells and whistles, our live shots, our promotional copy, and our trickery. The more we attempt to explain what we view as out-of-control, the more we lose postmodernists, who view anarchy and chaos as acceptable realities and reject the modernist idea of a logical way things "ought to be."
The "broad" in broadcasting is gone forever. The very ideas of community and group identity have changed. "Tribes" is a word often heard in postmodernist discussion; diversity is a righteous concept among Pomos. Tribes transcend communities. A mosaic that spreads beyond anybody’s melting pot has replaced yesterday’s logical, American mindset. This also runs counter to modernist news organizations, which still operate with a logical belief that the whole (community) is the sum of its parts and that we’re all in this together.
10 ideas for consideration
Young people are vastly more postmodern than their parents, and the gap between generations today is far more than simply one of age. This is critical for television people to understand, for it offers an identifiable clue as to why TV News audiences are getting older and older. If you want to catch trout, you must use trout bait. The currently accepted philosophies of television news will never be attractive to postmodernist-leaning young people.
The digital era, created by the logic of a modernist world, has done far more than simply empower young people with knowledge. It is the force accelerating an enormous cultural shift and leaving broadcast news organizations in a very fragile position. Like Dorothy, Pomos have cast aside the curtain and revealed the Wizard for what he really is — a profit-motivated entity that they believe has fooled people for decades.
To paraphrase Murrow: "We can deny and ignore this shift if we choose, but we cannot escape responsibility for the consequences."