My undergrad social theory class is organized around a modernity => postmodernity schema, with modern social theory merging to postmodern social theory. I like to show a movie or two to demonstrate elements of these themes; in the past I’ve used Star Trek for high modern theory and Blade Runner for postmodernism (pace David Harvey). Warning: some danger of spoilers after the break on Bee Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
This year, though, I decided to use Bee Movie for the modern social theory movie. Without trying to be a spoiler, there’s a strongly modernist theme in which big systems work well, playing one’s part is a good thing, and identity politics backfires in favor of organic cooperation instead. I considered using Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for the postmodern movie, but ended up back on Blade Runner partially because I’ve done it before and partially because Cloudy isn’t out on DVD yet! But Blade Runner is pretty alienating to the students, and somewhat dated. So here are some thoughts on postmodernism in Cloudy:
- the old-fashioned social ostracism of the smart guy followed by his getting the girl is here, with the twist that the ditzy girl is also smart and is putting on an act
- science “bites back” in a big way, suggesting a kind of paranoia over the lack of control over our technological trajectory.
- Portrayal of genius is interesting in terms of the inborn vs. enacted question.
- The most genius-like character (the boy) is also portrayed as not quite in control. This is a sort of postmodern paranoid stance toward science as juggernaut. See for example the “dangometer” which meters something (“Danger”) but we don’t know what; the idea of “overmutation” or something like that;
- treatment of human desire as insatiable and as driving the frankenstein of science
- Wertrationalität in that the hero works partially to gain emotional payback, e.g., approval from the town, love of his father, attention of the girl
- original reason for the transformation is the industrial decline of a sardine-dependent island as the world moves on, but because of taste: they discover that “sardines are really gross,” as a newspaper is shown declaring early in the movie.
- The mayor tries to repackage the island as a sardine-themed tourist destination, with obvious results, before the hero saves the day. The hero’s dad is the last holdout for the old way of life
- “Dad, I don’t understand fishing metaphors.” (recurring phrase)
I’ve also used examples from The Simpsons before. One concern I have with all of these is that many contemporary students already don’t have a strong idea of the distinction between fiction and nonfiction–do these illustrations just make that worse?