Huyssen was speaking of a cultural anesthesia that protects us from the abyss and uncertainty that undergird (or fail to undergird) our society. Does this anesthesia still exist? Do we collectively dull our senses with variety because the underneath hurts too much? I would suggest that we still become couch potatoes, who indiscriminately consume our many cable channels, Internet sites and tweets, while simultaneously mocking the content being conveyed through these media.
The Future Has Already Been Done
Everything appears to have already been done in some form or other in our postmodern world. Culture becomes a process of recycling. We have gradually begun to embrace a much more Eastern sense about time as a cyclical notion. Instead of believing in progress, we believe in a world that replicates itself again and again—hence the use and distortion of the past and history. Everything in the fragmented postmodern world is seen as a faint resemblance of reality—a private vision that knows no public substance. We are living in an era of edginess and an accompanying sense of unreality and weightlessness—Kundera’s (1984) “unbearable lightness of being”. This edginess may in turn lead to disengagement and dissociation.
Gitlin describes the postmodernists as “stenographers of the surface.” Television, the Internet (and now Social Media), which are the primary conveyers of postmodern culture, know only the present tense: there are no beginnings or ends—only sound bites, isolated images and tweets. Even as television was the primary conveyer of culture during the late 20th Century, it is on the way out as the dominant mode of communication—even with the introduction of many cable-based options. More informal and quasi-verbal forms of communication are becoming dominant. The tweet is actually a throw-away line that used to be found in casual conversation. Addictive text-based conversations take the place of the old verbal channels of gossip. How can a television program (even if based on “reality”) compete with our immediate access to digital contact with friends and a “neighborhood” that can be as broad as we want it to be.