The Cultural Environment
at the turn of the 21st Century
15 February 2007
But first, let’s imagine how we might be thought of in the future.
The Modern, Nodern, Oddern, Podern, and Qodern Periods
The predominance of using the prefix ‘post’ to name a period (almost always the one in which people found themselves at the time) flourished in the first decade of the 21st Century, and as one writer noted, ‘everything is posts … I need a saw to cut them down, too see the horizon’. Recognizing the Modern period as being the one which encompassed most of the 20th Century, one that was clearly defined, it followed that one should simply used the letters of the alphabet to replace the ‘post’ fashion, and hence, post-modernism was renamed the Nodern, and post-post-modernism was renamed the Oddern (although it is notable that post-post-modernism was never as popular, and many people were confused by this point not knowing exactly what time they were living in).
The first decade of the 21st Century, according to the historical records, referred to its self variously as:
‘post-modern’ (or shortened to ‘pomo’)
The Nodern Period
The Nodern was once known as the ‘post-modern’ and characterized the time between, roughly, 1975-1995. Since it saw itself as a movement that put Modernism behind it, it is perhaps explained best by looking at how it saw Modernism. As the overall paradigm of the 20th Century, Modernism defined how human beings in the West saw both themselves and their creative works. It created neat categories to enable definition, but in the language of the late 20th Century’s marketing, ‘post-modernism’ was about ‘thinking outside the box’.
It’s language emphasized the prefix ‘meta’ meaning ‘overarching’ and so, Post-Modernist/Nodernist talk refers to ‘metanarratives’. The most famous definition of what it meant to be beyond Modernism was to see ‘metanaratives’ as unbelievable.
The privileging of one story as had been the case under Modernism came into question, and the Nodern began to look into the as yet untold stories. Although, it is also necessary to point out the Western centric dominance of this vision, as the so-called untold stories were simply untold by Western thinkers to a Western audience. The Nodernist thinkers, while claiming to be on the side of the ‘non-west’ really saw themselves as deeply involved in the Western tradition that goes back to Latin Classicism.
The Nodern period was also characterized by a dominant political ideology that attempted to recast human life in simple economic terms. The politics of the time were characterized by an overall concern with ‘lowering trade barriers’ with the belief that such action would improve human life across the globe, and while misguided in the extreme, represents the first stirrings of a globalized mono-culture, one that began to develop with the increased capacity of telecommunication technology and the ease of global travel in the late 20th Century. The unbelief in OneStory (metanarrative) was fostered by the evidence that there were an extraordinary variety of stories that people could pick and choose from in order to lead richer lives.
Cultural historians often joke that the Nodern refers to ‘nothing good came out of it’. The clash between the tradition dating back to Ancient Rome in the West, and the confrontation with an global political and cultural tradition, reminiscent of empires (especially those of 19th Century Europe) caused much confusion and is one of the reasons the joke came about. It is best seen as a highly concentrated period of upheaval and transition, and it is sometimes popularly called Nomo.
This has prompted some contemporary culturalists to claim they are Noists, with the Toronto group The No No Things being perhaps the best well known. In this way, they claim to be the fulfillment of the 20th Century avant-garde project (which the Nodern claimed to be the height of at the time) as the 20th Century Dadaists were named after the Russian term for ‘yes’ – ‘da’. Hence, answering the Dadaists nonsensical Yes Yes with their highly contrived and intellectual No No. It is notable to point out that Noism is highly esoteric and therefore culturally irrelevant within our larger Qodern context.
The Oddern and Podern Period
The six year period between 1995 and 2001 is referred to by historians who use this terminology as the Oddern period, who smirk when they say it was characteristically ‘odd’. The beginning of the end of the globalist ideology manifested itself in a rise of popular protests – first in 1997 against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and most famously, ‘The Battle in Seattle’ in 1999, which was followed by popular protests throughout 2000, culminating in April 2001 in Quebec City. Protests were planned for events that autumn, but the terrorists attacks of 11 September suddenly altered the political dialogue and ended the care-free callousness that had been popular in the developed world since the end of the Cold War ten years before.
The Oddern was also seen to be odd due to the rather sudden blossoming of the internet, which transformed everyone’s lives – henceforth, email and websurfing and stories of ‘dot-com millionaires’ became ordinary, while the politics of the United States focused on the sex-life of the President culminating in an attempted impeachment.
The Podern was so called because P followed O which followed N which followed M; so wrote the historian who coined the term. But a rival school of thought argues that the Podern is specific to the autumn of 2001 when Apple Incoperated introduced the iPod, which became the defining artifact of the time. As the iPod allowed for the assembly and playback of a vast amount of files (which hadn’t been possible before, and the iPod’s storage capacity at the time was unique) it is seen to be an appropriate term for this period since its culture consisted to a large extant of reassembly and recontextualization.
People living during the Podern Period sometimes called this ‘the deejay culture’. The term deejay comes from the acronym, D.J, (disc jockey) those who remixed and assembled playlists of music at nightclubs or on radios. The term jockey goes back to horse racers, hence the sense that this was the one in control. The first radio broadcasters would play a variety of music singles (which at that time consisted of vinyl discs) and with the development of the music-movie (known as ‘music videos’) the term was modified for those who introduced them on television. They were called veejays (‘video jockeys’).
The deejay began to overtake the rockstar in the early 1990s as the appreciable peak of music performance, with the rave dance parties that began in the UK in the 1980s. By the early 90s, the rave had been imported to North America, and by 1995 it was known in the mainstream. Hence, the late 90s, while known as the Oddern, are also referred to by cultural historians at The Early Podern Period. The school which promotes the presence of the Apple iPod device as the defining characteristic of the Podern (rather than merely going with the alphabetical arangement) agrees with this assessment, noting that the iPod’s arrival in 2001 was also the first proper year of the 21st Century, and the year in which the terrorists attacks on the United States occurred, the defining political event of that era.
It was also during this time that ‘classicism’ was re-defined to encompass more that it had previously. During the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, Western centric cultural observers always referred to ‘classical’ as being the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome – defined simply perhaps as ‘the architectural column’. Neo-classicism developed in the late 18th and 19th Century, and at that time referenced the fashion of imitating the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, but neo-classicism was followed by Modernism. By the early 21st Century, Modernism had developed it’s own cannon of ‘classics’ which were then copied, referenced, and imitated in such as way that the sampling and re-assembly of this cannon by the Podernists represented a Modernist neo-classicism. Historians now speak of ‘Latin Classicism’ when referring to the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, and even that of the European Renaissance to the 19th Century Neo-classical period, since what these cultures all have in common (except for the original Greek) is the presence of the Latin language in the culture (either as the vernacular in the earliest, or as the language of European scholarship later on).
The Old Master Painters, who had become unfashionable during Modernism, began to be imitated by a generation of painters in the late 20th Century, and who were then called ‘New Old Masters’ and eventually, New Masters, until that died out and the term ‘Master Painter’ returned to the vocabulary as someone who excels in the craft of image making by hand.
Self-reflection in the Podern Period
The Podern is marked by the terrorist attacks on the United States of America on 11 September 2001, which sparked a flourishing of American militarism, and subsequent wars against Afghanistan during 2001-2002, Iraq in 2003, and Iran in 2007. The international dialogue shifted from one of ‘globalized trade’ (popular during the Nodern) to one of renewed nationalities and cultural identities.
Many at the time were dismayed to see the dialogue revert from that of the late 20th Century’s secular humanism to one that seemed to pit the United States’ version of fundamentalist Christianity against the Middle East’s version of fundamentalist Islam. Centering the dialogue on cultural identity seem to be nothing more than the mainstream catching up to much of the cultural elites preoccupation with what was called ‘identity politics’ during the Nodern’s 1990s, and encouraged self-reflection at all levels during the decade of 2000s.
In television, Dr. Phil was a popular therapy show, (although never had Foucault’s warnings about conformity and madness had a greater example); the show had been an offshoot of the ever-popular eponymous Oprah Winfrey show, which emphasized self-improvement through the ‘tales of personal triumph’ of common people and celebrities, with handy shopping tips thrown in for good measure and promotion. In movies (the dominant art form of the time) self-reflection is emphasized in the films written by Charlie Kaufman: Being John Malkovich (1999) is about seeing the world through some-one else’s eyes (John Malkovich was a popular actor who himself stared in the film). In Adaptation (2002), Kaufman caricatured himself by making a confused scriptwriter part of the story, inventing an identical twin brother to balance his neurotics. In Chad Schmidt (2008), the eponymous character is an actor who has a hard time finding work because he too closely resembles Brad Pitt, the most famous actor of the decade, played by Brad Pitt himself.
In theatre, Darren O’Donnell exemplified this intensive self-reflection with his play A Suicide-Site Guide to the City (2003-2006).
The Qodern Period
Some historians, uncomfortable with the easy explanation of using the alphabet to name the eras, look to the 20th Century’s use of Q to explain the Qodern. The letter Q became very popular in the second-half of the 20th Century, being used as pen-names and as the title of books; in the James Bond film series, Q was the alias of the UK’s Secret Service engineer; in the Star Trek Sagas Q was a mischievous god. The Dutch author Harry Mulisch named the main character in his 1997 novel, The Discovery of Heaven Quinten Quist, whose initials of QQ hinted at his supernatural characteristics. As Mulisch wrote:
‘His initials are Q.Q.’ ‘Qualitate qua,’ nodded Onno. ‘That is rare. The Q is the most mysterious of letters, that circle with that line,’ he said, while he formed a slightly obscene gesture a circle with the manicured thumb and index finger of one hand and the line with the index finger of the other, ‘the ovum being penetrated by a sperm. And twice at that. Very nice. My compliments.’ (p.361)
The contemporary historian Wu Zhenguo identifies the Qodern with that of the Star Trek Sagas‘ character. Noting that Q was seemingly omnipotent, omnitemporal, and omnipowerful he argues that our present society’s capacity for ‘all-awareness’ via the net is an adequate metaphor for our capacities. We may not be able to have things materialize out of thin air with a snap of the fingers, as could Q, but the idea Wu advances is that our capacities through nanotechnology and intercommunication most resembles that of our historical ideas of what only gods were capable of.
In addition, through our Representative technology, we can indeed speak with historical characters, in ways that Q flaunted and that which we were not capable of doing during the Podern.
The Qodern is a time period of psychological health, intensive communication and dialogue. The banes of existence throughout history: poverty and disease, have been eliminated for the most part: all diseases are at least treatable but no longer death sentences, and the lifespan has been extended so that one can afford a greater amount of time reading, thinking, or playing, barring the unfortunate accident of course.
The development of the Podern period began to show people how unprofitable it was to continue to dehumanize any segment of society, and how much better off everyone could be by extending benefits and encapsulating dialogue in a system of rights. While the globalist economic arguments which petered out by the Podern created for a time a sense of confusion, ultimately we look back and see how this time allowed for our new view of society as an engine for creativity and education to emerge. The view that all of us enjoy and benefit from today.
- Published on my blog on 15 February 2007
- Aug 2015: this version produced with minor copy edits
- May 2021: some minor copy edits