Fly on the Wall—Postmodernism in Ironic Historical Perspective

Can You Hear Me Now? Part II

Fly on the Wall—Postmodernism in Ironic Historical Perspective

Postmodernism, that hall of mirrors whereby relativism takes its place on the mantle of truth largely by batting, like a playful cat, other contenders off of the throne and onto the floor, is a sight to behold.  Shattered into their parts by deconstruction and shorn of their clothes, like a goat-bearded emperor donning new apparel, the basic tenets of modernism find themselves dismantled, disregarded, and defunded by Postmodernism’s aggressively playful, impulses: ungovernable, as it were, by expectations of consistency or objectivity.

Like the game of telephone, preconceived as a means to test the efficacy of getting a message straight and putting it across (or perhaps putting it over) to an audience, the simplest of monkey wrench monkey business messing with the functioning of the system proves to be enough to throw all of culture, or at least the humanities, into disarray and disorder.  It began in some ways with the artist Andy Warhol repeatedly painting images of a Campbell’s soup can.  What did it all mean people asked.  Apparently, the message was that visual repetition reflected that assembly line of life and identity whereby consumerist ethos has, in our times, become the stuff of authenticity.  It’s an ironic thing, like how the lead solder that held food cans together spoiled the stew on Franklin’s Arctic expedition such that everyone went nuts and, instead of hunting and eating seals to survive the winter, eventually hunted and ate each other.  Little fissures matter most and are weak spots in modernity; that’s where you find the calorie-rich marrow.  In 1989, for instance, a simple phrase by East Berlin officials announced the opening of the Wall that had for decades separated into two camps families, the German people, and, symbolically, the world.

“Notes about the new rules were handed to a spokesman, Günter Schabowski – who had no time to read them before his regular press conference.  When he read the note aloud for the first time, reporters were stunned.

‘Private travel outside the country can now be applied for without prerequisites,’ he said.  Surprised journalists clamoured for more details.

Shuffling through his notes, Mr Schabowski said that “as far as he was aware, it was effective immediately.” Therafter, millions of people were free to travel anywhere in Germany.  So the devil’s in the details, the stitches that make the garment of meaning, the delivery of facts combines with their reception therein lying the message.

Sixty years ago, in 1964, a Toronto thinker named Marshall McLuhan put it succinctly: the medium is the message.  His rejoinder to those fuddy-duddies among us who truly believe that reality and the truth are out there, and like Fox Mulder of the X Files bunkered in the basement of epistemology, can be uncovered with bravery and certitude, goes as follows: “What we are considering here are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes.  For the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” In this sense, pedagogy teaches one industrial truth: how to listen, learn, recount and repeat.  How to behave, in other words.  Yet in life, as in the real world and in university studies, we do well to remember not only to listen but also to recant what others have said—the better to think for ourselves and to truly express something new.

Just as Marx famously said that the hand mill produces the feudalist and the steam mill the capitalist, perhaps the distance education mill can produce something more than the run of the mill graduate with a sheet of paper and no road map to success.  Perhaps, at AU, we can become the outcome of a process that pumps out diligent thinkers ascending to innovative new heights of success.  At the very least we learn how much labour truly goes into the production of academic success in a class of one, where we are the medium through which we learn the message.

McLuhan, M.  (1964).  The Medium is the Message.  Retrieved from
Baudrillard, J.  (1981).  Simulation and Simulacra.  Retrieved from
‘Fall of Berlin Wall: How 1989 Reshaped the Modern World’.  (2019).  BBC.  Retrieved from
Thompson, H.  (2015).  ‘Franklin’s Doomed Arctic Expedition Ended in Gruesome Cannibalism’.  Smithsonian Magazine.  Retrieved from