Mainstream media does not self scrutinize, in fact it simply replaces one type of spectacle, the grandiose westerns’ landscapes, or action explosions, with another form of spectacle: deconstruction. When films reveal themselves as constructions- be it through form or narrative - for the sake of cheapening (economically and aesthetically) the spectacle value and use deconstruction for spectacle it cannot be said that the film is functioning theoretically as the title of Nicholas Rombes’ essay (Media As Its Own Theory) implies. Postmodernism is not an “essentially democratic movement” because “its meta-narratives-its self consciousness, its parody; its pastiche; its irony- [which] always worked to make visible the codes that underlie cultural productions” (Rombes 59) only reveal themselves to a profitable extent.
Rombes incorrectly draws a parallel between the films and videos of Michel Gondry and those of the avant-garde, which he claims “are as experimental as the work of Maya Deren, Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton and others canonized in the avant-garde pantheon” (61). On one hand: yes: formally, Michel Gondry’s work is experimental, but not ideologically since the formal tendencies’ primary concern is to substantiate the narrative. Thus the formal use of experimentation does not function as in the works of Maya Deren or Michael Snow because Gondry’s work is not subversive at a more rudimentary level. Rather it is employing experimental techniques for the sake of providing spectacle, as an embellishment to the narrative. Pushing the boundaries, experimentation in and of itself is not its first concern as it is of the avant-garde artists.
Works such as Lucas with the Lid Off or Memento employ formal conventions defined by the experimental cannon but their objective is to promote a novel viewing experience- a formalistic spectacle- not a discourse: the viewer would still be required to think as a theorist to see Memento functioning as an extended metaphor for database logic, and this is not explicitly derived from the deconstructive form upon viewing. Rombes gives too much credence to the audiences’ discerning abilities by assigning to mainstream films greater intellectual investment than they elicit, precisely because he is a media theorist. Furthermore it seems inaccurate to state that “theoretical deconstruction … has now become our culture’s new lyricism” (59) since “popular culture has absorbed the logic of theory” (61) only to the extent that it employs this logic superficially to exploit the potential of confounding the mundane by breaking formal conventions- promising a different type of experience.
The mainstream being able to successfully market and sell these partially experimental films is a reflection of “the more complex dynamic of immediate and utter immersion” (61), a direct testimony that “we are media-damaged beyond recognition” (61). On the narrative level, as opposed to the formal, deconstruction does not democratize information; it simply shifts the roles of the spectators and intellectuals. Yes, these films are in subtle and specious ways revealing their own foundations but not in a ‘democratic’ way as Rombes would have it. They do so in a purely capitalist way, by magnifying the disproportionate knowledge between audience members. Mass media does not employ allusions as parodies because the allusion does not matter: there is no new meaning, or critique created, and pastiche cannot be deconstructed as irony. One could venture to suggest that what Rombes refers to, as parodies- Shrek and Wicked- are pure pastiche. When foundational knowledge has become irrelevant: parody is impossible and rendered useless. Pragmatically pastiche replaces spectacle: as a result both Be Kind Rewind and Ghost World can be enjoyed without ever seeing Rush Hour, Gumnaam, or Robocop because the pastiche functions fetishistically consolidating cinephilia and encouraging audience investment in allusions. Ultimately the spectacle elicits: nostalgia for the unknown past.
Media cannot stand on its own as theory when it reveals nothing of itself, potentially theoretical aspects become futile and sterile when they shift from functioning as social commentary or aesthetic critique to spectacle, as in pastiche or experimental formalistic deconstruction. Rombes’ fear that “our ironic sense of theory and our hunger for deconstruction robs us even of the sedate pleasures of nostalgia”(64) seems too hasty and oversimplified, with the now greater availability of media two extremes will continue to simultaneously coexist: those who accept the spectacle as its own end and those who favor nostalgia and the value of foundations (theorists, cinephiles, archivists).