By Dave Broom

Po-Mo in Nola

Dave Broomlooks at the impending death of post-modernism
Amazing how things come together in seemingly random fashion. Being stuck without luggage in New Orleans necessitated a quick stocking-up on essentials, including, it being as steamy as a sauna, deodorant. In Wallgreen’s for some reason my eyes rested on a stick of Old Spice, the epitome of unfashionable old school male fragrance. On the back, it read ‘If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist’. It went in the basket.

Later that day my friend Charles presented me with shirt suspenders which attached your socks to your shirt tail ensuring the latter doesn’t untuck itself from your waistband. I heartily approve of this, standards you know.

Now, sipping on a Sazerac in the Old Absinthe House, I think about how these two incidents are related, of how chapdom is no longer simply a fad and is edging towards the mainstream. Tweed is making a comeback (though not, I’m relieved to notice, in NOLA), as is facial furniture, tea drinking, classic cocktails and, it would appear, whisky.

Could this, I muse, be part of a wider cultural shift? There’s something of a debate among cultural theorists on whether we are seeing the end of post-modernism; I’d read a piece on it by novelist Edward Docx in the August issue of Prospect on the flight over. Now, while this may not be a subject which is keeping you (or me) awake at night, neither can it be denied that po-mo has defined art, music, literature, TV, design for the past 30 years. Consciously or not, we’re part of the post-modern movement.

Post-modernism took what it thought of as the stuffy and elitist ideas of, you guessed it, modernism, threw them on to the floor, stomped on them and mashed them up together. No more, it said, would there be this separation of culture into high (e.g. Romantic classical music) and low (pop, jazz), or good (literary/metaphysical novels) and bad (comics/pulp fiction).

Modernism was about the ideas of the Enlightenment and concerned itself with the individual striving for a better society through a growth in culture. It said that reason helped to drive society and that there was a natural cultural hierarchy.

Post-modernism rejected this, It was anarchic, it gave everything equal weight, rejected the old value judgements. Nothing was more than skin deep, there was no deeper meaning. Writing, art etc were infused with a knowing irony. It was liberating, but if everything is equal and no-one was allowed to say what was good anymore, then everything became nothing more than a surface. The image became the driving force, not the craft that lay behind it.

Ultimately people need to know what is good, but under the post-modernist model, as Edward Docx argues, the only thing which can do that is the market and not the inherent quality of the item, because that value judgement infers someone dictating ‘quality’ to you.

It strikes me that the perfect post-modernist spirit is vodka which encapsulates the triumph of packaging, image, price and surface over depth; which holds up no flavour as being a positive attribute. Is there any coincidence that strewn around the base of one of post-modernist art’s great symbols, Tracy Emin’s bed, are vodka bottles? I think not.

Now, however, Docx argues: “we want to be reacquainted with the spellbinding narrative of expertise.” In other words, as post-modernism shows its flaws, so provenance, quality, authenticity, back story and craftsmanship are becoming more important once more.

As I said: standards.

It is this wider cultural shift which, it could be argued, lies behind the Old Spice/suspender/tweed combo which has moved beyond the simply ironic. If true, then whisky –the anti-vodka – can take advantage.

That sorted, I down the Sazerac and set off to find a voodoo doll and some pins.

Sod the cultural theories; that’ll ensure that vodka is done for.