In 2007, a clearly unstable Britney Spears shaved her head in front of the eyes of the already individual-audience-broadcaster society to the disbelief and mockery of the planet; the gesture went around the world and the memes followed one another, always with the factor of cruelty as a common denominator. Already in 2022, Bella Hadid, currently one of the most sought-after models, spoke openly about her problems dealing with her mental and emotional stability, tears included, and received the support of the media and the audience for such a brave gesture and honesty.
What has happened in this period of just over 10 years so that our sensitivity has radically changed in the face of the same problem? Beyond the fact that we have become aware of the matter, this change in sensibility is part of a new collective ethos that has settled – or is settling – in a new paradigm, and which manifests itself in a new consumer and new sensibilities, which has come to be called Metamodernism.
Before continuing, let us clarify that this text is not intended to be a philosophical treatise, which we would be unable to address, but rather an approach to trying to understand and define how the different sociopolitical, climatic and financial casuistry are redefining us as individuals and as a community since, as we already pointed out in this article, our historical circumstances, without going into local particularisms, imply that we all share a collective unconscious that shapes our way of being in the world, both individually and collectively, and that this inevitably is translated into artistic, cultural, political manifestations and, of course, into the what messages and in which way we communicate in what particularly concerns to advertising and marketing. Therefore the modest intention of this text is no more than doing an exercise in understanding metamodernism and trying to show how this new ethos becomes tangible through the different contemporary popular and mass expressions.
We live in a time of uncertainty and contradictions. This is not news, we are all aware of what we have been enduring in these more than ten years: various economic crises, climate, health, and energy crises (caused by the war in Ukraine), the fight for the aforementioned climatic situation, the rise of the ultra-right, the feminist movement, the LGBTIQ+ movement, the precariousness of society, the loss of purchasing power at a global level, the reduction of rights that were apparently guaranteed before, such as access to fair housing fares or qualified and proportionally paid work, denials of various kinds… we would venture to affirm that since the period between the last century wars – very culturally fruitful on the other hand –, we had not had a moment in history as convulsive as the present one; the question that invites us to ask ourselves this situation is how is this reflected in our collective unconscious? How do we
transfer it collectively and individually to the different manifestations of our time (advertising being part of them) and to our social relationships? Do the same parameters serve us to identify and understand and address to the current consumer?
When we see coexisting extreme individualism and the longing for greater community and social cohesion, the mindfulness and positive thinking at all costs and an increasingly depressed and stressed society, the extreme hedonism, the primacy of big technologies, the digitization of practically all areas of our daily lives and a desire to return to the countryside, to artisan processes, and so we could continue the enumeration, perhaps we should take a step back and try to understand with a little more perspective why are such antagonistic manifestations coexisting? Our society has become somewhat bipolar, why are we so crazy?
METAMODERNISM AS A RESPONSE TO TWO CONTRACTING PARADIGMS
“Metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity”2.
When we agree that a new paradigm is taking place, it is not that the precedents (modernity and postmodernity) have been overcome, it is rather an evolution, so that in some areas one will prevail over the other or even coexist, as Patrick Stasny puts it in Contexto “ […] most likely they are not so much periods as ways of seeing the world, and as such, they overlap one another, just as happened with romanticism, the Enlightenment, the Baroque, the renaissance, the scholastic… and so on until Homer and the Bible. Like it or not, all the “discourses” of the past live in us: it is the way in which all times are contemporary. We are therefore talking about a gradual change that will not occur with the same clarity and intensity in all areas.
Let’s see where we come from to understand where we are. Modernity, dominated by the white, Protestant and colonizing North, left us the Enlightenment, the development of science, the supreme confidence in economic development and industrial production, the development of technology and scientific knowledge, and a constantly growing and improving world view – the idea of development as we understand it today –, its emotional expression was that of faith absolute truths, optimism, a certain naivité and a feeling of hope encouraged by ever-ascending development and futures. This is an era in which medicine reduces infant mortality in an unprecedented way up to now; life expectancy begins to increase, it is the era of great social revolutions, great political ideals, Marxism, Fascism, the railway, pictorial movements that create new dimensions such as cubism, surrealism… cinema, photography. This period of prosperity, of faith in development, gives way to what we could call a rebound effect: postmodernity. All those forgotten accounts such as those of the colonies, unrepresented classes, minorities (racial or sexual) and in general other perspectives not considered up to that moment claim their legitimacy, everything is reviewed and questioned under this new prism, even language! This causes the disintegration of grand narratives and although it potentially grants cultural diversity and gives perspectives to the reading of the world, it also supposes, in the emotional aspect, a rampant disbelief; neither the bright future that was promised to us was such nor the story of the world, giving rise to skepticism, melancholy, doubt, suspicion, cynicism, irony, the equating of high culture and popular culture, the late-capitalism …and so we arrive at the end of the 20th century and the early 2000s.
From this period are, so that we can visualise how this feeling is made tangible in the cultural aspect, the novel adapted to the cinema The Fight Club, which questions the entire capitalist system showing alienated individuals whose realization passes through consumption, or The Matrix that shows an alienated society in a future of sovereign technology that would isolate us from reality to the point of not distinguishing it. Kit Kat campaigns are also contemporary, where the hustle and bustle of contemporary life is exalted (now let’s see this from the Great Resignation of 2022) or Lynx campaigns that increased the sexual attractiveness of men always with unattainable women alla Victoria’s Secret ( let’s do the same exercise with the body positive and the MeToo movements). In the artistic field “Jeff Koon’s slick reproductions of consumer items, merged «art objects and commodities» and therefore became absorbed into the culture it was initially responding to” and “Elsewhere in popular culture towards the 1990s, the tone of television programmes, advertising and films became increasingly ironic and defeatist. […] adopting a confrontational and analytical manner.”4
This is how we landed in this era with these two inherited stories that coexist within us, passed through the sieve of the context that we mentioned above: the need for great stories as a road map to guide us and at the same time the need to question everything but knowing that irony and criticism by system of postmodernism were destructive since it did not offer alternatives of reality or of the future.
Metamodern sensibility oscillates between the enthusiasm of modernity and the irony of postmodernity but with nuances. “Artists [and people in general] are rejecting cynicism and conceptualism in favour of a search for meaning in our current chaotic surroundings”5.
The term “metamodernism” (which shares little, beyond the root, with the fallacy publicized over and over again by Mark Zuckerberg) was coined by the authors Vermeulen & R. Van den Akker, quoted in this text, and its root literally means “in the middle of”, being this a balance or rather an oscillation, between one pattern of thought and the other. Although it is not the only nomenclature provided by thinkers and theorists, all agree that it is an attitude between informed naivety and pragmatic idealism.
“The essence of a metamodern approach or sensibility is an oscillation between two opposing poles: the staunch idealism of modernism and the self-aware, ‘meta’ postmodernism. It is detached yet immensely sincere, naive and yet well aware of past failures. […] Its nature is inherently hard to define; it’s a feeling, a sensibility, a cognitive shift to desire sincere intentions. It therefore, «moves for the sake of moving,» seeking an «impossible possibility»” attempting to transcend doubt in the hope of a renewed sense of optimism, naive yet informed and pragmatic”6.
Thus, even assuming that we are facing an uncertain future we venture to imagine new, more encouraging versions of it, to want to transcend. An approach to the criticism to this momentum is given from a more honest sincerity, the assumption of one’s own vulnerability and the desire to keep a certain childish vision.
“the distinction between earnestness and detachment [is seen] as artificial; they grasp that they can be ironic and sincere at the same time, and they are making art from this compound complex state of mind”7.
“This […] world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterizes the pseudo-modern [per metamodern] cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism.”8
At the same time, there is a return to trust in grand narratives and social claims (the indisputable need to trust science – as the response to the health crisis showed – or feminism as a beacon to alleviate many endemic inequalities in the system to give some examples) but knowing that they can be questioned or corrected as the road progresses and a renewed collective empathy.
“Yes, we are faced with impenetrable issues and an uncertain future yet we must transcend, inquire and embrace all angles of thinking to move beyond, to fall somewhere “between hope and melancholy.” For this generation, knowledge is no longer the most important part of experience.”9
THE CULTURAL EXPRESSION OF METAMODERNISM
This overwhelming amalgamation of context due to its unpredictability and complexity is reflected, broadly speaking, in five major manifestations (not mutually exclusive):
1.A return to crafting and materiality in an attempt to reconnect with the environment and with the present. That is to say, at a formal level, design becomes secondary by putting materials first.
2. A search for new narratives and mythologies that help to escape from the convulsive current reality or that help to imagine other possible futures or realities as a way to survive in the chaotic context and build a feeling of optimism.
The result of this would be the rise of astrology to understand the individual present and intuit the future, the renewed interest in yogi spiritual retreats, mindfulness philosophy, body positivity, motivational quotes or the invasion of Unicorns everywhere.
3. “The idea of affect, empathy, caring for others around you,”for the ultimate intention of instilling positive change within communities. The metamodern sensibility seems to be less concerned with market value and more focused upon creating space to delve into imagined and optimistic futures”. 10
Here we find the great wave of companies and brands with purpose. A new sensitivity that understands that all activity is part of and affects the community of which it is a part, being in reality a response to an individual who is more aware of their context and who, returning to points 1 and 2, seeks a more balanced life that guarantees a more hopeful present and future.
4. The return of grand narratives or an emphasis on stories but in a less concrete or dogmatic way. Here we find the polarization of our days. Grand narratives are nothing more than those global discursive frameworks that help us, in a simplified way, to position ourselves and understand the world: the climate protests, the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, but also the rise of the extreme right and the revived updated religious fervor on the part of a certain youth.
“[…] grand narratives have functional, practical value in helping us to organize communities and orient our actions toward the successful completion of large-scale projects. In order to be most effective, our acceptance of these grand narratives would need to be merely provisional; we should invite and be open to challenges from those with alternative views, we should be willing to revise our own narratives in light of legitimate challenges, and our narrative should be polyphonic – giving due credit to diverse perspectives. ”11
5. An oscillation between sincerity and irony. Aesthetically, this area is very representative, being reflected in colorful memes that ironize with mental stability or job insecurity, in those tattoos that are reminiscent of children’s drawings that speak of a desire to return to childhood, the hyper-colorist worlds and at the same time dramatic and emotional of directors like Wes Anderson or Pedro Almodóvar, in the collections of Alessandro Michele for Gucci or in an influencer as quirky as Soyunapringada.
As we can see, these five large areas can be expressed in a macro or micro way depending on the context and depending on whether they are individual or collective, and in no case are they mutually exclusive, but rather they will coexist to a greater or lesser extent.
Thus, for example, the awareness of brands and companies about the need for a purpose or the ESG philosophy are part of a grand narrative such as climate change or the feminist struggle and may be manifested in the use of raw materials or products with a more organic craft. For example, Inditex’s Join Life initiative with its garments made out of organic cotton or the launch through its interior design brand Zara Home of a collection of handicrafts from Granada or Maria Grazia Chiuri’s “We should all be feminist” t-shirts for Dior (which by the way is featured in Pedro Almodovar’s latest film).
On an individual level, we see how this sensitivity is reflected in tattoos and expressions via memes that reflect an existential anguish dressed in color and irony, in the search for an explanation of our private lives in the position of the planets, trying mediation or crochet knitting.
In advertising and marketing we frequently make the mistake of analyzing the part without taking into account the whole picture, but the context always gives us a more precise guideline and a road map of the emotional state of society and the individual and, in the end, our goal is to understand the sensitivities that surround us to create a link with them through our campaigns, strategies and positionings we define… Thus, when we say “Generation Z is a generation with a higher rate of anxiety” or there is a boom in meditation apps, we see shelves full of cups with a message like “Today is going to be a good day” or that the future of companies depends on having a purpose, it is due in all cases always to our zeitgeist. This article may not be able to alleviate the feeling of uncertainty and randomness that invades us, but it may have managed to provide a compass to be able to draw communication strategies more in line with our times.
*Picture by Isa Muguruza
- T. Vermeulen & R. Van den Akker, Notes on Metamodernism. Recuperado de G. Lipovetsky, Hypermodern Times (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005).
- T. Vermeulen & R. Van den Akker, Notes on Metamodernism.
- P. Stasny, Posmodernidad y metamodernidad
- L. Williams, ‘Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity’ What is Metamodernism and how is it reflected in contemporary art practice?
- A. Kirby, The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond. Recuperado de https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond
- A.J. Corsa, Grand Narratives, Metamodernism, and Global Ethics; publicado en Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 3, 2018
On the author:
Sara Lucas is Publicist and Client Services Director. She has over ten years in advertising agencies managing integrated communication projects for both national and international campaigns. She also has a degree in Humanities and a postgraduate degree in Contemporary Art Theory and Aesthetics.
Share this article: