Harmonic Sentimentality Part 8: What Now?
So why, then, does the evolution away from postmodernism need to occur? The era has produced some great pieces of art and entertainment, no doubt, so what’s the rush in ushering in the next era? Simply, the irony that was so fervent in this era of creativity, television, literature, and pop-culture all included, is simply going no where. It hit a brick wall. We keep trying to climb up but find that it’s insurmountable. It was originally conceived as a debunking or protest of modernism, a way to show a rebellious spirit. Now, it accomplishes next to nothing. It’s merely recycling a thematic trope using different words. Irony cannot invalidate irony. What we have seen in recent years is people trying to use irony in different ways because they know the world we live in is a cynical one. It’s a world governed by a certain amount of fear, and when we’re presented with a chance at levity, we latch onto it. It’s an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ type of thing. And who can blame the people who are doing this? Based on the lack of quality of mainstream television we see today, this type of outlook ostensibly seems like an easy way to make a buck. But the expense is real. At the risk of appearing grandiose, the expense is a cultural revolution that we seem to be putting off. I’m not saying that the gap between postmodern irony and post-postmodern sentimentality is easily traversable. I’m saying that it’s more or less imperative that we start building that bridge between the two. Now.
And that’s what Community does. If you disagree with its quality or if you hesitate to call it ‘genius,’ I understand, taste is subjective after all. But that’s not what I’m getting at. The brilliance of Community doesn’t lie within its punchlines, the thing most viewers base their judgement of comedies on (for the record, I not only find Community brilliant because of what it does in terms of cynicism and sentimentality, but no matter how many times I watch an episode, I still find the humor to be top tier), but instead, it lies in its determination to show that no matter how many cynical, self-referential, ironic jokes or stances it takes, the sentimentality that follows them will always be the memorable thing, it always wins out. This not only shows the importance of the type of sentimentality that Community employs, but it shows the feebility of the irony we have so celebrated in the postmodern world.
I don’t think Harmonic Sentimentality is the endgame. I don’t think it will be seen as the concrete definition of what it means to fall within the post-postmodern realm. But it certainly is a start. I submit this: the nature of rebels and rebellions in general is that of initial unpopularity. Case and point: the drug rebellion of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s where hippies were originally treated like they were less than human. Now, we live in a world where the legalization of certain drugs is a very real debate. Or, if you want to be more extreme, the popularity of the Iraq war, which was fostered by the Bush Administration’s fear mongering rhetoric, slowly turning into an aversion against the entire war and the Administration. There were people during the invasion of Iraq who spoke out against it and they were systematically ridiculed and shunned by their peers. They were the rebels. They took the risk. Now look at Community. It is a critically acclaimed show that has next to zero favor in the eyes of mainstream audiences. It has a specific, loyal audience that mostly views it on their laptops as opposed to on an actual television. This leads to terrible ratings. It’s the dirty cousin of mainstream TV. The odds are stacked against its survival and yet it does. Why? How? Because it’s persistent. It’s relentless. The reason why I highlighted the first three seasons and stopped there is because Dan Harmon et al were uncompromising in what they wanted the show to be about. They openly admitted to ignoring studio notes that were designed to bring it into the mainstream. This eventually led to Harmon’s firing before season four (there isn’t enough room here to discuss season four and its bastardizing attempt at implementing Harmonic Sentimentality into its cowardly compliance to the studio’s demands). Harmon was so determined, to the point of being considered cynical, to maintain his vision of employing his story model that innately contains Harmonic Sentimentality that he lost his job over it. Pretty rebellious behavior if you ask me. And the first thing you need to start a rebellion is a rebel.
Wallace points out that the road to postmodern irony was not easy. It was naturally rejected and shunned by those who were the butt of the joke. A result of our natural survival instinct. I expect nothing different from the emergence of post-postmodernism and the return to sentimentality, albeit in evolved form. We are no longer looking at the sentimentality of a pre-postmodern era. One that favored the likes of country and the ideal American lifestyle, that encouraged consumerism and sprawling suburban white-picketed neighborhoods, that told you to go buy the newest Ford even though it was an inferior choice to the foreign product, that plastered every available surface with the prettiest, most symmetrical people on the planet in an attempt to lower your self-esteem just far enough that you feel convinced this particular brand of mouthwash will validate your existence. The one that embodied the lie of the American Dream. No. Like how Hegellian Dialectics necessitate the creation of something new, something more highly developed than the contradictions that preceded it, so too does Harmonic Sentimentality. It’ll be one that is no longer concerned with the external world, the world of capitalism and consumerism. Instead, it’ll look inward. It’ll explore what it means to be human by way of first assessing our interaction with the outside, materialistic, tangible world. Then it will explore the interconnectedness of human relations, how we interact with each other and more importantly, why we interact with each other. It will address our loneliness, our confusions, our existential questions. This new sentimentality is spiritual. It is the mortar for the bridge that leads across the chasm between the cynical postmodernism and the sentimental post-postmodernism. In order to build that bridge and then cross it, we have to stop concerning ourselves with the world that is right in front of us, that which we’ve always seen, and look somewhere else. Somewhere we’ve been ignoring for too long: inside ourselves.