As postmodernism itself is perceived to arrive at the era of media saturation and consumerism culture, the popular culture here plays a great role in the acceptance and development of postmodernism. An aspect of this is the idea that in the postmodern condition it becomes more difficult to distinguish the economy from popular culture (Strinati, 1995:212). Strinati here claims that popular culture determines the consumptive culture in society. People tend to buy on what is popular and this idea is usually coming from those constructed in popular culture. This phenomenon takes place because postmodernism cannot be separated from the visual phenomenon that becomes the main attraction for consumerism. Films, as one of favorable vernacular culture, serve also as the representation of postmodern identity. With the proportional time given, films can freely show the postmodern identity to their audience. This paper intends to show how postmodern identity is represented in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Superhero movies seem to be the most promising Hollywood franchise nowadays. Ever since X-Men began its trilogy in 2000, superhero movies, which are mostly adapted from comic book, is the first genre that will sit in the blockbuster list. This trend, however, has already started since Richard Dorner’s Superman in 1978. This genre, alike the other ones, also has a certain formula that is familiar to the audience. From the point at which Superman became the mythological icon of the twentieth century, a distinct superhero archetype was laid down (Burke, 2008:14). This archetype includes the power and responsibility that defines someone as a hero and also several addictions like villain, sidekick, love interest, and secret identity. Superhero movies also work in whimsical way on the clear distinction between the protagonist and the villain. Thus, it can be said that superhero actually provides a traditional identity in which it is fixed.
However, some postmodern identities can still be found in this fixed genre. Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released in 2014 by Marvel, provided a distinct characterization of their so-called superheroes. Even though this movie still followed some classic rules like muscular body and hi-tech weapons, Guardians of the Galaxy is different from the good guy type of usual movies. The most apparent part must be how the characters here are identified more as an A-holes rather than a respected people. This movie features five leads named Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoons, and Groot. All of them are first identified as the criminal. However, their identity is not fixed to this. These characters are so dynamic that makes it fit to the area of postmodernism. For identity is often constructed in media culture and society against dominant conventions and morality; thus there is something amoral or morally threatening about postmodern selves which are fluid, multiple, and subject to rapid change. (Kellner, 1995:245)
All of the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy present this fluidity. Take Drax the Destroyer here for an example, he was a prisoner who was anti-Gamora at the very beginning due to the old sentiment to the family. Drax was very threatening and sentimental at the beginning. However, he finally agreed to join the group and put his sentiment with Gamora aside. It does not just this simple dynamic though as Drax was still having his sentiment to Gamora’s relative Ronan that resulted in the change of his characterization again. Same things happen to the other characters on how they fall in between lines of villain and hero. They are very dynamics, following the situation that they have to face.
All of this dynamic and the label of criminals on each member of the Guardians of the Galaxy here shows that they are not conventional hero. Postmodernism is well-known by its reduction on meta-narratives. Postmodern theory is highly skeptical about these metanarratives, and argues that they are disintegrating, losing their validity and legitimacy and increasingly difficult for people to organize and interpret their lives in the light of meta-narratives of whatever kind (Strinati, 1995: 215). The metanarratives in the superhero movies are what Bruke explained there on how it featured power and responsibility and also the clearly distinct lines between villains and protagonists. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the so-called good guys do not always follow this rule. Peter Quill identified himself as a well-known thief, Gamora is a famous assassin, Drax has been in prison for so long, and Rocket and Groot are also a street-criminal that loves stealing stuffs from people. Their initial goal was also for money yet these people are those who finally save the world. They truly puts aside the old grand narrative of the superhero movies to create a more complex identity of a hero.
The other characteristics of postmodern identity here, according to Douglass Kellner, is how it is usually constructed from leisure and consumption. Kellner used an example from Miami Vice on how the TV series constructed its postmodern identity through the styles of the two leads with fast cars and sensual women. Postmodernism here tries to reach the leisure utopia. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the characters may not be portrayed as a stylist group of people. However, there are several representations here that give a nod to the leisure culture, especially from Peter Quill character. Quill has an unbreakable bond with his walkman. He also once mentioned some popular culture product like the movie Footloose which Kevin Bacon starred in. Not to forget his stylistic jet called Milano, which referred to actress Alyssa Milano, that gives another nod on his eccentric character.
The Collector character here also emphasizes the consumptive culture, seen from his high style standard and fashion. The characters’ first goal on getting money also shows how they aim for material success only, which is one characteristic of consumption culture. If other superheroes movie focus on the superpower that the characters possessed and their goal to save the world the live in, Guardians of the Galaxy emphasizes less on it. It, on the other hand, focuses more on the building images of the character and the eccentrics that they intend to show. The classic formula like hero vs villain remains still, but the whole movie does not emphasize on such thing. The group grows to care more about their fancy latex uniform than the ideas that they are a hero. It shows on how Peter Quill here wants everyone to recognize him as a Star-lord. They want to be recognized according to the image they try to build.
Another characteristic from postmodern identity is the confusion of time and space. The growing immediacy of global space and time resulting from the dominance of the mass media means that previously unified and coherent ideas about space and time begin to be undermined, and become distorted and confused (ibid., 214). In Guardians of the Galaxy, this problem is mostly brought by Peter Quill. As the narrative itself centers most on him, it brings a major effect on the confusion that take place. Quill is said to be half-human and half-alien. He once settled on earth and thus he brought several values from it. The setting of the movies might take place in other planets, however, Quill’s very well reference on popular culture somehow confuse the idea, making the space like the intersection of earth and other planets.
The bigger confusion, however, is coming from the time the scenes take place. All of the high-tech weapons and jets might indicate that it is coming from the future or as seen from the flashback scenes, this may be happening today. However, the atmosphere created in the movie indicates the confusion of time. Nick Schager, a contributor for Vulture.com, admits how Guardians of the Galaxy carries the feeling of 70’s Star Wars trilogy. While it’s never explicitly referenced — somewhat surprisingly, given the raft of '70s and '80s pop-culture shout-outs found throughout Gunn’s rollicking adventure — George Lucas’s iconic series is evoked at almost every turn (http://www.vulture.com/2014/08/how-guardians-of-the-galaxy-is-like-star-wars.html). Even though the setting indicates that this movie is not from the past, several sets still evoke the past feeling, creating the confusion of time.
The 70’s feels are even getting stronger from the soundtracks used in the movie. James Gunn, the director of the movie, admitted that he traced back the Billboard Top Charts in 1970s. Songs from David Bowie and Blue Swede fill the atmosphere of the entire movie. Thus, even though they already settled that this movie is not set in the past, they created such past feels from sets and soundtracks. This, once again, created the confused feelings on when this movie actually takes place, the confusion between times. It strengthens the idea of postmodern identity that can be seen since the beginning of the movie.
From discussion above, it is clearly seen that Guardians of the Galaxy signifies some postmodern identities. This postmodernism is depicted through characterization of characters, the images showing, and the sets that evoke the confusion of time and space. This movie does not follow the metanarrative of a superhero while going still on the genre. Their characters are not the typical good guys that we usually find but rather they are a very dynamic characters that goes from a criminal to good guy and sometimes still undergo some changes that we cannot simply identify. The nods to popular culture and style are also apparent in this movie, proposing the idea that Guardians of the Galaxy does not really emphasize on the motive but rather on the images. Last but not least, this movie creates a confusion feeling on when this actually sets. It probably shows that it takes place in today’s time but it also carries some 70’s feelings that creates the confusion between the audience on whether it happens now or then. These three characteristics already fulfill the idea of what postmodernism is.
Burke, Liam. 2008. Superhero Movies. Reading: Pocket Essentials
Kellner, Douglass. 1995. Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern. London: Routledge.
Strinati, Dominic. 1995. Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. London: Routledge
http://www.vulture.com/2014/08/how-guardians-of-the-galaxy-music-soundtrack-was-chosen.html accessed on Sunday, June 14, 2015, 06:28
accessed on Sunday, June 14, 2015, 06:40