Post Modernism

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"This is not a pipe." It's just a picture of a pipe.
It's PoMo! (Beat) ...Post modern. (beat) ...Weird for the sake of weird.
Moe Szyslak, The Simpsons

In general, postmodern writing involves a blurring of boundaries. An example of this is blurring the boundary between the reader or viewer and the fiction—for example, a TV show that acknowledges that it is not real. (Contrast This Is Reality.) However, postmodernism can also be applied to fiction that mixes different genres into something new, such as the way that Cowboy Bebop combines western tropes with science fiction and various movie pastiches.

Here, Post Modernism describes a self-referential fiction, a fiction which references other fiction, or a fiction which displays some awareness that it is a fiction. The Subverted Trope, Discredited Trope, lack of Genre Blindness, Deconstruction of conventional boundaries, and Playing With the Fourth Wall (or lack thereof) are all hallmarks of Post Modernism. Expect Mind Screw.

Postmodernism is also a popular school of thought in the social sciences and humanities, largely revolving around the idea that a cogent argument doesn't necessarily have to make points that are actually true, while arguments that may "technically" be true in some sense are not necessarily either convincing or valuable. Your Mileage May Vary.[1]

In practice, postmodernism, whether in fiction or in the theoretical sense of textual criticism, can most often simply be about spoiling everything for everyone without having to adopt any unspoiled or easily spoilable ideas of your own, which is also what produces the "Huh?" factor in postmodern texts (books, films, shows, art, etc.) -- they treat themselves as already didactic and spoiled, and instead attempt to generate enjoyment through the adroitness of their use of their own tropes and medium. World of Symbolism tends to come up, even when it's not necessarily obvious, so best try to have fun when Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory.

Postmodernism first emerged as a philosophical movement amid the ruins and tribulations of postwar Europe and stems from a general disillusionment with thirties-era modernism brought about by World War Two. It was natural, and almost inevitable, that people who had suffered through the war (and the preceding Great Depression) would question the ideals of perpetual progress inherent in modernism, and that would lead to a philosophy of questioning everything in general. It should come as no surprise that much post-modernist thinking originated in those countries (France, Germany) that suffered the greatest devastation (There are also those who say postmodernism was primarily a French reaction to their postwar insignificance, but that's just being snide.[2])

The definition of postmodernism is extremely ambiguous, and some of the definitions are extremely metaphysical, so don't go out into the world thinking this article is all there is to the concept. That the very term "Post-modern" is inherently self-contradictory is freely acknowledged—indeed celebrated—within Post-modernism itself.

Not to be confused with Irony, per se, although both terms have been frequently misused as such since The Nineties.

Interestingly, the Death of the Author is a Criticism Tropes that both groups can often agree on. Modernists can claim it's possible to come to a canonical conclusion about the text regardless of the author's changing opinions, whereas postmodernists can claim that "there is nothing outside the text" and that their opinion of what the author was trying to say is equally likely to be true as their opinion of what the work itself states. Confused?

A.K.A. PoMo. Compare Dada. See also Affectionate Parody and Surreal Humor. May sometimes border onto True Art Is Incomprehensible territory. Related to Medium Awareness, Breaking the Fourth Wall, No Fourth Wall, Fiction Identity Postulate (which states that all fictions are equally fictional). Compare Recursive Canon, Heavy Meta, Footnote Fever, FoRK.

Oh, and by the way, Actual Postmodernism is So Last Season these days. We're up to Nuvo-Retro-Ex-Post-Modernism now.

Examples of Post Modernism include:


Meta-Example[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Anytime you see a Meta Example, it's Post Modern. Especially if it's on the Post Modern page. Whoa. Trippy. Further complicating matters is that if you deny that your Post Modern statement is itself Post Modern, you've simply made it even more Post Modern. In particular this makes it very tricky to parody as any sufficiently involved parody of Post Modernism is, in itself, a Post Modern comment on itself. No Po Mo.[3]


[edit | hide]

  • Commercials have been experimenting more and more with Post Modernism for comic effect. For example, observe this Cars.com commercial.
  • Skittles: X the rainbow.
  • It's a big ad!
  • In this trailer for Citizen Kane, Orson Welles explains certain aspects of the film, introduces the actors, and invites the audience to come back to the theater and see it later.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • Pani Poni Dash! refers to other series regularly, and features frequent disruption of the Fourth Wall. For example, the series takes Animated Actors to the extreme by sometimes showing the action as if it were on a sound stage, complete with assistants walking through the shot. The characters are also aware of narrative and meta-narrative events, such as commercial breaks.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler absolutely and gleefully refuses to acknowledge the existence of a fourth wall. Every character in the series is rather Genre Savvy and they do so enjoy Lampshade Hanging.
  • Excel Saga makes dozens of references to other anime series and often has guest appearances by the show's director and writers, who are usually made to apologise for the indignities they force on the cast. A decent chunk of the plot is actually formed by the conflict -- in-story conflict—between the director of the anime and the writer of the manga over the show's artistic direction.
  • Its quasi-sequel Puni Puni Poemy is very self-aware, and the main character constantly refers to herself by her voice actress's name. She's also very aware of what she is: "Oh man, can you imagine a worse anime cliché than having to stand out in the hall?"
  • Everything about Neon Genesis Evangelion. From the horrifying deconstruction of the mecha genre, to the mind-raping drawn-in-crayon apocalypse that ended the series, to the metafictional live-action sequences of the film...
    • Not everything. Original Drafts recovered from the Series were far more coherent, and certain supplemental materials try to focus on that part instead of the actual reality that was shown. The Manga is also fairly low on Mindscrew in relation to the Anime, along with the Remake.
  • Gintama: References to other Jump series and characters (and the Jump staff) come up very often, from simply spoofing the names, like "One Park" and "Belt" (pronounced "Beruto" in Japanese), to just blatant shout-outs (see: the sukiyaki episode where a shinigami pops up at the end and Zura Katsura Katsuo during the OwEe arc). Also, the characters are fully aware of their being fictional—to the point where Gintoki and Shinpachi call out events that would get the anime cancelled and where Gintoki insists that people (even characters within the show) buy the DVDs from Sunrise.
  • Seitokai no Ichizon also loves making references to other shows (specially Suzumiya Haruhi) and breaking the Fourth Wall. The first two minutes of the series is a No Fourth Wall discussion on how they should make the anime.
  • For being such a cute little Magical Girl show on the surface, Princess Tutu can be pretty post modern at times. The show is about ballet, so every episode has a classical piece as a "theme" and several episodes have plots that reference famous ballets, and the whole story is at times like a twisted retelling of Swan Lake. Also, one of the characters is a prince that escaped from a fairytale, and it's later revealed that the writer of that fairytale is now controlling the town the show takes place in. Once the characters learn about that, they start Breaking the Fourth Wall and manipulating the medium of fairytales to their advantage.
  • The Haruhi Suzumiya anime starts with Haruhi directing a show about her purposes - to try to advance her purposes - which reveals more about the show than is first apparent.
  • FLCL The characters, among other things, discuss how difficult it is to shoot a bullet-time kissing scene, just after having performed it.
  • Kawamori waffles on this with his Macross franchise in a unique way. Remember how Do You Remember Love? was said to be an in-universe movie production of the events of the series? Turns out that's kind of how he views everything in the franchise. Nothing is canon because they're all in-universe productions based on real events that we never see. In effect, it's as if you're learning history and your only method of doing so is by watching movies. This does mean Macross technically avoids any Alternate Continuity, regardless of if you watch say Macross Frontier the series, the movies, read the three or four different mangas, or the light novels. They're all exactly that, productions based on a real event. YMMV, Kawamori seems okay to let the fans fanwank something, and only ever suggests this notion when an interviewer asks point blank about the differences between DYRL/SDFM or Macross Frontier series/movies.
  • Bakuman。—it's a manga about manga with very shounen-manga type plot, though very realistic, devoid of fantastic elements, and featuring zero action; almost everything is driven by conversations. Despite this, it's become a hit in the same magazine that runs Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece, the very magazine for which the protagonists create manga.
    • Or, a bit more succinctly, it's a Jump manga about the creation of a Jump manga.
      • It's now a manga about a manga trying to get an anime while the manga itself is getting an anime.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Not only does the art design of the Witch's Barriers evoke references to classical art and fiction, especially Faust, but the main synopsis, and several of the episodes, such as episodes 9 and 12, brings back memories of familiar anime series such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, Bokurano, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even the ending, in which Madoka rewrites the Magical Girl system to become more like the typical MG series of old, and, in a way, allowing shows such as Sailor Moon to exist, essentially, a Reconstruction of the genre after the Deconstruction that was the previous episodes feels very postmodern.
  • Speaking of Revolutionary Girl Utena, it lives on Deconstruction and Post Modernism. For a series about a girl who wants to be a prince, one wouldn't expect the catchphrase to be "absolute destiny apocalypse." Classical piano music coexists with children singing what sounds like Megadeth in Japanese. A group of shadow girls acts as a Greek Chorus to explain the plot to drum music Once an Episode (or go off on tangents about UFOs), but eventually they interact with the cast—and when they do, it's a Wham! Episode. Utena is a deconstruction of the Shoujo Genre as a whole, in much the same way as Evangelion is for Shonen Genre.


Art[edit | hide]

  • Rene Magritte's famous painting of a pipe, with the words "This is not a pipe" written eloquently in French.
  • Analytic cubism is actually an attempt to look at every angle of a three-dimensional object on a two dimensional plane.
  • After World War I, several artists decided art should have no meaning whatsoever, (because according to them, nothing meant anything any more), so Dada developed and is forever remembered as one of the more ridiculous art movements- when it's not the most depressing.


Comic Books[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • In films starring The Muppets, the fourth wall is strong enough to keep the plot going- but no stronger.
  • In addition to being an example (as a scripted film shot on-location at a real-life historical anti-war riot), Medium Cool (1969) is named after Marshall McLuhan's book, The Medium Is The Message, which stated that TV is the ultimate "cool" medium, whereas theater and, say, flash-mobs would be a "hot" medium that requires audience participation.
  • The cinema version of Gremlins 2 had the film 'break down' because of gremlins in the projection booth, resulting in Hulk Hogan being called in from the cinema lobby to save the day. The home video version had gremlins plague the viewer's TV set by switching it over to other channels. Eventually they come undone by switching over to a Western, at which point John Wayne shoots them.
  • Mel Brooks movies:
    • The characters in Spaceballs appear completely aware they are in a heavily merchandised Sci-Fi movie. At one point the bad guys rent a copy of the movie so they can fast forward and use that info to track down the good guys more quickly. Things become awkward when they reach the part of the movie they are in at that moment.
    • Blazing Saddles, an Affectionate Parody of western movies. Multiple references to things in the future ("What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on here?", "The Doctor Gillespie killings", "I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille", "The bitch was inventing the Candygram", Taggart's talking about the tractor before it was even invented, the railroad workers singing "I Get a Kick Out Of You" decades before it was written, and Hedy Lamarr ("That's Hedley!)) and an ending that rampages through the fourth wall like a supercharged bulldozer.
    • Robin Hood: Men in Tights "Hey, it worked in Blazing Saddles!" And the scene at the archery contest where everyone, in character and on screen, references the movie script to verify the tiebreaker rules.
  • Twenty Hour Hour Party People. Constant references to 'Things that, technically, didn't actually happen', many moments of fourth wall breaking, a scene that 'will probably be cut and will appear on the DVD Extras', and a scene highlighting all the cameos from the real musicians. In one of his asides to the camera, Steve Coogan's Tony Wilson describes himself as "being postmodern, before it was fashionable." The thing is, all these pomo tricks are true to Wilson's actual character and ideals.
  • Michael Winterbottom's A Cock And Bull Story is also very much this, since it's a film about an adaptation of Tristram Shandy... itself an early example of post-modernism (see below in the Literature folder).

Steve Coogan: "Tristram Shandy was a post-modern classic written before there was any modernism to be post about."

  • The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is structured as a Biopic being made by Peter Sellers (Geoffrey Rush) himself. Most of the film is the Biopic itself, but several times one of the characters will be revealed to "actually" be played by Peter as s/he addresses the audience directly about Peter. For example: Anne Levy (his first wife) is played by Emily Watson most of the way, but after she breaks up with Peter, the reveal has Geoffrey-as-Peter-as-Emily-as-Anne decide to rerecord her dialogue to give the relationship a happier finish.
  • The Spike Jonze film Adaptation is ostensibly an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief, but is actually a fictionalized account of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's attempt to adapt the book to film without troping it up for Hollywood. The film gradually devolves into an extremely typical film where Kaufman becomes obsessed with the book's author and discovers her drug-laden affair with her guide in writing the book, exactly what Kaufman said at the beginning he was trying to avoid.
  • The Spike Jonze film Being John Malkovich is a movie about a portal into a mind of an actor who plays himself. We even get to see a monkey having a flashback.
  • Synecdoche New York. Just the fact that it's Charlie Kaufman is not enough for him.
  • Grindhouse.
  • The premise behind Stranger Than Fiction is that the main character starts hearing someone narrate his life.
  • The Holy Mountain, El Topo, and anything else by cinematerrorist Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • Viva la Muerte (1971), a surreal western similar to El Topo.
  • Scream started a massive wave of self-referential, teen-focused horror films that ran through the late '90s.
  • Most Quentin Tarantino films, including Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill.
  • Moulin Rouge! definitely. Melding of various media, meta-fiction, incorporation of anachronistic songs... it's crazy awesome. And very post-modern.
  • Ararat, a film about making an ostensibly historically accurate film about the Armenian Genocide, is Post Modern in and of itself. The film adds on to it with dramatic scenes broken by suddenly panning back to see the Director and Film crew, or by having an Art Professor storm onto a set and argue with the lead actor about how he's playing the artist she's spent her career on, with the actor arguing back while still in character—while reminding you from this that even this is two actors playing roles).
  • Federico Fellini's Otto E Mezo is older than all of these films and has characters discussing the set-up of scenes (they are trying to make a movie) and said scene is the very same scene we're watching.
  • Funny Games: A Torture Porn/Slasher film with No Fourth Wall, and Dangerously Genre Savvy killers who know they're in a A Torture Porn/Slasher film and break the fourth wall to attack the fandom of Torture Porn/Slasher films, showing how the suffering of their victims is is the audience's fault. because Torture Porn/Slasher films are entertainment to them. They also change the outcome of the plot by using a remote control to rewind to seconds before the victims successfully fight back, and lampshade this by saying "you shouldn't have done that, you're not aloud to break the rules" meaning that the victims can never win a Torture Porn/Slasher film because that's "the rules" of the genre.. Long story short, if you enjoyed it, them you didn't understand it.
  • Godard's output of the '60s at least, such as Breathless.
    • The most overt example probably being Weekend.
  • The movie The Neverending Story is about Bastian, a boy in "the real world", reading a fantasy novel about the world of Fantasia, but as the story goes along there are hints that he is having an effect on Fantasia. At the climax, not only does the Child-Like Empress reveal that Bastian is the only one who can save the world of Fantasia but she also mentions that at the same time as he has been reading about Fantasia, there have been others watching Bastian in the same way.
  • Almost any movie by Christopher Nolan covers post-modernism in some way. This is primarily due to his films revolving around a non-chronological timeline, the "reliability of the narrator" and/or character insecurities, whether it be irrational fear, unhealthy obsession, extreme paranoia, amnesia or recognising reality.
  • Incident at Loch Ness is a Mockumentary in which a film crew records Werner Herzog's attempt to film a documentary about the Loch Ness monster. When difficulties arise, Herzog becomes fanatical about completing the project, despite an air of doom over the whole thing. This is the exact setup of the films Herzog is known best for, and the whole thing turns into a pastiche of them. It's a remake of/tribute to Herzog's classic films that stars Herzog himself, with directing a film as his disastrous quest.
  • Mockumentaries in general: they're works of fiction, but the "documentary" pretense eliminates the fourth wall.
  • My Name Is Bruce, in which Bruce Campbell plays a fictionalized version of himself, has some elements of this. Notably, at one point his character is attacked by a monster from one of the movies he (the character) filmed. Breaking that down again: a character who is fictional in-universe breaks through the wall (figuratively and literally) to attack an in-universe real-life character, who himself is a fictional version of a real real-life person. Is it happy hour yet?
  • The Cabin in the Woods.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Jorge Luis Borges practically invented the thing. For example, you have "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" that describes an attempt to create a whole world by convincing people it exists (the blurring between reality, story and belief being one quite central postmodern theme). Detailed reviews of non-existent books. Several of his stories feature the motif of a mutable past (because memory, its only vestige, is shifting).
  • Early on in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the narrator asks who he is and then says "oh, yes -- I'm a book". Later in the series, some characters come to the conclusion that the events are taking place in a book. The super computer FUCKUP is first implied to be the author, but the characters disregard this "revelation" and conclude that the book they are in is outside their own universe.
  • The City of Dreaming Books is narrated by the main character, who is a great fan of books and an aspiring writer himself, who constantly is addressing the readers with his musing on tropes and his own Genre Sawyness, which isn't as high as one would expect. The novel is also a massive essay on the joy of reading books in general.
  • In The Dark Tower series, one of the Big Bad's plans is to send his minions to our world and attempt to kill Stephen King in order to prevent the last few books in the series from being written, thus ensuring that the Big Damn Heroes will never stop him from destroying the universe.
  • Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. Navidson accidentally escapes the labyrinth by burning a book he has titled...House of Leaves.
    • Which has the exact same number of pages as the book you're reading.
    • Oh shit!
  • The Thursday Next books embrace this to such an extent that it is the premise.
    • Ditto the Barry Trotter parody novels by Michael Gerber. It's a parody which is actually a book about trying to stop a movie which turns out to be said movie which is actually revealed to be a parody of the movie written by the main character who has been watching a movie based loosely off his own life, which involved trying to stop the movie from being made. There's even a disclaimer at the back from the author, claiming that if anyone has worked out what's going on that they are to let him know at once.
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.
  • At the end of the book The Messenger by Marcus Zusak, when the main character, Ed, meets the person behind everything that's happened to him, it's strongly hinted that this person is in fact the author. He leaves behind a folder that turns out to contain the book's manuscript.
  • Robert Rankin uses this a lot.
  • J. Robert King's Rogues to Riches has this at moments. In fact, it was how the heroes got past an orc dungeon guard. They convinced him they were in a book, and they would help him get a bigger role. The epilogue sees the orc still sitting patiently, waiting for them to fulfil their promise.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, especially when Guildenstern "kills" the Player, and when Rosencrantz shouts "Fire!" and comments that no one is moving.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The story constantly references other pieces of fiction in story. The first Chapter has the Author apologizing for how the book is written. This is reasonably common in Vonnegut's works. It's taken to it's logical extreme in Breakfast of Champions, in which the author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., appears at the end of the book, is attacked by a dog from a previous novel and apologizes to one of the two main characters for making his life so miserable.
  • Nabokov's Pale Fire definitely qualifies, with its mise en abyme, its unreliable narrator and its unconventional structure.
  • The Number of the Beast (and most of Robert A. Heinlein's other later works) involved the idea that any good enough piece of fiction caused a new universe to come into existence; its main characters visit Oz and other "fictional" worlds.
  • As far a literature in general goes, there's been a recent trend of reincorporating genre structures and tropes into the style and depth of "literary fiction". Many writers are referring to this blurring of the established lines as the post-modernist movement in fiction, as literature and genre as we know it today is commonly attributed to the Modernist movement.
  • Every single Thomas Pynchon novel.
  • Tristram Shandy, like Shakespeare, has been described as early postmodernism. Its Stream of Consciousness style and digressions within digressions within digressions are the most noticeable aspects of this, but perhaps more important are instances of Painting the Fourth Wall (like following the death of a character with a completely black page.)
  • Philip K Dick 's novel VALIS. When the novel begins, Dick opens by saying that it is a fictionalized account of his own encounters with Gnosticism/his schizophrenia, and he is writing the book to get a perspective on himself. The fictionalized version of himself is named Horselover Fat ("Philip" being Greek for "horse lover" and "Dick" being German for "fat"), and the book begins from Fat's perspective. Over time, however he begins to write in the first person including excerpts from his unpublished Exegesis. Eventually, Dick becomes the main character of the story and he interacts with his own fictionalized clone.
  • You are the main character of If on a winter's night a traveler.
  • At the beginning of Paul Auster's City of Glass, the main character receives a call from someone looking for a private detective named... Paul Auster. The main character later meets the character named Auster, but it is left unclear whether Auster is aware that he is the author.
  • Some scholars consider The Confidence Man the first Po Mo book. The novel by Herman Melville is one big Mind Screw of social satire, religious symbolism and the author's own views, intertwined in a story that tests both the readers' and the characters' confidence in their morals.
  • The Princess Bride—the book, not the movie—is about the relationship between the reader and the writer, and goes so far as to tell the reader to choose his or her preferred ending. It also has multiple layers of unreliable fictional authors, including a grossly fictionalized William Goldman, and the only thing everyone in all the layers of the book agree on is a triumph of Surrealism: "True love is the greatest thing in the world except for cough drops." It doesn't get more postmodern than that in a novel. Interestingly, the movie plays the same plot relatively straight, still with a metafiction framing but less intensely post-modern.
  • The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is a post-modern trilogy of mystery novels.
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien has been retro-actively called the first real "classic" of the genre, even though it was written in the 1930s.
  • An Elegy for the Still-living is in many ways a story about stories. The author interferes in the plot a couple times, and the characters show signs of awareness that they are fictional. The main character eventual finds a copy of the manuscript and freaks out. He tries to fight doing what it says, but he can't help himself.
  • Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
  • Everything written by Walter Moers. In Ensel and Krete the Author Avatar is constantly getting into rants about random topics. In the audiobook, there is a full two minute scene in which the narator is only saying "brumli, brumli, brumli", just to provide an example that as a prize-winning writer, he can write anything he wants.
  • Otherland by Tad Williams. So very much.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • It's Garry Shandling's Show had Garry and his friends aware that they were in a Sitcom, often talking directly to members of the audience, and manipulating the story to his own ends.
    • Referenced by the Theme Song as well: "This is the theme to Garry's show, the opening theme to Garry's show, this is the song that you hear as you watch the cre-dits...."
  • In several episodes of Quantum Leap, the main characters figure out what their objective for the episode is by eliminating the possibilities that would be "too easy" for a forty-five-minute drama series. Also notable is that Sam interprets his situation as God himself intervening in the Quantum Leap project.
  • Moonlighting attracted a lot of attention for its two main characters' constant awareness that they were in a television show, which allowed the typical detective drama setup to become quite far-fetched and goofy at times. The series ends with the show being cancelled and the set taken down.
  • Zack in Saved by the Bell could not only break the Fourth Wall but stop reality at will. This raises questions about the nature of Zack's existence. Is he a character, an actor, a first-person narrator, or...a deity? He extended the point further years later by guesting on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to promote "his" show Raising the Bar and explain why he used the stage name Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
  • The classic Burns And Allen show, in which George Burns would talk directly to the audience about the ongoing events of the episode. In later episodes, George Burns would watch the television along with the home audience so that he also knew what was going on.
  • Stargate SG-1 is about as self-referential as you can get without breaking into parody territory... particularly in episodes involving Wormhole X-Treme!.
  • This trope was a staple of Arrested Development.
    • It's also a major staple of Community, the natural comedic successor to AD
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus frequently traded in this.
  • The short-lived early '60s British series The Strange World of Gurney Slade featured Anthony Newley as a man trapped inside of a TV program.
  • In a fourth season episode, "The Monster at the End of This Book," the leads of Supernatural discover that someone has used visions of their lives as the inspiration for a series of horror novels. The books have the same titles as past episodes, and the writer's current manuscript is about what is happening to them right then.

Dean: "I'm sitting in a laundromat reading about myself sitting in a laundromat reading about myself-- my head hurts."

Dean: "They do know we're brothers, right?"
Sam: "It doesn't seem to matter to them."

    • Supernatural seems to enjoy having at least once postmodern-esque episode per season, at least since season four. There's The Monster at the End of This Book in season four (after which Chuck, the author, becomes a recurring character), The Real Ghostbusters and Changing Channels in season five, and The French Mistake in season six. The last one takes The Monster at the End of This Book to new levels of meta: it features a Show Within a Show—the show being Supernatural, and Sam and Dean have to pretend to be Jared and Jensen, who in turn are meant to be playing Sam and Dean... It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Northern Exposure did this to the point that, in one episode, the characters all gathered in the town square to discuss the problem of their motivations for a particular scene. Hardly an episode went by without at least one character breaking the fourth wall or referencing their "characterhood".
  • Red Dwarf's recent three parter episode was so full of references to itself and (very obviously) Blade Runner that it was set to bursting, as the crew find out that they are just fictional characters created by BBC writers. Though the ending did turn the whole concept on its head.
  • The final episode of Brazilian sitcom Toma Lá Dá Cá had the character portrayed by the show's main writer being handed a laptop to write an ending that saves the cast from a rebellion.
  • This news report on the visual language of news reports.
    • Generally speaking, that's not a real news report, that's Charlie Brooker. However in Screenwipe, he did Lampshade this trope by showing a shot of Brooker typing in the line about his show being Post Modern into the script itself.
  • Darren Nichols.
  • In Seinfeld, where Jerry Seinfeld played a fictionalized version of himself, there was a plotline, where he was involved in the creation of a TV series in which he starred as a fictionalized version of himself.
  • Glee has its moments, with characters mentioning their tendency to sing, a couple of characters interacting in their voice overs, Rachel referring to herself as an Ingenue etc. And the writers are definitely very aware of what they're doing, and when it follows well trod plot paths they make sure to throw a lampshade or two in.
    • At one point a character is found watching a video online. The video in question? It was a drug-induced dream sequence of a DIFFERENT character.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide has the main character (and occasionally his friends & teachers) give advice to the viewer at some point during an episode.


Music[edit | hide]

  • The comedy folk song "The Anti-Singalong Song" relies on this trope to make it funny, as its performers cheerfully persuade their audience to sing about how they won't sing along.
  • In the song "An Attempt to Tip the Scale" by Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, in the middle of a fake interview in the song, at one point says, "Can you make that sound stop please?" The interviewer says "Yes." And the music in the background of the interview stops.
  • The Beatles song "Only a Northern Song" references itself, telling how it was intentionally written badly.
  • In the song "Signed Curtain" by Matching Mole (a post-Soft Machine project which includes Robert Wyatt), the lyrics consist of references to song structure:

This is the first verse
This is the first verse
This is the first verse, first verse...
And this is the chorus
Or perhaps it's a bridge
Or just another part of the song that I'm singing

  • The second verse of The Ramones' "Judy is a Punk" begins with "second verse, same as the first", and indeed it is. Verse three begins with "third verse, different from the first" and, again, it is.
  • Postmodernism is also an art movement in music. Postmodernist music is often defined as a reaction against Modernism and its overt atonality. Like postmodernist literature, postmodernist music often likes to blur the boundary between tonality and atonality (dissonance), high art (classical) and low art (pop, rock music), between performer, composer and listener (chance music, conceptual music, etc...), and between musical forms.
  • Wire, especially on Pink Flag.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Round the Horne would often stop in the middle of sketches and break down in to (scripted) verbal fights between the actors.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author is technically absurdist (a movement that came between modernism and postmodernism), but it provides early examples of many of the metafictional elements that became popular in postmodernism.
  • In the musical Into the Woods, the narrator is a character of his own. He insists that he isn't part of the story, but still perishes at the hand of a character – after which the story becomes quite chaotic.
  • The musical homage to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot, is positively brimming with this. The most fall-off-your-seat-hysterical one being the show's love theme entitled "The Diva's Lament." Also the Lady of the Lake's "Whatever Happened To My Part."


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, released in 2001, among all of the things it attempted, is regarded as the first fully postmodern savaging of video games, sequels, and video game players. Attacking the consumers went over exactly as well as you'd expect, though it didn't quite succeed at its goal of getting people to stop liking the Metal Gear series. See this document for a full explanation of the game's postmodern subversion of genre conventions and player expectations. See also this page for an explanation of the game's Mind Fuck of an ending, which included, among other things, telling both Raiden and the player that they are mindless puppets who do what they're told and "lack the qualifications to exercise free will."
    • BioShock (series) and Portal, two games released Fall 2007, played with postmodernism when they both, much like Metal Gear Solid 2 above, drew attention to the fact that every game with a plot boils down to players taking orders from someone else and then doing exactly what they're told. They're listed together because of the interestingly opposite points each game made on the subject. Bioshock's point was "you're not a hero, you're a mindless drone doing what he's told", and the point of Portal was "maybe that's so, but you don't have to be".
  • Eternal Darkness, a horror game for the Gamecube, won acclaim for itself by choosing to bypass the character and aim its scares directly at the player. It had fakeouts like making it appear that the magic spell you were casting misfired and your character died, or that your video feed had come loose in the middle of a battle, or that your Gamecube had reset, or that the game had decided to format your memory card -- up to a decidedly non-Heroic BSOD -- way scarier than any monster could possibly be.
  • Killer7 does this by removing your freedom of movement in a way that can be interpreted as done to point out the linearity and straightforwardness of the game, and how you can't control your fate. Because of a problematic control scheme, and the linearity itself and extreme Mind Screw in storyline, welcoming was mixed at best.
    • Suda 51 continues this trend in No More Heroes, a game that satirises Wide Open Sandbox games by giving you a huge open city to explore and then letting you realise that there's piss-all to do with your freedom save for storyline events that are unlocked in a very linear fashion. Oh, and playing with your pet cat. Much like the previous examples, most people didn't appreciate the developers sacrificing gameplay just to prove a point, and the open world aspect was removed from the sequel.
      • Both games are Suda ridiculing the player. See Travis Touchdown, the loser otaku who spends all his money on anime and fights rather than moving out of a hotel? This Loser Is You! The empty sandbox plays into that, as the only locations are a few nerdy stores and Travis' various jobs. Despite having a beautiful beach nearby. Nevertheless, many fans think he is awesome. No doubt Suda finds this hilarious.
  • Alan Wake is this in spades. The best example has to be when a writer who wrote himself out of existence in his own stories, wrote into existence a childhood memory (and MacGuffin) of the main character...in a story the main character himself wrote after writting the other writer back into existence.
  • The concept behind Omikron: The Nomad Soul was that the player's soul had been sucked into their computer and that they were able to directly inhabit the bodies of the characters they were controlling.
  • All of LucasArts' adventures had the characters talking directly to the player and many would refer to their own artificiality.
  • The Avatar, the Featureless Protagonist protagonist of the Ultima series from Ultima IV onward, was rather directly stated in Ultima IV and all games afterward to actually be the player himself, using his computer to journey from the "real world" to the realm of Brittania. The player/Avatar enters Britannia physically in person through a Moongate. At the beginning of Ultima VII on the other hand, the Big Bad Guardian taunts the player, and by the extension the Avatar (or other way around) through his/her computer monitor.
  • The 1980 Apple ][ game The Prisoner played with ideas of reality, just as the TV show it was based on did. At the start, the player is given a 3-figure number xyz, which they must not reveal to their enemies. At one point, the game will appear to crash with the error message "Syntax Error at line xyz". If the player types "LIST xyz" (as would be a common reaction to Apple ][ bugs --- surprise! You're still in the game, and you just lost.
  • The Infocom game Deadline, where you are a detective solving a murder, features a novelization of the game within the game. If you flick to the last page of the novel to find out how it ends, you find it ends with the detective shooting himself. Disgusted with yourself for cheating, you pull out your gun and shoot yourself.
  • The post-Legend of the golden witch tea party uses a combination of Animated Actors and Breaking the Fourth Wall to produce a powerful Mind Screw when the reader realizes that not only is this all canon, everything in the preceding novel was as well. ...Sort of.
  • At a seemingly random moment during the story, the action in EarthBound is interrupted by a dialogue box asking the player in no uncertain terms to input their real, full name. Due to the way it's worded and the fact that it comes out of nowhere, players tend to, instead of inputting "FAGBALLS" like they usually would, comply fully. It isn't brought up again until the final boss fight, where the Big Bad Eldritch Abomination Giygas can only be defeated via a party member praying for help from every ally they met on their journey. It works for a while, but then you start to get chilling messages about "your prayers being devoured by the darkness." That is, until one final prayer is heard by the most powerful ally the party has: you, the player, addressed by name. It's a Crowning Moment of Awesome no matter how you slice it.
  • Retro Game Challenge is a video game about the 8-bit era of video game history.
  • Chrono Cross repeatedly blurs the line between the player character and the player, culminating in a total demolition of the fourth wall during the game's notoriously bizarre denouement.
  • Baten Kaitos (by the same writer as Chrono Cross) has the player take the role of a disembodied spirit who observes the main characters with their knowledge. Sometimes they will even turn towards the screen and address the player, with a gap in the voiced dialogue where the player's name should go.


Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Guild: - the song Do you wanna date my avatar.
  • Homestar Runner cartoons tend to play with the notion that, since the characters are all in a cartoon anyway, cartoons in the cartoon world of Homestar Runner are more or less instantly malleable. In a Strong Bad Email, Strong Bad brags that he has the only extant copy of the ill-fated Limozeen Saturday-morning cartoon, which was cancelled before the first episode even finished airing. When Strong Bad mentions this, cut away to the cartoon, with Teeg Dougland saying, "I've got some bad news, boys; we've been cancelled." This is a cartoon, meaning that technically the animators would have known that months ahead of time. Meta. More recently, Crack Stuntman, the not-taking-his-job-seriously voice actor of the Cheat Commando leader Gunhaver starts making obnoxious demands about his character, leading to on-the-spot edits to make Gunhaver a lover of massage chairs or to add Crack's girlfriend as a cast member. Finally the director creates a character to replace Gunhaver until they can find an actor who doesn't have his head stuck up his ass.
    • In an Easter Egg in Strong Bad's one hundredth email, Limozeen congratulates him, and then Larry says, "We're from the band Limozeen!", startling the others. One of the others says, "I think it says that at the top of the screen." Replies Larry: "Well I didn't know that!"
      • At the end of the two-hundredth episode, the same Easter Egg is seen, re-edited and dubbed over to make it relevant to the two-hundredth episode.
    • The best example would probably be the Sbemail Virus. Just watch it, it's freaking weird.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Kris Straub's Checkerboard Nightmare. A webcomic about a webcomic character trying to become famous. The Post Modernism and humor are milked for all they're worth—then milked some more.
  • The theme has continued, albeit in low-key fashion, in Starslip Crisis, his sci-fi strip. It was originally titled and publicised as Starshift Crisis. Starslip ran in parallel, complete with duplicate website, until an accident with an "alternate universe" engine destroyed one of the ships. A spinoff will feature space ships and crews from other webcomics.
  • 1/0.
  • The "Not Officially Sabrina Online Construction Set," or NOSOCS a parody freely editable by anyone of the Furry Comic Sabrina Online, postmodern to begin with, took a turn for the ridiculously postmodern during 2008, and actually manages to be fairly consistently clever. Start around here. It just gets weirder as time goes by.
  • The basic premise of Real Life Comics is a character based on the cartoonist who is a cartoonist and knows he is a character in his own cartoon. At some points Greg the character gets into arguments with Greg the cartoonist about such things that his daughter was already born in real life, but he hadn't yet figured out how to draw a baby in the comic, so his comic wife is still pregnant.
  • In MSF High they think it is just a side effect of the magic, but most characters realize their school partially runs on tropes and the Theory of Narrative Causality; naturally, they exploit this.
  • Most of the cast Bob and George are aware that they are in a Megaman sprite comic. They are also often aware of the plot of the games they are based on - and frequently have to recreate. There's also the Author, who interacts with his characters from time to time, and the Shadowy Author, whose true identity isn't revealed until the very last story arc ever.
  • Order of the Stick can be seen as a postmodern take on the fantasy genre, with characters and plotlines regularly existing primarily to comment on popular ideas within the genre. And that's before you take into account the constant breaking of the fourth-wall.
  • Andrew Hussie of MS Paint Adventures loves playing with the pseudo-Interactive Fiction structure of the various series. Problem Sleuth in general has No Fourth Wall whatsoever, it disappeared completely right around the time the titular character consulted GameFAQs to get the answer to a particularly challenging puzzle. Another puzzle in Problem Sleuth was only passed by the characters reloading to a save state located after the puzzle was solved. That's right, they resorted to abusing Save Scumming in-universe.
    • And its successor, Homestuck, is just as bad, and occasionally even worse. From a character scratching the second CD of Homestuck (no, not Sburb, Homestuck) with a record needle and causing the comic to glitch out until it's repaired, to a character escaping the destruction of their universe by flying through their fourth wall and into the fourth wall of the second half of the comic, to a Hostile Show Takeover that's only solved by the author bursting through the fifth wall and beating a major villain upside the head with a broom, to characters getting commands from people at consoles, to long discussions of how time follows a preestablished narrative, to a reveal, with much fanfare, that characters can now talk directly to each other instead of going through instant messaging and spritelogs, it's postmodern enough to make your head hurt.
  • So if MSPA was Post Modern to begin with, what is Create.swf Adventures? First CSA just a MSPA-style interactive comic. Then the characters begin talking to the readers, which isn't that special. Then the readers get attacked by the characters. Like, literally. And there is a non-fourth-wall-breaking explanation! But then it gets silly again ...
  • Penny Arcade often acknowledges that the characters are writing a webcomic, and there have even been strips where the characters discuss their plans for other strips.
    • And they freely interact with fictional characters in the real world, or enter game worlds as themselves. Sometimes they even have different fictional characters acknowledging they're fiction, or other fiction in their own worlds.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja does this in the Alt Text in comic 17, page 53.
  • The Way of the Metagamer. No Fourth Wall, Author Avatar, Alt Text presenters, Medium Awareness, physical plot holes used as gateways to other works, time-traveling changing history by actually changing previously uploaded comics… need we go on?


Web Original[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force is often cited as an example of post modern humor.
  • South Park often features meta-references, such as the characters somehow becoming aware of Kenny dying in each episode.
    • Another instance this editor found incredibly funny was in "Christmas in Canada", in which the boys are not only worried about missing presents but also their "Christmas adventure". And who can forget "Canceled", where they discover the whole world was a reality show run by aliens (in itself a parody of the Planet of Hats trope).
  • Cartoons such as Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, and Tiny Toon Adventures make enormous (and often brilliant) use of this comedy.
    • For example, even if you were in a space station orbiting Mars, Candle Jack will get y
    • And now, a moment of silence for the brave, brave tropers lost. Again.
  • Family Guy has become the most unapologetically postmodernist show on television, and gets more postmodern each season.
  • The Simpsons too had a couple of forays into postmodernism, just like they touched on everything else over the course of their extended lifespan. They made a reference to their real-world merchandise enterprises, the 'I didn't do it' episode where they all embrace their status as one-dimensional catchphrases, a couple of episodes where they take stock of how far along the plot is or how everything will be returned to normalcy for next week. Sometimes they call attention to the fact that they always wear the same clothes and never age or grow and have yellow skin.... Most impressive example is the 'Behind the Laughter' episode where we are expected to believe that these cartoon characters are actually actors with 'real' lives outside of the show they put on for us every week. Also this trope might include those episodes that poke fun at the nerdiness of The Simpsons' fan community.

Marge: Hmm, should the Simpsons get a horse?
Comic Book Guy: Uh, excuse me, I believe the Simpsons already had a horse which forced Homer to work at the Kwik-E-Mart, with hilarious results.
Homer: Does anyone care what this guy thinks?
Everyone: NO!


Real Life[edit | hide]

  1. Basically, an argument is only as good as the job you accomplish with it. (See?).
  2. An argument that makes the French more significant. see?
  3. "Not that I'm postmodern or anything."