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Postmodernism – the Mighty BooshThe term postmodern has been gratuitously splattered about more times than Rockyʼsface but ask someone to give you a deﬁnition and you may be met with a chilly stare andgritted teeth. Richard Smith has found the perfect example to tell you everything you needto know about postmodernism – The Mighty Boosh.It seems that we media folk love to bathe in postmodern paradise with its intertextualdelights and its playful self-referencing (weʼll move on to those momentarily) but we rarelyhave any examples that go beyond a Tarantino production or Cravenʼs over-analysedScream (1996). What we forget is that the perfect playground for postmodern television iswithin the realms of the situation comedy: this is where the imagination can run riot withoutthe massive ﬁnancial loss from a possible failure.Postmodernism deﬁes easy deﬁnition; dictionaries do not do it justice but it generallycomprises of a set of core ideas and key concepts that work collaboratively to shape it.The more of these ideas and concepts it embellishes, the more of a postmodern text itbecomes. Enter The Mighty Boosh (BBC, 2004): two zoo keepers, one owner, oneshaman and a gorilla. The BBC3-born surrealist sitcom gives Spaced (C4, 1999) a run forits postmodern money with plots revolving around trips to monkey hell, a granny of deathand kangaroo boxing to name but a few. In an attempt to deﬁne the Booshʼs playfulpostmodern form, letʼs consider some of the factors involved.1. EclecticismA wide range of inﬂuences, contributions and techniquesTake your personal DVD collection. Being media enthusiasts, I could almost guarantee youhave a wide variety of genres, directors, mainstream movies and independent movies.This eclectic mix of taste shines through postmodernism: an array of identiﬁable inﬂuencesare used to the extent that you can never quite pin down the one genre it is committed to.The Boosh slide from Fantasy (ʻWelcome to mirror world!ʼ) to Eighties Pop (ʻI am electroboy...ʼ); from Science Fiction (ʻI come fully equipped with a papoose!ʼ) to RomanticComedy (ʻHer teeth are like hard, shiny, pegs of creamʼ.).Eclecticism also shines through the varied characters they portray and the range ofmusical styles they adopt. Put simply: you just never know what you are going to get.2. IntertextualityAn authorʼs borrowing and transformation of a prior textThe Boosh openly borrows, mimics and adopts the traits of a multitude of styles, clichésand conventions that the knowing audience can directly relate to. Take the Tundra Rap: allthe conventions of a trashy music video with Howard and Vince rapping direct to camera,cutting to the beat, erratic camera techniques and all complemented by the generic lyricalgems that make rap so distinguishable. A single character like the Spirit of Jazz can alsoreference a multitude of other people like Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen,The Black and White Minstrel Show (BBC, 1950s) or even Slash from Guns and Roses.Parallels are regularly made between The Boosh, Monty Python, Spaced, The Goodiesand The League of Gentlemen with their individual brands of surrealist humour and
sporadic happenings. It is this recognition and familiarity that appeals to the activeaudience.3. ParodyA humorous or satirical imitation of a textThe epitome of a ﬁlm devoted to parody would be a spoof like Scary Movie (2000) or NotAnother Teen Movie (2001). This works on the basis that the knowing audience willrecognise an imitation of style, character, scenario and/or technique and enjoy the processof recognition and familiarisation. Commonly associated with politics, satire can bedescribed as parody with teeth; compared to parody with its playful mimicking, satire hasmore of a statement to make by ridiculing and criticising individuals or issues as evident in2D TV (ITV) or the political satire Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-1996).The Boosh is scattered with parodies from the generic (see Mutants for a take on the Sci-Fi, Horror genres), musical (see hard rock parodied in Bolloʼs Monkey Hell) or textual (seeʻThe Nightmare of Milky Joeʼ for a take on Castaway). It is this soft imitation which givesthe audience a frame for reference evoking familiarity and appreciation.4. BricolageA technique where works are constructed from various materials availableOne criticism of postmodernism is the fact that it represents a decline in originality, an erawhere we can bring nothing new to the cooking pot but simply recycle old formulas. TheBoosh can be viewed as a bricolage of many already tried-and-tested formulas but doesthis make it less original? A musician wonʼt play a note that no one else has played beforebut it is the way the notes are played and the order they are played in that makes it aunique musical piece.5. Acts against modernismPostmodernism embodies scepticism towards the ideas and ideals of the modern era,especially the ideas of progress, objectivity, reason, certainty, personal identity and grandnarrativePostmodernism is best viewed as a gradual and progressive reaction to the modernistmovement; thus there are qualities that can be shared by each. Postmodernism, after all,embraces playful imitation so modernism can be evident as an intentional ironic reference.The mere deﬁnition of each movement can be a subjective playground for analytical mindsbut they can be best illustrated as two spheres interlocking where similarities meet.So, even though a postmodern text can be constructed from already tried-and-testedgenres, techniques and stock characters, it can still be as forward thinking as a modernisttext (Pulp Fiction being a prime example).Postmodernism acts against reason, orthodoxy and logic to bring us a text that is rich withsurrealism and unpredictability. The Boosh exhibits this at every given opportunity toarticulate their idiosyncratic humour: a talking gorilla, a Mexican jazz-fusion guitarist with adoor in his afro, a man made of cheese. You learn to accept the fact that there is nojustiﬁcation or reasoning behind actions or characters. They exist because they can exist;
it is a celebration of the medium of television that allows The Boosh to pick and choosefrom a long history of tried and tested formulas. These familiar formulas ironically combineto create something that is an original breath of fresh air.6. NostalgicCelebrates the past and bathes in its gloryWhereas modernism looks forward to push the medium into the next phase,postmodernism looks back, borrowing from others to construct a text rich with references.7. NarcissisticFascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanityPostmodernism is obsessed with itself, acting like a child in a sweet shop, jumping fromshelf to shelf snatching what it can, gobbling the goodies and charging towards the nextjar. This narcissism is predominantly evident in the character of Vince Noir who has afascination with his appearance and a burning passion to become a front man (his idolbeing Mick Jagger). His vanity and rebel status reﬂects a spirit of the movement thatechoes in the words of Al Gore:Itʼs the combination of narcissism and nihilism (total rejection of established laws andinstitutions) that really deﬁnes postmodernism.8. An active audienceThe assertion that meaning and experience can only be created by the individual, andcannot be made objective by an author or narrator; an assumption of an intelligent andactive audienceWith a text packed full of treats its aim is to recognise that the audience are an all-knowingmedia-saturated entity. Why attempt to create something never seen before when you cangive the knowing nod to an audience at every twist and turn within the postmodernplayground?In this unpredictable, surreal and unreasoning postmodernist world, the audience has nochoice but to be an active and aware participant ready to follow whatever twist and turn thetext decides to take. It acts as a media puzzle waiting to be pieced together by theindividual decoder who gains much satisfaction from it.9. Hyper-consciousAware of itselfThis hyper-consciousness allows the text to dissolve that fourth wall and highlight theawareness of the medium it is playing with. This allows JD in Scrubs (E4) directly toreference the soundtrack which is intended to be diegetic or Peter Grifﬁn in Family Guy(BBC3) playfully to reference the fact that the programme was cancelled twice by HBObefore they realised that it was one of the biggest selling DVDs of all time.
The Boosh team cleverly use this at the beginning of each episode with Vince and Howardstanding in front of stage curtains introducing the show with direct references as to what tolook out for. Their live show also uses this technique, much to the audienceʼs delight, whenthey break in and out of ʻscripted linesʼ to address the audience providing us with apostmodern mix of stand-up, improvisational and theatrical styles.The Mighty Boosh provides us with an effective framework for postmodern deconstructionand is bursting with its characteristics from the music, costumes, characters, design, mise-en-scène and dialogue. It provides its active audience with a contemporary variety showthat is all knowing, highly aware and above all, a celebration of the medium of television.GlossaryEclecticism: A wide range of inﬂuences, contributions and techniques.Intertextuality: An authorʼs borrowing and transformation of a prior text.Parody: A satirical imitation of a text.Bricolage: A technique where works are constructed from various materials available.Acts against modernism: Postmodernism embodies scepticism towards the ideas andideals of the modern era, especially the ideas of progress, objectivity, reason, certainty,personal identity and grand narrative.Nostalgic: Celebrates the past and its glory.Narcissistic: Fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.An active audience: The assertion that meaning and experience can only be created bythe individual, and cannot be made objective by an author or narrator. Assumes anintelligent and active audience.Hyper-conscious: Aware of itself.Richard Smith is a Film, Media & English Teacher at Herne Bay High School, Kent. He isalso a doing an MA in Education.from MediaMagazine 22, December 2008.top