Published on December 3rd, 2013 |
by Mark Bou Mansour
Has the End of History Ended? Baudrillard, Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother – Pt. 2
Yesterday, we asked whether the end of history had ended. To find an answer, we brought up the post-modern condition, moved away from Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the end of history and towards Pierre Baudrillard’s notion of end of ends, and showed how the theories we explored were captured in the hit TV show Seinfeld. We then contrasted How I Met Your Mother to Seinfeld arguing that although How I Met Your Mother has post-modern elements it continues to rely on metanarratives.
Today we’re going to answer our question about the end of history by continuing the argument that rather than capturing a post-modern condition, How I Met You Mother actually captures a qualitatively different contemporary condition. We’ll do this by looking more closely at the interplay between metanarratives and post-modern skepticism in the show, beginning with Barney and Robin’s relationship. Once again, there are spoilers ahead.
Initially, both Barney and Robin are skeptical of true love, especially of a romantic relationship with each other. For several episodes, they keep the fact that they’re sleeping together a secret from their friends, and constantly deny any emotions for one another. This leads to an episode where Lily locks Barney and Robin in a room and refuses to let them out until they admit to each other that they are in a relationship. In a bid to get Lily off their back, Robin and Barney conspire to pretend to be in a relationship in front of the others. And so, the metanarrative of romantic love is not only deconstructed but utilized as an illusion, as a fake story –very post-modern. But, as the episode ends with Barney and Robin leaving the building and walking down onto the street, still joking about how they sold their lie, they hold each other’s hands like a traditional couple. Meanwhile, Ted asks Lily, as they watch Barney and Robin walk away, if she realized they were lying to which Lily responds, “No Ted, they don’t realize they weren’t lying”. Jump along a few seasons and they’re getting married. And so, the metanarrative prevails. Despite all the skepticism, resistance, and even self-conscious manipulation of the metanarrative of romantic love, the metanarrative reemerges as genuine, honest and inevitable –not very post-modern.
This is the situation represented by How I Met Your Mother; despite the disbelief and collapse of the metanarrative, the metanarrative is still sought, still active, and consciously being constructed and performed. Ted, at the center of the show, is surrounded by post-modern skepticism towards true love but nonetheless he sticks to his quest to find it, to create a metanarrative out of fragmented scraps of narratives. He sifts through life looking for signs and paths to find his soul mate, reorganizing all his experiences, all his memories and decisions into a narrative that ultimately lead him to meet his kids’ mother. This is evident not just in the symbolism used in the show, like the yellow umbrella and the yellow school bus which connect several episodes into a single trajectory, but also in the structure of the episodes.
What’s really appealing about How I Met Your Mother is how the episodes are told non-linearly. This structure is used often to emphasize a ‘moment’ Ted is experiencing. Interestingly, Zygmund Bauman argues in Liquid Modernity that modern technology has accelerated the pace of life to such an extent that the distance between the beginning and the end has been reduced to a degree where we are now left only with ‘moments’ to experience and mark the passing of time. With indifference to duration, we are no longer interested in the ‘long-term’ but rather with squeezing as much as we can out of the immediate ‘short-term’–ergo, YOLO. We make our lives meaningful today through, and orient our lives around, the moment.
A great example of this in How I Met Your Mother is “The Leap” episode which revolves around Marshall trying to jump from the ledge of one rooftop to another. At the end of the episode Marshall finally gathers his courage and leaps across the ledge. And as the others follow suit, with inspirational music playing in the background, the show shows off its story-telling skills with Ted narrating about the bad year he’s had leading up to that point. In that moment, we cut to other scenes that took place over the season, such as Ted getting fired, or more obscure events like Ted getting beaten up by a goat. All these separate events are linked together into this one moment. Ted goes even further; he links the future to this moment, explaining that all those separate events led him to the best job he ever had and, ultimately, to meeting his wife. In effect, within this moment a metanarrative is constructed. Within this moment is compounded and depicted a metanarrative which rearranges all past events into a trajectory that leads to a culmination, which is meeting the mother.
Meaning, the period of the end of history, or the end of ends, is also a period in which the immediate moment takes center stage. As such, in this period the metanarrative returns and lives on, only now it’s not the ending that matters but the moment. The metanarrative is preserved not by revitalizing visions of the end but by rendering the present moment as a realization of the metanarrative itself. If disbelief of the metanarrative arises from a lack of belief in ends, then this disbelief can be eliminated by depicting the present as the source of evidence for the manifestation of the metanarrative and not the future. This is what Ted does, and what How I Met You Mother promises. The fact remains that after 9 seasons we still don’t have any clue as to who the mother is or if we’ll ever actually meet her. Nonetheless, the moments throughout the series, such as the rooftop leap, realize those metanarratives of true love, of family and career, and all the values we associate with them without ever showing us the ‘happily ever after’.
Nathan Jurgenson talks about how we use certain aspects of social media, particularly Instagram vintage filters, to share our experiences today as antiquated stories. This attempt to create authenticity, Jurgenson explains, renders our present as future pasts, as recorded stories to be told at a future date. In effect, the present as future past implies an endpoint. We have reconstructed the endpoint, only this time the endpoint is not a universal culmination but a particular completion –the ending of my personal narrative. An endpoint implies a position at which the future narrator of the immediate present can see the whole story, and so can see the immediate present as part of the narrative to be completed. This is a position of hindsight, a position of totalized knowledge. By substituting the notion of the eternal ending with the notion of the future past moment, the metanarrative of totality reemerges in particular narratives. Ted is narrating a story to his children, and to us, from his living room in 2030. He knows the whole story, he talks from a position of culmination; the events we are told all inherently lead to an inevitable ending. This is a stark contrast to the eternal recurrence of meaningless events depicted by Seinfeld. Importantly, however, the inevitable culmination depicted by How I Met You Mother is actively being constructed by Ted. And it is in this way that How I Met Your Mother captures the contemporary condition; a deliberate effort, empowered by contemporary technology and media, to rearrange the scraps and fragments of deconstructed metanarratives into our own personal constructed metanarratives.
With the return of this new form of metanarratives, has the end of history ended? If we really are experiencing the present as a future past, and so have recreated belief in future endpoints, then we can validly say that the end of ends has ended. This claim can only hold, however, if we recognize that the endpoints reconstructed today are not the same as those deconstructed by Baudrillard. Whereas the endpoints Baurdillard deconstructs were universal ones we aimed and sought to live in, the endpoints we construct and believe in today are particular ones which emphasize that we are living the present, which induce us to live-in-the-present.
Can we, then, reconstruct the notion of history in a way which emphasizes the present in place of the future? What kind of ideologies can be constructed by these new types of endpoints? Is the shift from endings to moments indicative of our shift from producer societies to consumer societies? Do you ever catch your self portraying your life as a TV show or a movie? Squeeze as much as you can out of this moment and narrate your thoughts to us @catch21p or in the comments section below.
Food for Thought
Is Community a Post-Modern Masterpiece?
Life imitating art in How I Met Your Mother
Major Works by Zygmunt Bauman
Modernity and the Holocaust
Society Under Siege
Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.