Keywords: Postmodernism, Bertolt Brecht, Verfremdungseffekt
The recent films of both Spike Lee and Adam McKay have been explicitly political in their respective thematic focuses. The former’s Chi-Raq (2015) adapted an ancient Greek comedy into a commentary on the state of violence in America’s inner-cities and more recent BlacKkKlansman (2018) adapted the memoir of a black police officer’s infiltration into a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The latter’s The Big Short (2015) adapted Michael Lewis’ bestselling book on the 2008 Financial Crisis into a farcical satire of economic greed, while his next film, Vice (2018), took a similarly scathing approach in depicting the life of former vice president Dick Cheney. While both McKay and Lee have their own unique filmmaking styles, their approach in these four films reveals both filmmakers to be working in the ideological tradition of postmodernism. These directors’ revival of postmodern aesthetic strategies in the 21st century has resulted in sophisticated artistic statements that cut through the political apathy and nihilism of our day. Their fast-paced films, saturated with paradoxes, allusions, and meta-commentaries, manage to keep today’s media-savvy audiences on edge and in a state of unstable equilibrium. This project argues that while both directors are fascinated by the deconstructionist potential that postmodern aesthetic strategies present, a key difference emerges when analyzing their respective political projects: while Lee fully embodies the postmodern mindset in both his narrative structures and thematic insights, McKay’s desire to persuade the audience to take a passionate stand ultimately makes his art transcend the traditional postmodernist stance of neutral, non-judgmental, or ironic acceptance of multiple truths. By comparing Lee’s approach to one of the most popular filmmakers of the day in McKay, this project situates Lee’s canonical style in the modern, ultra-partisan moment.