The University of Western Australia
Fredric Jameson suggests in his essay, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998, that the near ubiquity of ‘the nostalgia mode’ employed in the production of popular culture is indicative of contemporary society’s inability to cope with time and history. The current cultural context is characterised by an unrelenting onslaught of post-industrial practices. These include, naming but a few, the penetration of media and advertising, rapid cycles of consumption, the decentralising effects of urbanisation and technological advancements in transport. According to Jameson, these disorienting and inexorable practices have since produced a series of ‘perpetual presents’ that enforce historical amnesia. The postmodern subject is unable to adequately represent the present and takes refuge in the production of cultural products in ‘the nostalgia mode’. Suffering the trauma of a loss of history, contemporary society thus experiences both personal and collective anxiety.
Marvel’s The Avengers may be read as a form of therapeutic intervention by attempting to contain this traumatic loss of time and history. To this end, the film provides multiple sites of identification for the viewing subject. The narrative of The Avengers involves an assembly of superheroes thrust into a contemporary setting, each symbolising a surviving fragment of a lost cultural past.
This article develops on the ideas presented by the author at the 7th Annual Limina Conference, ‘Humanising Collaboration’, held at the University of Western Australia in June 2012. It analyses the recently released film by Marvel Studios, Marvel’s The Avengers, in response to the call for papers discussing connections between History and Culture. The discussion that follows suggests that while the superheroic collaboration presents a pastiche that promises to amalgamate fragments of history into a coherent whole, Marvel’s The Avengers ultimately denies the sustained fulfilment of this fantasy of return. Instead, it is argued here that in its portrayal of the team’s conflictual dynamics and the collateral damage caused by the superheroic collaboration, the film ironically performs nostalgia’s palliative function through the innovative subversion of ‘the nostalgia mode’.