'Nobel Prize for Postpostmodernism'

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 10:21 09/10/2013
Justin Bieber

JOE BENNETT: "Justin Bieber's success is founded on the bedrock of primitive emotion."

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Joe Bennett

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OPINION: The little Swede stood. He wore a pointy beard and a grave expression.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said.

"All but one of the Nobel Prize categories were established in 1895. In the following 118 years the world has changed but the categories have not.

"We are still awarding, for example, a prize for peace. Given the condition of the world, the unchanging nature of the human animal and the imminent wars over scarce resources, this prize is in danger of becoming at best an anachronism, at worst a joke.

"So we have established a new award to reflect today's much altered world. It is to be called the Nobel Prize for Postpostmodernism.

"We have chosen not to define postpostmodernism because we will not know it until we see it. Winners will be at the vanguard of contemporary thought and deed. They will have fashioned a new synthesis of ancient and modern, will have moved the world a little further down the path that it will follow. This will be the most forward-looking and flexible of our prizes.

"For the inaugural award there were three nominees. The first was Prince George of Cambridge in utero. The committee was greatly taken by the publicity in advance of his birth, the vast phalanx of photographers assembled outside the maternity hospital, the intense media speculation, the alternative male and female merchandising and, in particular, the generation of excitement among human beings ostensibly delivered long ago from the shackles of feudalism. Most remarkably, Prince George achieved all this without having yet drawn breath. It was this last point, however, that finally counted against the prince, since the committee felt one could hardly award a prize for achievement to a foetus.

"Our second nominee was the America's Cup entry, Emirates Team New Zealand. The judges found much to admire in this fusion of commerce, sport and technology. Despite being a floating billboard, it managed to capture the tribal instincts of a nation to such an extent that there were warnings of psychological harm should they lose. Since the team was partly funded by taxpayer money, those taxpayers were effectively taking themselves emotional hostage.

"In a delicious twist of irony, Emirates Team New Zealand did indeed lose, not because of anything to do with sailing but because of a timing rule dictated by the requirements of television, the medium through which it was fed to the consumers. It is hard to imagine anything more postpostmodern.

"Nevertheless Team New Zealand has not won the first Nobel Prize for Postpostmodernism. The judges were unanimous in awarding it to a young man from Canada. As with the other two nominees, Justin Bieber's success is founded on the bedrock of primitive emotion. That his pretty boy looks have inflamed the hormonal hysteria of teenage girls is no novelty, of course. What is novel is what he has done with it.

"Like Team New Zealand, Mr Bieber is in the booming entertainment business. It is the most postpostmodern of industries, its purpose being to rescue a materially satisfied mass from the horrors of boredom. But Mr Bieber has made it global by his use of information technology. His Twitter account has more followers than any on the planet; 45 million people read his piercing 140-character analysis of the constitutional crisis in Egypt.

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"By combining ancient emotion and modern technology, Mr Bieber has amassed vast personal wealth at the age of 19, and shown himself to be a scion of global capitalism, that most contemporary of creeds. But he has gone further still.

"On a recent tour of China, Mr Bieber was carried up the Great Wall on the shoulders of two of his bodyguards. The allusion to the little emperor, the child king, was inescapable. It is an archetype to be found in all cultures.

"Though Mr Bieber professes Christianity, perhaps so as not to alienate his North American fan-base, he encourages his devotees to refer to themselves as 'Beliebers'. This can be seen as mere cult-making, a profitable activity since the dawn of days. But at the same time, and the ambiguity is typically postpostmodern, Mr Bieber would appear to be encouraging a return to the days of many gods, the tolerant polytheism that prevailed before the advent of the monotheistic faiths that have caused and continue to cause so much trouble these last couple of thousand years.

"And so it is my privilege to invite, on to the stage, Justin Bieber, global entertainer, statesman, entrepreneur and theologian, to accept the first Nobel Prize for Postpostmodernism."

"Thanks, dude," said Mr Bieber.

"Would you mind signing this programme?" said the Swede. "It's for my daughter."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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