Teaser: The Postmodern Fashion of Provisional Views


Prada, teaser for Candy, by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

 

Ethical, juridical, or political responsibility, if there is any, consists in deciding on the strategic orientation to give to this problematic…for which truth, no more than reality, is not an object given in advance that it would be a matter of simply reflecting adequately.” Jacques Derrida, Without Alibi, 2002 (61)

 

Postmodernity has continued a clash of absolute truth with relativism. Relativism, or varying perspectives on variable truth, dominates media. We occupy a world in which one version of truth is in today and out tomorrow. And now with the internet, we are seeing an advanced form of relativism. We are now viewing the world provisionally, embracing a stream of teasers of what may be true, without responsibility to understand a matter or its implications because we expect it to change.

 

The provisional view is to consider something, without conclusion. It is diplomatic, and free of allegiance and always open “to be continued.” It is the most fashionable perspective today because it has the permissiveness of relativism but without the weight of accountability. And it is fashion as a system of change that helps sustain the provisional view. Rising from mass production, fashion became the turn over of abundance that subsequently influenced every aspect of life toward the latest style. Simultaneously, thinkers began to regard truth as subject to upgrade and change in perspective. Current fashion media uses provisional teasers to continually interest consumers, providing the latest beauty, and truth, of our time.

 

A teaser is a glimpse into a story. It is the ultimate provisional view that entices a viewer to screen a full film or buy a product. The teaser is pure suspense, the initial look at a love affair or drama to unfold. It is a brief and seductive bliss, when anything is possible. This media format appears to interest us most today. With media production at excess, we no longer have time for much more than a teaser, a headline, or a bullet point. Reading a full article, getting the whole story, is less and less possible or interesting. We prefer the provisional, since tomorrow there will be more.

 

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The fashion industry is made of teasers, not just in film shorts but editorials that do not preview something to come but simply glimpse a fantasy. Fashion stories propose a narrative, but they never conclude. The prevalence of editorials reveal that we enjoy seeing things in a present, open-ended form. This practice seems very innocent and carefree but engages in true and false. Provisional views are not necessarily opposed to absolute truth, because they are only suggestive. Thus, there can be provisional views that prove indicative of the absolute, and provisional glimpses of something that fades to nothing. In postmodern society which has disregarded the absolute, we are equally entertained by provisional truths and falsehoods. We have ongoing curiosity that leads to indifference over right or wrong, and thus a feeling that our culture is meaningless.

 

Beyond fashion, a provisional view holds simply that what we see is all we get for now. Provisional views then feel safe and harmless, because they appear to answer only to the moment, but they lack consideration of their relation to truth and falsehood. We can ask of deliberate intention, but with the provisional we often cannot know what will come later. In Without Alibi, Derrida explains truth and lie, in that a lie is an intentionally untruthful declaration, but it is not a glimpse of truth for which we just cannot yet see the fulfillment. The provisional truth can be partial, or partially unseen or unsaid. Derrida explained, “Truth and veracity are certainly necessary, but they must not be put into operation in just any fashion, at just any price…’toute vérité n’est pas bonne à dire,’ as the French proverb puts it.” (some truths are better left unsaid) (49-50). And just what is unsaid in the teaser? What is to come. So perhaps our current stage of advanced relativism known as the provisional is a teaser for the return for the unspoken absolute. While our ongoing interest in mere glimpses can rest on nothing, it can also open to the eternal.

Rachel K. Ward is author of All for Nothing (Atropos, 2010). Visit her fashion blog here, daily blog here and follow at Twitter here.

 

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  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ Steve Allison

    Thanks for the article Rachel. Many years ago I would never have thought such profound insight could come from the area of fashion. You well describe our situation.

  • Steven Perry

    I wonder to what extent what we are seeing is not relativism but voyeurism. The construction of narratives which imply glances into other worlds implicating by subtlety the suggestion of the mundane lives of our own. The provisional then becomes an invitation to conceptual experimentation and a co-option of the Real for commercial ends.

    • Rachel

      In most fashion media there is typically a voyeuristic view, but in the teaser specifically it is provisional, suggesting something to come. (I actually wrote about the voyeurism before too http://www.rachelkward.com/bourdin.html) But what the teaser suggests and what is to come are different things however because the tease is a fantasy that can only end in a product, thus is is a bit of a bait and switch. While we can have a provisional view of some thing in the world that does result in lasting truth, a provisional tease of a product, fulfilled by purchasing, rarely delivers the heights of a tease.

      • Steve Perry

        That’s kind of what I was driving at. You put it well that the fantasy ends in a product. As if by possessing the item we achieve the experience. I’ve noticed this a lot in marketing ads i.e. the promise of an experience. One that comes to mind is the credit card where people purchase a weather balloon with points from their card.

  • Grant Gardiner

    I’m interested in this idea of the deferred conclusion preventing critique (as to truth, or otherwise).

    Without conclusion the teaser can not be judged re: its message, its truth. It defies judgement, actively avoiding all responsibility for any message it may carry because it leaves the ‘reader’ with nothing but a void in which to project a conclusion of their own or happily avoid the need for one. In this way the reader does not stand back from the text and achieve critical distance, it can only be experienced to the point of absent catharsis. The teaser is then harnessed for commercial means by placing the product in the space of catharsis, or denied altogether resulting in the non-committal provisional view with its constant present, moving towards the next inconclusive beginning.

    In terms of truth or falsehood it prevents a conclusive reading, and therefore judgement of the text. And one could say that a habit of non-committal readings could produce an acceptance of a world in which a definitive position is unnecessary or neglected. At the very least it helps reinforce such a world.

    In terms of our walk with God it opens a life in which we constantly move towards the deferred catharsis of meeting Him face-to-face, our life a collage of teasers towards Him. Faith being reliant on inconclusive evidence (our hope in which we can’t see) it makes sense that you could perceive your life in this ‘cascade of teasers’.

    It’s an interesting framework through which to view the world. Many implications. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    • Rachel K. Ward

      Grant, just saw your response and think it is important to highlight the value in suspended judgement. We are called to have faith without specific, self directed conclusion. A the same time we also observe how this virtue is exploited for a permissive and secular position that reinforces agnosticism without any truth. Remaining open without truth, results in never ending pursuits that are never enough, while remaining open with truth rests in the security of faith and love.