Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Moulin Rouge, Barbie and the Postmodern Artifact

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(Apologies, I could not find a very good video for this particular scene. Skip ahead to around 0:57)


The scene that depicts the opening number of Spectacular, Spectacular is one of many potent examples of postmodernism in the film Moulin Rouge. The play opens with an extremely elaborate set and tens of people dressed in ornate Bollywood costumes. This scene is an example of postmodernism in many ways, but the main aspects of it that I will discuss are its focus on representation and visual aesthetics, and the amalgamation of styles and cultural references depicted.

According, to Malpas, one of the characteristics of postmodern artifacts is their “focus on style and modes of representation” (Malpas, 12) as opposed to focus on a grand narrative characteristic of modernism. The visual aesthetics of this scene are a good representation of the film’s visual orientation; the image of the opening number is really quite spectacular, as the name of the play suggests, but it is clear that the elaborate style is really just performance for the sake of performance. The play is meant to be looked at and to be listened to, and the representation of the performance within the film clearly focuses on these visual aesthetics and over-the-top stylistic choices as opposed to the narrative structure of the play itself.

In addition to its obviously ornate visual aesthetic, the number makes reference to many different cultures and time periods, and it is this amalgamation that produces such a salient sense of postmodernism in the number. Throughout the opening performance, there are continual “ironic citations of older styles…[that] quote pre-modern elements in ways that both acknowledge the traditions from which the contemporary springs and playfully reincorporate them into its futuristic designs” (Malpas, 17). The play is supposedly set in the distant past in India, but the costumes are reminiscent of a cross over between ancient India and an elaborate Bollywood performance; to further complicate the scene, the song that they perform is a Bollywood pop number mixed with the famous song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” traditionally sung by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  This scene consciously and openly draws on a number of different cultural references, and mixes all of the styles together in order to create a number that plays on these references while making them an entirely separate piece.

This postmodernist style is further represented by the fact that all of this mix-and-matching of genres, styles, and cultures occurs on a stage. Traditionally, we think of theatre performances as a form of high art; however, the performance depicted in this scene effectively “breaks down…the ‘Great Divide’ between high art and popular culture” (Malpas, 20) by incorporating pop cultural references in a traditionally high-brow forum. In this sense, the scene of Spectacular, Spectacular’s opening number is very representative of a postmodern artifact.


Barbie-Doll-Fashion-ShowI think Barbie (wish I had some sparkles to go on either side of that) is an example of a simulacra. Barbie dolls are a mass produced product, so in that sense there is no true original that exists, but they are also a simulacra in the deeper sense that the dolls are supposedly representative of this “real” girl that we can all somehow emulate when we are young; but in reality the construct of Barbie is imaginary in many ways and comes to represent something that does not actually exist.


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