Postmodernism and Aesthetic Pluralism: Representation and Resistance in Multiverse Films

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The Ohio State University

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Each narrative has a way of constructing its own fictional world or universe, but in recent years it has been nearly impossible to walk into a movie theater without entering the multiverse, an infinite array of fictional universes. Popular films in the Western world are expanding the boundaries of fiction by creating multiverse frameworks in which many cultural interactions are possible. Here, I conduct a discursive analysis of both singular and world-building multiverse narratives like A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), Marvel’s Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), and Sony and Marvel’s Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse (2023) to investigate their work of representation and resistance. Specifically, these films play with otherizing and demonstrate a theoretical understanding of why cultures are different from one another. Using relativism and pluralism on screen, they elaborate on representation or meaning-making. These films are also portrayed using a postmodern characteristic which I call aesthetic pluralism: a narrative tactic in which film borrows from the concepts and aesthetics of short-form media. Through their conceptual and stylistic elements, multiverse films embody postmodern pluralism, refusing any binary of high and low culture. As such, even despite the commercial interests of popular culture which may tokenize diversity and adhere to the conventional frame of film, these popular films are at once translating cultural processes and intentional in their mode of storytelling. They not merely another ‘opium of the people; pop culture audiences are not unmoving. Rather, multiverse films are impressive forms of postmodern expression which do the work of semiotic resistance, allowing audiences to theorize and critically engage with the ways that others make meaning.



multiverses, aesthetic pluralism, postmodernism, representation, resistance, media convergence