Sean Burke claims that Roland Barthes' aim in his famous essay The Death of the Author was to "bring about the end of a representational view of language" , the idea that a work is a 'slice of life' put down onto paper untainted by ideology or prejudice. As we have already seen, the Monkey Island games do not attempt to portray their world as reality but as simulation through the use of devices such as references to the computer game form and to contemporary culture. Thus the idea of the author becomes less powerful and it becomes easier to think of reading the texts beyond merely the author's intention. However, there are practical limits in the texts to the freedom of the player. When Guybrush is frightened of reprisals being handed out against him if he gives a certain response then he refuses to say it even if the player chooses that response, as he does in conversation with Admiral Casaba, when his mutinous crew threaten to keelhaul him and when he refuses to tell Minnie Goodsoup that he isn't emotionally involved with someone. Thus the author or LucasArts™ in this case, reassert their right to exist. Andrew Wernick suggests that what readers associate with the name of the author is "a vehicle for whatever significance, reputation, or myth..that name has come to acquire", that is, a brand name. Not only does the Monkey Island brand have nostalgic associations for many people, myself included, who played the original game on the Amiga as a young boy, but the LucasArts™ name has positive associations through popular film franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

The 20th century cultural elements that are superimposed over the 17th century seem to alternately affirm and satirise contemporary life. The plot of Escape From Monkey Island involves battling against the forces of globalisation in the form of Ozzie Mandrill, whose name is a reference to the egotistical Ozymandias in Shelley's poem of that name, who is buying up property from all the pirates in the Caribbean and converting the islands into "Family-compliant" areas where tourists can come to sample "authentic" pirate culture in complete safety. The texts present this "orderly consumerism" as having distinctly negative effects. Firstly, it condemns those who work for Mandrill's service-based economy to being nothing more than clones of the "friendly non-threatening corporate lackey" who works at "Starbuccaners" and whose wildest dreams are of one day being a store manager. The "lackey" tells Guybrush that he was forced to learn the company motto that "We don't like to compete with independent businesses" because "Predatory practises aren't good for anyone" and yet "Because we have these agreements, there are no other coffee houses". The text satires the 'Starbucks' brand through its presentation of Starbuccaneers business practises, as according to Naomi Klein Starbucks promote themselves as "a different breed from the strip-mall franchises of yesterday" but in reality "Starbucks waits until it can blitz an entire area and spread..something the company calls 'cannibalisation'." A dilution of the term 'authentic' is expressed by the attitudes of the Jambalaya Island tourists, one of whom says that she "can't get coffee like this at home" and when Guybrush objects that there are thousands of Starbuccaners outlets all over the world she replies "But these have 'Jambalaya Island' stamped on them" .

The underbelly of corporate capitalism is explored; Ozzie Mandrill's "Pirate Re-education Course" is an example of corporate brainwashing and of the insidious influence of corporations in the realm of education. The aim of the course is to turn pirates into well-behaved and orderly consumers by teaching them "more acceptable, marketable behaviour". This is an attack on the current situation in the United States, where "over 1, 000 state schools have already been contracted out to private companies" The name of the island where the pirates are forced to live in a shanty town until they are re-educated is "Knuttin Atoll" , which is what the pirates have been left with by the corporate takeover of their islands. The text shows the initial motive for Ozzie's attempt to turn the pirate islands into a service based "capitalist utopia" is prejudice, he calls pirates an "uncouth subculture" and says "The only thing that smells worse than a pirate is two pirates". Mandrill's status as a powerful outsider is what gives him his power, he uses 'Australian' insults that none of the Caribbean's pirates can defend themselves against, but crucially he knows their insults. He understands the culture he is attacking and uses a discourse that is beyond that culture's understanding.

Other elements of 20th century life that are satirised include a neon sign advertising grog, showing a pirate drinking the product and then running another pirate through with a sword. This is a parody of alcohol adverts, promoting as they do a product that is responsible for "40% of violent crime". There is criticism of exclusive clubs "for snotty rich folk" as Guybrush calls them. Guybrush parodies a member of these clubs by affecting an upper class accent and saying " pony is about to give birth."

The introduction of 20th century cultural elements could possibly lead to an assumption that those elements are universal rather than historical. Guybrush is interested in typical middle-class issues such as "variable-rate mortgages" and Jojo tells him without a hint of irony that "The want of things is the core of human experience". Escape from Monkey Island's plot is explicitly attacking the homogenising effects of globalisation yet all of the games contribute to it by either sanitising or Americanising alien cultures. Almost all artefacts Guybrush finds are branded, for example two of the cannons he purchases are called "Mr Massacre" and the "Paingiver 2000". Any nationalities that are not American are stereotyped, thus there is Otis the Mexican criminal, Haggis the kilt-wearing Scotsman, the French chef with a picture of the Eiffel tower on the wall of his kitchen, the "wise" Japanese diving judge, the Jamaican Voodoo Lady and the "atmospheric" gypsy fortune-teller. LucasArts™ make "family-oriented games" according to Guybrush and it is this commitment that means they cannot totally reject consumerism or cultural tourism even if they can satirise them. It is a cruel irony of history that LucasArts™ uses for their sanitised, 'Americanised' portrayal of 17th century life a location that was a series of colonies, where the population of one tribe, the Arawak, which had been "2 to 3 million..were in fact nearly extinct" by the beginning of the 17th century due to colonisation. This is not just a problem of history; New Labour's Foreign affairs adviser Robert Cooper was addressing the "problem" of Afghanistan when he said, "What is needed is a new kind of imperialism. The opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonisation is as great as in the 19th century".

Graham McCann argues that postmodernism leads to "at best, a politics of indifference and reaction, at worst, a politics of anarchy and hedonism" and it is this that is one of the least obvious but most worrying aspects of the texts. Guybrush is essentially an isolated figure, cut off from and mocked by the pluralities of the postmodern world in which he lives, and in turn he suffers few twinges of conscience whenever he does something that affects someone else. He looks like "a flooring inspector", is naïve enough to believe that when he heard some pirates talking about "Elaine's bust" they were referring to a statue and is unable to open a bottle with a child-proof top on it. These lovably inept qualities may annoy the people he meets but the treatment he often receives from them is not warranted. Despite saving the Caribbean by defeating LeChuck several times, he is referred to as a "pirate-in-training", no one believes his story about defeating LeChuck, his biography is described as "questionable", two different crews mutiny under his command after first refusing to help him and total strangers ridicule his name. Not surprisingly all this has damaged his sense of self-esteem, after he manages to open a locked door he says he "must be better at this pirating thing than I thought", after being tarred and feathered and asked if he is humiliated and he replies "Well I guess so but no more than usual", and at one point he despairs that his "life is a never ending series of.. puzzles". This despair comes from his sense that he is constantly leaping from one mininarrative to the next without any guiding principle by which to run his life, which seems to be a weakness of postmodernism that Lyotard all but admits when he says "one cannot live without prescriptions". The result of his harsh treatment by an extreme postmodernism is a lack of compassion when his actions result in the cook of the "Bloody Lip" bar being fired, Kate being arrested and Stan being trapped alive inside a coffin. Guybrush is also flippant about a cannon designed to cause "exquisite pain and unreasonable suffering" when he calls it "a sporty model" . Although these attitudes could be seen as parodying what they are representing, there is always a danger in adopting what may surface as amorality. Monkey Island satirises conservative ideologies but rarely goes beyond that into anything that is likely to lead to a change in those ideologies.

Postmodernism teaches lessons about democracy that theories such as Cultural Materialism must be alive to. However, Postmodernism must be wary of adopting an extreme amoral relativity and to do this it can incorporate Cultural Materialisms' commitment to practical change. The concept of the Death of the Author means that readers should be given freedom, but as Burke correctly points out "Bakhtin's concept of the dialogic constructed precisely in opposition to..monologism". The player in Monkey Island has freedom but there is also a limit to that freedom. The games sell because they appeal to the children of Postmodernism with their combination of mininarrative puzzles, sharp satire, irony, wit, referentiality and self-deprecation. The texts represent a tension between a desire to attack the homogenisation of cultures begun under globalisation and an active participation in that process. The world created is hyperreal and may ignore real historical oppression and slavery, but as Jojo the talking monkey says, "No one has any respect for history".

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moo March 02. 2005

hehe a talking monkey...
but seriously good article but sadly no references (could u post them pls!)

nerdyacademic August 18. 2002

Well i wanted feedback, looks like i got it. Thanks to those who had the patience to read it, i realise this isn't the sort of thing that is generally posted here. Seems like some liked it and some didn't, which is kind of what i expected. Maybe i have a "rudimentary grasp" of Postmodernism (Andi Wan) but i certainly wouldn't criticise someone for that without stating how i know better. I can't agree that the Monkey Island series is simply an "American consumer product" (iisaac) as firstly i have played the games but am not an American consumer. The games have worldwide reach, reflected by the fact that they are sold internationally. American cultural products, like American politics, have international influence and should pay more attention to this fact. Especially when they are set beyond the unreal bubble that is the United States. Im afraid that one day, when America is no longer the world's dominant power, this will make more sense than it does now. Oh, i got a first, thank you very much.

Jojo Sr July 31. 2002

I read the title...that was about it really.

Digital-Holocaust July 12. 2002

Brilliant thoughts there, Owen. I really enjoyed reading it. When I played the 4 MI games I felt basically the same way, Consumption of products and cultural materialism will always thrive because people are dumb enough to fall for it. If they don't want to be part of the in-crowd (or are actually not dumb enough to fall for marketing policies.) Then they will be forced to buy by making products more expensive, especially when the buyer's favourite interests are concerned. Problem is, everything's for sale. It is an unstoppable beast. ;\

Seepgood June 30. 2002

Wow. Great article. It's interesting to have stuff like this applied to modern entertainment. It was fun to read and brought out a lot of good points while still treating the game with respect as you've obviously played and enjoyed them thuroughly. I'm curious what you got on this paper?

Too bad you couldn't continue this discussion with Herman Toothrot.

Ben_Whatsisname June 30. 2002

Very nice and insightful read. :) Also kinda reminds me of the scene in "Chasing Amy" where Willam tells Holden that his comic book characters are like "Bill and Ted meet Cheech and Chong" and Holden counters with a more philisophical comparison. It is nice to be able to get subliminal learning into a fun series like these. Makes you think without feeling like you're thinking. That's why my LEC adventures collection are going to be on my daughter's computer right along with the "traditional" learning titles.

scabb- June 28. 2002

Fancy words make letters from the start of the alphabet magically appear on the piece of tree that you accidentally spilled your fancy words on.

ZeroXcape June 20. 2002

This is really long... I'll have to remember to read it later. Nice title though, wonder if the teacher got it.

mxbx June 19. 2002

And what mention of postmodernism would be complete w/out Roland Barthes?

marek@adventuregamer June 19. 2002

No. Postmodernism is that it's made out of people.


MrManager June 19. 2002

I always thought it had something to do with a modern post system. What? What?

marek@adventuregamer June 19. 2002

Yeah, if only half of them knew what postmodernism really is... -_-

lowman June 19. 2002

Arrr... and I thought it just be a Piratey Adventure

sheesh June 19. 2002

This is probably the time Monkey Island and Shakespeare start to coalesce: versatile confabulation that can be interpreted in any way imaginable is used by academics to make a point..

Geez, I even remember someone who made his theses on "The similitude of Elvis and Shakespeare". No matter how _stupid_ this sounds, he got his degree!

Evil.Murray June 18. 2002

Hmmm...and what exactly is this guy studying to be?

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