07 Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Symbolic Exchange Hyperreality


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...from Baudrillard and the Media by William Merrin Polity 2005

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07 Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Symbolic Exchange Hyperreality

  1. 1. Contemporary Media Issues Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Hyperreality
  2. 2. There is no theory of the media . Jean Baudrillard ‘Requiem for the Media’ (1971) Quote 1 I thought he was supposed to be a postmodernist?
  3. 3. Definition of Postmodernism <ul><li>Postmodernism describes the emergence of a society in which the mass media and popular culture are the most important and powerful institutions, and control and shape all other types of social relationships. </li></ul><ul><li>Popular cultural signs and media images increasingly dominate our sense of reality, and the way we define ourselves and the world around us. Postmodern theory is an attempt to understand a media-saturated society. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Baudrillard and the Media (2005) <ul><li>According to the academic William Merrin, Baudrillard isn’t actually a postmodernist. </li></ul><ul><li>Although he borrows many ideas to describe this media saturated world, he’s actually much more interested in the way we connect , make meaning , experience and communicate . </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard is first and foremost a sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher. </li></ul><ul><li>He just happens to be living in an age where the media influence significant parts of these topics. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Baudrillard and the Media (2005) <ul><li>Baudrillard offers a radical anthropological critique of what he calls the semiotic and simulation – and an avant garde response to the world of simulation and our attempts to understand it. </li></ul><ul><li>His ideas are based on the work of the French anthropologist Emil Durkheim. </li></ul><ul><li>Durkheim was concerned primarily with how societies could maintain their coherence in the modern era, when things such as shared religious and ethnic backgrounds could no longer be assumed… </li></ul>
  6. 6. The mass media are anti-mediatory and…fabricate non-communication – this is what characterizes them. Jean Baudrillard ‘Requiem for the Media’ (1971) Quote 2 Like I said before, I thought he was supposed to be a postmodernist?
  7. 7. Symbolic Exchange <ul><li>Baudrillard saw traditional human communication and relations and meaning making as ‘symbolic exchange’ - and saw the replacement of this by the contemporary media as dangerous. </li></ul><ul><li>His concept of ‘symbolic exchange’ is directly derived from Durkheim’s identification and privileging of an immediate, actualised, collective version of relations and its transformative experience and communication. </li></ul><ul><li>What was important to Baudrillard is the idea of a higher mode of collective experience and meaning that can transform everyday individual life. </li></ul>
  8. 8. The sacred <ul><li>Durkheim called this ‘the sacred’. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard saw ‘the sacred’ destroyed by the modern west which replaces it with an inferior, individualised version. </li></ul>
  9. 9. ‘… not the flow but the ebb of communal life’ Roger Caillois (1980) Quote 3
  10. 10. The sacred <ul><li>It sees the evolution of western society as a movement away from collective communion and a historical decline of ‘the sacred’ defined as the strong, active, full, collective human relationship founded on the customs, rituals and exchanges whose meaning is actualised in the moment. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard saw the primitive world as best exemplifying this symbolic mode. </li></ul>
  11. 11. The creation of ‘the sign’ <ul><li>Postwar Europe had seen the development of significant socio-economic and technological changes and an explosion of theoretical debate about these changes. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard saw the developing consumer society as representing not an increase in individual freedom but the penetration of control, constraint and alienation in everyday life. </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, consumption is a contemporary invention and isn’t just the physical act of buying an object but also has a side affect - the act of appropriating ‘a signifier’ – it is… </li></ul><ul><li>‘ An activity consisting of the systematic manipulation of signs’. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard contrasts this with ‘symbolic exchange’ that is actualised in human activity involving a ‘real relationship or directly experienced situation’. </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, ‘the sign’ is born when this relationship is broken. </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer society processes and transforms all our relations and meaning into signs available for consumption. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Symbolic vs Semiotic Exchange <ul><li>‘ symbolic exchange’ </li></ul><ul><li>Good </li></ul><ul><li>Sacred </li></ul><ul><li>Organic </li></ul><ul><li>Raw </li></ul><ul><li>Primitive </li></ul><ul><li>Collective </li></ul><ul><li>Real </li></ul><ul><li>‘ semiotic exchange’ </li></ul><ul><li>Bad </li></ul><ul><li>Profane </li></ul><ul><li>Processed </li></ul><ul><li>Produced </li></ul><ul><li>Contemporary </li></ul><ul><li>Individual </li></ul><ul><li>Simulated </li></ul>
  13. 13. Example of ‘the symbolic’ <ul><li>But it’s not all cultural pessimism… </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of symbolic exchange still survive in contemporary society. </li></ul><ul><li>Can you think of a symbolic gift that, once exchanged, becomes a unique and irreplaceable incarnation of what it represents? </li></ul>
  14. 15. Examples of ‘the semiotic’ <ul><li>Examples of semiosis (the creation of signs) in contemporary society are everywhere. </li></ul><ul><li>This is what Baudrillard is particularly interested in. </li></ul><ul><li>He wrote in great detail about one example… </li></ul>
  15. 16. Disneyland Paris
  16. 17. Themed Pubs
  17. 18. Symbolic Exchange <ul><li>The symbolic isn’t perfect – it is dramatic and engaged, immediate, active, reciprocal with its own mood and power – not idealised or nostalgic as Baudrillard is driven in his work by the chance of the symbolic returning. </li></ul><ul><li>Consumption has nothing to do with physical satisfaction or happiness – instead he sees it as a system of social hierarchy and distinction, of social integration and control. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus Baudrillard’s most apparently postmodern claim – that our entire reality is a semiotic production and simulation – one already ‘designated, abstracted and rationalised’ – ready for our consumption – is actually based on the work of French sociologists and anthropologists concerned with the reduction and processing of ‘symbolic’ relationships. </li></ul><ul><li>Ultimately consumption is an inadequate replacement for the symbolic – the delight in communal life cannot be found in the lonely embrace of the sign or the unilateral operation of the electronic media. </li></ul>
  18. 19. Symbolic Exchange <ul><li>Fight Club (1999) provides one fanciful rejection of the semiotic ‘Ikea’ lifestyle and a return to the symbolic – to physical violence and personal risk – in an attempt to recover a lost meaning in the characters’ lives. </li></ul>
  19. 20. Disneyland & Hyperreality <ul><li>Baudrillard claims that Disneyland is the best example for understanding how reality works in the postmodern world - a place which is at the same time a real, physical space, but also clearly a fictional, representational world. </li></ul><ul><li>You should be familiar with basic ideas around representation - that signs represent ideas, people or places. </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, there is now only surface meaning; there is no longer any 'original' thing for a sign to represent - the sign is the meaning. We inhabit a society made up wholly of simulacra - simulations of reality which replace any 'pure' reality. </li></ul><ul><li>'Pure' reality is replaced by the hyperreal where any boundary between the real and the imaginary is eroded. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard's work is an attempt to expose the 'open secret' that this is how we live and make sense of the world. </li></ul>
  20. 21. Disneyland & Hyperreality <ul><li>According to Baudrillard, Disneyland is pure fantasy but it simultaneously functions: </li></ul><ul><li>'to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation' (Baudrillard 1983). </li></ul><ul><li>This is what Baudrillard means when he states that Disneyland is the real America, because the real America is actually a hyperreal phenomenon divorced from the once genuinely real place called America that has now vanished from human experience. </li></ul>
  21. 22. Hyperreality & Simulacra <ul><li>Hyperreality , therefore, is the outcome of simulated imagery - what Baudrillard calls simulacra : </li></ul><ul><li>'The simulacrum denies not reality, but the difference between the image and the real ... there is no difference between the image and other orders of experience' (Fiske 1991). </li></ul><ul><li>Los Angeles is its media images and cultural myths more so than it is a real, material, geographical location. </li></ul><ul><li>We have nothing real to believe in except hyperreal simulation and simulacra . </li></ul>
  22. 23. Hyperreality <ul><li>What has brought about this postmodern age of simulation and hyperreality? </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, the transformation of signs no longer referring to real things as they are channelled through media and communications technologies - especially television - has collapsed the separation between the real (the physical, terrestrial habitat) and the metaphysical (knowledge beyond this habitat). </li></ul>
  23. 24. Hyperreality <ul><li>Like 'an astronaut in his capsule' each human being is 'at the controls of a micro-satellite, in orbit, living no longer as an actor but as a terminal of multiple networks. Television is still the most direct prefiguration of this ... regulating everything from a distance' (Baudrillard 1985). </li></ul><ul><li>Television and other electronic and digital media conceal processes of simulation which effectively regulate and restrict our versions of the 'reality‘ we sense around us. </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, ‘society itself is now made to the measure of television ... One can no longer speak of the distortion of reality: there is nothing left to measure the image against’. (Bauman 1992). </li></ul>