08. Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Non-communication


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

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08. Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Non-communication

  1. 1. Contemporary Media Issues Baudrillard & Non-Communication
  2. 2. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>For Baudrillard, the media constitute one of the primary sites for the production and dissemination of ‘the sign’. </li></ul><ul><li>He was heavily influenced by Marshall McLuhan and his claim that ‘the medium is the message’ – that the real significance of a medium (or the media) is the technology itself and its social and psychological consequences. </li></ul><ul><li>The most important effect of the media transformation of the symbolic into the semiotic is that it creates ‘ non-communication’. </li></ul><ul><li>The modern media is ‘non-reciprocal and unresponsive’ – it is ‘speech without response’. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>Baudrillard finds this ‘non-responsive’ media model reproduced throughout our society – in the unilaterality of the media, of semiotic consumption, of the hyperrealised image that leaves no room for interpretation or response, in the ‘non-wars’ of the west that employ overwhelming technological force to exclude all opposition. </li></ul><ul><li>Paradoxically we have a media saturated society of non-communication where ‘ people are no longer speaking to each other’. </li></ul><ul><li>Only controlled pre-programmed feedback is allowed – phone-ins – opinion polls – letters – all simulacrum of a response – functioning to censor anything that actually challenges the power of the media. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>Phone-ins act not just as a means of communication but a means to avoid communication. </li></ul><ul><li>Phone calls forestall physical contact and allows us to retain a nominal friendship. </li></ul><ul><li>Mobile phones have now displaced the need to spend time on the phone with a brief text message. </li></ul><ul><li>We live in a world whose proliferation of digital technologies represent a huge increase in communication but also the simultaneous systematic destruction, reduction, simplification and replacement of human relations. </li></ul><ul><li>If we don’t see this paradox, it’s not because it’s not there, it just means that digital technology has penetrated our lives so much the paradox is invisible to us. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>The mobile phone is an excellent example of the Baudrillardian paradox: </li></ul><ul><li>It began as a ridiculed elitist gadget and is now an essential component of our lives and means of communication. </li></ul><ul><li>Criticism of its use swings from moral panics over health concerns to apparently reactionary narrow mindedness. </li></ul><ul><li>However – streets full of oblivious, down turned individuals thumbing their abbreviated text messages represent an almost dystopic vision of the future. </li></ul><ul><li>The man on the street ‘talking away to no one acts as a living insult to the passers by’. </li></ul>
  6. 7. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>Now we have the threat of augmented reality – where the ‘real’ world is merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery - creating a mixed reality. The augmentation is conventionally in real-time. </li></ul><ul><li>Active audience theories valorize behaviour that has limited significance like the ‘personalization’ of mobile ‘phones. </li></ul><ul><li>According to Baudrillard personalization doesn’t represent an expression of our individuality and freedom – but a precoded response and integration into a system of control. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Upgrade Me BBC (2009) Poet and gadget lover Simon Armitage explores people's obsession with upgrading to the latest technological gadgetry. Upgrade culture drives millions to purchase the latest phones, flatscreen TVs, laptops and MP3 players. But is it design, functionality, fashion or friends that makes people covet the upgrade, and how far does the choice of gadgets define identity? Simon journeys across Britain and to South Korea in search of answers.
  8. 9. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>The media destroys the symbolic and replaces it with a simulation that functions not only as a mode of communication but as a mode of control. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard wrote about how the student protests in Paris in May 1968 provides different proof of this paradox. </li></ul><ul><li>The media transformed a living moment, with its own rhythm and time, into a media object and event. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Mass-mediatization’ functions through ‘the imposition of models’ – so the media administered a deadly dose of publicity – imposing their own models of meaning, development and resolution. </li></ul><ul><li>What other examples of large scale events ‘asphyxiated by extension’ can you think of? </li></ul>
  9. 11. Baudrillard and Non-Communication <ul><li>Baudrillard even sees ‘communication’ as being different to communicating. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ People don’t need to communicate, because they just speak to each other. Why communicate when it is so easy to speak to each other?’ </li></ul><ul><li>Communication is the attempt by electronic technologies to reconnect the population they’ve isolated whilst promoting its simulation. </li></ul><ul><li>The electronic environment absorbs and incorporates us. </li></ul>
  10. 12. The Counter Arguments <ul><li>Baudrillard’s claims of ‘non-communication’ ignore the variety of forms of human relations created by electronic media, from the empathetic reactions to global situations – Live Aid? Help for Haiti? – to stories of electronic contact leading to friendships, relationships, marriage or reuniting families… </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard’s claims also suggest a passive, receiving audience that runs counter to contemporary media studies research that suggests audiences are ‘active’ and emphasises the potential range of individual responses to the media and the possibility of oppositional readings that might develop. </li></ul><ul><li>Further to this – surely the rise of Web 2.0 make Baudrillard’s claim for a single media audience obsolete, right? </li></ul>
  11. 13. Non-Communication and Interactivity <ul><li>Not necessarily … </li></ul><ul><li>The ‘interactivity’ of contemporary digital media actually offers support for Baudrillard’s position. </li></ul><ul><li>Internet browsing, email, chat-rooms might allow a greater response but this is a naive individualism – this is only an improvement on the electronic media simulation of the symbolic and still involves significant mediation. </li></ul><ul><li>Digital TV’s interactivity only involves a choice of screens or services – a highly limited and controlled response. </li></ul><ul><li>If Sky Sports offers an individually tailored, attractive and leisurely experience than actual attendance – with a choice of views and High Definition making more reality available in the home than in the stands – surely this increase in interactivity and quality only serves as an even greater simulation ? </li></ul><ul><li>An even greater cover for the loss of symbolic experience. </li></ul>
  12. 15. Non-Communication and Interactivity <ul><li>The limitations of interaction are best seen in the common invitation by news channels for email feedback, your photos, your views, your votes on the issues of the day. </li></ul><ul><li>How many are ever read out? Replied to? How much time is spent discussing their contents? </li></ul><ul><li>And when they are read out, their contents are immediately countered to avoid any accusations of bias - to simulate debate - a simulation of communication. </li></ul><ul><li>The media do not reflect and represent the reality of the public – they produce these responses and use them to justify their continuing existence. </li></ul><ul><li>News programmes deliberately tailor questions, debates, stories to provoke and encourage viewers to ‘interact’. </li></ul><ul><li>The feedback functions to confirm to the news channel, and convince us, that someone is really watching. </li></ul><ul><li>Instead of interaction this process produces a precoded response that functions to support the system and its semiotic processing of everyday life … </li></ul>
  13. 16. But Symbolic Exchange still exists … <ul><li>Depressed? No need to be according to Baudrillard! </li></ul><ul><li>The symbolic acts ‘like a dominant motif long forgotten’ – the chance to reaffirm symbolic rather than semiotic relations always remains. </li></ul><ul><li>Spontaneous public protest, underground youth cultures, grass roots activism all point to the continued existence of symbolic exchange. </li></ul><ul><li>However … </li></ul><ul><li>C orrupted versions of ‘the sacred’ remain in the media simulation of safe forms of our lost sociality and shared meaning – acting – like consumption, as a means of social control …. </li></ul>
  14. 17. Examples of Semiotic Exchange <ul><li>… t he tribal nature of football matches, the shared experience of the National Lottery, GMTV’s ‘best-friend’ presenters, high concept movie openings, rolling news coverage, voyeuristic make-over programmes, Reality TV hate figures and evictions, tabloid-hyped soap operas, tabloid-hyped hate figures all function to purge our expressive energies and derail social forces that might otherwise demand other forms of release. </li></ul><ul><li>The hatch, match and dispatch of celebrity culture – the spectacle of a royal wedding or funeral – the Champions League (containing few teams that are actually champions) – the World Cup Final – all provide an instant, simulated collective meaning for people without ever having to leave our homes or indulge in any form of social contact. </li></ul><ul><li>T his is semiotic exchange disguised as ‘the sacred’ – as symbolic. </li></ul>
  15. 18. But even then Symbolic Exchange still exists … <ul><li>We see symbolic exchange operating in the periodic urban rioting by those ‘excommunicated’ according to Baudrillard in the ‘deserts of the real’. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Something in all men profoundly rejoices in seeing a car burn’. </li></ul><ul><li>Despite consumer culture trying to replace, ignore or drown out with images and messages and technologies our desire for ‘the symbolic’: </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Against the triumphant abstraction, against the irreversible monopolization, the demand arises that nothing can be given without being returned, nothing is ever won without something being lost, nothing is ever produced without something being destroyed, nothing is ever spoken without something being answered.’ </li></ul>