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09. Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Simulacra McLuhan The Gulf War


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

Published in: Education

09. Contemporary Media Issues - Baudrillard Simulacra McLuhan The Gulf War

  1. 1. Contemporary Media Issues Quick review then…Baudrillard, the Simulacrum, Marshall McLuhan & Reality TV
  2. 2. Reminder – What is 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>So we live in a postmodern age. </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. </li></ul><ul><li>Postmodernism is an attempt to understand this media-saturated society. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Examples to use in your exam… The Matrix (1999) Chanelle Hayes (2007) Big Brother (2001-10) Marcel Duchamp (1912) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Andy Warhol (1964) Rene Magritte (1933) Kid British – Our House is Dadless (2009) Madness – Our House (1982) Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Life on Mars (2006-07) Cheryl Cole - Fight For This Love (2009) Cadbury’s Gorilla (2008) The Chanel No. 5 advert (2009) Kylie Minogue vs New Order - Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head (2001) Read My Lips - Bush/Blair (2006) by Guinness Horses advert (1999) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) Britain’s Got Talent Final (2009) David after the Dentist (2009) Pulp Fiction (1994) Scream (1996) Jay-Z (2004) ‘The Black Album’ MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ (2007) Danger Mouse (2005) The Grey Album In This World (2002) Blade Runner (1982) Fight Club (1999) Atonement (2007) Cock and Bull Story (2005) Ugly Betty (2008) Radiohead Aphex Twin
  4. 4. Quotes to use in your exam… Simon Pegg & Trekkies Cultural Studies Web 2.0 The Long Tail New social values New cultural languages Fans as social groups Changing media world - changing audience habits Broadband internet The active audience Citizen journalism Twitter, YouTube, Blogger ‘ The Global Village’ The Digital Divide Photoshopping 'structures of feeling' 'cultural logic' 'society of the spectacle’ ‘ ecstasy of communication’ 'hold up the mirror to reality’ hyperreality ‘ The world we see is the world of the commodity’ mediation simulation 'fetishised hyperreality’ pastiche , parody and intertextuality modernism culture ‘remixing itself’ ‘ superficiality rather than substance’ 'death of the metanarratives' Hybridity hierarchies of taste Bricolage hyperconsciousness
  5. 5. Critics to drop into conversation… Marshall McLuhan Dominic Strinati Julian McDougall Guy Debord Fredric Jameson Toby Miller Richard MacManus John Hartley Jean Francois Lyotard Chris Anderson Dick Hebdige Jean Baudrillard
  6. 6. Review – Baudrillard’s Postmodernism <ul><li>So far you’ve discovered that Baudrillard isn’t really a postmodernist! </li></ul><ul><li>His ideas come from a particular French tradition of anthropology, sociology and philosophy. </li></ul><ul><li>He’s particularly interested in the way we communicate. </li></ul><ul><li>And he sees the media as standing in the way of communication and not adding to it. </li></ul><ul><li>He sees the media as ‘sign makers’… </li></ul>
  7. 7. 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>
  8. 8. Review <ul><li>He calls true communication ‘the sacred’ – a form of ‘symbolic exchange’. </li></ul><ul><li>What the media offer us is a semiotic version of this – not ‘real’ but ‘hyperreal.’ </li></ul><ul><li>That the media actually causes ‘non-communication’. </li></ul><ul><li>That Disneyland and personalisation of mobile phones and HDTV all distance us from reality – from ‘the sacred’. </li></ul>
  9. 9. 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>
  10. 10. Baudrillard and the Simulacrum <ul><li>Baudrillard’s most famous and controversial concept is that of ‘the simulacrum.’ </li></ul><ul><li>The simulacrum is a term that describes the transformation of the symbolic into the semiotic image – a journey from reflecting reality, to masking reality, to having no relation to reality whatsoever. </li></ul><ul><li>The electronic mass media functions by translating the symbolic into the semiotic transforming: </li></ul><ul><li>‘ the lived character of the world into signs, so we live, sheltered by signs, in the deserts of the real’. </li></ul><ul><li>What we call reality is only ‘the simulacrum’ - when we watch the news we see only a world interpreted, designated and rationalized by the TV screen. </li></ul>
  11. 11. The Matrix (1999) – Welcome to the desert of the real
  12. 12. Baudrillard and the Simulacrum <ul><li>Repeated reproduction can rob us of the impact of reality: </li></ul><ul><li>‘ The Grand Canyon has become a disappointing reproduction of the photographic original’. Daniel Boorstin (1992) </li></ul><ul><li>The simulacrum is marked not by its unreality but by an excess of reality – or hyperreality . </li></ul><ul><li>Reality TV, social realist cinema, fly-on-the-wall documentaries are all good examples of hyperreality – the reason for their existence (apart from to shape an audience for advertisers) is to replicate reality – to make us believe that reality can be discovered through the reproduction of reality in an ‘orgy of realism’ that culminates in the ‘devastation of the real’! </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard calls this ‘ hypersimilitude ’ – hypertruth. </li></ul>
  13. 13. ‘ It’s a global village. Don’t be the idiot.’ TV Advert for Mobile Phones
  14. 14. ‘ They say planetary communications abolish distance. But the impact of catastrophes remains inversely proportional to distance; 5000 dead in China are not the equivalent of ten western lives. In this regard, things are even worse than they once were, since in the past indifference could be put down to a lack of communication. With that obstacle removed, we can confirm that, beneath the formal solidarity, the discrimination is absolute.’ Jean Baudrillard
  15. 15. Are friends electric? <ul><li>Baudrillard has long been associated with an earlier cultural critic the Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan . </li></ul><ul><li>The revolution, dissemination and proliferation in the electronic and digital media since his death in 1980 has led to McLuhan to becoming a key cultural icon for postmodernism. </li></ul><ul><li>His discussion of electronic media (TV & radio) and culture, the global village of instant access, contact, participation, and empathy </li></ul><ul><li>His views on the live collective experience of global events, and his interest in the transformation of our society and culture by electronic media all anticipate key debates in postmodernism. </li></ul><ul><li>McLuhan’s claim that ‘the medium is the message’ reveals how the form of the media we’re receiving imposes itself upon all levels of our private and social lives </li></ul><ul><li>It creates a sensory environment as invisible to us as water is to fish. </li></ul><ul><li>The medium changes the way we interact with the world around us. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Just as Narcissus became captivated by his own reflection – we are captivated by the medium.
  17. 17. Huge televised events like the funeral of President Kennedy or the Queen’s Coronation or the funeral of Winston Churchill or the first live broadcast of the World Cup final demonstrates the unrivalled power of TV to unify an entire population in ritual process and emotion – the media allows us to access a version of Baudrillard’s symbolic.
  18. 18. Are friends electric? <ul><li>Baudrillard of course disagreed – he saw these events as replacing the lived relations with semiotic versions – we are alienated from reality by our technological society - for him the medium was the message because the medium became the message – the message itself was irrelevant. </li></ul><ul><li>Hence we consume today a ‘fragmented, filtered world…industrially processed by the media into signs’. </li></ul><ul><li>Instead of unifying us into a global village Baudrillard sees us transformed into an indistinct mass created by the medium without a voice. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Are friends electric? <ul><li>The media have replaced symbolic exchange with ‘non-communication’ where we pass like commuters avoiding all contact with others through the distancing power of the media. </li></ul><ul><li>So the organic , collective unity that McLuhan saw in the media is for Baudrillard a synthetic simulacrum that removes any potential transformative power. </li></ul><ul><li>Traditionally the media was said to hold a mirror up to reality. </li></ul><ul><li>McLuhan saw that the media was influencing reality. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard sees the media as being a replacement reality. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Are friends electric? Not on Reality TV <ul><li>Think about Reality TV programmes like Big Brother . </li></ul><ul><li>It aimed to offer a snapshot of real life – seeing the real reactions of people under increasingly artificial conditions in real time - a kind of social experiment. </li></ul><ul><li>Then we’re presented with celebrities placed under the same conditions in I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here! And Celebrity Big Brother . </li></ul><ul><li>These programmes produce a ‘dissolution of TV in life’ and a ‘dissolution of life in TV’. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Are friends electric? Not on Reality TV <ul><li>How are we to know what’s real and what is happening because of the cameras in such an artificial reality? </li></ul><ul><li>This ‘hyperreality’ is a semiotic effect. The potential for symbolic experience offered by the first series of Big Brother has been slowly eclipsed by the elevation, excessive realization and technical perfection of its increasingly semiotic ancestors. </li></ul><ul><li>Faced with this excessive hyperreality we have nothing left to do but stare ‘fascinated and dumbfounded at the empty banality of this reality.’ </li></ul>
  22. 22. For Baudrillard – the story of Narcissus needs to be completed – he doesn’t just fall in love with his reflection he dies a slow death because of it.
  23. 23. Reality TV is only a spectacular version of the transformation of life itself into virtual reality. Jean Baudrillard (1997)
  24. 24. Are friends electric? Not on Reality TV <ul><li>Technology is blurring rather than sharpening our picture of reality – </li></ul><ul><li>‘ we fill our lives not with experience, but with the images of experience’- ‘the image, more interesting than its original, becomes the original’ </li></ul><ul><li>Daniel Boorstin called this hyperreality - ‘more real than reality’ </li></ul><ul><li>In Ridley Scott’s 1984 film ‘Blade Runner’ the character Dr Tyrell creates a replicant ‘more human than human’. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Blade Runner (1984) – ‘More human than human …’
  26. 26. Hyperidentities…?
  27. 27. The delirious spectacle of the non-event <ul><li>There is no event in the media - only its simulacrum. </li></ul><ul><li>There is no shared, organic, collective experience, only individual viewers, isolated by their technologically mediated HD experience, avoiding all contact or exchange. </li></ul><ul><li>There is no shared reality, only the consumption of signs with the individual propelled from the comfort of the sofa into a succession of spectacular images. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Television encourages indifference, distance and apathy…it anaesthetises the imagination.’ Baudrillard (1991) </li></ul><ul><li>The best examples of the non-event are in the most heavily mediated and important world events. </li></ul><ul><li>The 1991 Gulf War. </li></ul><ul><li>Princess Diana’s death (1997) </li></ul><ul><li>Queen Mother’ funeral (2002) </li></ul><ul><li>9/11 </li></ul><ul><li>Asian tsunami (2004) </li></ul><ul><li>Haiti earthquake (2010.) </li></ul>
  28. 28. The delirious spectacle of the non-event <ul><li>Surely though this is counter-intuitive? </li></ul><ul><li>Surely our shared experience of these of these events did produce a remarkable empathetic and emotional response and communal experience akin to a rediscovery of Durkheim’s ‘sacred’ or Baudrillard’s symbolic working as a reminder that we DO live in a global village - all working to disprove the theory that TV encourages indifference and apathy. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard would answer that because what we are witnessing is not real – it is hyperreal – then the connection of our emotions to this hyperreality makes it impossible to create a real ‘symbolic’ relationship with the victims or persons involved. </li></ul><ul><li>Our emotions - our empathy are a luxury of our distance from the event and our consumption of the simulacrum. </li></ul><ul><li>The empathy we feel is no different to a soap opera plotline, romantic comedy, human interest news story, or celebrity death and all it needs to create the emotional response is the correct lighting, editing, soundtrack and romantic or courageous ending to act as a prompt. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>On Saturday 28 November 1992 Channel 4 broadcast an exclusive live performance by ‘the biggest band in the world – U2 </li></ul><ul><li>It was introduced as ‘the biggest media event since the Gulf War’. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Thousands of dead Iraqis and a rock group from Dublin carry equal weight inside the self-regarding balloon of the mass media.’ Sweeting (1992) </li></ul><ul><li>The war and the concert had become indistinguishable as media events. </li></ul><ul><li>Media ‘events’ permeate popular, academic and journalistic discourses – the term event is used to describe organised publicity, official events produced to be publicly broadcast, and gives undue prominence to minor news items or popular cultural phenomenon involving minor celebrities where the media’s presence alone makes it become more noticeable. </li></ul>The delirious spectacle of the non-event
  30. 30. <ul><li>At no point is Baudrillard saying that these events never happened – the fact that he’s writing about them as ‘non-events’ mean something must have happened to draw his attention! </li></ul><ul><li>What Baudrillard attempts to do is by describing these happenings as non-events, to make us question their validity. </li></ul><ul><li>For example – the student riots in Paris in May 1968… </li></ul><ul><li>This ‘symbolic’ explosion of student protest was given a ‘mortal dose of publicity’. </li></ul><ul><li>Once publicised – an event becomes fixed, rooted, part of an ongoing mediated narrative that moves towards a regulated conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>The media impose a single pattern of reception on us – processing the raw event into a finished product prepared for consumption. </li></ul><ul><li>As soon as an event becomes news – it starts to die – to become a non-event. </li></ul>The delirious spectacle of the non-event
  31. 31. <ul><li>Media reconstructions of historical events have a similar effect. </li></ul><ul><li>Schindler’s List is a dramatized simulation that produces ‘a process of forgetting, of liquidation, of extermination, the same annihilation of memories and of history, the same implosive radiation, same absorption without echo, same black hole as Auschwitz.’ </li></ul><ul><li>The Holocaust many claim to know after watching Schindler’s List is a hyperrealised version that has eclipsed the actuality. </li></ul><ul><li>The film employed period detail to signify and hyperrealise ‘History’ </li></ul><ul><li>It used black and white film to simulate the media of the era </li></ul><ul><li>It used a range of cinematic, documentary, newsreel, photographic and televisual styles to enhance its realism </li></ul><ul><li>All to transport us into a reality that was only an effective and convincing simulation. </li></ul>The delirious spectacle of the non-event
  32. 32. <ul><li>Baudrillard rejects the argument that these reconstructions have a moral purpose in increasing awareness as he holds them responsible for allowing us to absolve ourselves of dissipate the true horror providing a ‘tactile thrill and posthumous emotion’. We can only understand events in their lifetimes – any attempt at later discussion only adds to the simulacra – adds to the uncertainty and paves the way for Holocaust deniers. </li></ul><ul><li>Playing out a war retrospectively, as Americans have done through numerous Vietnam war films – Apocalypse Now for example – has provided America with a glorious simulacral victory erasing the historical reality. </li></ul><ul><li>‘ There is no longer any time for history itself. In a sense, it doesn’t have the time to take place.’ Baudrillard (1997) </li></ul>The delirious spectacle of the non-event
  33. 33. <ul><li>Commemoration is another ‘virus’ that accelerates the hold of simulation. </li></ul><ul><li>Baudrillard sees commemoration as arming us against the future with an ‘artificial memory’. Like the character of Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’. </li></ul><ul><li>History is exterminated by its promotion into the ‘space of advertising’ which allows us to let go of the actual event. </li></ul><ul><li>Take the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1989 – this transformed one of the most powerful historical outbursts into a safe, positive simulation viewed as a ‘rights of man’ liberal-democratic vision rather than the actual glorious and terror filled original explosion. </li></ul><ul><li>The celebration centres not on what took place, but on what must never be allowed to take place again. </li></ul><ul><li>Much like this year’s celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall….? </li></ul>The delirious spectacle of the non-event
  34. 34. <ul><li>Baudrillard even challenges the 1991 Operation Desert Storm as being a non-event. </li></ul><ul><li>He offers us three reasons why this war didn’t happen. </li></ul><ul><li>There was no ‘declaration of war’ – this was replaced by a UN mandated ‘right to war’ – since the war never started it can never have taken place! </li></ul><ul><li>The Western military excluded all contact – ‘annihilating the enemy from a distance’ – if the armies never meet, how can a war take place? Apache helicopters suing night vision gunning down blind targets on the ground offers a suitable metaphor. </li></ul><ul><li>The Western military’s overwhelming firepower and technological advantages precluded the chance of an Iraqi victory. If only one side had any chance of ever winning, does this count as a war? Coalition losses of 240 (many from friendly fire!) sit uncomfortably alongside estimates of 100,000 Iraqi casualties and recalls the observer of a futile Polish cavalry sabre charge against German tanks in the opening days of WW2 ‘It’s beautiful, but it’s not war.’ </li></ul><ul><li>As an audience we only experienced a virtual war like an ‘ultra modern process of electrocution’ that left the enemy with no chance of reaction. </li></ul>The Gulf War did not take place
  35. 35. Shock and Awe in the Gulf War II: Return to Baghdad…?
  36. 36. The Gulf War did not take place <ul><li>We had no McLuhanist global village empathy but a moral distancing in the thrill of seeing the Baghdad skyline being bombed and the grainy ‘video game’ footage of smart bombs finding their targets. </li></ul><ul><li>For all the real-time broadcasting little was seen of the conflict or its aftermath. Only a single Iraqi casualty was seen in Britain when the Observer published the picture of a charred face at the windshield of a vehicle. The real disaster appeared to be ecological – we saw more dead birds than dead bodies. </li></ul><ul><li>Geography was telescoped as we saw Cruise missiles being launched and then switched to Baghdad to see their detonation. </li></ul>
  37. 37. Today the description of the Gulf War as a ‘deadly video game’ or as a ‘Nintendo war’ is widely accepted. This is a screenshot from Gulf War II: Return to Baghdad…!
  38. 39. The Gulf War did not take place <ul><li>The media simulation of the experience of war followed the military’s simulation of a dual conflict. </li></ul><ul><li>So we have a non-war that must have been a non-victory as well as a non-defeat mediated with non-information and non-communicated. </li></ul><ul><li>The film Three Kings offers us a useful example. Set after the ceasefire, the film satirizes the uselessness of the infantryman in a war won by high-tech weapons. When one soldiers actual shoots an Iraqi he looks down at the dying enemy and says “I didn’t think I’d see anyone get shot over here2 whilst his comrade compares the scene to the film Predator . </li></ul><ul><li>The film rescues the war film genre by contriving a postwar, bullion robbing episode that supplies the heroism lacking in the actual operation. If the Gulf War did not take place then a Gulf War film also could not take place. </li></ul>