Related Entries 1. He told interviewers that his grandparents were peasants and his parents became civil servants Gane Baudrillard also claims that he was the first member of his family to pursue an advanced education and that this led to a rupture with his parents and cultural milieu. During this period, he met and studied the works of Henri Lefebvre, whose critiques of everyday life impressed him, and Roland Barthes, whose semiological analyses of contemporary society had lasting influence on his work. Opposing French and U. Baudrillard said later that he participated in the events of May that resulted in massive student uprisings and a general strike that almost drove de Gaulle from power.
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From the mids on, however, reflections on political economy and the consumer society disappear almost completely from his texts, and henceforth simulations and simulacra, media and information, science and new technologies, and implosion and hyperreality become the constituents of a new postmodern world which -- in his theorizing -- obliterate all the boundaries, categories, and values of the previous forms of industrial society while establishing new forms of social organization, thought, and experience.
Indeed, he provides paradigmatic models of the media as all-powerful and autonomous social forces which produce a wide range of effects. I shall also be concerned to delineate the political implications of his media theory and to point to alternative theoretical and political perspectives on the media. The title is somewhat ironic for Baudrillard is really only beginning to develop a social theory in which the media will play crucial roles in constituting a new postmodernity.
In his candid fashion, he is saying that Marx, in his materialist analysis of production, had virtually circumscribed productive forces as a privileged domain from which language, signs and communication in general found themselves excluded" CPES, p.
They fabricate non communication -- this is what characterizes them, if one agrees to define communication as an exchange, as a reciprocal space of a speech and a response, and thus of a responsibility not a psychological or moral responsibility, but a personal, mutual correlation in exchange This is the real abstraction of the media. And the system of social control and power is rooted in it" CPES, pp.
It is curious that Baudrillard, interpreted by many of his followers as an avant-garde, postmodern media theorist, manifests in this passage both technophobia and a nostalgia for face-to-face conversation which he privileges as authentic communication over debased and abstract media communication. Such a position creates a binary dichotomy between "good" face-to-face communication and "bad" media communication, and thus occludes the fact that interpersonal communication can be just as manipulative, distorted, reified, and son on, as media communication as Ionesco and Habermas, among others, were aware , while ruling out in advance the possibility of "responsible" or "emancipatory" media communication -- a point that I shall return to in conclusion.
The accelerating role of the media in contemporary society is for Baudrillard equivalent to THE FALL into the postmodern society of simulations from the modern universe of production. Modernity for Baudrillard is thus the era of production characterized by the rise of industrial capitalism and the hegemony of the bourgeoisie while postmodern society is an era of simulation dominated by signs, codes, and models.
Modernity thus centered on the production of things -commodities and products -- while postmodernity is characterized by radical semiurgy, by a proliferation of signs. Furthermore, following McLuhan, Baudrillard interprets modernity as a process of explosion of commodification, mechanization, technology, and market relations, while postmodern society is the site of an implosion of all boundaries, regions, and distinctions between high and low culture, appearence and reality, and just about every other binary opposition maintained by traditional philosophy and social theory.
Furthermore, while modernity could be characterized as a process of increasing differentiation of spheres of life Max Weber as interpreted by Habermas , postmodernity could be interpreted as a process of de-differentiation and attendent implosion. By the late s, Baudrillard interprets the media as key simulation machines which reproduce images, signs, and codes which constitute an autonomous realm of hyper reality and which come to play a key role in everyday life and the obliteration of the social.
During an era when movie actors simulate politics and charlatans simulate TV-religion the category of simulation provides an essential instrument of radical social critique, while the concept of hyperreality is also an extremely useful instrument of social analysis for a media, cybernetic, and information society. Previously, the media were believed to mirror, reflect, or represent reality, whereas now the media are coming to constitute a hyper reality, a new media reality -- "more real than real" -- where "the real" is subordinate to representation leading to an ultimate dissolving of the real.
In addition, in "The Implosion of Meaning in the Media," Baudrillard claims that the proliferation of signs and information in the media obliterates meaning through neutralizing and dissolving all content -- a process which leads both to a collapse of meaning and the destruction of distinctions between media and reality. In a society supposedly saturated with media messages, information and meaning "implode," collapsing into meaningless "noise," pure effect without content or meaning.
Thus, for Baudrillard: "information is directly destructive of meaning and signification, or neutralizes it. The loss of meaning is directly linked to the dissolving and dissuasive action of information, the media, and the mass media Information devours its own contents; it devours communication and the social Baudrillard uses here a model of the media as a black hole of signs and information which absorb all contents into cybernetic noise which no longer communicates meaningful messages in a process of implosion where all content implodes into form.
There are no longer media in the literal sense of the term I am talking above all about the electronic mass media -- that is to say, a power mediating between one reality and another, between one state of the real and another -- neither in content nor in form.
Strictly speaking this is what implosion signifies: the absorption of one pole into another, the short-circuit between poles of every differential system of meaning, the effacement of terms and of distinct oppositions, and thus that of the medium and the real. Hence the impossibility of any mediation, of any dialectical intervention between the two or from one to the other, circularity of all media effects. Hence the impossibility of a sense meaning , in the literal sense of a unilateral vector which leads from one pole to another.
This critical -- but original -- situation must be thought through to the very end; it is the only one we are left with. It is useless to dream of a revolution through content or through form, since the medium and the real are now in a single nebulous state whose truth is undecipherable" SSM, pp.
In effect, Baudrillard is suggesting that the very project of developing a radical theory of the media is impossible because there really are no "media" in the sense of institutions and cultural machines mediating between dominant political and economic powers and the population below.
He claims that the media and "reality" implode such that it is impossible to distinguish between media representations and the "reality" which they supposedly represent.
Baudrillard also suggests that the media intensify massification by producing mass audiences and massification of ideas and experience. On the other hand, he claims that the masses absorb all media content, neutralize, or even resist, meaning, and demand and obtain more spectacle and entertainment, thus further eroding the boundary between media and "the real. Consequently, on this view, the media pander to the masses, reproducing their taste, their interest in spectacle and entertainment, their fantasies and way of life, producing an implosion between mass consciousness and media phantasmagoria.
In this way, Baudrillard shortcircuits the manipulation theory which sees media manipulation imposed from above producing mass consciousness, yet he seems to share the contempt for the masses in standard manipulation theory claiming that they want nothing more than spectacle, diversion, entertainment and escape, and are incapable of, or uninterested in, producing meaning. In any case, since the media and the masses liquidate meaning, it is meaningless to carry out ideological critiques of media messages since the "medium is the message" in the sense that media communication has no significant referents except its own images and noise which ceaselessly refer back and forth to other media images and spectacles.
According to Baudrillard, the media take "hot" events like sports, wars, political turmoil, catastrophes, etc. Concerning the difference between a televised and attended sports event, Baudrillard writes: "Do not believe that it is a matter of the same game: one is hot, the other is cool -- one is a contest where affect, challenge, mise en scene, and spectacle are present, whereas the other is tactile, modulated visions in flash-back, replays, close-ups or overhead views, various angles, etc.
That is, for Baudrillard all the media of information and communication neutralize meaning and involve the audience in a flat, one-dimensional media experience which he defines in terms of a passive absorption of images, or a resistance of meaning, rather than the active processing or production of meaning.
The electronic media therefore on this account have nothing to do with myth, image, history, or the construction of meaning or ideology. Television is interpreted instead as a media "which suggests nothing, which magnetises, which is only a screen, or is rather a miniaturized terminal which in fact is found immediately in your head -- you are the screen and the television is watching you.
Television transistorizes all neurons and operates as a magnetic tape -- a tape not an image" SED, p. Baudrillard, McLuhan and the Ecstasy of Communication We see here how Baudrillard out-McLuhans McLuhan in interpreting television, and all other media, simply as technological forms, as machines which produce primarily technological effects in which content and messages, or social uses, are deemed irrelevant and unimportant.
We also see how, like McLuhan, he anthropomorphizes the media "the television is watching you" , a form of technological mysticism or to be more nasty, mystification as extreme as McLuhan.
Like McLuhan, Baudrillard also globalizes media effects making the media demiurges of a new type of society and new type of experience. Consequently, whereas he sets forth theoretically articulated theses about the media in "Requiem," in his studies of simulations and later writings he tends to cluster images, concepts, and descriptive analyses, within which media often play a key role, rather than systematically articulating a well-defined theoretical position, thus adopting a key McLuhanite literary strategy.
McLuhan also believed that the media could overcome alienation produced by the abstract rationality of book culture which was being replaced by a new synaesthesia and harmonizing of the mind and body, the senses and technologies. Thus while McLuhan ascribes a generally benign social destiny to the media, for Baudrillard the function of TV and mass media is to prevent response, to isolate and privatize individuals, and to trap them into a universe of simulacra where it is impossible to distinguish between the spectacle and the real, and where individuals come to prefer spectacle over "reality" which both loses interest for the masses and its privileged status in philosophy and social theory.
The mass media are thus instruments for Baudrillard of a "cold seduction" whose narcissistic charm consists of a manipulative self-seduction in which we enjoy the play of lights, shadows, dots, and events in our own mind as we change channels or media and plug into the variety of networks -- media, computer, information -- that surround us and that allow us to become modulators and controllers of an overwhelming panoply of sights, sounds, information, and events.
The subject, then, becomes transformed into an object as part of a nexus of information and communication networks. The interiorization of media transmissions within the screen of our mind obliterates, he claims, the distinction between public and private, interior and exterior space -- both of which are replaced by media space. The eye and the brain, on this model, replaces both the other sense organs and the hand as key instruments of human practice, as information processing replaces human practice and techne and poesis alike.
Inversely, the entire universe comes to unfold arbitrarily on your domestic screen all the useless information that comes to you from the entire world, like a microscopic pornography of the universe, useless, excessive, just like the sexual close-up in a porno film : all this explodes the scene formerly preserved by the minimal separation of public and private, the scene that was played out in a restricted space" p.
In addition, the spectacles of the consumer society and the dramas of the public sphere are also being replaced by media events that replace public life and scenes with a screen that shows us everything instantaneously and without scruple or hesitation: "Obscenity begins precisely when there is no more spectacle, no more scene, when all becomes transparence and immediate visibility, when everything is exposed to the harsh and inexorable light of information and communication" p.
The ecstasy of communication: everything is explicit, ecstatic out of or beyond itself , and obscene in its transparency, detail, and visibility: "It is no longer the traditional obscenity of what is hidden, repressed, forbidden or obscure; on the contrary, it is the obscenity of the visible, of the all-too-visible, of the more-visible-than-visible.
It is the obscenity of what no longer has any secret, of what dissolves completely in information and communication" p. In the ecstasy of communication everything becomes transparent, and there are no more secrets, scenes, privacy, depth or hidden meaning. With the disappearence of exciting scenes in the home, in the public sphere , passion evaporates in personal and social relations, yet a new fascination emerges "the scene excites us, the obscene fascinates us" with the very universe of media and communication.
In this universe we enter a new form of subjectivity where we become saturated with information, images, events, and ecstasies. Without defense or distance, we become "a pure screen, a switching center for all the networks of influence" p. In the media society, the era of interiority, subjectivity, meaning, privacy, and the inner life is over; a new era of obscenity, fascination, vertigo, instantaneity, transparency and overexposure begins: Welcome to the postmodern world!
In his more recent writings which I have not examined here -- and which tend to recycle i. Living within a great transformation, perhaps as significant as the transformation from feudalism to industrial capitalism, we are engaged in a process of dramatic mutation, which we are barely beginning to understand, as we enter the brave new world of media saturation, computerization, new technologies, and new discourses.
Yet doubts remain as to whether the media are having quite the impact that Baudrillard ascribes to them and whether his theory provides adequate concepts to analyze the complex interactions between media, culture, and society today. This critique will suggest that indeed Baudrillard is a "new McLuhan" who has repackaged McLuhan into new postmodern cultural capital.
First, in what might be called a formalist subordination, Baudrillard, like McLuhan, privileges the form of media technology over what might be called the media apparatus, and thus subordinates content, meaning, and the use of media to its purely formal structure and effects.
Baudrillard -- much more so than McLuhan who at least gives some media history and analysis of the media environment -- tends to abstract media form and effects from the media environment and thus erases political economy, media production, and media environment i. Against abstracting media form and effects from context, I would argue that the use and effects of media should be carefully examined and evaluated in terms of specific contexts. Baudrillard might retort that it is the media themselves which abstract from the concreteness of everyday, social, and political life and provide abstract simulacra of actual events which themselves become more real than "the real" which they supposedly represent.
Yet even if this is so, media analysis should attempt to recontextualize media images and simulacra rather than merely focusing on the surface of media form. Furthermore, instead of operating with a model of formal media effects, I would argue that it is preferable to operate with a dialectical perspective which posits multiple roles and functions to television and other media.
For -- according to Baudrillard -- it is the technology of, say, television that determines its effects one-way transmission, semiurgy, implosion, extermination of meaning and the social rather than any particular content or message i.
For Baudrillard, media technology and semiurgy are the demiurges of media practices and effects, separated from their uses by specific economic and political interests, individuals and groups, and the social systems within which they function. Baudrillard thus abstracts media from social systems and essentializes media technology as dominant social forces. Yet against Baudrillard, one could argue that capital continues to be a primary determinant of media form and content in neo-capitalist societies just as state socialism helps determine the form, nature, and effects of technologies in certain state socialist societies.
Baudrillard, like McLuhan, often makes essentializing distinctions between media like television or film, ascribing a particular essence to one, and an opposed essence to the other.
Yet it seems highly problematical to reduce apparatuses as complex, contradictory, and many-sided as television or film or any mass medium to its formal properties and effects, or to a technological essence.
It is therefore preferable, for theories of media in the capitalist societies, to see the media as syntheses of technology and capital, as technologies which serve specific interests and which have specific political and economic effects rather than merely technological ones.
It is also preferable to see the dialectic between media and society in specific historical conjunctures, to see how social content, trends, and imperatives help constitute the media which in turn influence social developments and help constitute social reality.
For Baudrillard, by contrast, the media today simply constitute a simulated, hyperreal, and obscene in his technical sense world view , and a dialectic of media and society is shortcircuited in a new version of technological determinism. The political implications of this analysis are that constituting alternative media, or alternative uses or forms of existing media, is useless or worse because media in their very essence for him militate against emancipatory politics or any project of social transformation.
Such cynical views, however, primarily benefit conservative interests who presently control the media in their own interests -- a point to which I shall soon return. Thirdly, there is a subordination of cultural interpretation and politics in Baudrillard to what might very loosely be called "theory" -- thus constituting a theoricist subordination in Baudrillard.
In other words, just as Louis Althusser subordinated concrete empirical and historical analysis to what he called "theoretical practice" -- and thus was criticized for "theoreticism," -- Baudrillard also rarely engages in close analysis or readings of media texts, and instead simply engages in rather abstract theoretical ruminations. Baudrillard also rigorously avoids the messy but important terrain of cultural and media politics.
There is nothing concerning alternative media practices, for instance, in his theorizing, which he seems to rule out in advance because on his view all media are mere producers of noise, non-communication, the extermination of meaning, implosion, and so on.
In "Requiem for the Media," Baudrillard explicitly argues that all mass media communication falls prey to "mass mediatization," that is "the imposition of models": "In fact, the essential Medium is the Model.
What is mediatized is not what comes off the daily press, out of the tube, or on the radio: it is what is reinterpreted by the sign form, articulated into models, and administered by the code just as the commodity is not what is produced industrially, but what is mediatized by the exchange value system of abstraction " CPES, pp. All "subversive communication," then, for Baudrillard has to surpass the codes and models of media communication -- and thus of the mass media themselves which invariably translate all contents and messages into their codes.
Consequently, not only general elections but general strikes have "become a schematic reducing agent" CPES, p. It is the frayed space of the symbolic exchange of speech -- ephemeral, mortal: a speech that is not reflected on the Platonic screen of the media. Institutionalized by reproduction, reduced to a spectacle, this speech is expiring" CPES, pp. In this text, Baudrillard conflates all previously revolutionary strategies and models of "subversive communication" to "schematic reducing agents" and manifests here once again a nostalgia for direct, unmediated, and reciprocal speech "symbolic exchange" which is denied in the media society.
Haunted by a disappearing metaphysics of presence, Baudrillard valorizes immediate communication over mediated communication thus forgetting that all communication is mediated through language, through signs, through codes, etc. Furthermore, he romanticizes a certain form of communication speech in the streets as the only genuinely subversive or revolutionary communication and media.
Consistently with this theory, he thus calls for a neo-Luddite "deconstruction" of the media "as systems of non-communication," and thus for the "liquidation of the existing functional and technical structure of the media" CPES, p. Baudrillard, by contrast, not only attacks all form of media communication as non-revolutionary, but eventually, by the late s, he surrenders his commitment to revolutionary theory and drops the notion of revolutionary communication or subversive cultural practices altogether.
Free radio: it speaks, it sings, it expresses itself.
Reflections on Modernity and Postmodernity in McLuhan and Baudrillard
From the mids on, however, reflections on political economy and the consumer society disappear almost completely from his texts, and henceforth simulations and simulacra, media and information, science and new technologies, and implosion and hyperreality become the constituents of a new postmodern world which -- in his theorizing -- obliterate all the boundaries, categories, and values of the previous forms of industrial society while establishing new forms of social organization, thought, and experience. Indeed, he provides paradigmatic models of the media as all-powerful and autonomous social forces which produce a wide range of effects. I shall also be concerned to delineate the political implications of his media theory and to point to alternative theoretical and political perspectives on the media. The title is somewhat ironic for Baudrillard is really only beginning to develop a social theory in which the media will play crucial roles in constituting a new postmodernity.
His grandparents were peasant farm workers and his father a gendarme. Subsequently, he began teaching Sociology at the Paris X Nanterre , a university campus just outside Paris which would become heavily involved in the events of May In , Baudrillard made the first of his many trips to the United States Aspen , Colorado , and in , the first of several trips to Kyoto , Japan. He was given his first camera in in Japan, which led to his becoming a photographer. During this time he had begun to move away from sociology as a discipline particularly in its "classical" form , and, after ceasing to teach full-time, he rarely identified himself with any particular discipline, although he remained linked to academia. During the s and s his books had gained a wide audience, and in his last years he became, to an extent, an intellectual celebrity,  being published often in the French- and English-speaking popular press. Baudrillard taught at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee , Switzerland ,  and collaborated at the Canadian theory, culture, and technology review Ctheory , where he was abundantly cited.
During his time at Columbia, Kellner partook in student protests against the Vietnam War. During this time he came to believe in the political nature of knowledge as well as the relationship between history and the production of ideas. While studying there, he read the works of Theodor Adorno , Max Horkheimer , Karl Korsch , Herbert Marcuse , and Ernst Bloch , all of whom were instrumental in a new form of Marxist criticism concerned primarily with questions of culture and subjectivity rather than with analyzing production. With his co-author Steven Best, Kellner has gone on to write a series of books critically interrogating what has come to be known as postmodern theory.