- ---- by Paul A. Taylor'I think like a girl takes off her dress. At the extreme, thought is impudence, obscenity even' (Bataille, in Surya, 1987: 8). The totalitarian semiotic order Baudrillard's theory so resolutely opposes creates a qualitatively different form of obscenity to Bataille's simile. Rather than thought occurring like a girl provocatively disrobing it becomes more akin to the gyrations of a lap dancerseekingatip.Theobsceneresultsfrommediasociety'sinsatiableneed to create as much explicit content as possible and its corresponding inability to deal with the seductive and the ambiguous. Pornography is thus reinterpreted by Baudrillard as a trope for a wider social condition and purpose: 'This is sex as it exists in pornography, but more generally, this is the enterprise of our entire culture, whose natural condition is obscene: a culture of monstration, of demonstration, of productive monstrosity' (S, 35).The obscene denotes much more than a simple moralistic condemnation. The prefix ob refers to the idea of hindering or being against. The ob-scene therefore expresses the collapse of distance in our social experience and the deleterious effect this has on our ability to experience reality in a non-mediated state. The scene traditionally viewed upon a stage necessitates a gap between the viewer and the actor (for example, the theatre's proscenium arch), but now that distance has imploded and there is no longer the necessary separation from the scene or stage of action that allows us to witness or reﬂect upon events properly.Paradoxically, we are now so close to the action we fail to see it: 'We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene. Obscene is that which eliminates the gaze, the image and every representation' (EC, 22). Obscenity can thus be understood as a qualitative description of the lived in experience of the society of the spectacle. For Baudrillard, the mediascape's promotion of fascination represents a social sphere emptied out of the more enchanted and seductive properties present in a symbol-rich pre-mediated society. Obscene culture is an etiolated, pervasively commodified realm of signs rather than events.In the essay 'Dust Breeding' (CA) Baudrillard discusses Loft Story, a French version of the Big Brother programme, and Catherine Millet, the author of a best-selling autobiographical account of a large number of compulsively anonymous sexual encounters - The Sexual Life of Catherine M. Both, he says, represent the simulation of real experience. Reality TV seeks to 'screen' society thereby manifesting the situationist notion of the spectacle as society's universal concept, while Millet's couplings reduce seduction to a mechanical act. Each example rests upon the privileging of the synthetic over the original, a tele-genetically modified culture becomes the corollary of bio-genetically orientated science. Notwithstanding the media's status as a purportedly key element of democratic society, the obscene serves to eliminate the meaningfully political and replaces it with a transpolitical culture:The transpolitical is the transparency and obscenity of all structures in a destructured universe . . . in a dehistoricized universe . . . in a universe emptied of event, the transparency and obscenity of space in the promiscuity of networks, transparency and obscenity of the social in the masses, of the political in terror, of the body in obesity and genetic cloning . . . (FS, 45)Meaning in a society of the obscene is decontextualised from its grounding in history and grounded symbolism, marks a 'passage from growth to excrescence, from finality to hypertely, from organic equilibria to cancerous metastases. This is the site of a catastrophe . . .' (FS, 46). In such a catastrophic culture, Millet becomes the literal embodiment of the culture industry's inability to grasp the paradox that the true nature of social reality is to be found in its shrouding, not in its blatant exposure.'Think like a woman taking off her dress,' said Bataille. Yes, but the naiveté of all the Catherine Millets is to think that they are taking of their dress to get undressed, to be naked and therefore reach the naked truth, the truth of sex or of the world. (CA, 186)The paradoxical truth of Baudrillard's notion of obscenity reduces the communicants of the new global media networks to the mythical fate of Tantalus - the more one seeks to reveal society in an excessively explicit and systematic fashion, the further away we push it.Passwords§ music§ sex / gender
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.