communication + non-communication

communication + non-communication
  ---- by Paul A. Taylor
  The key to Baudrillard's theory of communication is the notion of symbolic exchange, the idea that authentic communication requires a truly reciprocal interaction grounded in a cultural context that is capable of spontaneity and relationships based upon 'unbreakable bonds of reciprocity' (S) rather than the abstract, mediated signs that constitute pre-encoded categories designed to circulate within the socio-technological system of advanced capitalism - the 'totalitarian semiotic order' Baudrillard's work opposes.
  For Baudrillard, the notion that communication between two or more parties requires meaningful content has been supplanted in such a semiotic order by excessive emphasis upon the mere technical efficiency of the transmission rather than the content itself: 'The mass media are antimediatory and intransitive. They fabricate non-communication - this is what characterizes them' (CPS, 169). This results in a contemporary media society in which consumers/citizens have access to numerous technical forms of transmission that are labelled 'interactive' but which in fact reduce the act of communication to an essentially one-way process. The outcome is an ersatz form of communication that is a simulated, etiolated abstraction of more substantive, symbolic encounters.
  We are all quite familiar with this immense process of simulation. Non-directive interviews, call-in shows, all-out participation - the extortion of speech: 'it concerns you, you are the majority, you are what is happening.' And the probing of opinions, hearts, minds, and the unconscious to show how much 'it' speaks. The news has been invaded by this phantom content, this homeopathic transplant, this waking dream of communication. A circular construction where one presents the audience with what it wants, an integrated circuit of perpetual solicitation. (S, 163)
  The mainstream's misapprehension of the essence of communication and its subsequent fetishisation of transmission and artefacts of transmission leads to an unwarranted glorification of the empowering and enabling qualities of new communicational technologies: 'As if owning a TV set or a camera inaugurated a new possibility of relationship and exchange. Strictly speaking, such cases are no more significant than the possession of a refrigerator or a toaster' (CPS, 171).
  The clearest manifestation of Baudrillard's theory in practice has been the rise of reality TV. Having mentioned in Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) the pioneering Australian reality TV filming of the Louds family, in his later work, Baudrillard engaged with the French equivalent of the Big Brother franchise, 'Loft Story', which he described as 'the mirror and the disaster of an entire society caught up in the rush for insignificance and swooning to its own banality' (CA, 190). In stark contrast to the largely positive analyses of active audience theory and cultural populism, Baudrillard was scathing about the non-communication represented in such shows: 'this existential micro-situation serves as a universal metaphor of the modern being enclosed in a personal loft that is no longer his or her physical and mental universe but a tactile and digital universe of digital humans caught in the labyrinth of networks, of people becoming their own (white) mice' (CA, 193).
  An essential paradox in Baudrillard's approach is that noncommunication results from superficially highly communicative events that from a symbolic point of view are merely non-events in events' clothing. Mainstream media theory's innate conservativism results from its unwillingness to engage with this communicational paradox. Frequently, it uncritically provides a legitimating eulogy for non-communicational mega-spectacles. It fails to heed Debord's warning that 'When analyzing the spectacle one speaks . . . the language of the spectacular itself' (Debord, 1983: 11). Baudrillard's sensitivity to the communication/ non-communication dynamic problematises conventional media theory because, by comparison, it shows how it chooses to privilege the examination of social forms over the particular media forms that make those social forms possible in the first place.
  Just as Baudrillard paradoxically claims that communications technologies are designed to 'fabricate non-communication', so at a theoretical level, the very disciplines designed to illuminate the role of media technologies in the act of communication have facilitated the overlooking of Baudrillard's theoretical significance. This failure has occurred at a conceptual level with the consistent ignoring of Baudrillard's crucial distinction between symbols and signs. In mainstream media studies, both tend to be conflated, thus removing a major element of those critical perspectives like Baudrillard's that identify technology's role in the hollowing out of symbolic substance. At a stylistic level too there has been a failure to appreciate the significance of Baudrillard's particular style of writing. Baudrillard's various McLuhanite 'probes' and 'mosaic' style are geared to questioning, at the most fundamental level, the communicational assumptions of the contemporary mediascape.
  Baudrillard's innovative approach allowed him to grapple with the implications of Heidegger's famous paradoxical assertion from his essay 'The Question Concerning Technology' that 'the essence of technology is nothing technological'. The mediation created by Baudrillard's deliberately evocative, allusive and, at times, poetic writing style allows the reader to be reflexive about his communication about the act of mediated communication. It is ironic that Baudrillard, the postmodern, nihilist bкte noire of empirical social 'sciences' was in fact much more concerned with examining the actual felt phenomenological communicational experience of the mediated life than his empiricist detractors, trapped as they are by the insufficiently acknowledged levels of abstraction required by more 'scientifically legitimate' methodologies.
  Baudrillard's imbrication of form and content allowed him to do what other great French thinkers before him (Lacan, Derrida and so on) also did - something that Ћiћek describes in terms of creating a 'parallax view' and 'looking awry' - namely, to produce a critical perspective in the midst of the dominant, uncritical celebration of the 'empowering' possibilities created by the flux and flows of new media technologies. Baudrillard's poetic quality was a fundamental feature, rather than an optional by-product, of his writing. It marks his particular mode of communication premised as it is upon a willingness to speculate and find the truth that inheres within exaggeration: 'All that remains for us is theoretical violence - speculation to the death, whose only method is the radicalization of hypotheses' (SED, 5).
   § media

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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