America


America
  ---- by Diane Rubenstein
  Baudrillard offers an assessment of the centrality of America for his work in an interview: 'All of the themes that I first examined in my previous books suddenly appeared in America, stretching before me in concrete forms' (BL, 135). Indeed, America has been omnipresent in Baudrillard's writings as reference, as model and as 'utopia achieved' (A, 77). Baudrillard is perhaps most associated with his polemical Tocquevillian revisitation, America (1988b [1986]) and its companion first volume of his memoires, Cool Memories (1990b [1987c]), which presented an America that embodied the simulation and hyper-realism characteristic of the glitzkreig of the Reagan era. But Baudrillard'sengagementwithAmericacanbeseeninhisearliestsemiological writings. Both The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) and The System of Objects (1996a [1968]) as studies of postwar domestic affluence differ from Roland Barthes' Mythologies in their extensive references to American experts, David Riesman (sociologist), John Kenneth Galbraith (economist), Vance Packhard (public relations) and Daniel Boorstin (historian). Baudrillard exemplified his key concepts of the brand name from American labels (Esso gasoline, Marlboro cigarettes). Cinema stars were paradigmatically American (James Dean) as were films (Citizen Kane). Baudrillard confessed that he would 'rather see a second-rate American film than a French film' (BL, 33). He is a more avid reader of American rather than French fiction (P, 82).
  The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) also developed an analysis of pop art (that Baudrillard continued in the The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]) and Screened Out (2002 [2000a])), asking whether it was a fundamentally American phenomenon. Focusing on the work of artists such as Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol, Baudrillard resumes the stakes of America for him: 'Pop artists paint objects in terms of their real appearance . . . as ready made signs, fresh from the assembly line . . . this is why they prefer to paint the brand name, slogans . . .' (CS, 116). Thus pop art recognises that the truth of objects lies in their brand name: 'If that is Americanism, then Americanism is the very logic of contemporary culture and one cannot fault pop artists for pointing this up' (CS, 116). The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) also turned to America to illustrate contemporary anomic forms of 'objectless violence': the Manson killings (CS, 179), University of Texas murderer Richard Speck (CS, 179), and the Watts riots.
  In America (1998b [1986]), Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) and In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (2007b [1978]), America becomes less an exemplification of a semiological concept (that is, the brand name) than the paradoxical realisation of a model of simulation, its 'testing ground' (P, 80). It was Baudrillard's key insight that America is 'neither dream nor reality', but hyper-reality (A, 28). It is a paradoxical site, disabling or rendering unnecessary European meta-critique or analysis as Americans 'have no sense of simulation. They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model' (A, 28-9). Moreover, the media is America's message: 'From the outset you're in the transpolitical sphere of the medium and the screen . . .' (P, 86). America is described as a 'giant hologram' where the whole can be refracted into any of it parts, whether a desert, a street in a Mid-Western town, Burger King or a California house (A, 29).
  For Baudrillard, America's reality is profoundly cinematographic. But the cinema is not where you think it is, territorialised into theatres; it inheres in everyday life. Americans 'experience reality like a tracking shot; that's why they succeed so well with certain media, particularly television' (BL, 134). Baudrillard provided compelling readings of the first reality television (Public Television's series 'An American Family' documenting the Louds): 'a family who agreed to deliver themselves into the hands of television, and to die by it . . . The liturgical drama of a mass society' (SS, 28). He also analysed the phenomenon of the hit American series 'Holocaust' (SS, 49-51). In these commentaries and reviews of popular films (China Syndrome, Apocalypse Now, Chinatown, Three Days of the Condor), as with his more famous essay on Disneyland (SS, 12-14), Baudrillard foregrounds the model of 'cultural deterrence'.
  'Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra' (SS, 12). Disneyland and other American theme parks may seem to be places of illusion and fantasy. Demographically and in other representative ways, 'everywhere in Disneyland the objective profile of America . . . is drawn.' But this conceals another story. This idealised space works as a dissuasive cover, an 'ideological blanket', which 'functions as a cover for a simulation of the third order: Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America that is Disneyland' (SS, 12). Disneyland exists to save the reality principle and serves as a sort of 'waste treatment facility' for the imaginary (SS, 13). In other words, 'Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real . . .' However, 'the rest' is simulated hyper-reality (SS, 12). Baudrillard revised his analysis for an era of globalisation and a further radicalisation of simulation in 'Disneyworld Company' (SC).
  One of the little remarked upon moves in these early essays that will become more discernible in later writings is Baudrillard's delineation between television and cinema in relation to the image. Cinema is a myth and an image as well as 'a screen and a visual form' (SS, 51). 'Holocaust' or the American wars in Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the Iraq War, are televisual and not cinematic objects, belonging to the 'social inertia of cold systems' which lack 'stakes, history, investment and speech' (SS, 50). Broadcasting and the use of public opinion polls, both prevalent American forms, respond by capturing the 'artificial heat of a dead event to warm the dead body of the social' (SS, 50).
  If the televisual America is linked to war and abject pseudo events, it is the cinematic America that is lyrically rendered in America: 'It is not the least of America's charms that even outside the movie theatres the whole country is cinematic. The desert you pass through is like the set of a western . . .' (A, 56). While the desert plays a considerable role in the book, the American city too 'seems to have stepped right out of the movies' (A, 56). The emphasis on these cinematic aspects redoubles the theme of simulacral America (under its former actor President Reagan) as contemporary film also attempts 'an absolute correspondence with itself', which is Baudrillard's definition of the hyper-real: 'Cinema plagiarizes itself, recopies itself, remakes its classics, reactivates its original myths, remakes the silent film more perfectly than the original, etc. . . .' (SS, 47). Baudrillard advises those who wish to understand America should move from the screen to the city and not in the reverse order. Similarly, a reader who wishes to understand America (1988b [1986]) should remember its construction as fiction. America was republished in France in the year 2000 accompanied by seventy-five of Baudrillard's photographs.
  Passwords
   § city
   § film + cinema
   § Gulf War
   § hyper-reality
   § model
   § simulation
   § transpolitics
   § utopia

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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