media


media
  ---- by David J. Gunkel
  Baudrillard provides a characterisation of media that contests and inverts conventional wisdom. Typically media are understood and defined as mechanisms of communication - more or less transparent conduits through which messages of various types and configurations pass from a sender to a receiver. However, for Baudrillard, media have nothing to do with communication, but rather 'fabricate non-communication' (CPS, 169).
  Communication, as Baudrillard understands it, is primarily concerned with the reciprocity of symbolic exchange, a social relation that - influenced by the idea of the gift from Bataille, Durkheim and Mauss - understands communication as a 'reciprocal space of a speech and a response' (CPS, 169). The media, and the mass media in particular, do not facilitate this kind of reciprocity but foreclose it, imposing an irreversible asymmetrical relationship, or what Baudrillard calls 'speech without response' (CPS, 169). Media, therefore, are essentially irresponsible and constitute one of the objects by which communication through symbolic exchange is reduced and replaced by the non-communication of semiotic circulation.
  This characterisation not only describes broadcast media, with its central transmission tower emitting signals to dispersed receivers who remain fundamentally passive and receptive, but also explains recent innovations in interactive technology. Although new media, from early experiments with interactive television and hypertext to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) and Web 2.0 applications, are often celebrated for incorporating various modes of user involvement and responsiveness, they only simulate response. That is, they provide 'forms of response simulation, themselves integrated in the transmission process, thus leaving the unilateral nature of the communication intact' (CPS, 170). And Baudrillard's later works provide numerous illustrations of the way 'new media', from mobile phones (CM4) to virtual reality (IEx), actually provide for nothing that is new in this respect.
  In this way, Baudrillard, like Marshall McLuhan with whom he is often associated, formulates an understanding of media that is more interested in formal aspects as opposed to content. But unlike McLuhan, who understood media as technological extensions of the human subject, Baudrillard is concerned with 'the sign-object' of the media (CPS), the structural components of its system and the social relationships that it makes (im) possible. Additionally, because media are not involved in communication, the typical concern, whether they provide a more or less accurate portrayal of world events, is no longer operative. In fact, media implode the very distinction between an immediate real and its mediated reproduction, an occurrence that Baudrillard marks with the word 'simulation' (SS). Baudrillard, therefore, advances a radical interpretation of McLuhan's most famous statement about media:
  there is not only the implosion of the message in the medium; in the same movement there is the implosion of the medium itself in the real, the implosion of the medium and the real in a sort of nebulous hyperreality where even the definition and the distinct action of the medium are no longer distinguishable. (SSM, 103)
  This implosion has at least two important consequences. On the one hand, it renders media increasingly difficult to identify, distinguish and define. It is, as McLuhan famously once quipped, like trying to describe water to a fish. Baudrillard identifies and confronts this particular problem in the first sentence of 'Requiem for the Media', the often-quoted and deliberately provocative 'there is no theory of the media' (CPS, 164). Media, then, are characterised by a fundamental self-effacement and disappearance. This disappearance, however, is not the result of transparency - the assumption that media comprise virtually noiseless channels for communicating information about the world. Media disappear because they are functionally indistinguishable and opaque. On the other hand, this implosion also means that 'the real is abolished' (SSM, 101). 'I have', Baudrillard writes, 'already said that, as I see it, to bring a real world into being is in itself to produce that world, and the real has only ever been a form of simulation. We may, admittedly, cause a reality-effect, a trutheffect or an objectivity-effect to exist, but, in itself, the real does not exist' (PW, 39). This not only destabilises the traditional understanding of media content as derived reproductions and representations of a prior real event but also leads Baudrillard to conclude that 'real events' do not take place as such but are themselves fabrications of an absolutely self-involved media system (IE, SC, GW).
  All these aspects appear in stark contrast to the optimism that is so often associated with media in the later part of the twentieth century. And Baudrillard directly and unapologetically opposes its 'two major tonalities': McLuhan's technological optimism, where media inaugurate a general planetary communication culminating in the global village; and Hans Magnus Enzensberger's ideological optimism, whereby media open up new democratic possibilities for mass participation and critical resistance (SSM). Although Baudrillard shares important affinities with both thinkers, his conceptualisation of media is, by comparison, 'pessimistic'. But this pessimism, despite the opinion of critics, is not one of defeat, nostalgia or resignation. It is a critical pessimism, one that is crucial for analysing and contesting current modes of thinking.
  Pessimism is not Baudrillard's final word, however, and beginning in the late 1970s he reformulates the 'absence of response' as a critical 'counter-strategy' (SSM, 106). 'About the media', Baudrillard concludes that 'you can sustain two opposing hypotheses: they are the strategy of power, which finds in them the means of mystifying the masses and imposing its own truth. Or else they are the strategic territory of the ruse of the masses, who exercise in them their concrete power of the refusal of truth, of the denial of reality' (Baudrillard, 1985: 587). For Baudrillard, this opposition is not something that can or even should be resolved. 'No one can control this process: the media are the vehicle for the simulation which belongs to the system and for the simulation which destroys the system' (Baudrillard, 1985: 587). Consequently the two hypotheses behave according to the 'circular logic of the Möbius strip' where there is no resolution just a 'logical exacerbation' (SSM, 106) and 'speculation to the death' (SED, 5).
  Passwords
   § gift
   § Gulf War
   § hyper-reality

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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