(was Re: Who's Baudrillard?)

I Find Karma (
Mon, 12 Feb 96 16:02:27 PST

// From Sat Feb 10 15:50:44 1996
// To:
// Subject: What a *fine* reference to Baudrillard...
// X-Url:
// Before this Suck piece, he was only a empty weapon of the pompous
// asses in the New York Times Book Review to me...
// > in that old Baudrillardian challenge, if one stages a
// > bank robbery and carries the performance all the way to
// > the bank, fooling even the teller and guards, one arguably
// > has succeeded in redefining oneself not as an actor, but
// > as a bank robber.
// Now, adam, if you could only approach the Ph.D. program with this
// mindset...

Dang, Rohit,
is excellent!!! Their database is extensive (replete with not only all
the most prestigious journals, but also schlock like the LA Times for
measure) - When I searched for Baudrillard, I had 82 articles at my
disposal that mentioned him (and not only that, but the keyword is
highlighted for ease of reading, plus reading levels are given with
the hyperclick for each article).

elibrary would even be worth paying for, if I felt like I could use
this kind of lookup more often. Cyberdetectives, here we come!


PS -
PSS - A sampling of what I found on Baudie boy... "the media is the
message", hoo hah... we cover everything from Martin Amis to splatter
films to Howard Stern to Las Vegas in this...


Ralph sleeps in a cardboard box. He eats at our soup kitchen, receives a
welfare check and uses it to support his drug habit. Though he does not
have a dime, he wears brand-new Nikes, $100 L.A. Raider jackets, and
carries a boom box the size of a large suitcase. Most folks would say
Ralph and other young men like him are profligate with their money,
wasting it on superfluous trivia when they should be saving it to get
themselves off the streets.

If the poor seem pathological to us, perhaps it is because we are blind
to our own collective pathologies: the lust for fashion, the pursuit of
commodities, the compulsive consumption of mindless entertainment, the
substitution of the trivial and banal for the essential and significant.

While the recent papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, does an adequate
job of articulating our social problems and proposing a response based
on our commitment to life, its reliance on rational discourse causes a
blindness to the level at which social institutions in the developed
nations are demonically possessed by the principalities and powers.

In an effort to name the power at the heart of our commodity culture,
some have turned to the work of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.

"Baudrillard's work appeals to those who would attempt to grasp the
strange mixture of fantasy and desire that is unique to late 20th
century culture," says Professor Mark Poster of Stanford University.

Most social critics believe that commodity capitalism, with its market-
driven media hype, exerts a kind of mystification over human beings. In
other words, they believe people are being deluded because the
commodities they buy are superfluous and the media they consume produce
trivial nonsense.

As a consequence, most reform-mind-ed individuals, whether Catholic
bishops or Marxist revolutionaries, miss the essential point of the
contemporary. ethos: that the trivial productions of the culture - - its
television shows, movies, fashionable clothing, stylish automobiles,
electronic gadgets and so on -- are its driving force.

Baudrillard sees these culture products as creating a kind of language
of objects whose consumption is, in fact, a form of religious observance
that gives expression to both a contemporary moral code and a social
hierarchy. He writes, "Objects are the carriers of indexed social
significations, of a social and cultural hierarchy. . . . In short it is
certain that they constitute a code" (For a Critique of the Political
Economy of the Sign).

Conformity to this unwritten but powerful code is the force that drives
our consumer culture. In advanced industrial societies, people no longer
buy products based upon the values of need and utility but upon
conformity to the code. For the wealthy and powerful, commodity
consumption is a form of play, but for the poor and middle classes, it
gives expression to a "slave morality."

It must be asked whether certain classes, like our friend Ralph and
others who eat at our soup kitchen, are not consigned to finding their
salvation in objects, consecrated to a social destiny of consumption and
thus assigned to a slave morality (enjoyment, immorality,
irresponsibility) as opposed to a master morality (responsibility and

Understood in this light, consumerism does not look like an aberration,
but rather like a complete system with its own internal but irrational
and demonic logic. "Consumption has become a kind of labor," says
Baudrillard, "an active manipulation of signs, a sort of bricolage
(tinkering) in which the individual desperately attempts to organize his
privatized existence and invest it with meaning."

Baudrillard does not believe there is any such thing as a false need or
false satisfaction. He is convinced that within the context of the
culture, consumer needs and satisfaction are not only real but are, in
fact, the most essential reality. He insists that the culture cannot be
understood until we recognize that it is consumer demand that drives our
economic machinery and consumer satisfaction that forms the basis of our
contemporary spiritual ethos.

But because Baudrillard attempts to speak from inside of this system, he
can sound a little irrational himself. He sounds like a number of
schizophrenic friends who eat at our soup kitchen. It is almost as if he
is aware of secret voices that the rest of us do not hear, of messages
that constantly bombard our environment, of a transformed reality that
is at once more intense and more absorbing.

It is a world in which the crude, reductionistic language of"commodity
signs" has meaning only as it conforms to what Baudrillard calls the
"code." Such a code is in reality the unarticulated organizing structure
of the culture, giving meaning and social significance to the otherwise
disparate and disconnected "signs."

In effect, Baudrillard is reading the "subtext" of our culture. He is
trying to describe the sense of psychic and temporal dislocation that
exists in an advanced capitalist society where the intense, swirling
energy of the media is constantly pumped into the environment to
stimulate desire.

Baudrillard evokes the work of 1960s media guru Marshall McLuhan by
reminding us that the "media is the message." In other words, the media
create a total environment, what Baudrillard calls hyper-reality, that
is at once completely synthetic and completely absorbing. Mundane
reality pales in the face of soap operas, sitcoms and movies.

This experience of hyper-reality is described by Joel Kotkin in a recent
Los Angeles Times article as the "Hollywood effect": "Today we are not
far away from whole cities being designed not only as cities but . . .
as the right kind of stage on a grander scale. Everyone wants the
Hollywood effect. . . . It's what is entertaining. . . . Our cities are
going to become back lots."

At a very basic level, your local shopping mall is an example of hyper-
reality in action. It is the marketplace reconfiguring itself under the
influence of the "Hollywood effect." A more spectacular example is the
"City Walk" at the Universal Studios theme park here in Los Angeles. The
City Walk is a megamall composed of replicas of various Los Angeles
street environments, all in one safe, condensed area.

In this prepackaged hyper-reality, it is painfully obvious what
Baudrillard means by the term "simulation." All the positive effects of
the urban experience -- energy, ethnicity, entertainment -- are
available without any of the negative ones -- crime, poverty, alienation
and so on. Consumers are thus immersed in a media-created, womb like
environment that maximizes their shopping activities while minimizing
any sense of danger, confrontation or tension -- in short, the
exigencies of life and the baggage of history.

But for Baudrillard, the paradigmatic hyper-reality is Disneyland.
Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the "real" country.
Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that
the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America
surrounding it are no longer real, but are of the order of hyper-reality
and of simulation.

It is Disneyland that is authentic here! The cinema and TV are America'
s reality! The freeways, the Safeways, the skylines, speed and deserts
--these are America, not the galleries, the churches, culture.

So we live in a hyper-real environment -- so what! Disneyland is fun and
we prefer MTV to opera, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to Shakespeare
plays, talk shows to face-to-face discussions, the Internet to
community, cyberspace to the great outdoors.

But the problem is that "hyper-reality puts an end to the system of the
real, it puts an end to the real as referential by exalting it as

So it seems we are left with only models or "simulations," as
Baudrillard calls them. This diminishes our ability to make critical
judgments and observations because our experience of reality is no
longer as important as our image of reality. In our world, objects are
transformed into images and then projected back to us. Images of things
are then substituted for the things themselves. Thus the world of media
images is far more real than reality itself.

Baudrillard is describing a situation in which it is possible for our
hyper-real environment to absorb all potential criticism -- to turn
environmental catastrophe into Earth Day celebrations, to subdue and
conform Third World critics with syndications of "Baywatch" and "Peyton
Place," to transform terrorist acts into breathless media stories of
heroic rescues and tragic losses, to repackage our churches as simulated
ski lodges with wall-to-wall carpet, padded pews and padded crosses.

What we seem to be dealing with is a complacency beyond comprehension.
We have a system that operates automatically to the benefit of
increasing consumption.

As Mark Poster says in his Selected Writings, "Baudrillard radically
confirms the theory of one-dimensionality of the culture in his vision
of the potential reduction of all social, political, cultural and
economic mediations to a . . . correspondence with the code."

It's not a happy thought. It's kind of like the movies "Invasion of the
Body Snatchers" or "The Stepford Wives." Life goes on its comfortable,
secure, healthy, energetic, positive, even satisfying way, but it is
somehow inauthentic, stale and fiat.

Indeed, Baudrillard is depressing because he attempts to describe our
social situation as it actually exists, rather than as we hope it will
one day exist. He believes that sincere social critics are often blinded
by their idealism and the hopes and certainties that are grounded on
that idealism.


Patti Lather describes a 'postmodernism of reaction' and a
'postmodernism of resistance'. The former, she argues, is concerned with
the collapse of meaning, with nihilism, and with cynicism. The
conception of the individual is of a fractured schizoid consumer,
existing in a what Lather describes as 'a cultural whirlpool of
Baudrillardian simulcra' (1991, pp. 160-161). This vortex is, in fact,
captured perfectly be Jean Baudrillard, himself:

[Postmodernism] is a game with the vestiges of what has been destroyed .
. . [W] e must move in it, as though it were a kind of circular gravity
. . . I have the impression with postmodernism that there is an attempt
to rediscover a certain pleasure in the irony of things, in the game of
things. Right now one can tumble into total hopelessness all the
definitions, everything, it's all been done. What can one do? What can
one become? And postmodernity is the attempt perhaps it's desperate, I
don't know--to reach a point where one can live with that is left. It is
more a survival among the remnants than anything else. (Laughter).
(Baudrillard, 1984, in Cane, 1993, p. 95)


But if such gore is stable, such stability resides in a consistency of
genre expectations, not of text. And it is important to realize that
scenes of graphic violence in contemporary splatter films are
"simulations"' of dismemberment-these are not snuff films but, as
Gregory A. Waller puts it in his survey of contemporary horror films,
American Horrors, "representations of violence . . . embedded in a
generic, narrative, fictional, often highly stylized, and oddly playful
context" (6). Indeed, the theatricality' of gore renders even the genre
unstable when texts are closely examined, because each anonymous special
effects crew competitively revises another's vision of violence, and no
two films use consistent simulations, not even sequels by the same
director. The text of a film like Evil Dead 2 could be read as a loose
stringing together of excess gorish effects that attempt to "out-gross"'
the original film, but even contained within the sequel itself the color
of blood ranges from red to green to black, independent of its source.
The simulation never stagnates. Vera Dika, in Games of Terror, her
formal critique of slasher films, argues that this difference in
technique is dependent on production budget, not artistic difference
(62). Indeed, Evil Dead 2 had a larger budget than the original.
However, that horror films on an extremely low budget would desire to
divert a majority of their funds to gory effects, opting for ploys of
image over narrative, should indicate that there is a postmodern
artistic presence at work within these films. Regardless, splatter films
can be said to project a certain identity to their audiences-one of
Baudrillard's "simulacra"[9]-which is overtly recognized by their
audiences. Contemporary culture has become anaesthetized to the shock
value of gore since 1968, and today, as Baudrillard himself states, "The
real itself appears as a large useless body" (129). In splatter films,
that body of reality is made of rubber, and neither the artist nor the
audience is hesitant to dissect it for the sake of spectacle. Both
viewer and filmic text are "the obscene prey of the world's obscenity"


Jean Baudrillard sketches this situation when he describes the impact
modem technology is having on the human body. In the postmodern world,
which he likens to "science fiction" (17), we live in a state of "pure
presence" or "overexposure" (32). He terms that condition "obscene,"
because with "everything ... immediately transparent, visible, exposed"
(21-22), the body becomes little more than an object for a dispassionate
gaze-one with no invisible dimensions, no real desire, -no purpose.[1]
Real science fiction-or at least the science fiction film-has over the
last decade been singularly focused on this pattern of exposure.
Centering on the artificial, technologized body-the robot, cyborg,
android-works like Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator, D.A.R.Y.L.
(1985), Making Mr. Right (1987), RoboCop (1987), Cherry 2000 (1988), and
Hardware (1990) examine our ambivalent feelings about technology, our
increasing anxieties about our own nature in a technological
environment, and a kind of evolutionary fear that these artificial
selves may presage our own disappearance or termination. At the root of
that fear, 0. B. Hardison feels, is a blurred or "weakening . . .
sense" (321) of the human, a loss of distinction or equating of all
things that is common in the postmodern world. These films target this
superficiality, which they expose by placing the artificial body, as a
trope for the self, in front of the scene (as the word " obscene"
implies), out in the open, where we might gauge its depths and our own.
In the way they recuperate our "deep" sense, these images suggest a
pattern of resistance to that postmodern overexposure.


In this latest book Eagleton has two main purposes in view. One is to
clear away some longstanding sources of confusion by examining the
various senses that have attached to the term "ideology," from its
Enlightenment origins to its complicated history in the recent
(post-Althusserian) context of debate. The other--following directly
from this--is to show how postmodernists, neopragmatists, and others
have exploited those same confusions so as to make it appear that any
talk of "ideology" is hooked on a hopelessly naive set of doctrines
about knowledge, reality, and truth. This two-pronged approach enables
him to cut through swathes of fashionable nonsense, from the notion (as
propounded way back by Hindess and Hirst) that the real is entirely a
product of this or that discourse, language-game, or "signifying
practice," to the antics of a postmodern guru like Baudrillard, one for
whom truth-talk is the merest of illusions since we now inhabit a world
of free-floating signifiers, simulacra, or signs without referents,
where "reality" is whatever we make of it according to the latest (no
matter how distorted) consensus view. Then again, there is the line of
supposedly knock-down neopragmatist argument--"travelling anti-theory"
as it might be called--espoused by philosophers like Richard Rorty and a
whole current school of literary critics, most prominent among them
Stanley Fish. These thinkers claim to demonstrate the sheer
impossibility of advancing any truth-claims save those that make sense
by the lights of some existing "interpretive community, " some in-place
set of conventional beliefs impervious to any form of reasoned or
principled critique.


There is no escaping the problematics of the narrative act in Martin
Amis's fiction.

As the interventions by the narrator in the events that he is narrating
grow in importance, instances proliferate in the narrative of the
dependence of narrative, not on life, but on other narrative. Take the
case of Keith. Even more than John Self in Money, he is the typical
product of what Baudrillard has called the age of simulation.
Simulation, according to Baudrillard, is opposed to representation. In
an age of simulation it is no longer possible to distinguish between the
image as representation of a reality outside it and the simulacrum,
"never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in
an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference" (11). Keith
has been educated by the popular media. His idea of authenticity and his
expressions and vocabulary all derive from the tabloids and television.
Initially, Sam makes the mistake of thinking that the string of cliches
that Keith employs when he describes a football match he has attended
are "just memorized sections of the tabloid sports pages." Then with a
shock he realizes that they are "what he actually sees" (97-8).
Similarly Keith's attitude to women and sex is entirely conditioned by
the media, especially the porn industry. Nicola comes to understand
that, if it were possible to make a taxonomy of it, "[h]is libido would
be all tabloid and factoid" (202). He actually prefers sex on video,
which is where he acquired a taste for it in the first place. Video
allows him to fast forward the uninteresting bits and to freeze frame
the most salacious glimpses of female flesh. Nicola, who understands the
power of simulacra, capitalizes on this by seducing Keith on screen,
making pornographic videos of herself for him to watch in solitary,
onanistic pleasure.


Postmodernism concludes that artistic style, genre, and technique have
finite combinations and that all the possible amalgamations have been
exhausted, leaving only pastiche as a means of assembling what is
ostensibly art. As delineated by Fredric Jameson in Post, modernism and
Consumer Society, pastiche is a key component in a new aesthetic which
is actually the death of aestheticism in the arts. Pastiche is a
re-assemblage of former practices and procedures, to borrow-which is,
after all, all I can do in postmodernism-a title from Trinh Minhha. It
is simply the reiteration of dead styles, the result of the eradication
of individualism, auteurs, personalities, and potentialities, and
potentially my two nephews. Previous theoretical discourse found my two
nephews safe, even human-but now they must endure a postmodern epoch of
vapid aesthetics and live a postmodern life devoid of meaning or
distinction. Worse yet, they must come to visit their uncle in Las


Before I read Jameson and Jean Baudrillard's 'The Ecstasy of
Communication, at least in the history of theoretical discourse I was a
subject. Prior to evolving into a postmodernist-era film professor, the
Hollywood cinema-invasive and relentless in its attack on my being -at
least informed me, influenced me, excited me, tricked me, politicized
me, swayed me, charmed me, teased me, castigated me, taunted me, pleased
me. Like my homeboy Frank, I've "got to be me," whether I was
interpolated or interpreted, exploited or anointed, gendered or
surrendered. In postmodern-ism, pastiche-a component of the total
simulacrum of culture- cannot and does not construct me because I do not
exist independent of the real world. The Bazan myth of the total cinema
is no longer legend but an existential gospel. "Today," says Jameson,
"that older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists." Perhaps the
inverse of Rene Descartes' philosophical incantation is applicable. "I
do not think, therefore I am not," which paradoxically is my own
pastiche showing through-pirating a fragment of the history of
rationalist thought which actually no longer has any connection with my
perpetual present enslaved by Carl's Jr. burgers, Carl Laemmle theaters,
and Carl Reiner television.


"Simulators of leisure or of vacations in the home-like flight
simulators for airline pilots"-are no longer just conceivable, as
Baudrillard suggests; they now concretely exist. The new desert kingdoms
reverberate Baudrillard, and media recruitment for consumers of
simulation continues unabated, exploding city, state, and national
boundaries. Weighing the 18-wheelers and stopping cars for a vegetable
check is pointless, for the lines of demarcation are now measured in
lines of resolution and inches diagonal.


The postmodern critic Jean Baudrillard, in his book "Simulations,"
argues that we live in an age where people no longer produce or create
their own opinions, but rather, where people reproduce opinions
presented in the media.

Of all figures in the media, Howard Stern is the most resistant to
this trend. He wants you to listen to and enjoy his show, to be sure, but
he wants you to think for yourself and, in turn, to let him think for
himself. The outrageousness of his commentary only underscores the
futility of letting others do your thinking for you.