Baudrillard, hyperreality and the news media.

Baudrillads most famous contribution to philosophy is his theory of hyperreality, in this essay I shall first explain this theory then describe how it is relevant to the news media of late capitalist society.

Baudrillards first book, the system of objects, was written from the Marxist perspective. It analysed the psychology of the collecting of objects and works to classify everyday objects as either functional, non-functional or metafunctional. In his later works, he came to the conclusion that Marx’s ideas were in mirror opposition to that of capitalist thought, and that Marx in fact held the same basic worldview as the capitalist. He said that Marx had become infected by the “virus of bourgeois thought” and started to form his own ideas based around the concepts of simulation and seduction.

Simulation, in baudrillards theories, means the creation of a real through conceptual models presented by the media. The media show us what fashion, art, music etc. should be like and these models are accepted by the masses, the simulation becomes our perception of reality. The line between what is real and what the media dictates to us brakes down creating a hyperreal world where it becomes difficult to distinguish between real and unreal. Baudrillard does not mean that what we perceive as reality is simply an illusion. He means that the illusion has become the reality.

The major implication of hyperrality is that it has made us all more malleable by the media, if we take gambling as an example of this, you have the everyday reality of gambling which is that you stake money for the chance to win more. Round gambling you have the advertising which in most realities will present stories related to the promise and possibility or huge wealth or show the story behind the story and you have a counter balance of news articles relating to gambling addiction and huge loss. In most situations the “average person” will find it easy to avoid the temptation to gamble large sums. Now if that “average person” were to holiday in Vegas he would find himself in a new temporary reality. No less real than the simulated reality he’d left, but in Vegas the power of the media is used to push images at us that have a different message. The ads, flashing lights, billboards and the sound of the exciting machines are all used to push the prospect of excitement at you from all angles so that the concept of money is replaced by the allure of risk, winning, loosing and stimulating images, you loose touch with the implications of the situation and enter a new waking dream where the media itself has become the reward for gambling. This is illustrated with the rise of the non-monetary rewarding machines which successful play is rewarded with lurid pictures or old TV clips.

The basis of hyperreality is the multiplying power of the media. Advertising is the most commonly viewed form of media in present society and it adds its own element to hyperreality. Marxism states that all consumer goods have a use value and an exchange value. Baudrillard argues that they have also been endowed with a hyperreal symbolic value. Take a BMW driver, for a lower exchange value he could have bought a car from a less reputable manufacturer which would have a similar use value i.e. faster or more comfortable. But what that Driver is paying for is the symbolic value that only exists in his mind and the mind of others. By driving the BMW he is saying to all that see him that he has made it and is no longer part of the lower social classes.

“The media and the official news service are only there to maintain the illusion of an actuality, of the reality of the stakes, of the objectivity of facts. All the events are to be read backwards”

Before the first Iraqi war took place Baudrillard stated that it would never happen, and after the conflict he took his argument further in a book entitled “The gulf war did not take place”. In this book he makes it clear that he knows that the gulf war took place but he argues that the reality of war has become changed in this period of capitalist society. In earlier times generals had to change and adapt to the capabilities of the opposing army, in the gulf the UN troops simply had to act out a predetermined plan. The UN didn’t have to take notice of the actual fire of Iraqi troops, just the signatures which were picked up on their infrared, radar and satellite images. It was essentially a virtual reality war using real guns.

The Gulf war was a prime-time expose in the news, we had unending amount of stories beamed back from Iraq but the role of these stories was not too inform us of actual facts, but to be the actual facts. The events which are really happening on the front line would bear very little resemblance to what is reported on the news. We get sensational images of missiles being fired and aerial shots of explosions but they are all very sanitised a long way from the realism seen in the portrayal of the Vietnam war. These reported facts are what are lived by the reader or viewer through his imagination and therefore become real.

Baudrillard says that the events of the late 20th century only really happen in the news media. Baudrillard views the news media as a stage, where glorified/censored/ modified events are put on display for the public. Where on previous periods, the news would present the facts and leave the viewer/reader to come to his own conclusion, nowadays the facts, which are chosen to be shown are carefully selected and manipulated so as to create a story. An extreme example of this occurred in the latest Iraqi conflict. The story of the capture and rescue of US soldier Private Jessica Lynch. The American news media reported that Lynch was part of a supply convoy that became cut off from the rest of the group and was then ambushed by Iraqi forces. She allegedly fought bravely, and was shot and stabbed in the battle but when she ran out of ammunition she was captured, abused and interrogated on her hospital bed. It later emerged through the British press that she had been unable to fight as her weapon was jammed so she just curled up in her vehicle and awaited capture. Similarly while there was evidence of abuse, she had no bullet wounds or stab marks. On being presented with these claims the Pentagon said that they had neither confirmed or denied the stories. This seems to leave the press with freedom to fabricate stories using only non-denial as proof.

The press also act in modern society as agents of terrorism, everyday thousands of people across the UK die in car accidents without causing great alarm to anyone who isn’t directly involved. But a terrorist on the other side of the world can cause fear across a nation by cutting of the head of a single tourist on video. Baudrillard would say that the way the news media presents the story of terrorism creates a simulation of terror.

The belief of ordinary people in tremendously exagerated stories rather than in their reality, and the way these narratives/stories/images are used, is the arena of hyperreality for Baudrillard. He believes that reality has become a real illusion no less real than the reality which once stood in its place.

19 days old and not a single reply. That’s sad, it’s a great essay. =D> I didn’t catch your post or I would have responded sooner. You’ll find that the more academic a post and the less the post engages people to debate the more likely the it will be ignored or at best neglected. Don’t take it personally, its just how it works here. I was wondering what happened to you since you never said anything when you asked that question about Baudrillad and the media. Did that link I provided help any?

That is an excellent essay. I can’t say I disagree with anything you or Baudrillard are saying.
I too done an essay once using Baudrillard’s ideas. He sums up perfectly how consumer items, when advertized, have absolutely no connection to their use-value.
Incidentally, his idea on the simulacra was inherited from Kant, who most probably got it from Plato. Nevertheless, I used Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacra on a local site within the city I occupy to show how superficial the whole thing was, and that it was really a meeting place for those who want to escape their mundane existence. The meeting place I examined was a large local park with a man-made beach with walkways and palms everywhere. It’s funny because the site that it was constructed over used to be a large slum.

yes i liked the essay too. Short and sweet. I sometimes think that Baudrillard goes a bit over the top, but that isnt always a bad thing when trying to make a new point.

The only contention i would have is the final line “He believes that reality has become a real illusion no less real than the reality which once stood in its place.” I mean as if we were ever objective and free from the influences of our culture. Its just that in todays blatantly manufactured, up for sale and forever repackaged cultural context we have the ability to see how we are manipulated and freely express that we have seen it. eg the prevalence and popularity of ‘the making of’ and ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘reality’ shows.

Strange really that it doesnt stop and make us think. But then again thats the point. Who wants to when the thinking is not only done for you but is presented in such a stimulating way. Who cares if we are manipulated … its fun isn’t it? lol Reality hyper reality, its all real. Truth comes second to stimulation basically. Those of us that get enjoyment from thinking have been educated by the likes of Baudrillard, and we can look back and realise that not only have we always been manipulated by the status quo … but that without the foundation of that social context we would be completely speechless and wide eyed.

But there still lingers amongst those of us drawn to the pleasures of the mind “What is reality cleansed of bullshit?”. And sometimes of course absolute outrage at the suggestion that it doesn’t exist. Hence the scorn and vitriol that Baudrillard and the post modernists have recieved.

It’s too bad that interfused is a third post wonder. :cry:

I’m considering stealing the essay, butchering the bad bits and rewriting, then publishing it on Symposia anyway, using interfused’s name…

Szpak did write a similar (and in my view superior) essay on Baudrillard in this section some months back, on which I commented. That’s also worth a read for anyone who can be bothered… … p?t=146802

Yeah I thought Szpak did a good job on that too. However his was on a slightly different topic.