Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

30: Jean Baudrillard part IV:
Advertizing and Nihilism

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         All art and all forms of expression are being absorbed into the form of advertizing. Baudrillard claims that the form of advertizing is such that a fascinating name, brand image or reputation is created which offers to simplify all differences (real and increasingly imagined) while at the same time implicitly declaring these differences void.
         1. The alternative, the non-advertizing (or meaningful) art form does not seek to simplify but rather to depict greater meaning and depth thereby making greater difference between itself and “competitors”. Competitors is in quotes because true art does not have competitors – everything is its own class of art. A competitor is a product of modern capitalism that tries to differentiate itself while simultaneously obliterating differences. Consider similar products with different tag lines; has advertizing become an art form? Do you see propaganda; political speeches; news broadcasts; traditional fine arts like painting, opera, ballet, sculpture; and production items such as cars, hair dye and computers as converging towards Baudrillard's form of advertizing?
         2. When we go to a museum or art gallery, we peruse the art. The dictionary definition of 'peruse' has changed: in the past it meant 'to go over thoroughly'; now it means 'to go over quickly or lightly'. Baudrillard would say that those of us who peruse art galleries in the second sense are missing the whole point of high art. In such cases we are treating art as T.V. images: depthless, instantaneous and forgettable or in other words as advertizing. How do you peruse art? How do most people peruse art? Do people ever really 'get' art or is the failure to 'get' it a product of our postmodern world?
         Postmodern Nihilism
         Nihilism is a philosophy that is committed to the destruction of value. Today's nihilism has evolved. It is based on transparency. Destruction is brought about by simulation and deterrence. These work through the passions (passion in the sense of the actions resulting from the losing or giving up of free will) of fascination, neutrality and indifference. We are all left in a situation of melancholy resulting from the force of transparency.
         Transparency: today nothing can remain sacred or secret: everything must be studied and analyzed. Analysis leads to models of explanation. Scientific models which must be fascinating, neutral and indifferent are all informative but empty of meaning by design.
         3. Science, which wants to make everything transparent, is the principle tool of Baudrillard's nihilism. Scientists are taught to be objective, to be unbiased and unprejudiced. Is this a worthy goal? Is it realizable? Should we inject more values into science (not just ethics based on values) but value judgments of worth such as: 'research is inherently noble' or 'X scientific project is objectively better than Y scientific project'? Could we have a science that is based on other values than the current scientific values of: objectivity, rationality and repeatability?
         Melancholia is the human response to a loss of meaning. When we learn that there is no meaning in something which we previously thought had meaning we feel a profound sadness: melancholia. When it is more general, when there is a general loss of meaning we feel a hard disaffection against world (but really it is the system of society).
         4. Baudrillard claims the we live in an age of melancholia. We are all sad and dissatisfied in a new and different way from previous generations. We can still suffer all the ails and travails that people in all times have had to face but we also suffer from what Lyotard called the loss of the master meta-narrative. All other cultures have had meaningful myths that gave meaning, comfort and order. Do you believe that we are more melancholic than other generations? Does our preoccupation with signs and symbols distract us from learning about what really ails us? Is the comfort of the modern world worth the increased melancholia that comes with it?
         The system deters any action against itself through two methods 1) a type of terror that makes us feel that we will lose all meaning we have left if we challenge the system and 2) its powerful image that it promotes through its power institutions such as the military, the police, the courts etc.
         5. How easy is it to change the system? If you say it is easy, how can one change the current democratic capitalist system into an absolute feudal monarchy or into an aristocratic theocracy? If you say it is hard, is it worth trying? If you try, are you a masochist or a revolutionary? If you do not try are you a realist or already defeated? Does this line of thought lead to any terror of loss?
         The system of society is a nihilistic system too. The postmodern system we live in even takes the opposition and absorbs it into itself – an absorption into indifference; as all calls to action end in today's world. Baudrillard claims that there is no hope for meaning: it is doomed; meaning is dying.
         6. Marxist, Communist, Anarchists, Neo-Nazis, unions, etc. were all once on the outside fighting against the system. But today most of them are in our institutions they are all common everyday people just trying to get by. Can we say that the postmodern world has made them and us indifferent to their message? Is this praiseworthy or lamentable?
         But there is a way out, there is a way to beat the system, to render it powerless: seduction. But we will speak about that at the next session.

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren