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

29: Jean Baudrillard part III:
Alienation, Mass & the Implosion of Meaning in Media

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Implosion of Meaning in Media
         Baudrillard claims that as we 'progress' further into the postmodern world there will be more and more information and less and less meaning. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of information on the one hand and meaning and signification on the other. We usually believe that information creates meaning but Baudrillard claims it actually destroys meaning, communication and real society.
         Information exhausts itself in the process of staging communication and meaning – so information pretends to be communicative and meaningful but rarely actually achieves either. Some examples of this are: non-directive interviews, speeches, call-in listeners, opinion polls: in essence when participation becomes the event; when the the process is circular: when the receiver becomes the sender too. Today circularity is the hyper-reality of communication and the media.
         Baudrillard makes a distinction between 'the social' and 'the mass.' The social is any group that shares information meaning and signification. That is any group that has a cause or a goal or purpose. For example a bar association, the army, a religious cult or a terrorist group. A mass is a group that shares information but has no other determining characteristics. For example our postmodern society in which if you take any two people at random it is unlikely that they will share anything except access to the same information.
         According to Baudrillard, the mass media is actually turning the social group into a mass by making the message and the medium the same.
         This melding of the medium and the message is what Baudrillard calls: the implosion of the media. Because the media no longer mediates between one reality and another reality (not even between reality and unreality) it also signifies the implosion of the social into the mass.
         Beyond meaning and the social we are left in a mass with a fascination or the implosion of meaning: we are like children everywhere who are fascinated by a flickering candle: it is fascination without meaning.
         The Notion of Alienation and the Reaction of the Masses
         Alienation is the strategy of the masses to resist the demand of being a subject. In our society we are expected to behave sometimes as subjects (autonomous, responsible, free and conscious) and at other times as objects (submissive, inert, obedient and conforming). When called on to be a subject we naturally and instinctively try to respond passively with the mind set of an object. When we are called on to be objects we naturally and instinctively try to actively rebel with the mind set of a subject. When there is something at stake we can and do change our mind set to the appropriate one. However the media tries very hard to get us to be subjects; it glorifies, validates and expects us to be subjects. We respond with an object mind set and because there is nothing at stake (that is there is no more meaning in the media) we can get away with our objectiveness.
         1. The social is often contrasted with the asocial by claiming that the more culture (high or low) we exhibit the more social we are. If we can discuss philosophy or quote Star Trek lines we are being sociable with others who can too – these actions are thought of as meaningful and significant social activities. Asocial people are often depicted as loners who cannot negotiate the signs and symbols of life properly. But Baudrillard inverts this standard view and claims that 'connecting' with someone only on the level of shared information is not very meaningful or significant but further such 'connecting' is destructive of any true meaning and significations that that relationship could have had. Do you believe Baudrillard's claim that we get more and more information and we have less and less meaning with it? Why or why not?
         2. Do you like the T.V. Show “The Big Bang Theory?” You do! I do too! We have so much in common. – Do you agree or disagree? Why?
         3. According to Baudrillard, the mass media today does not deal with reality in content nor in form. It only cycles around in a car of meaningless opinion and hyper-reality stuck in a traffic circle: going round and round without progress and unable to stop. This is a catastrophe for modern and enlightenment thinkers because of their faith in linear progress. Does this end strike you as believable, desirable or unbelievable, undesirable?
         4. “The medium is the message,” Marshal McLuhan's famous aphorism, is Baudrillard's starting point for an analysis of media. Consider: “...and later tonight on (the T.V. station) CNN [or any T.V. Station] Larry King will interview... [something will happen].” This is the end (or purpose) of the medium and the message: you are watching something happening on T.V. Is this really the melding of media and message? If so, does this melding really signal the end (or purpose) of the media? What is at stake if Baudrillard is right?
         5. At work you know that you are supposed to be submissive (an object) to your boss and autonomous (a subject) in your work. Baudrillard claims that we instinctively want to rebel against the boss and slack off in our work but because there are meaningful consequences (we might get fired and lose our income) we resist the natural urge and change our mind set. If you accept this does it follow that the lack of meaning in the media creates a passive culture; an alienated culture?
         6. What would the world be like if the media glorified and validated the object mind set rather than the subject mind set?
         7. Which world would you prefer to live in: our passive but subject glorified world or the world in question 6?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren