Tag Archives: Baudrillard

The Sound of (No) One (Not) Listening

A common complaint is that not enough people listen to serious programs. Is there a method for studying non-listening?
-Paul Lazarsfeld, “Introduction”, Radio Research 1942-1943

The abiding rule of thumb when it comes to the gross people of the world is to just ignore them. It’s not like they’re capable of rational, respectful dialogue. It’s not like pointing out that they’re gross is going to make them be not gross…the Calgary police add, “It violates section 175(1)(A) of the Criminal Code: ‘a disturbance in or near a public place, (1) by fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language.’” Normally, I am a firm supporter of the right to drop F-bombs whenever and wherever, but if the only thing these clowns understand is the fear of real consequences, then I’m down for it.

A scotsman who can’t watch a movie without shouting…
-Youtube clip title

According to Baudrillard, the territory of reality no longer precedes the map of representation…In the past, a “real” moment occurred when a person experienced another person’s presence and speech, or observed something that was happening in the neighborhood or across the street. Today what we experience more and more are spectacles…

It is with severe difficulty that we measure the strangeness of the present; it might in fact be said that the only means of defining the present is in its strangeness. With this strangeness we differentiate it from the past. By riding this feeling of the present’s strangeness we make our claims to the future, a forever uninhabited wilderness where theorists of all sorts set up claims and some strike gold. Sometimes this gold is found around their less than fresh corpse. The gold is fought over, the speculator at that point is dead, not much can be done for them. The gold may not even be gold. But then, like Schroedinger’s cat, gold only becomes “gold” insofar as we observe it as being such. Tooth fillings work similarly.

When Schroedinger opened his speculative box, had the cat died in a position to suggest it was chasing its tail?

What exactly is the sound of nothing being not-listened to? Traditionally: a tree falling in the forrest, a pin dropping, crickets, sneezing, the audience talking over the performer, “talk to the hand”, the audience heckling in an attempt to break down the imagined wall between audience and performer.

The inertia of a set of relations that in their proper placement create the performer and audience, that create the magical fourth wall, are multi-tiered, their allegiances scattered, flexible and frequently redrawn. The audience recreate their communicative end of the relationship in different forms that have a surprising level of complexity given the limit to their variety; the clap comes to be the sign of polite impatience, an “other” category for that which can’t comfortably be fit in the space of the laugh shout or boo, the acknowledgment of appreciation, and the impetus for an extension of performance. To invert the snow clone, if the eskimos have 50 words for snow, the audience has one clap correspond to 50 responses.

The theatergoers’ etiquette, always a tenuous treaty between two parties in conflict, reproduces itself in the relation passersby take to the production of moving images. While traveling around the country making a film about the US, I found that when I would take urban landscape shots hoping for people to walk through them, I would need to usher them, Moses-like, parting the sea of the image before they felt comfortable walking through. Successful long-running TV shows have worked on usually disingenuous flirtations of a new sort of relation between the audience and the performers; the Today Show’s famous police-style barricade surrounding crowds of eager TV viewers, the constant casting call on late night and daytime talk shows to “Be in our audience!”, the voting structure of talent competition shows, and in journalism the necessarily misleading “man on the street” interview.

The promise of performance is two-sided. The performer seeks a variable relation to the audience, the audience seeks the temporary feeling of community in their shared identity as the spectator. The uneasy elements of performance art and stand-up comedy are that they blur this line; the comic will attack a hostile audience, the performance artist will designate unusual and unrehearsed performance from the audience. The television on the other hand, despite the broad range of response it can elicit, safely contains both the space of the performer and that of the audience through what I guess could be called a two-state solution. Yet the hostilities on both sides remain, and the borders keep getting redrawn.

Yesterday’s shooting of two reporters on the air by a colleague who had been demoted (in his own mind, which is the primary space from which to analyze the spectator, who exists in communal interiority) from the space of performer to that of audience member has elicited two days of front page coverage in several international papers because, while the news usually is meant to be understood as allegory by the reader, this incident has extreme allegorical implications for the journalists themselves. The racial and gender components provide a means through which to explore unconsciously the incident’s dimension as a breach of trust between the set social relations in the production of news.

These relations and their once seemingly set qualities of course have been repeatedly questioned in the last several months. When activists claiming to be with Black Lives Matter took over the stage at a Bernie Sanders rally, decentralized discourse on the internet immediately began grappling with the question of what interpretation to use as a frame. Were the activists attempting to create a news story themselves, were they in the employ of the Clinton campaign, could they even be properly considered to be emissaries of Black Lives Matter at all, could Sanders’ followers in fact be racists? This swamp of confusion showed its spirit in the interchangeability of descriptions of Black Lives Matter as being a “movement” or a “hashtag”.

The reporting on the presidential campaign that reaches a broad saturation point is similarly defined by performative ruptures of identities-any Donald Trump “gaff” and the coverage following could suffice to prove my point here. In these spaces the viewer and journalist can explore the only partially conscious realization that the boundaries have shifted or possibly even collapsed between consumer and producer. With a TV or a radio, I can’t produce TV and consume unless I’m within the industry (outside small strongholds like public access and college stations, which still regiment the production of images in time and space in a manner the internet and its two-way delivery systems such as the computer, phone, or tablet, don’t.) CNN will often do stories on viral videos, in part to sustain the illusion they’re still monolithic curators of the image, in part a peacemaking concession to the rupture of TV communications, the way human interest stories worked for years and years.

New etiquettes are being created and smashed several times a day; the seemingly all encompassing space of the norm has enough cracks where the chaotic forces lurking behind it in shadows for all this time can be seen more clearly than the normatives.


The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon


You go cheep cheep cheep between bulleyes and bluster

Stiff as your poker face

Keener than mustard

From your own back yard to the land of exotica

From the truth society to neurotic erotica

-Elvis Costello, Pidgin English

The separation of the screen reproduces itself in numerous fashions; at its root it’s a reflection of the one-sided relations we’d like to have with strangers. In the United States, it’s the checkout counter, or at least starts as the checkout counter.

So, obvious question, what is the social relation recreated by the medium of the checkout counter?

Well, it’s a miniature Stanford Prison Experiment. Step on either side and become the all powerful consumer whose complaints can be heard and are taken seriously (or there will be consequences, the customer is always right after all) and the lowly employee, who must frequently apologize for the infraction of existing wrong. The customer, of course, is only given this power so as to deflect from view the actually powerful lords of capital, who give the illusion of power in order to deflect from the actuality and misuse of their own power.

The internet is the illusion of power, or rather the purposeful scaling back of power so as to make the person sufficiently frustrated with the failure of the people around them to eat each other. The roles must be reversed regularly so that you don’t get a clean binary through which to revolt. The lesson of driving a car, the windshield being the most powerful screen before the advent of the internet, is simultaneously to socialize the limitless desire for power in the form of speed and to abstract the person from their entire environs while simultaneously confining them within the limited bounds of what’s accessible by roads. Road rage is the neurotic condition of the reactionary consumer, driven mad by what amounts to very little actual power.

The world in a box, you in an actual box.

And so the screen, like the car and to a larger extent the checkout counter, desires to reduce one’s relation to the world to a binary relation of desires met or not met. The self is positioned at a remove and can only read another person’s actions by the slightest reductive quality of the simplified wanted experience and its inevitable disappointment.

This creates the panopticon of the desiring machine, the means by which internet discourse, especially that of a political nature, works.

The Desiring Machine’s Panopticon

As the principle driving mechanism of capitalism is the perpetual desire that can’t be sated, the thing that needs to continually grow fatter or collapse. This is embedded mythologically in the striver archetype, in the “upward mobility” story, etc. The striver story is inverted in the purity narratives of victimhood of the left that are now being broken down and/or (andor?) expanded. They’re stretching out so to speak.

The social media network is the truly postmodern device of control; it works on a seeming contradiction; a panopticon that runs on the inability of the other people in the box to see each other. Anything that can be convincingly stated as being “coded language”, coming from any direction of power, can train the people in a given tunnel of communications to completely block out careful reading or discussion. We all become guard and prisoner simultaneously; otherwise how else do you filter the onslaught of information coming at you, all of it taking defensive stances of being of the utmost importance and confidently knowing. The troll’s mark is the proclamation of utmost certainty that betrays itself as being otherwise.

The traditional panopticon of course works on similar mechanisms-the all seeing eye of the jailer and its repressive potential is outsourced to the prisoner and distributed. The major difference in the panopticon of the Twitter or Facebook feed versus that of the more traditional surveillance state is its exclusive existence in the internet. The internet is an imperialistic attempt to gain hegemony over the visible world by the mediums of the written word and the still or moving picture.

This sudden aggressive shift in hegemony creates two primary assaults, barely perceived on the conscious level by the user, that can be framed in dialectics but not totally contained by them. As such I’m going to present them as two sided things of presence/lack divided by a slash that shouldn’t be taken as a strict separation: —The overwhelming influx of information of all sorts/the need to rapidly be able to sort this information into streams of legitimacy/coherence—and—The disinhibition in the face of a lack of standard social mechanisms of compromise (body language etc.) on the poster’s end/the assaultive fallout from this on the reader’s end.

But of course on the internet we’re all both poster and reader, producer and consumer, in varying proportions. We end up with a market glut of things to consume, and to flip Marx’s concept, what could be called a “crisis of overconsumption”. The problem becomes not the production of content-there’s more content on the internet now than could ever be consumed by a single person even if reincarnation was an option that included free refills. The valued commodity becomes more severely the production of feelings of desire for product. The early romantic thrill is gone from the act of consumption; the current craze for vinyl records, the first nostalgia craze driven by a demographic that can’t reasonably be presumed to have any dominant childhood desire for the product, .

Put otherwise:

Q: What do you get the man who has everything?

A: The ability to want any of it.

We drift toward the feeding frenzy of the Twitter trend as it ascends not because of wanting to discuss what it is but because we want to experience the excitement of the feeding frenzy itself. The viral as viagra. If we consume in order to assemble identity, the ultimate product in terms of built in obsolescence is the fleeting closed sufficiency of the identity statement, the A=A. A ghost to be chased, a thing that can only be held as tightly as can water.

Part of why Ayn Rand resonates so much with a portion of the population, beyond and directly within her reactionary politics, might be her steadfast assertion of the A=A in the face of its non-existence even within and surrounding her own work; it gives the comfort of basking in the inertia of a present that doesn’t exist.