Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reality, Virtuality and Hyperreality

A blind test was conducted where participants blind tasted different cola's. People showed no real preference between each brand. However, when participants were showed the label 'Coca-Cola' and sampled the drink they preferred this drink regardless of which cola was actually being given to them. This shows that people are tasting the brand; we care more about the logo and not the actual product. 

Jean Baudrillard (1929 - 2007) - A French philosopher, critic, social cultural theorist, photographer. He was a pioneering theorist in the domains of semiotics, political economy, postmodernism, popular culture and media theory. He was one of the generation of French thinkers associated with 'poststructuralism'. 

Poststructuralism associates:

Gilles Deleuze
Roland Barthes
Jean Baudrillard
Jacques Derrida
Helene Cixous
Michel Foucault

Structuralism accociates:
Claude Levi-Strauss
Roland Barthes
Jacques Lacan
Louis Althusser
Andre Leroi-Gourhan
Julia Kristeva

Other key precursors:
Guy Debord

Author of Society of the Spectacle (1976)
He was a marxist theorist who revised Marx's main concepts to analyse commodity-relations in the age of consumer culture. 
He maintained that commodity society had become an 'immense accumulation of spectacles'.
Consumer culture hereby operates on the basis of images and signs.

Ferdinand de Saussure
Linguist and pioneer of semiotics.
He maintained that language functions and theory of value. 

Karl Marx
Pioneering philosopher and political and economic theorist. He developed the 'critique of political economy'. He also maintained that capitalist society in an industrial age functions on the basis of the 'labour theory of value' and the exchange of commodities. Capital constitutes are one kind of 'mode of production' and that it would be eventually replaced by other ones (socialist, communist)? He also famously claimed, along with Fredrich Engels, that in capitalist society 'all that is solid mets into air; all that is holy is profaned' (a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet).

Marcel Mauss
Anthropologist and ethnographer.
He was renowned for his analysis of the 'economy of the gift' in different societies. He explored the idea that gifts are only given as part of an exchange and that the gift always has to be reciprocated in some form.

Georges Bataille
Philosopher, novelist and poet.
He was renowned for his writings on transgression, death and 'general economy' (gift economies, economies based on 'expenditure without return, e.g. the 'Potlatch').

Marshall McLuhan
Media theorist.
He developed the distinction between 'hot' and 'cool' media and argued that the 'medium is the message'.

Jean Baudrillard
In Baudrillard's book Simulacra and Simulation he famously elaborated his theory of simulacra. He wrote that simulacra are copies either of the thing that are intended to represent. This was a controversial subject for a long time, but has now become a key term in postmodernism theory and culture. 

Here are three extracts from the book:

The Holy Sacrament - 'reflection of a profound reality'
Gargoyle as an example of 'maleficence' - 'masks and denatures a profound reality'
H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos - 'masks the absence of a profound reality'
Malficent from Sleeping Beauty - 'has no relation to any reality whatsoever, it is its own pure simulacrum'.

Why 'reality TV' is not really, real...

Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976) by Baudrillard. 

The three orders of simulacra:

The counterfeit - dominant scheme of the 'classical period'
Production - dominant scheme in the industrial era
Simulation - dominant scheme in the current code-governed phase.

According to Marx the 'dialectic' of capitalism is between Labour and Capital.

According to Baudrillard, Marx's distinction is subject to a more fundamental one - The exchange of images and signs to which all other relations, e.g. between labour and capital are subject. 

Baudrillard uses Saussure's theory of 'signification' to elaborate his 'three orders of simulacra'.

However signifying echange is not the same as symbolic exchange.
Given the predominance of simulacra it is very difficult if not impossible to conceive what such 'symbolic exchange' might amount to. 
What is apparent is that the symbolic is in excess of the signifying economy and therefore cannot be expressed as part of this economy without becoming a simulacrum.

Baudrillard describes DNA and Computer Codes as examples of simulacra.

The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991) - Baudrillard was not trying suggest that the war was made up, but rather to make a point about how war becomes simulacral in an age of global mass media.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Gaze

What motivates us to hurt?

What motivates us to watch those getting hurt?

Psychoanalysis - the analysis of the options and controls we chose in life. 

Looking at the panopticon design it has the capacity to control 'knowledge' - the knowledge of ourselves in the world. The disciplining power of looking internalises behaviour rendering us more productive yet also more docile. 

Psychoanalysis positions the role of sexuality, especially in our infancy. It is also about how we treat and examine other objects. 

Laura Mulvey - 'Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema'.

Laura believed that Hollywood films are sexists because they represent 'the gaze' as powerful and male. The heroes are typically male and lead the plot. A woman would be portrayed as 'sexual' objects to be looked at.

Freudian Theories of Psychoanalysis 1.

  • Scopophilia - The pleasure of looking at others bodies as objects. Instinctual desire to look - curiosity of others bodies emerges in childhood.
' the extreme [scopohilia] can become fixated into perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other'. Mulvey

Freudian Theories of Psychoanalysis 2.
  • Narcissistic Identification - for Mulvey spectators identify with the male hero in narrative films. 

Freudian Theories of Psychoanalysis 3.
  • Jacques Lacan - the mirror stage. 
Projected notion of the 'ideal ego' seen in the image reflected in a mirror.
A child's own body is less perfect that what they see in their reflection. 
Film - like the mirror - produces a fascination in the image that can itself, induce a loss of ego. In our increasing identification with a projected ego our own sense of ego becomes lost. The actors on screen become objectified. 

Woman as image / man as a bearer of the look

  ‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact  [. . .] they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.’ 

'The male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification  [...]  he controls the film fantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator...'

'By means of identification with the male actor through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too [the female actor] '.

Extending Mulvey's Theory - SUTURE

Spectators look through the eyes of the actors in the film
We are able to follow 'their' gaze without feeling guilty
Suture can be broken eg. when an actor speaks out to us - the audience.
When broken, the audience become aware of their own gaze. 
There is then the possibility to make the spectator feel guilty.

Suture often forces empathy. We have an empathetic relationship with the lead protagonist. Suture is broken when we are reminded that the gaze is constructed. 

Forms of Gaze
1. The spectators gaze - gaze of a viewer at an image
This is the most common form of gaze. It is you looking at me... but I can also see you looking at others... this is called...
2. Intra-diegetic gaze - a gaze of one depicted person at another within the image. When I look around me now I don't just see you looking at me. I also see you looking at others.
This can be used for particular effect...

Le Viol ( The Rape) - Degas

The gaze 'intra-diegetic' it is a character in the image that gazes at the subject. 

Crop the man out and it is a completely different composition. The title is about rape and having a innocent looking girl sat alone in a bedroom forces a sense of guilt upon the viewer. You feel like maybe it is you who has upset her.

Le Viol exhibits the 'power' of the male gaze. It doesn't suggest that we obtain the gaze, but rather that we recognise its power. 

The intra-diegetic gaze is used for a particular affect. We may feel disgusted and upset about the image but we don't feel any actual guilt or that we are the perpetrators. 


We attach negative connotations with 'contradiction' ... should we?
As a mechanism contradiction is a key proponent of how cinemas, advertising and computer games work. When the inherent contradiction is challenged or subverted it creates confusion. 

For example...

The contradiction of scopophilia and narcissistic objectification are challenged in the advert.

Males are normally seen as the power in images however here the male has be subjectified. 

3. Extra-diegetic gaze - this is the direct addressing to the viewer/ the gaze of a person in an image looking out at us. It is avoided in cinemas but common in advertising and TV newsreaders. 

The use of the extra-diegetic gaze is more affecting than the intra-diegetic gaze in this instance.
Intra-diegetic gazes defer our guilt – someone else is hurting that person

Extra-diegetic gazes enhances our guilt – we are complicit

Different forms of ‘gaze’ evoke different structures of power;
We can objectify (scopophilia) AND identify (narcissistic identification);
Cinema, advertising, computer games thrive upon ‘contradiction’ [but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing!];
Visual culture employs different forms of the gaze to evoke structures of patriarchy;
Psychoanalysis seeks to evaluate and identify the architecture and symptoms of the gaze.

      Saturday, 27 November 2010

      Portfolio Task 1 - Panopticism

      Choose an example of one aspect of contemporary culture that is, in your opinion, panoptic. Write an explanation of this, in approximately 200-300 words, employing key Foucauldian language, such as 'Docile Bodies' or 'self-regulation, and using not less than 5 quotes from the text 'Panopticism' in Thomas, J. (2000) 'Reading Images', NY, Palgrave McMillan.

      The term panopticism means 'all seeing'. It employes the idea of not knowing when or where we are being watched so it encourages 'good behavior' as we feel constantly under surveillance. 

      Panopticism employes discipline in many aspects of everyday life. With the ever increasing knowledge within technology it is safe to say you will most likely be under some form of surveillance if you step out of your front door. I will be focusing on computing and its invisible surveillance for this essay. A computer is a very personal object; a private place where you can do and search pretty much anything. A place where a persons inner most thoughts are often recorded in a digital diary or private conversations can be held over the internet. 

      However, surveillance of computer activity can be tracked by the government and the police. Everything can be tracked with the right authority. You become an 'object of information, never a subject in communication.' From conversations to the amount of finger strokes per minute on the key pad, computers are a very clever technology and therefore can access a wide variety of personal information across the world. In Foucault's theory of panopticism he writes about how subjects of panopticism self regulate themselves as they constantly feel they are being watched by an opnipresent eye. 

      “An omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the determination of the individual”

      Firewalls and other 'virus protectors' show how secretive people want to be about their information. The fear of being watched and bank details being stolen for example turns people into docile bodies encouraging them into the retail market to help combat and stop the invisible gaze. “This surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration”. 

      Having an omnipresent eye online I feel is very necessary and has enabled police to find out vital information for example following suspected terrorists actions and tracking down wanted pedophiles resulting in punishment and helping to make the internet a safer place. Having this invisible yet known power on computers makes users more aware of their actions constantly. Even though the chances are very slim that you are being tracked right now, there is still the consciousness therefore "
      it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior.”

      Monday, 15 November 2010

      Critical Positions On The Media and Popular Culture

      What is Culture?

      It is quite complicated and complex word.
      It is the general process of iltellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development of a particular society, at a particular time.
      It is a particular way of life.

      Marx's concept of Base/ Superstructure 
      Forces of production  -  materials, tools, workers, skills, etc.
      Relations of production  -  employer/ employee, class, master, slave, etc.
      Social institutions  -  legal, political, cultural.
      Forms of consciousness  -  ideology

      ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

      Base determines content and form of the Superstructure
      Superstructure reflects form of and legitimises the Base.

      Marx says it is easy to determine a shift in base and less easy to determine a shift in superstructure.


      1. System of ideas or beliefs.
      2. Masking, dsitortion or selection of ideas to reinforce power relations through creation of 'false consciousness'. 

      [ The ruling class has ] to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, ... to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones. Karl Marx, (1846) The German Ideology.

      Althusser, (1970) 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses'

      Ideology is a practice through which men and women ‘live’ their relations to real conditions of existence.
       Ideology offers false, but seemingly true resolutions to social imbalance
       Social authority maintained by:
       R.S.A- repressive state apparatus
      I.S.A- Ideological State apparatus

      Raymond Williams (1983) "Keywords"
      Four definitions of 'popular'
      - Well liked by many people.
      - Inferior kinds of work.
      - Work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people.
      - Culture actually made by the people themselves.

      Inferior or Residual Culture
       - Popular Press vs Quality Press.
      - Popular Cinema vs Art Cinema.
      - Popular Entertainment vs Art Culture.

      E.P. Thompson (1963) ‘The Making of The English Working Class’

      Matthew Arnold (1867) 'Culture and Anarchy'
      Culture is:
      - 'The best that has been thought and said in the world'.
      - Study of perfection.
      - Attained through disinterested reading, writing and thinking.
      - The pursuit of culture
      - Seeks 'to minister the diseased spirit of our time'.

      p.105 - ‘The working class… raw and half developed… long lain half hidden amidst it’s poverty and squalor… now issuing from it’s hiding place to assert an Englishman's heaven born privilege to do as he likes, and beginning to perplex us by marching where it likes, meeting where it likes, breaking what it likes'

      F.r Leavis and Q.D Leavis - 
      ‘Culture has always been in minority keeping’
      ‘The minority, who had hitherto set the standard of taste without any serious challenge have experienced a‘collapse of authority’.

      Popular culture offers addictive forms of distraction and compensation ‘This form of compensation… is the very reverse of recreation, in that it tends, not to strengthen and refresh the addict for living, but to increase his unfitness by habitutaing him to weak evasions, to the refusal to face reality at all’ (Leavis & Thompson, 1977:100)

      Frankfurt School - Critical Theory

      Frankfurt School : Theodore Adorno and Max Horkeimer
      Reinterpreted Marx, for the 20th century – era of “late capitalism”

      Defined “The Culture Industry” :

      2 main products – homogeneity & predictability
      “All mass culture is identical” 
      ‘As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished or forgotten’. 
      ‘Movies and radio need no longer to pretend to be art. The truth, that they are just business, is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. ... The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. ... The culture industry can pride itself on having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle. ... film, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part ... all mass culture is identical.’ 
      Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment,1944

      Frankfurt School : Herbert Marcuse

      Popular Culture v Affirmative Culture

      The irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. ... it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life - much better than before - and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one dimensional thought and behaviour in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.

      Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 1968

      (of affirmative culture): a realm of apparent unity and apparent freedom was constructed within culture in which the antagonistic relations of existence were supposed to be stabilized and pacified. Culture affirms and conceals the new conditions of social life.

      Herbert Marcuse, Negations, 1968

      - Cultural Commodities
      - Negation = Depriving culture of “its great refusal” = Cultural Appropriation


      Authentic Culture vs Mass Culture'
      Qualities of authentic culture - 
      1. Real
      2. European
      3. Multi-dimensional
      4. Active consumption
      5. Individual creation
      6. Imagination
      7. Negation
      8. Autonomous.

      Products of the contemporary 'culture industry'
      • Big Brother
      • X Factor
      • Celebrity Calendars.
      In our society, where the real distinctions between people are created by their role in the process of production, as workers, it is the products of their own work that are used, in the false categories invoked by advertising, to obscure the real structure of society by replacing class with the distinctions made by the consumption of goods. Thus, instead of being identified by what they produce, people are made to identify themselves by what they consume. From this arises the false assumption that workers ‘with two cars and a colour TV’ are not part of the working class. We are made to feel that we can rise or fall in society through what we are able to buy, and this obscures the actual class basis which still underlies social position. The fundamental differences in our society are class differences, but the use of manufactured goods as means of creating classes or groups forms an overlay on them.
      Williamson (1978) 'Decoding Advertisements'

      By attaching human needs/ desires to commodities Capitalism keeps us spending.

      Walter Benjamin 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction' 1936

      ‘One might generalise by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own situation, it reactivates the objects produced. These two processes leaqd to a tremendous shattering of tradition… Their most powerful agent is film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage’
      'Mechanical Reproduction changes the reaction of art towards the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into a progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterised by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert’(Benjamin, The Work of Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936) The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was a research centre at the University of Birmingham. It was founded in 1963 by Richard Hoggart, its first director. Its object of study was the then new field of cultural studies.

      ‘Youth cultural styles begin by issuing symbolic challenges, but they must end by establishing new conventions; by creating new commodities, new industries, or rejuvenating old ones’

      Newspapers have a massive impact on society and are notorious for not speaking the whole truth, yet we will choose to believe and incorporate their words into our lives. For example, all the foods that have been found to 'cause cancer' if you are not supposed to eat these foods, what do we eat?!

      In Conclusion

      1. The culture & civilization tradition emerges from, and represents, anxieties about social and cultural extension. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and social authority.

      2. The Frankfurt School emerges from a Marxist tradition. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and depoliticises the working class, thus maintaining social authority.

      3. Pronouncements on popular culture usually rely on normative or elitist value judgements

      4. Ideology masks cultural or class differences and naturalises the interests of the few as the interests of all.

      5. Popular culture as ideology

      6. The analysis of popular culture and popular media is deeply political, and deeply contested, and all those who practice or engage with it need to be aware of this.