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.