Douglas Kellner on Jean Baudrillard and Marshall McLuhan

Douglas Kellner offers an insightful review of Jean Baudrillard’s media theory, aiming to emphasize the necessity of reconsidering its grounds. Kellner does so by pointing out the main viewpoints that draw it close to McLuhan’s “medium is the message” thesis. The article develops around Baudrillard’s main argument: media effects lie not in their content per se, but in their technological nature – a clear reminiscence of McLuhan’s work. These effects only lead to massification and homogenization of ideas, audiences and overall experience. Moreover, the media create a hyperreality, a simulation of “the real”,eventually erasing the boundaries between “reality” and its representation.

In order to make his own case clear, Kellner presents three main issues in Baudrillard’s theory, all of which are offered counterarguments. The first “subordination” Baudrillard does is to abstract media effects from their content. Kellner hereby proposes a dialectical media theory, featuring cultural interpretation. What Kellner considers a notable flaw in Baudrillard’s theory is the fact that media are not analyzed within a certain context, irrespective of its nature. Second, Kellner opposes Baudrillard’s technological determinism, supporting the idea of media as a synthesis of technology and capital. Thirdly, Kellner draws attention to the “utopia of immediate speech”. What Baudrillard considers genuine communication is , in fact, just as misleading as mediated messages.

Concluding, Kellner states the absolute necessity of approaching media effects within specific economic, political or cultural circumstances: hence, the idea of a dialectical media theory. For this reason, Kellner strongly recommends casting a critical eye on Baudrillard’s implosive theory.

Considering today’s new forms of media and their gradual transformation into mainstream “genre”, could the audiences’ ongoing possibility of creating new content lead to massification of ideas and experience, just as Baudrillard stated in his “requiem” for the media? or should the theory considered obsolete, since content nowadays is crucial in exchanging media significations?

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~ by Silvia Alexe on February 15, 2009.

7 Responses to “Douglas Kellner on Jean Baudrillard and Marshall McLuhan”

  1. I would like to point out two issues I have trouble with in the question.

    Firstly, the fact that ‘content nowadays is crucial’. Last November Goldsmiths Media Research Centre held a symposium on metadata entitled ‘Force of Metadata’. One of the speakers, Yuk Hui, pointed out that ‘metadata is taking over content and changes both the products and mode of production of the Web’1. Keynote speaker French philosopher Bernard Stiegler embraced Latourian actor-network theory and pointed out that the proliferation of metadata (think Twitter instead of blogs, film remixes instead of the actual films, etc.) showcases the fact that we are witnessing ‘multidirectional relationship between actors rather than a unidirectonal relationship between producers and consumers’2. Stiegler moves on to introduce the term ‘collaborative apparatus’ to outline the present of media and possibly sketches out the future of media studies (I would like to hear prof. Frank Kessler elaborating on that as he is way more competent on the matter of dispositif/apparatus). Yet in this respect the outcome of this ‘collaborative apparatus’ is quite a different content and a fundamentally novel way of dealing with it.

    My second point would have to do with media significations as you outline them. In Baudrilliardian sense they do not signify – they are copies of a reality which does not exist. Yet again, what do mean by media signifactions?

    1. Quoted from the abstract of Yuk Hui’s talk available at goldsmiths.ac.uk/media-research-centre/abstracts-metadata.pdf [January 10, 2009]

    2. Ibid.

  2. I’ll be happy to bring some thoughts on dispositif into the discussion. However, I have a question about what is meant here by ‘metadata’. As I understand it, metadata are data about data that are generated in order to make files retrievable. Remixes, twitter etc are rather specific cultural practices, I would say, so why are these considered metadata?

  3. Metadata is data about data, as defined by Tim Berners-Lee in 1997. The way they addressed it in Goldsmiths leaves quite some room apply the term and I do understand I am using it quite loosely, but I would say that the production of metadata is becoming a widespread cultural practise itself – take bookmarks, for instance. And fan remixes could be addressed as creative recycling of visual data. (And here I am tempted to think of trash art.) I would say instead of producing media objects we increasingly recycle them.

  4. A “networked dispositif” ?

    Interesting: Jenkins’ states something along the lines of content converge, but that the hardwarde diverges

    Re Kellner on Baudrillard – He is rather Utopian isn’t he:

    “more channels, technology and a social commitment to democratic communication [….] to preserve its autonomy, such systems should be state funded but not controlled”

    The irony, I find, of the article is that in direct opposition to the provocation of Baudrillard it is very agreeable. At least Baudrillard makes you think.

  5. The creation of state funded channels which Kellner describes would lead to new messages. Although Baudrillard would say that they have no content because they are only simulations of simulated events. This makes me think of the philosophy of phenomenology (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty), the idea that we cannot experience the real world because we can only experience through our senses, making this experience the real. This version of the real (Baudrillard’s simulation) could lead to a repetition of the same message, or a differentiation of messages as different people experience the world in different ways, the simulations they see are different. I personally opt for the latter possibility and thus think that the possibility to create media utterances would lead to a more massive and diverse expression of ideas and knowledge.

    Considering today’s new forms of media and their gradual transformation into mainstream “genre”, could the audiences’ ongoing possibility of creating new content lead to massification of ideas and experience, just as Baudrillard stated in his “requiem” for the media? or should the theory considered obsolete, since content nowadays is crucial in exchanging media significations?

  6. Just thinking on dispositif again – how is this much different from human-computer interface?

  7. In response to Lotte: I wonder in what way people see a mediatized reality or simulations differently. As Baudrillard points out: The distinction between a private space and public space has been disrupted in postmodern times.
    The media-space (as the only space that is left) is, I think, also after reading Nakamura today, a place where you are not really assumed say ‘more’ or ‘other’ things than what is norm. But this is not to say that media doesn’t have the potential to share a ‘diverse expression of ideas and knowledge’.

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