I think this blog introduced by W.J.T. Mitchell on the course he instructs in Theories of Media at the University of Chicago, is excellent. The process of study is being structured and revealed in an engaging way for not only his media students but for all those who happily stumble across it on the web. The design of the pages are clear, consistent and interesting, framed and headed by the simple movement of relevant moving type creating a nice visual touch. The contributions by students are extremely erudite and impressive and there is a real sense of confidence and authority to their writing. Likewise I love their referencing system which is very useful and mirrors the nature of Wikipedia, the largest open content, free encyclopedia launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001. The bibliography on the side bar named as ‘works cited’ is also a very significant element for academic and professional purposes and even the ‘keywords cross references is a nice little flourish
The philosophy of offering content that can be extremely useful for academic, personal and business research for free is a very powerful one, alluding to the ethos of cooperation rather than dog eat dog competition. It encourages us all to embrace the spirit of win/win rather than win/lose and I personally echo that sentiment. Not only that but the idea of giving something of value away for free is a major component in the psychology of Influence. Researched and addressed in Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Caldini, this principle of reciprocation states that ‘we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.’ He refers to sociologists such as Alvin Gouldner who reports that there is no human society on this planet that doesn’t abide by this rule or principle.
Lest I digress I shall address the content of the keywords glossary, in particular my response to the definitions given to the words simulacra and simulation. In the first extract (1) Simulation defined variously as a process and technique of imitation or imitative behaviour with an intent to deceive. While simulacrum is described as a static entity which is a mere surface representation of the original with no actual possession of substance or proper quality of that original entity. The article refers to the historical notion of these concepts and cites Plato’s analyis and criticism in The Republic using the example of the creation of a statue to typify and represent a likeness of its human subject. Camille writes of Plato’s concern that this reproduced image is a deviation and perversion, a false likeness.
Likewise Jean Baudrillard was apprehensive and believed that the activity of simulation not only created a false reality but was at once even more devious because it destroyed the original by replacing it. He was deeply disturbed by the potential artifice and superficiality of the process of simulation and its resulting product or simulacrum, as if the very substance or truth of reality was removed. He appeared to be concerned that with the production of an ever more simulated reality with the advent of technologies such as photography, tv and film, the people of a society would lose a sense of reality and instead be wrapped and held rapt by the surface and superficial in life, mesmerised by the tokens of life. The philosopher and social critic Walter Benjamin termed the missing quality from the original as ‘the aura’ but congruent with his knowledge of Marxism’s materialistic conception of history, believed that the disappearance of the aura was no bad thing if mass reproduction of images, moving or still, promoted new modes of critical perception in its audience. In her book, ‘But is it art?’ Cynthia Freeland also presents Benjamin’s ideas that cinema for example created a distance between its narrative and its audience that the viewer recognised compared to the dynamics and so called ‘reality’ of theatre which he believed was more engrossing. However Benjamin died in 1940 before cinema photography, radio, tv and game programming had reached its technological and creative simulation heights, par excellence. These technologies are so powerful, so financially resourced and employ the greatest of talent to produce seductive and sophisticated representations of reality. They are deemed ‘hyperreal’ and as discussed in the resource article, are all embracing and pervasive. Information presented by these media are dispersed around us with a mixture of such subtlety and blatancy, that we are no longer able to distinguish the precise medium let alone the origins and integrity of the message. As the author says that life is now ‘spectralised…the event filtered by the medium – the dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV? We only have to scan the dominant strain of ‘Reality TV programming’
The writing also very ably describes the concept of simulation in David Cronenbergy’s film eXistenZ which is now on my list of films to see. I think it’s a particularly relevant and current example with the description that the virtual reality videogames that are the the film’s focus, are raised to deific proportions. Working with secondary school pupils I am constantly amazed and disheartened that so many of them play video games on their Playstations for up to 12 hours at a time…and that’s without the tricks of virtual reality. It seems to me that more and more of our youth and adult population are being diverted from making adventurous decisions about reality through the escape of simulated reality that appears so more fascinating and alluring.
In the second article (2) by Joanna Topor, which is also beautifully written, she concludes that the media itself is responsible for the breakdown of reality because it provides society with simulated events and the reproduction of signs that supposedly constitute reality. She refers to Baudrillard’s concept that the medium for presentation of a message/information is not in fact a mediator or bridge of communication but instead is the message itself and outlines Marashall McLuhan’s (1911-1980) belief that ‘the medium is the message’. It was his belief that the newer media could restore aspects of right-brain creative functioning suppressed by literacy in the sense that new media could promote connectedness and community, ‘the global village’. Older technologies such as ships, printing, railways, carriages, bicycles and cars all catalysed movements of people, their goods and their ideas and experience of reality. Today tv, radio, the telephone and the internet can do the same with no physical movement on our part at all. Of course there are profound advantages and disadvantages to such a development but I am continually struck by the miracle of it all. I suppose the question for me is how we navigate and temper both the miraculous access to information and other’s experience of reality with the distortion and intrusion into our own sense of reality. One thing I am sure about is that electronic means of communication stimulate visual and auditory senses but what remains out of the picture is the kinaesthetic awareness of reality. By being passive recipients of ‘so called’ reality we are disconnecting from our bodies, stimulating the mind but not the body. By being passive recipients of a simulated ‘aspirational society’ we lock ourselves into the theatre of comparison. As differences or perceived differences are heightened we lose touch with our own values and sense of self at home in reality. So I am inclined to disagree with McLuhan that the media is the message in that it ignores content. My sense is that we must demand more inspirational, empowering content that breathes resourcefulness, inventiveness and the goodness of human nature.