News as Spectacle

There are two philosophical concepts that we can use to assess the way media operates under late capitalism and these are headed by Guy Debord and Jean Baudriallard.

‘In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation’. – Debord Society of the Spectacle.

The spectacle is a tool for pacification and politicisation: ‘a permanent opium war‘. Media allows people a distraction from their own lives or their own solace, for instance, and therefore a form of escape.

By consuming spectacles, we stop producing our own life leading us to Marx’s concept of alienation. An example: People watch The Great British Bake Off but do not bake themselves.

‘The spectacle is the moment when consumption has attained the total occupation of human life’. – Debord 1967

The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. 

THE SPECTACLE IS NOT A COLLECTION OF IMAGES, BUT A SOCIAL RELATION AMONG PEOPLE, MEDIATED BY IMAGES.

Is there more concern over the production of the spectacle than providing impartial news?

During the 1991 Gulf War, journalists ’embedded’ themselves with the US troops to gain information from the US military.

Our understanding of the war was entirely mediated. The media representation of the war was more real, for many, than the actual war.

An example we were shown in the lecture, about constructing spectacles, was the tearing down of the Saddam statue. Photographs made the event look massive by using specific frames and angles. However, in wide shots the overall amount of people involved were very few.

saddam.png

The Drive For The Spectacle…

…Often leads to ethical disregard e.g. the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal.

With the 1968 Global Protests: Debord and others recognise the power of the media. The whole world saw images that were distributed.

DEBORD’S CRITIQUE ASKS US TO LOOK CRITICALLY AT THE SPECTACLE AND NOT BE ABSORBED IN IT. 

We live in a world where a mediated reality is more real than lived reality, – hyper reality. Baudriallard saw this reality as inevitable and irresistible. Many of our experiences come from the news.

sdffs

‘The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth -it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true’.

Baudrillard vs Norris vs Merrin

In 1995, Baudrillard stated that ‘The Gulf War did not take place’. This was because, he argues, the style of warfare was so far removed from previous standards that it existed more as images on RADAR and TV screens. Most of the decisions of the war were based on perceived intelligence coming from maps and media rather than from actual seen intelligence.

Christopher Norris challenged these ‘ridiculous’ theories and charged Baudrillard with ‘ideological complicity’, of being ‘anti-realist’ and of being from a class of intellectuals suffering from a crisis of ‘moral and political nerve’.

William Merrin suggests that the war was not a war because fewer soldiers were killed than would have died in traffic accidents had they been at home. No risks that would constitute war were taken either.

an atrocity masquerading as war

Kellner on Media Spectacles

He highlights how the same companies produce both entertainment and news. Mergers in media industries draw attention to the synergies amongst information and entertainment industries.

The Megaspectacle

‘Megaspectacles fixate attention on events that distract people from the pressing issues of their everyday lives with endless hype on shocking crimes, sports contests and personalities, political scandals, natural disasters and the self-promoting hype of media culture itself.’ – Kellner

The Megaspectacle surrounding OJ Simpson saw an important transition for news into infotainment. This is because the three major television networks gave more time to the case than to the Bosnian war & the Oklahoma city bombing combined.

While OJ Simpson’s trail brought up issues of identity, class, race and gender, it also distracted people, diverting attention away from issues of real inequality and injustice and the movements attempting to address them.

‘It is in fact a national tragedy that the Simpson spectacle became the major focus of TV news in 1995 during a period of unprecedented change and turmoil.’ – Kellner

DUBORD RECOGNISES THE SPECTACLE AS POWERFUL AND MEDIATED AND ONE THAT ENCOURAGES OUR COMPLICITY WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Other Megaspectacles: 

  • Oscar Pistorius’ trial
  • Princess Diana’s death
  • 9/11
These notes are from my Year 2 Semester 1 lectures and seminars.
The images are taken from my lecture this week.
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