Media Freedom by richard barbrook

Political Hyper-Reality

Following the triumph of infotainment, some intellectuals became disillusioned with the radical possibilities of the media. According to Jean Baudrillard, the mass ownership of computers and television sets had already successfully created the post-industrial society within the advanced capitalist countries. Yet the spread of information technologies hadn't liberated the population from political and economic alienation. On the contrary, Baudrillard claimed that a new form of domination had emerged: hyper-reality. Under Fordism, the electronic media had merely spread incorrect ideas among the people. However, in the new world of post-modernism, all aspects of social life had been transformed into an entirely simulated world of information. Instead of working and playing in the real world, individuals had been sucked into the hyper-reality created by computer and television screens.

For Baudrillard, the domination of infotainment demonstrated the growing power of hyper-reality. Once politics had been transformed into show business, the rival social programmes of the Left and Right were only simulations for the news and current affairs programmes of the electronic media. Instead of representing their electors, politicians were now taking part in a form of television gameshow. Therefore, aping the sports commentators, news presenters regularly assessed the latest position of the rival parties by reporting their most recent poll ratings. Moreover, under post-modernism, politicians no longer needed to win the political debate with reasoned arguments. Instead they could use the techniques of political marketing which had won two American presidential elections by selling Reagan's smile. Similarly, as in the Gulf war, political leaders could embark on foreign adventures to provide thrilling infotainment for the television audiences back home. With the advent of hyper-reality, the image of politics had become more important than its real application.

Crucially Baudrillard asserted that the development of interactive computer and cable television networks wouldn't free people from the domination of hyper-reality. On the contrary, he claimed that two-way communications simply encouraged further involvement in the simulated world of information. Instead of creating a self-managed society, the introduction of new information technologies had ended all opportunities for political and economic participation. While they were watching television or using the Internet, individuals couldn't act as either citizens or members of civil society. Far from creating direct democracy, the electronic agora was the most insidious form of the new type of oppression. According to this guru, the dominance of hyperreality had ended any possibility of establishing media freedom. Whether indirectly or directly, individuals couldn't express their opinions through the electronic media. For Baudrillard, the only form of resistance to the oppression of hyper-reality was the refusal to participate within the media and politics. In his view, even if they watched television programmes, most people were no longer interested in the political role of the electronic media. At the same time, the rising rate of abstentionism demonstrated increasing apathy among the electorate. Far from condemning the separation of the state from civil society, Baudrillard believed that most people were happy to abdicate their responsibilities as citizens to the bureaucrats and politicians. Freed of their public duties, they could then enjoy the pleasures of private life without disturbance.


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