Thursday, February 26, 2015

Antimanifesto for a Simulated World

Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 Simulacra and Simulation, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser in 1994, contains a four-page essay entitled “Hypermarket and Hypercommodity.” This short essay articulates the structure of the media in this way: “neither information nor communication, but referendum, perpetual test, circular response, verification of the code” (75).

For Baudrillard, this structure serves as the basis of not only the media but the economic, political, and artistic sectors as well. Instead of being able to achieve a depth of experience—by offering a true critique of the hegemonic system we have inherited and in which we find ourselves ensconced—we wind up merely floundering upon and among surface phenomena.

Politics no longer offers any real alternative. Ideological gridlock marches in lockstep, emulating the status quo of the shrillest of voices. This shrillness becomes the default language that says nothing new, nothing in-sightful. The left, defanged and anemic, treads water while the reactionary right wipes up the residue of liberty with the narrowest of Constitutional interpretations. The parameters of sight, of vision, of power, become all the more contracted and constrained.

Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered aired an article about new cancer research. It posed the nonproblem of the costs associated with a new treatment called Ibrance by Pfizer, which would cost $118,000 a year. Never once did the so-called journalist pose the question why? Why is it acceptable for any society or economic system to charge that much money in order to survive a cancer diagnosis? (This is only an example. Any news article published today could serve as my example.)

In such a system, why? becomes the very disruption the system seeks in its suicidal self-annihilation, because even the system itself does not want to limp along (in lockstep? Did I just mix my metaphors!) indefinitely. The proletariat wields the truncheon of interrogation, but the proletariat, in speaking the dominant language of the land (that is, Shrillish), never dares to use the radical rising intonation, the non-native mot de la résistance. Instead, the proletariat mouths the official credo, swearing allegiance to the self-perpetuating structures of oppression, ever tightening the screws. This is not highfalutin abstract thought. This is Ferguson goddamnit, this is Eric Garner.

NPR is often touted as America’s socialist media, but the sheer “objectivity” of this report evidences NPR’s buy-in into the right’s agenda and paradigmatic frame. I employ scare quotes around objectivity not only because objectivity shows itself always as an impossibility but also because the reporter, in “disinterestedly” relating this information, showed himself incapable of putting into question the very factuality of the story. Not is it true? but what is its truth?

In other words, there was never any question that the costs of cancer treatment should not be $118,000. In “reporting the facts,” he, like all journalists today, had already forfeited the profession of journalism, abdicating critical thought and choice.

There is nothing more political than claiming to be apolitical. Such claims are meant to close down debate, to obstruct questions, to impede discourse, to shackle thought.

The regime of repression necessitates the easy answer, the nonanswer, to a question never posed. Why? Discourse takes on the characteristics of the repetition, the reverberation of a fading echo lost to meaning, to significance and signification. All communication becomes retranscription, verification of the code within an encoded system in which something external, something exterior, cannot even come to presence, to cognition, because it remains so far outside the parameters of understanding. We lose all frames of reference when we rely on only one frame of thought, one frame in which to think toward a solution, an exit, an escape.

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