[iDC] Some thoughts on Jean Baudrillard and cultural studies

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Tue Mar 13 06:14:08 EDT 2007

Dear Charlie, everyone -

This is damn interesting for an outsider:

> One of the more depressing aspects of teaching cultural studies is the
> degree to which it becomes increasingly self-referential. Theory is used
> to teach students how to analyse media products and advertising. The
> choice of which such products and advertising are chosen to be analysed
> rests almost entirely on the degree to which they seem fit for such
> analysis. The same students then go and work in advertising and media,
> producing exactly the kind of products that can be, and in fact are
> designed to be analysed using the same theoretical techniques they
> themselves learnt as students.

I actually don't watch TV but I have noticed this kind of thing quite a 
bit on the billboard advertisements here in France, and also in American 
movies. A weird demand for theoretical interpretation that's basically 
going to generate a lot of lingering over the image in question. What's 
impressive is the way the academic relation becomes a kind of social 
law, not in a hard authoritarian sense, but as a kind of repetition 
compulsion that adds another layer to the usual dreck. Honestly (I don't 
mean any personal offense) despite what seemed like the great initial 
promise I always really disliked the overall effect of cultural studies, 
because it seemed to me it legitimated what I still consider dreck, all 
the garbage on TV etc., actually stuff like the Inman show you talk 
about in your post, which we were told was real life after all, made by 
real people after all, and full of all these nuances which, though of 
course compromised and needful of interpretation, were still really our 
culture, the only one we have, stuff that matters. So linger over it. 
Baudrillard was pretty much the perfect capper to that kind of story, 
because he said, well, if you take a very distant view, everyone is 
totally hypnotized! With no possible escape! So you might as well get 
into it!

I think commercial culture is a very effective ideology, and the best 
thing one can do is turn it off and focus on more important problems, 
and more intense pleasures too. I don't think we're all hypnotized but I 
do think there's a lot of noxious effects from the efforts of a gigantic 
advertising industry that deeply influences most media production. It's 
actually one of the important problems! I am curious whether a 
reflection like yours above is widespread among your peers, whether 
there is maybe something new on the horizon? Have people written about 
this loop you describe? Is there a cure for this circular malady?

all the best, Brian Holmes

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