Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

The Ecstasy of Communication – Summary

Baudrillard in “The Ecstasy of Communication” fears that our grip on the tangible is waning. “There is no longer a system of objects,” our language of signs is changing and “simultaneously it is disappearing” (11).

Our Lacanian identification or the relationship that an individual has to the objects around them in shaping their identity – with its concrete set of signs and meanings – is giving way “to a screen and a network” (12). His anxiety with new modes of communication lies with it belonging to a new set of language and an intangible space where the object only functions on a surface level: “the smooth and functional surface of communication” (12). Baudrillard uses the example of television, which dates the piece, but nevertheless, the ideas that he presents lend themselves directly to issues surrounding new media and communication tools.

The threat of media is that we no longer just live in the objective world but now have virtual selves to manage on the global network. The object is no longer fetishized; it is replaced by the thrill of a “potential tactic” or “the game of possibilities” (13). As mentioned last week in our discussions of the vector, and weeks past with VR and gaming, there is a thrill in the possibilities of these vast new spaces – or in the fact that we buy into the idea that they are vast.

Using Barthes and his discussion of the car as a springboard to show the shift from the fetishized object to one of mastery, he segues to “the stage at which it becomes an informing network” whereby the subject and its interface are “wired” to one another. It’s no longer about the object, or its function, but rather the pure interaction with it – the play between the subject and its object in “an uninterrupted interface.” (14).

This new level of communication, like all systems or what he calls “ecological niches,” come with their own set of new language and rules – ones that if not followed could end in catastrophe. Yet, this new language, or in terms of commoditization, this “market” comes with a set discourse that only a certain percentage of people working closely with it understand. The fear of the unknown echoes to the naïve realist camp, and allows those within in the know to help in the construction of the myth or marketing surrounding new technology. Much of the construct of this myth comes from our collective social memory, the make up of the science fiction genre or our future gazing. Now that myths are becoming realities, and metaphors are obsolete, we’ve entered “the beginning of the era of hyperreality” (16).

By allowing science fiction to manifest itself in our everyday lives, Baudrillard feels that it has changed the dynamic of public and private space in the ways in which this technology and its mobility allows for the two to blur. We are now “terminals or multiple networks” (16). Now “one’s private living space is conceived of as a receiving and operating area, as a monitoring screen endowed with telematic power, that is to say, with the capacity to regulate everything by remote control” (16-7). Moreover, our spaces are combining and miniaturizing themselves into microcosmic metropolitans. “One could conceive of simulating leisure or vacation situations in the same way that flight is simulated for pilots” (17).

According to Baudrillard, the combination and miniaturization of technology and spaces of life has rendered the human body useless, now that our behaviour is primarily a series of small movements of the hands – clicking over buttons and keys. If anything is left of the human body it is the brain and its “operational definition of being” – our own miniaturized self – the warehouse of the infinite and first hard drive. The focus on miniature power centres correlates with our city centres, battling urban sprawl by building up rather than out. However, he claims that public spaces are now becoming merely an “ephemeral connecting space” centred on consumer consumption: “huge screens upon which moving atoms, particles and molecules are refracted” (20).

As public space now only represents a place of transit and exchange, and private space is being interpolated by the public through this miniaturized and yet vast new network of possibilities, what happens to time? Although Baudrillard calls it “vast leisure time” I would argue that we’ve merely found more tasks to fill it with. While the efficiency of machines has shorted our work week, and in some ways have made our lives more manageable, our hyperreality comes at the cost of desiring speed to all aspects of our lives, and our need to be constantly filled with a task at hand.

Shifting back to his discussion of television, Baudrillard comments that private space is disappearing along with public space. By blurring the two spaces with technology has aided in the dematerialization of spectacle or secret (20). Television brings “[t]he entire universe… on your home screen. This is a microscopic pornography, pornographic because it is forced, exaggerated, just like the close-up of sexual acts in a porno film” (21). As extreme as that claim may be, he states that the lack of distance between public and private, this “imaginary protector” is a threat or an obscenity. “Obscenity begins when there is no more spectacle, no more illusion, when every-thing become immediately transparent, visible, exposed in the raw and inexorable light of information and communication” (21-2). Without the separation of the private, “[w]e no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene” (22). The obscenity manifests itself in the “all-too-visible” where it “no longer contains a secret and is entirely soluble in information and communication” (22).

Coming back to the idea of miniature, the obscenity of commodity is in its abstract packaging. The small, lightweight, and formal aesthetic offers up its essence immediately. It fetishizes the mode of communication rather than its message (23). The “promiscuity” of communication is “one of a super saturation, an endless harassment, an extermination of interstitial space” (24). Suddenly space is no longer free, but on sale for advertisement and bombardment; he states, “I am no longer capable of knowing what I want.” The commodification creates a schizophrenic identity “with the emergence of an immanent promiscuity and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communication networks” (27). Yet instead of being in a state of confusion or a loss of touch with reality, it is the “total proximity to and total instantaneousness with things” that creates this schizophrenic or fragmented state (27).

Moreover, he quickly wraps up in his first chapter by saying that through the ecstasy of communication, the distinction of public and private space has been altered by our new networks which result in an individual not being able to “produce himself as a mirror” or an identity, but rather a hub of several different networks (27).

Sun, November 1 2015 » Future Cinema