Thursday, March 19, 2009

The next step in Baudrillard's theoretical universe

Recently, an interesting celebrity smackdown unfolded at the production studios of NBC and Viacom. Touted "officially" as Cramer vs. Not-Cramer, the feud's primary participants were Jim Cramer, host of Mad Money on CNBC, and Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program The Daily Show on Comedy Central. In case you somehow missed it, here's a partial recap:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Jim Cramer Unedited Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor

Note the key word in the above paragraph, bolded for your convenience: satirical. We're not here to praise Stewart's brilliant and biting analysis of CNBC, a network that touts itself as the financial expert; that would be too easy and obvious. Instead, we're looking at this as an extension of Jean Baudrillard's germinal work, Simulacra and Simulation.

In the book, Baudrillard posits a multifaceted theory regarding the nature of reality. Ultimately, he argues that simulations have essentially replaced reality, rendering the real meaningless. He points to a number of examples to support his theory, primarily the media and how news is presented to us. Because we live in a society where the luxury of technology has allowed us access to news events as they actually occur, the images (by their very nature, simulations) that we see become the reality.

For example, we "know" what war is like because on CNN we saw American troops bombing Baghdad. We may be able to distinguish the two, but only in an abstract manner that still, at the very least, conflates the simulations with the real.

Some argue that Baudrillard went too far when he claimed that because the real no longer matters, the Persian Gulf War (called Operation Desert Storm, for better marketing purposes) didn't really happen: it was a simulation of a war, not an actual war. Admittedly, this is problematic. Our troops who served there, along with their friends and families, would strongly object to such a notion, understandably. But how do we save this otherwise insightful viewpoint on reality? Claiming the death of reality seems to go too far and certainly in a direction fraught with mind-numbing abstractions. Enter The Daily Show.

The dialogue between Cramer and Stewart perfectly exemplifies the logical conclusion to applying Baudrillard's theory in a practical way in the 21st century. It's not that reality doesn't exist - the war, the economic depression, the housing crisis are very real - but rather that we no longer trust or have any faith in the real. Stewart is the missing piece in the Baudrillardian puzzle; he's a comedian who hosts a funny but fake news show that delivers real and important news while insisting that the show is meaningless (see the subtitle in the photo above). Yet more and more young people are turning to Stewart and shows like his for their news.

Why? Because so many see mainstream media as complicit in the problems that plague our country. For them (and for us at WB) objective, thorough, and hard-hitting journalism no longer exists in the real media. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers of SNL, and the late night talk show hosts like Leno and Letterman are the ones shining a spotlight on shady executives, bogus bankers, and corrupt financial "experts" who are in bed with the execs and bankers.

To summarize: The comedian who plays a journalist does a hard-hitting exposè of the stockbroker who plays a comedian; the comedy show that mocks news becomes serious and tells the comedy show about finance to quit being funny and to become a serious overseer of the organizations that are in charge of overseeing finance.

It has now become not a matter of whether the real matters or even exists, but rather a case of we don't want the real because the real can no longer be trusted.

From now on, when WB wants to get a handle on the economic crisis and current affairs, we'll be turning to the satirists and not the networks. Faux news is better than biased news.

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