Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Jean Baudrillard or Norma Desmond?


A daily newspaper has cut editorial staff from 165 to 20 as it converts entirely to an online existence, the New York Times reports.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s move is the largest such by any newspaper in the country and, as the Times reports, will be watched closely by many other papers whose owners are contemplating a similar move.

Actually, it isn’t the move away from print that bothers me as much as the content of the website that will replace it: principally commentary and links to other publications’ reporting. In other words: very little original news writing.

That in turn has me thinking (obsessively) about two things.

First is Jean Baudillard’s critique of media and his assertion that simulacra, simulations of reality, have come to precede actual reality or lived experience. In this way, what we experience in “hyper-reality” becomes our truth. His classic example was the Gulf War, which he alleged “didn’t really happen.” It was just a series of bloodless images on TV.

The same distortion¬† was created in the “shock and awe” of the Iraq invasion. And consider how long most Americans continued to believe, in large part because of manipulation of images by the media and the White House, that we were “winning” the war. The (completely contrived) scene of George Bush before a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” became reality for most Americans. And, as in the case of the Gulf War, there was utterly no carnage. No images of the thousands of dead Iraqis or American soldiers’ coffins disturbed our sleepy pride for most of the first few years.

Anemic reporting took years to expose the fraud of Iraq. My fear, a la Baudrillard, is that with the outright replacement of newspapers by Huffington Post-like websites, we’ll continue to sink deeper into simulated reality. The economic crisis is in part another result of this, I think. The recent video of Jon Stewart shattering Jim Cramer and, by extension, the economic fantasy world that most Americans have inhabited, is an example of how shocking reality’s incursion can be. (It’s also worth noting that simulated reality now can most effectively be shattered by comedy, no matter how deadly-serious the subject — another topic and one I wrote about a good bit in my doctoral program, in protest of Freud’s tragedy-centered therapy.)

But then there’s the second thing that obsesses me. I keep thinking of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” carping about the talkies, declaring that “We didn’t need words. We had faces.”¬† Are those of us worried about newspapers’ transition to digital existence just displaying our obsolete affinities?

(Photo of Gloria Swanson in the final scene of her performance as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.”)

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