Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Masking Reality: Baudrillard and the Simulacrum

Having read Jean Baudrillard's  philosophical work, Simulacra and Simulation for a recent MA class, I have come to the conclusion that it is a difficult task to navigate the literary minefield of postmodernist theory, no matter how well you think that you understand it. The following post will attempt to shed some light upon Baudrillard's philosophical musings in this complicated work.

The simulacrum is advocated as a mask or representation which conceals the lack of truth within reality. The word simulacrum is derived from the Latin  which translates to 'likeness or similarity'. Baudrillard presents the simulacrum to be the only truth in this world of falsities. His theory proposes that there is no original, there are only copies of things, which the simulacrum exposes. This ability to expose the truth of falsity represents the simulacrums threat to society.

The key examples which Baudrillard uses to support his argument are that of Disneyland and the Watergate Scandal. These examples are analysed as false distinctions and they are the key to his idea of the "hyper-reality" (Baudrillard, 5). This is said to give us the sense that we can tell the difference between what is true and what is false; what is real and what is imagined; when really it is all just apart of the facade.

From a linguistic perspective it is important to focus upon Baudrillard's use of language; his use of Latin in this case. The very fact that the word Simulacrum is in a different language reinforces his argument upon masks. It evokes the word simulation also. He argues that "to simulate is to feign to have what one hasn't" (2). Baudrillard is questioning whether we have gained meaning from language at all or whether it has been lost in translation and in communication. One language masks another, which exemplifies the fact that there is no end to language in this hyper-reality. The 'word' provides meaning to that which is meaningless. In relation to language, this hyper-reality is endless, as language never ends. What I gathered from this insinuation of linguistics is that there is a cyclical nature evident in language, which effects representation, and how we view reality. What Baudrillard is examining through this idea is the nature of repetitiveness, and its lack of depth.

Nostalgia is strikingly apparent in this piece. Specifically a nostalgia for the real and for meaning. The identity of meaning within concepts of reality is striven for, yet Baudrillard considers it to be irretrievable in a postmodern world. An example of this theoretical application in modern society is the use of media, and its function as a distorter of reality. The image in media and advertising is often heavily embellished to evoke a sense of perfection and to make the consumer want to consume whatever product is being advertised.
Media theorists, especially Jean Baudrillard, have been intensely concerned with the concept of the simulation in lieu of its interaction with our notion of the real and the original, revealing in this preoccupation media's identity not as a means of communication, but as a means of representation (the work of art as a reflection of something fundamentally "real") (Devin Sandoz). 
 In other words, the meaning has been distorted or lost through the misinformation of media. The medium of the messages of the past have been miscommunicated in an effort to save representation. Therefore the aesthetic of truth has been preserved in favour of the actual truth of reality.

Graham Coulter-Smith has analysed Baudrillard's arguments in the following light:
"Baudrillard stands out almost by default as one of the few theorists to address the new postmodern technologies. However, his interpretation of these technologies appears unremittingly bleak and of limited value to contemporary visual artists. . ." (Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, 91). This bleakness effects the message within his work, even going so far as to mask its own simplistic meaning.

Whether there is actually a crisis of identity happening in meaning is yet to be seen. Whilst Baudrillard's work is dramatic and provocative in effect, he fails to explore the nature of preservation which is happening in society, in reaction to the advancements of areas within technology and within new cultures. His opinions are very forceful, but they lack enough evidence. The example of Disneyland in particular does not explore the cultural connections which this theme park has to modern society or how the theme park works to preserve this cultural impact in a similar fashion to a museum. One could argue that the very elements which Baudrillard has discussed work in opposition to his ideas, in that they try to relate back to history and to act as reminders of our cultural journey.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. Mark Poster ed. Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988. Print.


Zurbrugg, Nicholas, ed. Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact. London: Sage, 1997. Print.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Revolutionary Media in 'The Hunger Games' Trilogy

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
 (Albert Einstein) 
Although this posts' contents are a complete u-turn from my usual interests, I could not resist sharing my insights into the use of Digital Media in The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I was quite skeptical about reading these books, automatically categorizing them within the ranks of tween literature series' such as The Twilight Saga. There's nothing wrong with that franchise of books and films. I have read all of the books and watched all of the films; but I wasn't quite convinced of the hype, or the standard of writing (cough, cough!). However this particular series of books offer a departure from the traditional love story motif, by weaving a discourse on the over-saturation of digital media and the effects that technology can have on society.

The books are set in the dystopian world of Panem, in which an uprising has led to society being re-arranged into districts labelled one to twelve. Every year these districts must participate in a reality televised competition known as the Hunger Games. This reality tv show consists of a 'fight to the death' formula, in which two tributes from each district are chosen each year for the entertainment of 'The Capital'. The books developed an argument on the decay of morality which results from the over-saturation of media and technology upon society. The fact that the upper echelons of society in the books watch the suffering of others for entertainment, highlights this challenge to our interpretations of the power of media. The main character, Katniss, acts as a symbol throughout for the fight against this decay of media and technology.

These books carry a heavy political message on our responsibilities to use technology properly. After all, media can be the most manipulative weapon that we have in society. These three books, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, are categorised as Science Fiction, which I would have to agree with, considering the heavy emphasis on technology throughout. The Independent's review of the books by Paddy O' Doherty describes them as follows:

The Hunger Games is a hybrid comprising many modern cultural references. It has the voyeuristic magnetism of the original Big Brother TV show, the deprivation and reward system of I'm a Celebrity ... get me out of here, the glamour of Next Top Model and the harshness and the tragedy of a war documentary.
The misuse of media throughout these three novels has contributed to the decay in society, which leads to a further uprising in the final novel and the abolishment of the dictatorship regime overseen by President Snow. The books are inspired by contemporary and antiquarian elements, which Collins talks about in interviews which she gave on the books. The classical inspirations are drawn from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. On an annual basis, Athens has to send seven young women and men to Crete, who are put into the Labyrinth with the minotaur, to try and survive. The Contemporary inspiration for these novels is drawn from various reality tv shows. Collins talks about our "fascination with reality television", which she employs in the books to draw attention to the desensitization which is emerging due to our over-exposure in this mass digital media culture.

(Clay Shirky's talk on how the internet could one day transform the government, if handled properly of course!)

My main argument for these books is that they create a powerful dialogue upon modern issues in the use and abuse of technology and media tools, which could be detrimental to how we approach our future. Collins advocates a mindful approach to the use of media as a platform, instilling a belief through these books that in order to retain our humanity, we need to reinforce the real, and see the value in moral technology, rather than  demoralized technology for entertainment. The careful, monitored use of digital tools is something which I believe is essential to the prevention of their detrimental effects upon our perceptions of culture. However, this is not to day that media should be censored, rather it should be used for it's true purpose, to communicate and educate, rather than for mindlessness. These books have eluded to the fact that mass media consumption through technology is creating a sense of de-socialization and de-sensitization, which could in theory be a threat to how the social progresses. This is turn could effect how our cultural identity is formed.
Part of us is immersed in world culture, but, because there is no longer a public space where social norms could be formed and applied, another part of us retreats into hedonism or looks for a sense of belonging that is more immediate. . . both individuals and groups are therefore less and less defined by the social relations which until now defined the field of sociology, whose goal was to explain behaviour in terms of the social relations in which actors were involved (Public Connection Through Media Consumption, 251). 
While I recognise the perils of the influx of digital media, it also has had many rewards. I believe that navigation is a key issue, and the education of younger generations upon the navigation of this media is essential. Now to the comments. What are your thoughts upon this view purported by Collins? Have you read the novels or seen the film adaptation of the first novel? If so, what are your own views on them? Is social media our new society?

Works Cited

Couldry, Nick and Tim Markham. "Public Connection through Media Consumption: Between Oversocialization and De-Socialization?", Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 608 (2006). 251-269. Jstor. Web.

Monday, 7 January 2013

More Ramblings of a DH Novice

Does anybody know what Digital Humanities really is?
(Words highlighted in red are keywords within this piece.)

Looking at Digital Humanities from an outsider’s perspective is quite a daunting experience. There is a fundamental lack of a comprehensive, all inclusive definition for this movement, which cannot be ignored. The Digital Humanities novice faces a clear challenge in trying to navigate such a scholarly movement, without a proper road map for classification. Alan Liu supports this argument:
The Digital Humanities, clearly, are in a state of rapid expansion. But giving an account of that state of expansion without relying on anecdote is difficult. Empirical evidence of the field’s growth is uneven due to uncertainty about what exactly should be counted (programs, jobs, conferences, publications, projects, funding competitions, usages of the phrase ‘digital humanities’?) (The State of the Digital Humanities, 1).

The mapping of Digital Humanities is essential to its fruition as a contender for the ‘Humanities 2.0’. The first part of this process is to reach a level of agreement in terms of Defining DH. Perhaps this seems rather simplistic, but in actual fact it is quite a complicated wish for this discipline, as it contains so many different fields of thought, with conflicting approaches. The question remains as to how we can govern an interdisciplinary system, when there are different standards for the various different skill sets within this? This piece will examine the idea of whether the Humanities and I.T. can truly combine their scholarly ethics to create an answer to the waning influence of the Humanities in the Modern world.

Fusion is an interesting word to use when describing the Digital Humanities. It evokes both mechanical and artistic connotations, which in a sense is what DH is all about. In Digital Humanities we merge the digital with the artistic, literary, cultural, and scholarly world. This movement is about accessibility as opposed to exclusivity. It combines the traditions and skills of so many different areas within the arts, under the umbrella of I.T. Arguably, the Humanities have been looking for a new home for quite some time now, which they have found in the increasing manipulation of technology. The process by which this is occurring is one of skill sharing and co-operation. Perhaps this co-operation may seem slightly forced to begin with, but as time progresses it is hoped that it will become more fluid.  The rewards of the knowledge sharing economy are undeniable. It is how we use this ‘economy’ that will make the immediate difference in expanding the horizons of the arts.

There is always the fear that I.T. will overtake the Humanities as opposed to aiding its renewal. This fear requires dispelling through the further efforts of Digital Humanists to marry the two overarching fields. Unification is essential in ensuring the future of the Humanities. James O’ Sullivan has argued that:
 Digital humanities is more than the use of technology to display research findings in electronic form. Rather, it resides at the juncture between complex or novel uses of new media and traditional humanities research and artistic endeavour. It is concerned with the use of technology to reproblematise humanist questions, or oftentimes, the exploration of technology from humanist perspectives (What makes Digital Humanities, Digital?).
 It is important to mention some of the essential elements of this merge. For the text specialists there is TEI, the use of HTML and XML to digitise the body of text, and expand its parameters for interpretation. For the historians, the use of the database is a valuable way to interpret historical data for research. Graphic design is well catered for in this movement, for those artistically inclined. These are just a few brief examples of ‘new ways of doing things’ using technology. The visual element of data is now of equal import to the physical data, in analysing, interpreting and displaying research and development within this sector.

Virtual learning is fast becoming a central principle within DH. Digital Pedagogy absorbs traditional teaching methods and then transforms them in an online environment. Conceivably, this type of e-learning could revolutionise the way we teach and learn for the next generation. Arguably, if the humanities are to survive in this Modern, technology saturated era, the classroom or lecture hall, will have to move online. This is not to say that the physical act of teaching should be abolished. Rather, further digital learning facilities are needed to aid the rapid expansions in technologies which are impacting our education systems. Conceivably, this could be viewed as a lifeline for Humanities teaching and learning. It could also lead to further innovation within these fields and within pedagogy in general.

Page to stage is a concept which resonates within the Digital Humanities hymnbook. In this sense the humanities is moving from a closed book mentality to the stage of the world, through its usage of the internet as a central means for communication and publication. Jerome McGann has argued that we need to “reform the text through computer assistance to provide new insights” (A Companion to Digital Humanities, np). Limitation is something which could hinder the humanities cause. The internet provides the freedom which this sector has needed for quite some time in order to adapt to the ever changing needs of society. However the online world has rules too. It is not a completely free space by any means. The availability of information needs close regulation and strict observations of copyright laws. Credit has to be given where credit is due in order for success to be achievable. Perhaps what the humanities needs is a little help from its friends. Communities of practice provide new methods and new tools for analysis.

 There can only be further benefits to come from working with others to strengthen this movement. This can be determined as the quintessential core of the development of Digital Humanities. A solution was needed to the problem of the future of the Humanities. Although Humanities Computing has existed for decades before it was renamed in this vain, DH expands the parameters of possibilities which using digital aids for Humanities research can provide. It is encouraging innovative thinking and pure creativity in the use of technology to transform the Humanities.

Works Cited

Liu, Alan. "The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique". Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11.1(2012): 1-34. Print. 
McGann, Jerome. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Ed. Susan Schriebman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Web. 
O' Sullivan, James. What Makes Digital Humanities, Digital? josullivan.org. Web. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

'Vlogging': Digitizing the Personal to Educate the Public

Some may look at the title of this post and wonder what vlogging is. This post will explore the meaning and use of vlogging, and how this could be applied in an educational setting.

Firstly vlogging, quite like blogging is the activity of keeping a log of information via the medium of video. It has been used, essentially, as a video diary. This medium has become very popular on social media sites, such as YouTube.

Although its main occurrence appears to be in the United States, us Europeans are now getting in on the action.  An example which stood out when I was investigating occurrences of vlogging, was of the Irish couple, Jonathan and Anna Saccone-Joly, who vlog every single day, and have done so for the past two and a half years. This has included their wedding, the pregnancy and birth of their daughter Emilia, along with daily occurrences in their lives such as walking their dogs.

 Although this seems like a very intrusive idea, and some may well think that it is, it has benefits in terms of its application in an educational setting. After all, it has been very beneficial to the Saccone-Joly's, who are now YouTube Network Partners, and make their living from these videos.

I am not suggesting that we all bring our cameras along to school or college everyday to vlog the experience, but for group projects, presentations and much more, this could prove to be a useful tool for the dissemination of knowledge. Digital Humanities is all about the application of media tools within our education, so why not live by this motto in a more literal sense. It could also prove to be an essential element of publicising the work which is being done in the Digital Humanities sector.

An interesting site to have a look at is TubeTeaching. This site is run by Dr. Chareen Snelson from the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University. Snelson runs a course called YouTube for educators, which applies the principles of vlogging to education.

Another site which advocates the use of vlogging for educational purposes is the desktop video section on about.com. This section looks at the benefits of video blogging for teachers.

The Benefits:

  • Educational activities: By letting students record and edit video you are teaching them valuable technological and artistic skills. It’s a fun and low pressure way for kids to become comfortable with electronics and computers.
  • Better communication: A vlog is a great way to let parents see what’s going on at the school and in your classroom.
  • A visual record: A vlog can be considered a video portfolio of the work that goes on in your classroom. It’s a concrete demonstration of your skills and those of your students, which can be beneficial for promoting the school or during teaching reviews.
These advantages are geared towards primary and secondary level students, but one could argue that they are also applicable in a third level environment.

I don't know if I have the confidence to pilot such a scheme single-handedly, but the use of vlogging could be rewarding for analysing the experience within a group project.