---- by Richard J. Lane
  Consumer, postmodern, popular or mass-media culture: all these are synonyms that describe the same phenomenon, one that Baudrillard calls 'cultural consumption' (CS, 99). If culture is thought of simply as 'an inherited legacy of works, thought and tradition' (CS, 101), one which undergoes dynamic and productive self-reflective critique, cultural consumption is something quite different: it is the resurrection through caricature and parody of that which has been lost or destroyed. Culture may be defined in the traditional sense as 'the creation and use of meanings' (Tester, 1994: 128); in comparison, cultural consumption is a 'consummation' of meaning - the completion of meaning and the movement to something new. Cruising America, Baudrillard goes in search of this newness; with the flattening of hierarchies in popular culture, where everything is perceived as having equal value, the result is akin to the beauty of the Californian desert (A), or 'the fascination of the very disappearance of all aesthetic and critical forms of life in the irradiation of an objectless neutrality' (A, 124). European cultural theatricality gives way here to the flat desert or city surface (television screen rather than theatrical stage), upon which an endless play of signifiers can circulate. In other words, Baudrillard discovers in the desert cities of California a culture that has replaced the real with signs.
  Mass culture is constituted as such through the process of mass 'communication', the irony being that in the process nothing is communicated at all. In consuming the fashionable, up-to-date signs of mass culture, Baudrillard argues that the one thing not present is culture itself; instead, an immense process of cultural recycling takes place, whereby one's knowledge of culture - its latest fashionable manifestation - stands in for actual content. Culture (with a large 'C'), in effect, has been replaced for Baudrillard with culture (with a small 'c'), where the latter is cyclical, produced by the medium (television) rather than autonomous human subjects. Mass culture follows the same logic of the hyper-real, where the authentic gives way to the simulation. Baudrillard's apparent nostalgia for content is apparent in his term 'lowest common culture' or LCC, a minimum quotient of knowledge lacking in intrinsic value but required to pass entry into contemporary society, engaged via media quizzes or, in our time, 'reality' television shows. Starkly, Baudrillard asserts that 'Mass communication excludes culture and knowledge' (CS, 104). He suggests that this is so because 'There is no question of real symbolic or didactic processes coming into play' (CS, 104) during the preordained answer-andquestion response of the quiz or other testing arenas, such as the shopping mall. The LCC rules, and as McLuhan suggests, the medium is now the message/mass(age). LCC is available on instalment plan, and this fragmentation and dumbing-down of Culture follows the pattern suggested by Benjamin (2008); parodying Benjamin's Angel of History, Baudrillard writes that 'A great democratic wind has blown through the heavenly Jerusalem of culture and art' (CS, 105). What Benjamin's Angel sees, of course, is 'one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet' (Benjamin, 2003: 392). And this catastrophe is our notion of 'progress'. While it is true that Baudrillard follows this mode of thinking, he also simultaneously recoils from such linearity, arguing that with the implosion of meaning a new fascinating, non-linear culture emerges, one where the masses are not so much controlled by the media, but gain autonomy through their lack of response to the media. This fascination with the culture that has destroyed Culture pervades Baudrillard's work, leading to an awareness of points of resistance against the hyper-real: 'sending back to the system its own logic by doubling it; to reflecting, like a mirror, meaning without absorbing it' (SSM, 108). Mass culture, then, does have political force, but such force is fragile, fleeting and temporary. Baudrillard argues that 'All the repressive and reductive strategies of power systems are already present in the internal logic of the sign' (CPS, 163). Turning that logic back upon itself can lead to implosive outcomes - witness 9/11 - but whether turning culture against culture leads to a return to value remains to be seen.
   § America
   § city
   § hyper-reality
   § masses
   § postmodernism / postmodernity

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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