week 10

This week’s readings were very helpful and relevant (particularly James Morris’ Simulacra in the Age of Social Media, having been published just last year). I was familiar with Foucault’s panopticon concept from my undergraduate classes on media, but once again it was really useful to revisit it with fresh eyes and new experiences under my belt — most relevantly in the working/corporate world, I think. Whether from my own work environments or from hearing my friends’ stories, I could relate to the idea of constant surveillance creating immense pressure. I thought of my internships in open office spaces, where my laptop screen was visible by everyone around me; or my first “alcove” office, which didn’t have a door, so people could always look at what I was doing as they walked down the hallway. In less literal senses, this of course extends to productivity tracking software (which I thankfully have had no experience with), or online presence and activity in general — seeing who is active on Gchat or Slack, and how quickly they reply to messages. Maybe the sneakiest way I’ve felt this was when I heard a friend comment that they thought some of their colleagues sent emails in the late hours of the night or during weekends on purpose, to show that they are working around the clock and thus be seen as very busy and devoted to the company. 

Morris’s essay shed a light on the issue of fake news or news as entertainment; of course most of us are extremely familiar with the concepts by now, but the way he outlined the evolution of these practices and the commercial motives that have brought them on felt new to me. In particular the quote, “This is the only way human beings have found that they can cope with the deluge of information they are met with every day—by focusing on what fits with how they imagine the world to be, or how they want it to be” seems like an empathetic look at the psychology of our media landscape — not blaming people for being “stupid” for not knowing the truth, but acknowledging the extreme challenge of absorbing all the information we are flooded with each day (let alone being able to parse truth out of it). Naturally, the end of the essay struck a chord with me as a Brazilian — in mentioning the state of the pandemic in “those states led by right-wing populists like Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro,” who “have found that simply Tweeting a macho message or making a bold statement on TV can’t contradict the truth of tens of thousands of people dying from an incurable virus.” It would be a silver lining to have this extreme level of simulacra denounced after the pandemic, but seeing the number of people still supporting these politicians even as their own family members die because of the virus is hardly encouraging.

An Introduction to Baudrillard‘s brief mention of the paradox of reality TV also struck a chord given my midterm project — “Contestants on reality TV are already hyperreal choices: averages, ideals, chosen with expectations, designed to provoke by their likeliness to entertain in the “correct” way. Big Brother contestants chosen by how well they’ll fit into a hyperreal narrative, contestants and stars pressured to act and talk how they think they should act and talk, under the all-pervasive eye of the camera and the audience.” The tension between reality and fiction is always present in reality television, and to some extent most audiences familiar with the genre realize this. The most engaged and savvy audiences even incorporate this into their engagement with the show — you will find in Bachelor forums plenty of viewers dissecting the meta-narrative of the show, acknowledging the tropes and constructs, even giving them specific titles: TPTB for “the powers that be” (meaning the producers; particularly when their powers are felt in the show’s narrative), or mentioning a contestant getting a “Bachelorette cut” (meaning a favorable edit in the show because she’s already been chosen as next season’s Bachelorette; therefore she must be likable to the audience). While most viewers aren’t posting on or even reading forums, they are often aware that true reality can’t be captured in the sensational editing of these shows; the problem is that if you aren’t very savvy (if you haven’t watched many seasons, noticed repeating patterns, or followed participants who denounced the show off-camera), it can be hard to notice exactly where the editing is distorting reality the most.