Media fabricates noncommunication: Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard understands face to face talks as communication and mass media as non-communication. Alternative or left mass media would then also be non-communication. A dialogue can use non-communication, as quotes or references, but we shouldn’t replace talking and dialoguing with radical speakers or mass media. If you are going to a workshop compare how much time is used to create communication (where you are talking to someone) and how much is used to create non-communication (listening to the speaker). To create audience instead of talking is a power technique in social movements.

Quote from The Masses by Jean Baudrillard:

“‘Requiem for the Media.’ In that I (Baudrillard) described the mass media as a “speech without response.” What characterizes the mass media is that they are opposed to mediation, intransitive, that they fabricate noncommunication if one accepts the definition of communication as an exchange, as the reciprocal space of speech and response, and thus of responsibility. In other words, if one defines it as anything other than the simple emission/reception of information. Now the whole present architecture of the media is founded on this last definition: they are what finally forbids response, what renders impossible any process of exchange (except in the shape of a simulation of a response, which is itself integrated into the process of emission, and this changes nothing in the unilaterality of communication). That is their true abstraction. And it is in this abstraction that is founded the system of social control and power. To understand properly the term response, one must appreciate it in a meaning at once strong, symbolic, and primitive: power belongs to him who gives and to whom no return can be made. To give, and to do it in such a way that no return can be made, is to break exchange to one’s own profit and to institute a monopoly: the social process is out of balance. To make a return, on the contrary, is to break this power relationship and to restore on the basis of an antagonistic reciprocity the circuit of symbolic exchange. The same applies in the sphere of the media: there speech occurs in such a way that there is no possibility of a return. The restitution of this possibility of response entails upsetting the whole present structure; even better (as started to occur in 1968 and the 70s), it entails an “antimedia” struggle.

In reality, even if I did not share the technological optimism of McLuhan, I always recognized and considered as a gain the true revolution which he brought about in media analysis (this has been mostly ignored in France). On the other hand, though I also did not share the dialectical hopes of Enzensberger, I was not truly pessimistic, since I believed in a possible subversion of the code of the media and in the possibility of an alternate speech and a radical reciprocity of symbolic exchange.

Today all that has changed. I would no longer interpret in the same way the forced silence of the masses in the mass media. I would no longer see in it a sign of passivity and of alienation, but to the contrary an original strategy, an original response in the form of a challenge; and on the basis of this reversal I suggest to you a vision of things which is no longer optimistic or pessimistic, but ironic and antagonistic.”

Per Herngren
notes outside Guatemala City, February 16, 2007, version 0.1


Jean Baudrillard, “The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media,” trans. Marie Maclean, New Literary History, vol. 16, no. 3 (Spring 1985), pp. 577-89.

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