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Visual Culture

Visuality, Mediation, Simulation, And Cybernetics

The integration of the machinery of media circuits, the imagination of spectators, financial markets, and the military industrial complex—all on a global scale—compose what Beller calls the world-media system. This idea of a world-media system that endeavors to fully integrate modes of perception and the requisites of social production and reproduction is connected to several critical ideas. One such idea is the German philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's idea of "the culture industry," in which commercial cultural products were understood "as an after-image of the work process" and in effect designed to reconcile workers to their own powerlessness and exploitation by giving them compensatory images of satisfactions that were denied to them in life. Debord begins Society of the Spectacle with the idea that "The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that was once directly lived has become mere representation" (p. 12). The political theorist Paul Virilio has shown the intimate developmental relationships between war machines and the cinematic apparatus, as well as the role of visual technologies in surveillance and the rendering of targets abstract, virtual, and therefore more easily destroyable, both practically and in terms of the conscience of the killers. Murder becomes technologized and as easy as the touch of a button. The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard has written about the connections between mass media and what he calls simulation, a process that creates copies without originals. Images for Baudrillard are "hyperreal," that is more real than real, and have, for him at least, effectively rendered reality impossible and consequently short circuited genuine thought. What is clear from the work of these thinkers and others whom they have inspired is that the media environment has radically altered the very fabric of reality, the character of the human sensorium, and the nature of the consciousness that might mediate between the two.

Along these lines, the French intellectual Régis Debray, in his important work Media Manifestos (1996), has argued that the word communication is a radical misconception of what transpires in the messaging process and should thus be replaced by the word mediation, because messages don't just travel from A to B. Rather, "sender and receiver are modified from the inside by the message they exchange, and the message itself modified by its circulation" (p. 44). Instead of looking at particular cultural products or texts, Debray's analysis is more interested in "change[s] in the system of manufacture/circulation/storage of signs" (p. 19) and charts a historical, planetary shift from what he dubs the logosphere to the graphosphere to the videosphere—that is, regimes of the written word, the printed word, and the image respectively. His study of "the ways and means of symbolic efficacy" (p. 7) is more interested in the effects of mediations rather than their meanings or contents, and points toward the techno-cultural apparatuses that manage the circulation of signs as something like the unthought of human historical process. The visual, and what is now called visual culture, is the latest and most powerful development in the management and organization of human society.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Verbena Family (Verbenaceae) - Tropical Hardwoods In The Verbena Family to WelfarismVisual Culture - The Visual Turn, Visuality, Historical Emergence Of The Field Of Vision As A Site Of Power And Social Control