The Universality of the News Item: Embodiment of Simulated Consumer Reality

May 2, 2007

In our consumer society, where our lives our defined by the objects that surround us, our reality is thus simulated through a system of signs. A unique cultural language is developed – one that alienates a product, an object of consumption, from any material or temporal reality. It is seen as disconnected from who made it, any historicity, and so on. Instead, its existence is taken for granted and its meaning is signified in pure cultural fantasy.

Thus, as we come to accept growth and progress as “miracles” which have been showered upon us (the end of scarcity), we also live in a constant state of fear of losing this world of abundance – we are both disconnected from where it came from and unaware of its consequences.To quote Baudrillard, we are “sheltered by signs – in denial of the real.”

Nothing embodies this phenomenon of what we could call a prodigal “consumer culture” more than the nature of the news item. The news item is a system of pure signs; fully actualizing in its emotional bombast, yet purely unfulfilling in the sense that it bares no relation to reality. The news item constantly struggles to be “true”, to be “fact”, to be at the heart of the scene. It establishes the notion that a news item could in fact be purely reflective of reality. Yet the signs and images, just as consumer products do, signify merely cultural phenomenon, ideology, and other socially fabricated concepts.

So why is it that we continue to accept this actualization through objects – as exemplified by the universality of the news item – as the best possible actualization? For, in consumer culture, there is always a constant restlessness, an emptiness, an inability to ever feel truly connected to reality – a constant “I’m bored”. It is purely because we are told that this reality is a gift, that we must protect, that we must shelter from the constant looming catastrophic threat. It is in this we find the obsession with the over hyped daily car crash, murder, bombastic disaster news items. Through our signified, socially and historically disconnected simulation of reality, the fear of the loss of that simulation is the only thing that keeps us from rupturing in the disconnected guilt that it produces.

“So we live sheltered by signs, in the denial of the real. A miraculous security: when we look at the images of the world, who can distinguish this brief irruption of reality from the profound pleasure of not being there? the image, the sign, the message – all these things we “consume” – represent our tranquility consecrated by distance from the world, a distance more comforted by the allusion to the real (even where the allusion is violent) than compromised by it.”

– Baudrillard

Jed Rouhana


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