All entries for Wednesday 07 March 2007

March 07, 2007

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher, has died. I first heard about him about four years ago, when I was writing an essay on war and journalism. He didn’t coin the phrase “the first casualty of war is truth”1, but he might as well have done.

He came to prominence during the first Gulf War, where he remarked that events in the Middle East had actually become disjoined from reality. Essentially, the war didn’t happen. Instead, like a video game, it was a show put on for the television cameras.

It was a controversial statement, and one which is hard to agree with when you consider the number of people who died. Hundreds of thousands of people were left permanently disabled by the war, and many thousands killed.2

But despite Baudrillard’s tendency to dehumanise death, he still gave some important lessons for journalists and warmongers. His name was mentioned again during the 2003 bombing of Baghdad. Thousands of people stayed up throughout the night to watch live coverage of the exploding skyline. Such pictures did, as Baudrillard said of the first Gulf War, completely dehumanise the killing that was going on, and probably made the war easier to sell at home. Close-ups of the destruction would have had the opposite effect, but were lacking from coverage around the world.

He’ll also be remembered for influencing the film trilogy The Matrix. It is this which will probably be remembered the longest, but then, as he said himself, the modern world doesn’t really do realism.

1. No-one is quite sure who did.
2. Again, figures are a bit sketchy, but one group claims a third of U.S. soldiers who were in the Gulf War are now disabled.

Dodgy phone–ins are more widespread than you think

Q. Name an item typically found in a woman’s handbag?
A. Rawl plugs, a balaclava and a rubber band!

This is the public face of the dodgy phone-in competition. You pay £1 per call and get to beat your head against a wall while attempting to win £50 or the £50,000 jackpot! The jackpot will probably be won if your birthday happens to be February 29th.

But the scam of dodgy phone-ins and competitions goes much further than recent revelations have suggested. Daily, radio stations are hosting competitions where the winner’s already been decided. Phone-ins that have been recorded the previous week. And contributors who are little more than actors.

Proof is hard to come by, and relies on anecdotes of people who have won competitions weeks before they were broadcast – and weeks before people were asked to call in and ‘play’.

It’s just as prevalent at the BBC as in the commercial world, even though they can’t make money from phone lines. Well-known radio shows use fake guests, play competitions that were won the week before and make ‘real-life’ features which are completely faked. Shows are often pre-recorded, yet they’ll still ask for your e-mails and then read out manufactured ones.

I can’t prove this, and it seems no-one else can either. The contempt of producers towards their audience will continue, and only an industry ‘supergrass’ will ever be able to do anything about it.

But when you get asked to phone in to a radio or TV show, ask yourself first whether you trust the people making the programme. Because worryingly often, you shouldn’t.

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