Dr. Kate Liu and Dr. Wen-chi Lin
Postmodern Fiction and Film
Postmodernities vs. Internet and Media
After reading Steven Connor¡¦s ¡§Postmodernities: Postmodern Social and Legal Theory,¡¨ I am especially interested in Jean Baudrillard¡¦s notions of ¡§exchange-value¡¨ (51), consuming signs and ¡§symbolic exchange¡¨ (53). I think that the three notions can just explain the phenomena of Internet and mass media in Taiwan at the end of the twentieth century and the twentieth-one century. On the one hand, people begin to proceed ¡§exchange-value¡¨ through Internet and World Wide Web; on the other, the popularization of Internet and mass media opens a new space for people to have an immediate communication as Baudrillard suggests.
In his The Mirror of Production, Baudrillard confirms Marx¡¦s theory of three-stage genealogy of the market in the society. Now we are in the third phase: ¡§the realm of exchange-value.¡¨ It means that some abstract qualities, like love, goodness or knowledge, become commodities, for they can also be sold. Different from the first (use-value) and second phase (industrial production) of genealogy, in the third phase people not only consume the visible products; they begin to consume invisible ones. Take love as an example. Accompanying the development of Internet and WWW, the business of selling love becomes popular. If we check the chatroom on the Internet or BBS broads, it is easy to find that more and more people go there to seek for sex and love. Some are looking for one nightstand, and whether it takes money or not depends on the two persons. This is different from prostitution, for it does not necessarily relate to money. People who searching for one nightstand through the Internet are exchanging their need.
Moreover, some men would post a request in looking for young ladies or students to be their companions for a couple days or weeks, and these guys are willing to provide money for them. The girls who accept the requests are not necessarily poor; they do this probably out of curiosity or for fun. Another phenomenon is that many people fall in love and have sex through Internet. Some Internet lovers can have good relationships after they contact with each other in the real world; however, there are many instances showing that people are cheated through this invisible line. Moreover, there are people have sex through Internet or BBS; they exchange passion and sexual desire online. These are all examples showing how people sell and exchange their sex and love, and these are all abstract qualities rather than material commodities.
The second notion Baudrillard states is that in the third phase of genealogy of the market we are consuming signs rather than the commodity itself. For instance, rose is no more only a flower; it represents ¡§love¡¨ or ¡§passion.¡¨ The consumer is even more interested in the sign of the commodity rather than the product itself. Based on this idea, many products are given special meanings. However, Baudrillard suggests that the sign (signifier) now has ¡§no referential function¡¨ (52). He thinks that the signifier refers to no subject; the signifier refers to no signified. I think that the signified has changed, for it is no longer the same as what we are familiar with (for instance, Benz refers to a high social status). The sign is now created in a different way. Take a recent car advertisement on TV as an example. There are three persons in the advertisement: a father, a mother and a child. The father is recording the sound of birds in the forest, while the mother and the child are sleeping peacefully in the car. The picture is presented as a happy family figure. The advertisement does not show what good quality the car has, or imply that it costs much. The sign of the car or the advertisement is an abstract quality¡Xhappiness. Therefore, I think this type of advertisement is also a kind of consuming sign.
The third point I want to respond here is Baudrillard¡¦s notion of ¡§symbolic exchange.¡¨ According to Baudrillard, ¡§symbolic exchange¡¨ is ¡§a spontaneous exchange or communication¡¨ (53). Baudrillard especially attacks the combined communication which does not allow the subversive voice heard. Therefore, he emphasizes on ¡§immediate exchange¡¨ (53) between the transmitter and the receiver. I think this notion has been proceeded through Internet, World Wild Web, TV and radio shows. Because of the convenience of Internet and WWW, everyone can get information around the world easily and quickly. Knowledge is thus no longer in a high position or a closed space only for particular persons; now one can learn at home with his/her PC. Besides, one can communicate with others through email or online. Internet has become a public field where everyone can express their ideas, and then receive others¡¦ responses in the first time. In other words, Internet shortens the distance people and knowledge.
In addition to Internet and WWW, people can also communicate with others more closely through TV and radio shows nowadays. About ten years ago, there is rarely live shows in Taiwan. Most of programs are produced beforehand. As a result, the interaction between the speaker and the audience is impossible. Now almost every radio show is live, and many talk shows on TV are live. These live shows provide a space and time for the audiences to express their opinions and criticize the social or political phenomena. Since such kind of talk shows cannot avoid the objective, subversive and aggressive voice, the authoritative center of politics no longer has the absolute power to dominant people via mass media.
The development of Internet and media sometimes makes people confused, for they change so fast. But from the perspective of Baudrillard¡¦s notion of ¡§symbolic exchange¡¨ we are in the process of subverting the center through these media, which is a good phenomenon.
Connor, Steven. ¡§Postmodernities.¡¨ Postmodernist
culture: An Introduction to Theories of the
Contemporary. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Basil
Blackwell, 1997. 23-61.