A New Angle to see America

     As I read Baudrillard’s reading, I felt a little uncomfortable because I am not used to this angle of thinking about America. In the reading, Baudrillard started with a statement that he has “no truth of America” (27). At first, I did not understand what he meant, but gradually it became clear. Baudrillard used many negative words in his reading and many of them were used as an irony. However, I felt interesting at the same time because this way of looking at America was pretty new to me. In this Reading Response, I will discuss about the places Baudrillard visited in America, my favorite line and his three statements he argued about American society.

     He stated his thoughts by mentioning the places he visited in America. When Bausrillard described Las Vegas, he stated it as a “beam of light” (30) that makes up America as a fantasy world. Nowadays, Las Vegas is known for casinos, gambling, and shopping. Therefore, although it was hard for me to understand his intention, I figured that he wanted to say that the lights in Las Vegas looked like an unrealistic thing, which led him to use the word “phantasy” (Baudrillard 30). In other words, the artificial unnatural lights made the city look mechanical and made it far from reality. In the case of Santa Barbra, he described the villas as a funeral and the calmness as fake. Bausrillard maybe thought this way because there were not many people in Santa Barbra and everything looked too peaceful and too ideal that conversely, it seemed odd to him.

My favorite part of the reading was when he mentioned about how Americans “keep America clean”, and then moved on to his interpretation of “smile” (Bausrillard 33). First, I will discuss about “keeping America clean”, in other words, “mania for asepsis” (Baudrillard 33). I figure Bausrillard wanted to highlight how America emphasis on cleanness. He used two examples for the term about asepsis. The first one was the Getty museum. They treated the old painting very neatly and make it look as if it is brand new. Although he stated a little irony in this explanation, I thought this is not a point to criticize because keeping a historical product is an important thing to do. Another example is about an incident when police raided a sect called ‘MOVE’. MOVE had extreme ideas so the Philadelphia police department wanted to get rid of them. The police surprise attacked them and killed eleven people and damaged thirty houses. Unfortunately, some houses were not even ones from MOVE. Then, Baudrillard stated about ‘smile’. He explained smile as an expression when you do not know what to say and to show “zero degree of joy and pleasure” (Baudrillard 34). I felt this was actually interesting because I never recognized a ‘smile’ as he did. To me, smile was an expression to show your happiness or go through awkward moments.

Moreover, Baudrillard had three statements about American society: obsessional society, phobic society and anorexic society (40). In these three, phobic society was the easiest to think about. The main idea about phobic society was saving. When I think of saving time and saving energy as an example, many things pop up in my head. For example, a huge dish washer or dryer, that almost every American household has, are products that saves time and energy. It will wash dishes and dirty clothes, and people could use that time to do something else and save energy to do something else. Another example is a big store like ‘Target’. Target is one of the largest convenience stores in America. There is everything people need in their daily lives so people do not have to drive their car store to store. This saves time and energy as well.

Through Baudrillard’s reading, I found many interesting new views for me to think about America. Some were too unique ideas for me to understand, but some made me think. I think I have to learn more about the dark side of America or its history to know the country better.

My Discussion Questions are:

  1. Why did Baudrillard use the phrase “end of the world” several times?
  2. Was criticizing America was his main point in this reading?
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5 Responses to A New Angle to see America

  1. I really like the title of your reading response, Baudrillard uses a new angle to see and explain America. All of those high-tech things seem convenient and efficient to us, but in his eyes, those are unrealistic things which make us away from reality. The same as you, this angle of thinking about American is not I am familiar with. For example, talking about some up to date product wich make our lives easier, we think it is a kind of convenience and saving of time, but in his eyes, that are things make our lives full of unreality. As Christina mentioned in today’s lecture about Facebook, we think that helps us easier communicate with others but Baudrillard might thinks that we spend too much time on it we ignore talking and facing to each other in reality.

    Beside, from some point of view I agree with his explanation about smiling, maybe because I am from China and English is not my first language, here in America, every time I don’t know how to response to some questions or I don’t know what to say, I just smile. And sometime I cannot understand what others are talking, I smile. This kind of smile is really meaningless I think, but I cannot avoid this kind of smile here. So next time you see me smiling, maybe that means I don’t know what you are talking about. ╮(╯▽╰)╭

  2. Hailey Bang says:

    I totally agree with your idea that Baudrillard looked at America in a unique way. Especially, the three particular characteristics of American society which he explained are well-representative of authentic ‘America’ and ‘American’.

    As Baudrillard mentioned in his book, I think the unrealistic image of Las Vegas is well reflecting what ‘America’ it is. The splendid light of main Strip shows high-technology of America. The fancy hotel’s exaggerated grand and marvelous decorations represent overspending culture of America. The people who win the money by gambling are similar to American history which is relatively short and achieve great success in a brief space of time.

    What I’ve got impressed in your response was the interpretation of ‘saving’. The idea that ‘a huge dish washer or dryer save time and energy because people can be easily done their housework and spend time with another productive work’ was really fresh approach to me. I thought that dish washer and dryer is typical iconic image of excessive spending of American which is just focusing on efficiency and convenience without consideration of waste of energy and money. However, your aspect also makes sense that it is more fruitful to focus on valuable work, not the time-consuming work. It was a new thought-provoking approach for me!

  3. Chen says:

    I just want to have a try to answer the questions you provided in the response.
    The word ‘end of the world’, of course, does not mean the destruction of the earth. I think he just want to express a sense of fakery, unreality and mendacity. As he says in the article, ‘The microwave, the waste disposal, the orgasmic elasticity of the carpets: this soft, resort-style civilization irresistibly evokes the end of the world.’(31) You say ‘Bausrillard maybe thought this way because there were not many people in Santa Barbra and everything looked too peaceful and too ideal that conversely, it seemed odd to him.’ I totally agree with your opinion that the end of the world is a special emotion of the author himself.
    And his main goal is not criticizing America. I think Christina’s comments on Bausrillard in the class is very precise and accurate. What he attempts to do is merely express his own feelings. So criticizing may be a method of his writing but definitely not the goal.
    Actually I do not appreciate the writing style of Bausrillard. The article could show his personal characteristics very well but when it comes to the readers, it may be too hard for us to understand the content,

  4. ljdoherty says:

    Uncomfortable is a good word to describe ones reaction to reading this article. It seems like you and I had similar experiences when reading this. To me it felt like Baudrillard went on his travels with his mind set on finding everything wrong with America and I have to say in that sense, he did a pretty good job. It IS unnecessary for the Getty Museum to make sure all of their paintings look brand new, perhaps a touch-up here or there is needed but for the most part I agree with him on that. I agree with his description of suburban America too, I find a lot of the housing areas to be bland and monotonous. A perfectly cut lawn demonstrates the likeliness of a member of the household to have OCD, not how nice the neighbourhood is. Like I said however, it seems that he is looking for the worst in America. To answer your second discussion question then, yes I feel he did write this with the sole purpose of criticizing America. Perhaps he meant for it before he even got on the plane or perhaps it was subconscious, either way, not a very enjoyable read.
    The sad part for me though is that these problems he is finding with the US can probably be found all over the world (even in France!). I therefore, for the most part, disregarded his writing as anyone who is willing to degrade an entire nation without first considering the problems with one’s own culture should not have a say. His style was obnoxious, as opposed to the thoughtful yet fast paced style he was going for, and in the end it came across as entirely pretentious. The essay demonstrated mainly the sad life of a closed minded Frenchman, not a European view of America, (trust me, I’m British, and I like it here).

  5. Kevin Su says:

    When I read this piece by Baudrillard, one quote that kept me interested was “American is neither dream nor reality. It is hyperreality.” I don’t think that his intention was to criticize America, but to explain from his perspective his views on America. Since he was a professor of philosophy, his job was to study reality and logic and reason. At least, that is my definition of philosophy. One of his main points was to explain how the world we live in today is so overwhelmed by stimuli that we can no longer get in touch with reality. I think his idea of hyperreality is very interesting, in the way that most of us spend our time online as who we want to be. For example, we never fully show our real persona on Facebook, so does that mean that we should be the identity we have created for ourselves or our true selves. Then again, what is our true selves. This then creates this middle ground between imagination and reality where us as humans hover in; picking and choosing what we want other people to know about us. As to the question about “end of the world” I think he was trying to refer to the excess of unnecessary things in our lives that clog our perception. The number of “meaningless” things we have created is leading human-kind to this kind of utopian world. Since there is no thought or controversy happening in the world, it turns the world into this robotic world not run by us but by our things; creating the end of the world. The reason it is hard to understand Baudrillard is because a lot of his views are conceptual. I agree that the consumer society we live is slowly becoming less and less productive by saving time in places where we usually obtain experience. In my opinion the collection of experiences is called life, and without it we will cease to exist not as humans but as a civilization. Only time will tell if this is the direction our society is heading in.

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