[iDC] Clara Peller/Jean Baudrillard

rherbst at journalofaestheticsandprotest.org rherbst at journalofaestheticsandprotest.org
Mon Mar 12 15:56:31 EDT 2007

What does "where's the beef" really mean and did we once really find that

Not one to disrespect the dead, mostly when I think of Baudrillard, I am
reflecting on the reaction and consequences 
of his text, not the text itself. With that said- I think of this guy
mostly as a straw man for watered down 
“situationistic” writing and art and film. I am an admitted amateur
academic but “all is fiction” without a solid critic of 
power is just silly. When I heard about Jean Baudrillard death- I was like-
“yeah that guy”. At one distinct moment he 
really meant a lot, but then
 "Where’s the beef?”

Around a year ago I received a paper for publishing, it seemed very not of
our time and it hit me as curious- I was 
stuck on it for a week or so. It was an exhortation for artists and media
activists to take the tactical approach of “war 
porn”- really filling the media scape with pictures of dead, death,
explosions, blood and bombs - a real/ultra-real 
exhortation to get the public high on images of death to make them sick of
war. This struck me as very 
Baudrillardish, and I entertained publishing it for a second until I
remembered how bullshit this is, I mean even as a 
proposal, its seriousness was just off-putting (and its non-recognition of
the all to present action film was short-
sided). I never quit understood how someone could gain such power as an
intellectual by steamrolling over material 
reality- going as far as denying the reality of the gulf war. I mean I
guess this was an intellectual position by way of 
media and the spectacle, but for too many, this was just a license for
oh-so-much anti/a-political art. While war may 
be porn, it has real consequences- to allow war to JUST be horrific
representation for aesthetic (pseudo)-political 
provocation is to deny the dignity of war’s victims.

Last year I was studying the back catalog of Artforum to see how the
popular art press responded to the aids crisis, 
identity art and performance art- and came upon an essay from Bell Hooks
from around 84-88? It made me so 
happy to see this article, because in it she calls out the what can be
thought of as a Baudrillardization of the New 
York art world, where political art was seen as tired because of its
insistence on the real and material consequences 
(an out of touch hold over from “the 60’s). The self-satisfied a critical
attitude of “hey it’s all just representation 
perpetrated by art making/buying publics. The irony of this trend
Hooks touched upon, was that it was 
perpetrated by a bunch of folks whose material reality was separated from
the world by this very same media that 
systematically denied access to the actual hardships of poverty, aids and

Virtual reality always meant to me the reality that the virtual was trying
to perpetrate upon, and I never really got the 
sense that Baudrillard cared much about this world (I guess he solemnly
backed of off the fiction of warfare with 
911? But why was this allowed to be a real event?). I remember being turned
on by the Critical Art Ensembles 
incorporations of the situ/Baudrillard reading of the spectacle into
activist/political information warfare with 
“Electronic Civil Disobedience”. Yet their critiques inclusion of “death of
the real logic” (ceding street politics to 
corporations/states) seemed silly if not dangerous. While I continue to
experience the recognition and impact by 
artists of a certain generation who came to believe that critical discourse
and contemporary thought had abandoned 
traditional venues of the political to questions of only representation in
symbolic and virtual space, the other story is 
that avant-garde/ DIY activists of this same generation were busy
reinventing the modes and forms of meat-space 
politics at this time. Taking a read of Seattle era activist/creative
protest, you have to see the picture as a vibrant 
mesh of both virtual and actual political resistances and organizing. This
continues to be the same. But here too, 
with a reading of Baudrillard, you have to overlook his, what appears as,
apolitical stance or even Gnosticism, to get 
to any place meaty or strategically interesting.

There seemed little sense that in philosophy classes we could spend hours
talking about Baudrillard, but when a 
question of politically armed situationist thought came up- the response
would be something like, “the situationsts 
may or may have not been involved with May of ’68- Debord killed himself”
end of story. When I reflect on 
Baudrillard I can’t help to be saddened by the fact that while I was
spoon-fed concepts of virtuality and simulation in 
academic environments and pumped full of mytho-rhetoric on digital futures,
I had to walk down actual streets filled 
with meaty reality to make my way into bookstores and circles where
situationist texts were available and updated 
beyond the trademarked words of a singular author. In these meaty places
the world continues despite the denial of 
others whose government and business careers’ are advanced by its negation. 

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