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French theorist Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) can with certainty be eulogized as one of the leading intellectual figures of present era whose original work and thoughts reflects a well blended triad of philosophy, sociological discourse, and an idiosyncratic cultural metaphysics (Kellner para. 1).
A witty critic of modern society, culture, and thought, Baudrillard is frequently perceived as a primary leader of French postmodern theory, even though he can also be regarded as a combative thinker who unites social theory and philosophy in unique yet provocative ways to project his viewpoints on contemporary issues.
In his 1990 publication Seduction, Baudrillard profoundly evaluates how the art and philosophy of seduction has taken a central stage in contemporary society as a compelling substitute to production and communicative interaction (Kellner para. 45). It is the purpose of this paper to critically evaluate what Baudrillard means by ‘Seduction Ethics,’ and if it can really help people to understand the modern media.
The Concept of Seduction
Numerous definitions of the word ‘seduction’ have been proposed by scholars and theorists, but the fundamental aspect of the term revolves around the effort of enticing an individual into an act which may have negative ramifications, either seriously or mildly (Merrin 7). The term is derived from the Latin word – seducere –, which literally means to lead astray from an original, normal, or straight course or conduct (Lecture Notes).
Consequently, the leading astray entails some level of appeal to emotion, imagination or aesthetic taste, implying that the appeal is towards something non-cogent or something that is intrinsically attached to the heart. However, it is tellingly clear that Baudrillard uses the term to elicit deep undercurrents aimed at criticizing how modern institutions functions to alienate people further from the truth even though they claim that all what they are propagating is the objective, verifiable truth (Gane 144).
In Baudrillard’s world, seduction “…does not undermine, subvert, or transform existing social relations or institutions, but is a soft alternative, a play with appearances, and a game with feminism” (Kellner para. 45). It is imperative to note that Baudrillard’s description of seduction ignited sharp responses from critics.
The Meaning of Seduction Ethics according to Baudrillard
In his book, Seduction, the French theorist describes “…seduction as the artifice of the world,” and further argues that “all things wish to lose themselves in appearance” (Vaughan 43).
This, according to Baudrillard, have made western cultures to progress towards a total erasure of all oppositions and reference points so that contemporary social relations employ an overriding degree “…of ludic pursuits without significance or consequence” (Gane 143). In other words, Baudrillard provocatively critique an enduring trend in Moral Theory that places the accumulation of knowledge on espousing moral ambiguity rather than making objective judgments based on either the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong.’
To further drive his point home, the French theorist offers a deconstruction of the contemporary culture of production and fulfillment, postulating that these are overriding predispositions that form the fundamentals rather than surfaces of our very own communication and praxis (Vaughan 43).
Baudrillard purposively associates production with political economies, libidinal economies, and systems for the production and dissemination of information. His theory of Seduction Ethics actually begins on what he terms as the production of facts, meanings, and representations of what people are actually made to believe that it is the reality while it isn’t (Gane 144; Lecture Notes).
Kellner best captures the mood by suggesting that “…Baudrillard’s concept of seduction is idiosyncratic and involves games with signs which set up seduction as an aristocratic order of sign and ritual in contrast to the bourgeois ideal of production, while advocating artifice, appearance, play, and challenge against the deadly serious labor of production” (para. 45).
To further understand Baudrillard’s construction of Seduction Ethics, it is imperative to clarify the roles of terms such as ‘ecstasy’ and ‘hyperreality.’ The theorist suggests that production tends to soar in a twirl of increasing productivity which he calls ecstasy, not for the reason that it promises any pleasurable outcomes, but for the fact that it spirals out of control as people get self-absorbed in their attempts to eccentrically realize their desires and objectives in life (Gane 145; Lecture Notes).
The trajectory is obviously towards hyper-realization, thus the coining of the term ‘hyperreality.’ According to the theorist, the ecstatic desires propelled by increasing productivity is however curtailed by another powerful and more encompassing force known as Seduction (already described above).
However, it is imperative to note that seduction goes beyond reality and illusion, and also goes past the Moral Theory of right and wrong (Vaughan 55). As such it can be argued that Seduction Ethics is an extreme form of Moral Skepticism in that Baudrillard understands and evaluates the basic terms of Ethics such as right or wrong in terms of their attractiveness rather than distinctiveness (Gane 147; Lecture Notes).
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Consequently, his theory is primarily based on the notion that opposites attracts, with the ‘black’ or ‘white’ of good or evil seducing each other into a moral ‘grey.’ Baudrillard calls this combination “…the totality constituted by good and evil” (Gane 148; Lecture Notes).
How Seduction Ethics Assists to Understand the Modern Media
The modern media is filled with simulated pieces of information (Gane 143), whereby each media house, presenter, or media personality attempts to espouse the ‘correct’ version of an occurrence or event through providing their own representations of the truth depending on how they want to seduce the audience to believe that what they are saying is indeed the correct and authentic position.
For example, it is not uncommon to watch two or more TV stations covering the same event, but giving totally conflicting accounts of what is the true position or the objective truth as concerns the event. This is what Baudrillard terms as ‘moral grey’ due to the fact that each TV station views what is true or meaningful in subjective terms before airing it to the audience as the ‘true truth’ of a specific news coverage or event.
As such, the audience only gets to know representations of truth or meanings, which may not have any truth or any meaningful information on them. According to Seduction Ethics, any presentation in the media will certainly have elements of truth and bias though the media strives to project the image that they are presenting what is actually the truth.
Seduction Ethics can also be used to understand the film industry, which is by and large an important constituent of the modern media. According to Vaughan, “…cinema arrived (not coincidentally) just as Western civilization sharpened its lust of the eyes, and late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century imagistic culture expresses an almost unquenchable desire to consume the world through images” (43).
Using Seduction Ethics, the movie stars and celebrities we enjoy watching on the big screens can, at best, be described as the deception of the world since they project a moral good that in essence does not exist but still the audience is seduced by simulations of reality to believe that the images they see are actual presentations of the celebrities.
Here, the basic terms of Ethics such as good or evil are evaluated by the audience in terms of their attractive characteristics rather than their distinctive characteristics, leading to deviation from concepts of truth and meaning and an unprecedented treadmill of ideas where everybody watching that movie or TV series have their own perceptions of what is the truth depending on how it is have been entrenched by the celebrities. This is why Baudrillard argues that right or wrong are inseparable (Merrin 37).
The advertising industry can also be well understood and defined using the lens of Seduction Ethics. In his book titled The Consumer Society, Baudrillard argues that “…the forms of seduction and narcissism are laid down in advance by models produced industrially by the mass media and composed of identifiable signs” (96).
This argument has a lot of weight in it judging by what we usually see on TV advertisements as companies compete to outdo each other in the sale of products or services. It is a well known fact that these advertisements use beautifully shaped, well-rounded models to seduce or entice the audience that if they want to look like the models, then they must stand out from the crowd and start wearing or applying XX hairstyle, YY lipstick, or ZZ perfume.
The above is what Baudrillard calls the production of meanings and representations of the truth or what ought to be real, otherwise known as simulations of reality based on subjective or cultural interpretations (Merrin 42).
Indeed, the above example gives another reason to believe the theorist when he argues that depictions of Moral Theory such as ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ and ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ can at best be described as logically equivalent and equally baseless in Seduction Ethics. It is common knowledge that advertisers use these depictions of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to seduce unsuspecting consumers about the efficacy of a particular product while, in actual terms, it might just be an advertising gimmick or myth.
It can safely be concluded that Baudrillard’s Seduction Ethics can be effectively used in attempting to understand the modern media. Indeed, this discussion has demonstrated the fact that the modern media operates under the principles of Seductive Ethics although many are those who project a stand on the correctness or wrongness of an action.
Experience has also demonstrated to us that myths and representational truths and meanings are used in contemporary media to ‘denote’ the real truth. In actual sense, the media operates under different criteria and games to define and decide truth and, as such, there exist no single standard for deciding the true principle of truth (Merrin 45).
Baudrillard, J. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. London: Sage Publications Ltd. 1998
Gane, M. Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory. London: Routledge. 1991
Merrin, W. Baudrillard and the Media: A Critical Introduction. New York: Polity. 2005
Kellner, D. Jean Baudrillard. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2007. Retrieved from <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/baudrillard/>
Vaughan, M.H. The Paradox of the Film: An Industry of Sex, A Form of Seduction (on Jean Baudrillard’s Seduction and the Cinema). Film-Philosophy 14.2 (2010): 41-61. Retrieved from <http://www.film-philosophy.com/index.php/f-p>