Agency, Blind Date and the TV ad
Jean Baudrillard suggests that the old model based on oppositions between producer and consumer, between object and subject, are now inadequate. The new era is characterized by the predominance of the TV image. Theory thus moves from a model based on production and consumption to one based on screen and network:
With the television image--the television being the ultimate and perfect object for this new era—our own body and the whole surrounding universe become a control screen. (Baudrillard 127)
Baudrillard suggests that now there is no distance between the subject and the world, rather there is simply subject as control screen, "a switching centre for all the networks of influence" (133). We no longer exist in a universe of commodities. Instead we are linked up within a network of communication, a single dimension of "information."
We can explore this experience through analysis of electronic media generally and though TV in particular. The first thing we must notice is that media involve systems of communication that structure an unknown group of receivers, i.e. an abstract audience. Vastly different gatherings or populations "receive" messages synchronously (at the same time). On one hand, everyone can communicate with anyone else at any time (and this has fundamentally changed the space-time parameters of social interaction). On the other hand, meanings are no longer secured by a context or tied to an imagined object, they are effects of the network itself. With TV the "context" is cancelled. Strictly speaking there isn’t one, but in so far as there is a message, its context is controlled by the TV "speaker." This is never a single identifiable human subject (in the authorial sense). John Hartley even claims that tele-language should be considered as a "new form of English."
Is the viewer passive then? Or does TV promote forms of self-constitution that profoundly engages them? The answer is a point of contention. How does the media work? Mark Poster, following Baudrillard, suggests that TV simulates its context and ventriloquizes its audience. He contrasts electronic media to the two more traditional modes of communication, speech and print.
Speech involves a situation that ties members of a community together, forges and emphasizes links between individuals, as it were, face to face.
Print, developing coterminously both with rapidly expanding commodity production and with the increasing valorization of the enlightened liberal subject, helps to constitute subjects as rational autonomous egos, stable interpreters making rational decisions.
Mass Media, in a way that appears quite new, invites the recipient of the message to play at self-invention, in continuous "dialogue" with rapidly changing modes of discourse. With media, there is no defined identity at any single pole of communication.