Volume 13, Number 1 (January 2016)
Author: Mark McLennan (J.D.)
Jean Baudrillard is considered a ‘postmodern luminary par excellence’(Arrigo, et. al., 2005:20). Indeed, Baudrillard scholars Best and Kellner (1991) note that his ‘acolytes praise him as the “talisman” of the new postmodern universe, as the commotion who theoretically energises the scene, as the supertheorist of a new postmodernity’ Best and Kellner, 1991: 111). At the same time however, ‘his work is highly contentious, attracting a great deal of vitriolic criticism’ (Lane, 2000:1). Critic Richard Lane (2000) claims that Baudrillard has been accused ‘of being a critical terrorist … whose ideas are shallow and inaccurate’ (Ibid.). Baudrillard has even been labelled ‘[an] intellectual imposter’ who writes ‘fashionable nonsense’ (Sokal and Bricmont, 1999). Despite these criticisms, his appeal is global as translations of his many books ‘are rapidly proliferating’ (Kellner, 1989:1). When asked to respond to his growing popularity and criticism Baudrillard has stated, ‘what I am, I don’t know. I am the simulacrum of myself’ (Redhead, 2008: 1). Thus, he and his work sit on the margins of western philosophy and society. Indeed, to define his work as ‘postmodern’ glosses over his novel contributions contemporary social thought. As far as Baudrillard is concerned, postmodernism is ‘not even a concept, it’s nothing at all’ and he argues that ‘you must create your own underground because there is no more underground, no more avant-garde, no more marginality. You can create your personal underground, your own black-hole, your own singularity’ (Ibid.; Gane 1993). And although his obscure prose demands extra neural attention, his key ideas of ‘simulations’ and ‘hyperreality’ seem prophetic in light of advances in today’s media dominated society.
However, applications of Baudrillard’s work in law and criminology have been limited (Arrigo et. al., 2005: 20; (Notable attempts include: Arrigo, 2007; Campbell, 2010; M. Presdee, 2004). Theoretical Criminology). Perhaps this is because his critique of society ‘arrestingly demonstrates that we have no way to experience or conceptualise relationships between people except as these are defined by the exchange of [consumer cybernetic image] commodities’ (Willis, 1991: 162). Or, perhaps it is because Baudrillard’s ‘anti-foundational critique’ lacks ‘an identifiable substitute for social change’, which is so often desired within the politically charged areas of law and crime (Palmer, 1990: 199). However, Baudrillard has described this type of thinking as ‘unbelievably naïve’ because it ‘reifies as universal’ ‘imaginary’ social ideals that, for Baudrillard, have already been abolished by their ‘impotence’ to be implemented (Baudrillard, 1983a: 86; O’Malley 1996-97, has called for criminology to consider the ‘post-social’). For example, human rights—the zenith of attempted social change—‘inscribed above the portals of all the democracies, are what get given to those who have landed up on the wrong side of the universal.’ For Baudrillard then, the law, in contemporary society, could be said to ‘[provide] covers as it [aggravates] the real situation’ (Baudrillard, 2008). In this line of thought, it is evident that the work of the criminologist using Baudrillard is to expose that which simulations and hyperreality conceal—much like the way Baudrillard himself suggested that Disneyland ‘is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real’ (Baudrillard 1995b: 1) So, based on the above considerations, this essay will first sketch out a contemporary exegesis of Baudrillard’s thought, with specific emphasis on the role of the media. From that, I will consider the role of the media in creating a hyperrealised understanding of crime and criminality in the masses. This will rest on Baudrillard’s rethinking of a contemporary society where the media and simulations constitute a novel realm of experience, history and social life. And, finally, I will seek to explain how the ‘CSI effect’ and ‘simulated policing’ are to be understood within this conception of the contemporary society.
II. The Baudrillard Society: Myths and Structures
(i) The System of Baudrillard
After describing a novel sociological position that regards semiology, rather than capital, as the key component of domination (Baudrillard  1998), Baudrillard’s radical social theory emerges in light of considerations of consumerism, media, information and technology—all of which conspire to create what Baudrillard calls a ‘hyperreal’ society. This is a contemporary world where all boundaries, categories and values implode into the ‘end of the social’.
Baudrillard (1972) begins elaborating this theory in an article titled ‘Design and Environment or How Political Economy Escalates into Cyberblitz’ (Baudrillard, 1972, Chapter 10). In this essay, he points to the importance of ‘the passage out of a metallurgic into a semiurgic society’ (Ibid.: 185). Here, consumer objects take on a life of their own ‘as an embodiment and functional part of a system of signs, independent of its status as a commodity’ (Kellner, 1989: 76). He uses the German Bauhaus movement as an example to anticipate the ‘universal semantisation of the environment in which everything becomes the object of a calculus of function and signification’ (Baudrillard, 1972: 185-86). This is achieved by the synthesis ‘of form and function, beauty and utility, of art and technology’ in the design of objects that produces a functionalised universe whereby the meaning and function of every object is determined by its place in the system. As a result, ‘the whole environment becomes a signifier, objectified as an element of signification’ (Ibid.: 186-87). This is analogous to Derrida’s concept of ‘difference’ whereby meaning is never present ‘in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself’ (Derrida, 1965: 27). Essentially, objects, words and images have no direct relationship to the things in which they refer, they inherent meaning only by interacting with one another in an ongoing system of contrast. Baudrillard refers to this system as a ‘cybernetic code’, and argues that reality itself is shut out from this system of because the system is wholly self-referencing. This code creates ‘a functionalised, integrated and self-reproducing universe’ of meaning, controlled by simulacra and simulation. And, like Derrida’s text, there is nothing outside of the code.
In ‘The Orders of Simulacra’, Baudrillard (1995) outlines the stages of the transition from traditional society to the contemporary society defined by simulations (Baudrillard, 1995). First, according to Baudrillard, the feudal era had a fixed social order established by a hierarchy of obligatory signs indicating social class and rank. Here, a ‘natural law of value’ dominates the stage. Simulacra, a representation of another image, first emerge as ‘counterfeits’ of the real. For example, representations of class, law or value are said to be grounded in nature: art imitates life and democracy is legitimised by ‘natural rights’. Baudrillard indicates, however, that the inherent goal of simulacra is to produce a controllable and universal system of power. At this stage, counterfeit simulacra is working ‘only on substance and form, not yet on relations or structures’, but its evolution will create ‘a pacified society, ground up into a deathless substance … that will guarantee an eternity of … cultural hegemony’ (Baudrillard, 1983b: 91). Next, the second-order of simulacra appears during the industrial revolution. Importantly, infinite reproducibility is introduced into society. For example, exact replicas of objects are produced by assembly lines and automation. No longer is there nostalgia for a natural order; nature is to be dominated by production; counterfeit simulacra are now obsolete. Most importantly, however, the infinite reproducibility of objects, augmented by the rise of capitalism, enables the emergence of the cybernetic code and contemporary society.
Baudrillard claims that ‘we are in the third-order simulacra’, where simulation models come to constitute the world and all referential finalities are abolished (Ibid.: 100-01): God, Man, Nature, History, Society and others. This is because images are only understood by reference to other images. Thus, society has moved from ‘a capitalist-productivitist society to a neo-capitalist cybernetic order’ (Ibid.: 111). As a result of this code, images no longer refer to an object; rather, they refer to another commutable image on the code. But, through models contained in common societal narrative and institutional discourse, simulations are able to produce a ‘reality effect’, which conceals the fact they are merely referring to other simulations (Bogard, 1996: 10). For example, the code continually sets up simulations of events, which test individuals and ‘[inscribe] them into the simulated order’ through a ‘process of signalisation’ (Kellner, 1989: 80). For example, every advertisement, choice of commodity, choice of entertainment, and political candidate presents a chance for a binary response of affirmation or negation. It is in this way that individuals are inserted into a dominating ‘coded system of similarities and dissimilarities, of identities and programed differences’ (Ibid.). Thus, Baudrillard’s contemporary social theory is distinguishable from previous determinist social theories that postulate powerful individuals, classes, or corporations manipulating the public for certain ends. Instead, Baudrillard suggests that social organisation is determined by individual’s responses to the pre-coded messages that are derived from simulations of economics, politics, culture or the banal decisions of everyday life (Baudrillard, 1983b: 111). Importantly for the third-order of simulacra, the binary system of the code creates a ‘deterrence model’ in which all ‘radical change is ruled out, since the very fact of an option between different political parties, [for example], acts as a deterrent against demands for radical social change’ (Kellner, 1989: 81). This is the end of society as traditionally theorised.
In Symbolic Exchange and Death Baudrillard (1983c: 20) announces the end of traditional conceptions of society—the end of ‘labour, production, political economy’, and the ‘dialectic signifier/signified that permeated the accumulation of knowledge and of meaning’ (Baudrillard, 2002: 127). Baudrillard argues that we are in a new era where media and the consumption of semiotic codes that inform images, have replaced production and political economy as the organising foundation of society. For example, labour is now a ‘sign among signs’ (Baudrillard, 1995b: 23), a symbol of one’s status and integration: ‘the choice of occupation, the utopia of an occupation custom-made for everyone … labour power is no longer violently bought and sold; it is designed, it is marketed, it is merchandised. Production thus joins the consumerist system of signs’ (Baudrillard, 2002: 134). Because social reality is constituted by the ‘chess pieces’ of the signs and symbols that are mobilised through the media, nothing is objectively determined and everything can be simulated (Kellner, 1989: 62). Thus, political economy is no longer the determinant that can explain social phenomena.
Instead, contemporary society is marked by the code of connotations in which variable semiotics ‘replace the logic of production and class conflict as key constituents of contemporary capitalist societies’ (Ibid.). Importantly, in The Mirror of Production, Baudrillard (1975: 31) breaks from the traditional Marxist conceptions of political economy suggesting that, by appearing as a binary opposite, Marxism in fact ‘assists the cunning of capital’. For example, Marxism relies upon capitalism to derive meaning and thus retains capitalism’s ideological and theoretical core by not criticising labour, production and use-value. Indeed, Marxism ‘convinces men that they are alienated by the sale of their labour power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labour power’ (Ibid.) Marxism therefore mirrors capitalism by viewing all of social life through the scheme of production. The binary distinction that separated the two concepts implodes and the two are now virtually indistinguishable. So, their apparent opposition is merely a simulation played out via contemporary political media campaigns. Due to the dominance of the code, for Baudrillard, this is true of a number of social categories—subject/object, good/evil, and importantly real/representation.
Through the consumption and presentation of interchangeable signs and symbols in the media, the distinction between representation and reality also implodes. Baudrillard argues that signs and their amalgamation’s connotation come to create a new social order where it is semiotics that replaces all of ‘reality’. Importantly, this comes as a result of the ‘emancipation of the sign’ from its ‘structural dimension’ whereby meaning was determined from an external referent, such as an object’s use or exchange value. Objects, words or images no longer have ‘an archaic obligation’ to designate something other than a reference to other objects (Baudrillard, 2002: 64). So, for Baudrillard, individuals derive meaning from a world of ‘commodity signs, media spectacles, and representations’ (Kellner, 1989: 64). Therefore, a ‘simulation’ for Baudrillard is a situation where it is the signs, symbols and media representations that replace actual events. For example, Baudrillard (1995a) argues that Gulf War did not take place. But he does not mean that nothing happened; he means that war did not occur in the conventional sense. Instead, the Gulf War was waged by a ‘speculative unfolding’, which occurred ‘in an abstract, electronic and informational space’ (Baudrillard, 1995a: 56). For example, in a moment of postmodern absurdity, the news channel CNN switched ‘live’ to a group of reporters in the Gulf to ask what was happening, only for the reporters to answer that they were watching CNN to find out for themselves (Ibid.: 2). The rest of the war would unfold according to a model of a war film ‘pre-programmed by the Americans’ (Lane, 2000: 43) The symbolic appearance of a war however, masked the absurdities of the fear of an enemy that was technological inferior and ended up withdrawing before the endgame (Ibid.: 96). As a result of these simulations of this type, individuals have no access to objective reality. All that exists is infinite relativism and an indeterminate imaginary universe: ‘the era of simulation is henceforth opened everywhere through commutability of terms once contradictory or dialectically opposed … in every message from the media’ (Baudrillard, 1983c: 19-21). In this era it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish true from false or real from representation, because, ‘in the society of simulations it is impossible … to perceive what is determining or constituting various events and processes’ Kellner, 1989: 64). So where the code and its simulations precede and inform individual conceptions of reality, the ‘hyperreal’ emerges.
Baudrillard elucidates the concept of hyperreality with reference to Hollywood disaster movies: ‘it is pointless to laboriously interpret these films by their relationship with an “objective” social crisis … it is in the other direction that we must say it is the social itself which, in contemporary discourse, is organised according to a script for a disaster film’ (Baudrillard, 1988: 56). Thus, ontological precedence is granted to the image and reality itself becomes film-like. Baudrillard’s analysis of America illustrates this point: ‘it is not the least of America’s charms that even outside the movie theatres the whole country is cinematic. The desert you pass through is like the set out a Western, the city a screen of signs and formulas’ (Ibid.: 37). But, rather than being false images, hyperreal phenomena conceal the fact that reality itself is absent behind its representation. And, when reality is conflated with media representations in the mind of individuals, this masks important social phenomena. For example, ‘Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the American surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and simulation’ (Baudrillard, 1983b: 25). Fundamental to the emergence of hyperreality, however, is the role of the media.
(ii) The Ecstatic Media
The rise of broadcast media is ‘an important constituent’ for Baudrillard, because it enables the ‘rapid dissemination’ of signs and simulacra in every realm of life’ (Kellner, 1989: 68). Baudrillard thus interprets the media as key simulation machines that reproduce the images, signs and symbols that constitute the emergence of hyperreality. Importantly, in ‘The Implosion of Meaning in the Media’, Baudrillard claims that the ‘proliferation of signs and information in the media obliterates meaning through neutralising and dissolving all content’ (Ibid.). He claims that because of the saturation of information, ‘information devours its own contents; it devours communication and the social … into a sort of nebulous state leading not at all to a surfeit of innovation but to the very contrary, to total entropy’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 96-100). Thus all meaningful content implodes into form, and Baudrillard adopts famous media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s idea that ‘the medium is the message’ (Kellner, 1989: 69; McLuhan, 1964). Further, Baudrillard sees the function of the media as ‘isolating and privatising individuals … in a universe of simulacra in which it is impossible to distinguish between the spectacle and the real and in which individuals come to prefer spectacle to “reality”’ (Kellner, 1989: 71). This interiorisation of media transmissions by individuals, for Baudrillard, implodes ‘the distinction between public and private, interior and exterior space, both of which are replaced by media space’ (Ibid.). These mediated images are thus projected onto individual’s understanding of the world, and create hyperreality.
Additionally, Baudrillard suggests that the media intensifies the reification of individuals into ‘the masses’ by producing ‘mass audiences and homogenised ideas and experiences’ (Ibid.: 69). Baudrillard claims that ‘the masses absorb all media content, neutralise, or even resist meaning, and demand and obtain more spectacle and entertainment’ (Ibid.). Thus, in a typical headache-inducingly obscure passage, the masses are an ‘opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all the surrounding energy and light rays, to collapse finally under its own weight. A black hole which engulfs the social’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 1-4). The result is a ‘silent majority’ indifferent to meaningful messages presented to them and ‘the end of the social’. To illustrate this idea, Baudrillard points to the solicitation of the masses to the Beaubourg cultural centre in Paris to appreciate French culture. He claims that individuals go there to look at each other rather than to appreciate the cultural meanings on offer (Baudrillard, 1995b: 61-74).From this and other examples, Baudrillard concludes that ‘power manipulates nothing, the masses are neither misled nor mystified … this indifference of the masses is their true, only practice’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 14). Therefore ‘if the social is both destroyed by what produces it (the media, information) and reabsorbed by what is produces (the masses) it follows that … it no longer designates anything’ (Ibid.: 66). As a result, social life, ‘with all of its idealised resonances of human interaction, communication, [and] civility’, no longer exists as a sufficient domain of reality (Kellner, 1989:95). And importantly, the masses are reacting with increased ambivalence and indifference to attempts to revive the social through the proliferation of media communications (Ibid.: 87). Too many advertisements, trans-politics, and too much information have led to a total resistance of the masses to interpret any meaning. This powerful conception of the media and its role within contemporary society is thus fundamental in understanding recent developments in criminology.
III. Media Representations: The Perfect Crime
A glance at any television schedule, film listing or newspaper quickly indicates the ‘vast and insatiable interest the general population has in crime and criminals’ and the integral role the media has in portraying all aspects of criminality (Marsh, 2008: 1). Indeed, Dorfman and Thorson (2001) have found that 76% of individuals in the United States claim that their opinions about crime were founded upon their interaction with the media (Dorfman and Thorson, 2001: 28). A news poll by the television network ABC found that of the 80% of respondents who viewed the local ‘crime problem’ as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’, 82% stated that their belief was based on the news media (Davis and Dorsetor, 2010: 5). And importantly, there has been a ‘plethora of academic research’, which has suggested that the community does not get its information about crime from personal experience, but rather the media (Bloustein and Irael, 2006). Thus, there can be ‘little doubt’ that media coverage plays an integral role in the ways in which individuals understand crime and criminality (Lee and McGovern, 2013: 19). One must remember however, that this is the media in which Stan Cohen (1972) noted that a great deal of energy is devoted to ‘deviance, sensational crimes, scandals, bizarre happenings and strange goings on’ (Cohen, et. al., 1972: 12). And consider the emerging importance of the Internet, infotainment, and reality style television programming in light of the respective obsessions with the sensationalising of ‘reality’ (Lee and McGovern, 2013: 19).
Currently, and despite a proliferation of mediated information about crime, there is a marked discrepancy between the ‘public’s concern regarding a perceived increase in crime amidst declining crime rates’ (Davis and Dorsetor, 2010: 1). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) the aggregate number of reported crimes to police was lower in 2007 than it was in 1996 (Ibid.). Despite this decline, ‘in Australia, studies have shown that a substantial proportion of the population incorrectly believe crime rates are increasing when, in fact, they are stable or declining’ (Ibid.; Indermaur, 2005). Additionally, public perception of crime rates across the Western world is incongruent with that of police statistics. In studies of the United States and Canada, respondents indicated that they perceived crime rates as increasing, despite a significant decline over the previous decade (Maguire and Pastore, 1999).
It is tempting to interpret these findings through a Foucauldian bio-political paradigm. Criminologist Professor Murray Lee has suggested that ‘the broader truth effects of the data and the concept [public fear of crime] now mean that the survey instrument is reproduced by news organisations’ (Lee and Farrall, 2004: 37). As a result, ‘this democratisation of the concept feeds it back into our cultural mix making fear of crime broadly intelligible as a thing’, or a ‘cultural object’ (Ibid.: 37). This is analogous to Foucault’s truths about the population that are internalised by the subject as the general politics of society, which then direct behaviour towards the norms required by modernity’s social and political organisation (Foucault, 1984: 73). That is, according to Lee, ‘individual subjectivities are adjusted via linkages from governmental programmes to individual subject and vice versa’ (Lee and Farrall, 2004: 38). Therefore it is the ‘consumer [of media images of crime] who manages one’s own risk and fear’ (Ibid.: 38). Or, as the United Kingdom Home Office put it rather tersely in 1989, ‘an element of fear can be considered helpful in persuading people to guard against victimisation’ (In Lee, 2007: 133). Accordingly, this argument concludes that the effects of both media images of crime and crime rates produce a productive bio-political fear of crime. And, this fear governs the individual at a distance away from perceived sites and situations of crime. However, this analysis fails to accurately describe why the masses still perceive an increase of crime despite meaningful evidence to the contrary.
In 1977, Baudrillard ‘launched a broadside attack’ in a book entitled Forget Foucault (Kellner, 1989: 132; Baudrillard, 1977). Baudrillard claims that, however elegant it may be, Foucault’s conception of power is now obsolete. He asks, ‘What if Foucault spoke so well to us concerning power … only because power is dead’ (Baudrillard, 1977: 11)? Baudrillard argues that power is now ‘impossible to locate because of dissemination’ and is ‘dissolved by reversal, cancellation, or made hyperreal through simulations’ (Ibid.: 12). Baudrillard suggests that discourse on power is now obsolete because power no longer resides in securely anchored spheres such as actuarial institutions (Kellner, 1989: 133). Fundamental to the understanding of the cybernetic code’s ‘total social control’ is that of power’s relationship to the media, communications and simulations—sites that Foucault famously never analysed (Ibid.). For Baudrillard then, power in the hyperreal society appears in simulations that may emanate from traditional institutional sites of power. So, power is ‘volatised through signs of dead power, which proliferate and fascinate’ in their hyperreal dissemination ‘in an obscene and parodic mode, of all the forms of power already seen – exactly like sex in pornography’ (Baudrillard, 1977:61). And, because simulations have decentred power so radically, power merely ‘floats through the [contemporary] scene’ and ‘it is impossible to chart its trajectories, structures, relations and effects’ (Kellner, 1989: 143).
Under the above bio-political understanding of crime effects in the media, it should be the case that audiences are internalising the meaningful messages that suggest crime rates are either stable or on the decline. Alternatively, there is a ‘pluralist reading’ of the media and the public. This considers audiences not ‘as passive consumers of crime stories’ and suggests a ‘more inclusive news construction process’ and ‘a greater capacity for counter-definers to find a voice in the media’ (Lee and McGovern, 2013: 23). However, both of these understandings are contradicted in light of the public perception of crime rates problem. This is because these arguments rest upon the notion that individuals can decipher meaningful media messages when compared to their fictionalised counterpart. Importantly, Baudrillard claims that ‘the masses absorb all media content, neutralise, or even resist meaning, and demand and obtain more spectacle and entertainment’ (Kellner, 1989: 69). As a result, this silent majority is completely indifferent to any meaningful messages, which are presented to them, such as the current aggregate decline of crime rates. Instead, the masses ‘idolise any content so long as it resolves itself into a spectacular sequence’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 10). Chibnall (1977), suggested that crime stories ‘are of value to media organisations’ when they include elements of immediacy, dramatisation, personalisation, simplification, titillation, conventionalism, structured access and/or novelty. Lee notes that ‘news programming does not simply mirror crime and its control’ (Lee and McGovern, 2013: 20). And Bloustien and Israel suggest that ‘journalists actively construct their stories by choosing particular kinds of events and presenting them to their assumed audience in terms of what they think will make such events intelligible’ (Bloustein and Israel, 2006: 46). Any real message is thus lost in the mediated crime narratives that adhere to this Chibnallian construction. Whatever remains is also incapable of bio-political power: Baudrillard states, that indeed, when mediated, ‘power manipulates nothing, the masses are neither misled nor mystified’ there is merely a ‘refusal to participate in the recommended ideals, however enlightened’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 14). Baudrillard’s critique of Foucault’s conception of bio-power and his understanding of the media’s relationship to the masses effectively explains why it is they have ignored the fact that in reality crime rates are either stable or declining: Because meaningful messages are lost in the entropic noise that they are presented with; and that the media is presenting audiences with the spectacular images that they demand.
In Baudrillard it is also possible to explain why the public perceives crime rates to be increasing. Remember that Baudrillard interprets the media as key simulation machines that reproduce the images, signs and symbols that constitute the emergence of hyperreality. And that the interiorisation of media transmissions by individuals, for Baudrillard, implodes ‘the distinction between public and private, interior and exterior space, both of which are replaced by media space’ (Kellner, 1989: 71). The result of watching media crime narratives is that the mediated images of crime are projected onto individual’s understanding of the world, and this creates hyperreality. Currently, individuals are projecting the images of crime they see in the media onto the physical terrain that they inhabit. Accordingly, the physical world is now a seamless unity between the object and the infinite hyperreal potentialities of criminality, all of which are simulated in the mind of the individual. In this way, just like Baudrillard projected scenes of western movies onto the desert of Arizona in America, contemporary individuals inhabit all of the scenes from media depictions of obscene criminality in their day-to-day life: neighbourhoods are no longer safe after dark, alleyways ought to avoided, females should not be alone at night and all of other colloquial narratives regarding crime. So, individuals now come to experience the mediated narratives of crime both as recipients of mediated image, but also as participants, through their consumption and creation of demand, and their subsequent projection of these narratives onto the physical world. It is this nuance that posits individuals as participating in the construction of narrative and hyperreality which suggests that Baudrillard’s understanding of these phenomena is better than the current post-structuralist accounts as described above. Importantly, this argument does not suggest that criminology should advocate for less crime images in the media, for this would change nothing. Individuals inhabit a world of hyperreality, not simply through the traditional news, but also through cinema and the Internet; they cannot simply forget that which they already know. Fear of crime is driven by its simulated existence across the hyperreal landscape. It is in this type of Baudrillardian cultural analysis that suggests how we should think about the future of criminology. We need to break out of the traditional conceptions of power exposed as weak by Baudrillard. Bio-political understandings of crime merely simulate progressive activity on the basis of a flawed conception of the individual as passive in the construction of dominating discourse despite an indifferent silent mass majority who now participate in the creation of hyperreality. Instead, we need to expose instances of simulation and hyperreality to find forms of a meaningful interaction with the masses. In doing so, traditional categories of criminological investigation must be expanded to include phenomena from contemporary mass culture. It is in this terrain that counterpoints to the criminological simulacra may be discovered. In light of these considerations the job of criminology may be to remind individuals that that which is seen through the media are not equivalent to that which is seen in three whole dimensions. With this in mind, this essay will attempt to expose two recent instances of simulation and hyperreality within contemporary criminology.
IV. The Illusion of the CSI Effect
Since 2002, the television franchise Crime Scene Investigations (‘CSI’) has been the most popular television program in the world (Shelton, 2010). Dubbed the ‘CSI effect’, the popular media has suggested that ‘the integrity of the criminal trial is being compromised by the effects of [this] television drama’ (Cole, 2009: 1336). It is claimed that individuals are conflating ‘the idealised portrayal of the capabilities of forensic science on television with the actual capabilities of forensic science in the contemporary criminal justice system’ (Ibid.). As a result, jurors hold ‘inflated expectations concerning the occurrence and probative value of forensic evidence’ (Ibid.). And, ‘when forensic evidence failed to meet these expectations’ it is hypothesised that juries are more likely to acquit plaintiffs (Ibid.). It would seem then, that this is an example of simple hyperreality, but as will be demonstrated, this is not exactly the case.
Formally, the CSI effect appears to have entered the media lexicon late in 2002 after an article in Times magazine suggested there was now a ‘growing public expectation that police labs can do everything TV labs can’, which ‘may poison jury pools (Kluger, 2002: 36, 46). After this article, media coverage of the CSI effect ‘exploded’ (Cole, 2009: 1338). A LexisNexus search found that mentions in newspapers and magazines of the CSI effect grew from two in 2002 to a peak of seventy-eight in 2006 (Ibid.: 1339). This coverage included a cover story in the U.S. News & World Report, as well as coverage in leading science publications like National Geographic and Scientific American (Ibid.). According to these media reports ‘there is no debating the reality’ (Deutsch, 2006) of the CSI effect, and that even though ‘the story lines are fiction … their effect is real’ (Rice, 2005). Indeed, according to an Australian media outlet, the ‘CSI effect sent an innocent man to prison’ (Rout, 2010: 29). Ironically though, available scholarly evidence does not support the claim that jurors are more likely to acquit plaintiffs because of a lack of sophisticated forensic evidence. So, as it is currently hypothesised, ‘there is, as yet, no convincing evidence’ of the CSI effect (Cole, 2009: 1341; see also Podlas, 2006: 16; Shelton, 2006; Tyler, 2006: 1050).
Criminologists Simon A. Cole and Rachel Dioso-Villa (2009) conducted a pooled time-series cross-section analysis comparing nine jurisdictions in the United States from 1986 to 2008, in order to test whether acquittal rates significantly changed due to the advent of CSI (Cole, 2009: 1359). Comparing rates of acquittal before the first airing of CSI, and every subsequent year, Cole and Dioso-Villa found no statistically significant difference; where differences did occur, they were within a 95% confidence interval, and were thus attributed to chance (Ibid.: 1361). Additionally, in a survey of jurors in two United States jurisdictions, former criminal trial judge and criminologist Donald Shelton (2010: 23) found that juror’s expectations that they will be presented with scientific data is high. But, ‘there is no significant difference in the demand for scientific evidence as a condition of guilt between those jurors who watch CSI and those who do not’ (Ibid.). Therefore, Shelton concludes, ‘in other words, there is no CSI effect that results in acquittals’ (Ibid.). However, just as ‘prisons hide the fact that it is the social in its entirety … that is carceral’, these results mask the fact that there are indeed important effects of hyperreality present in the contemporary criminal justice system (Baudrillard, 1983b: 1).
Considering Baudrillard’s theory of the media’s role in contemporary society, it should not be expected that those jurors selected from the masses at random would expect more from forensic evidence and thus acquit more plaintiffs than they should. That hypothesis incorrectly presumes that the masses internalise meaningful content about the criminal judicial process. Importantly, for Baudrillard, ‘indifference is [the masses] only practice’ and that they now ‘refuse to participate in the recommended ideals’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 14). What should be expected is a growing indifference or resistance to actually participating in the jury process. When American jurisdictions were surveyed by Susan Carol Losh et al. (2000: 308). it was found that ‘many attitudes [towards jury duty] were grim’ (Ibid.). Specifically, less than one-third of respondents agreed that they enjoyed their duty or were glad to be called; nearly half of all respondents felt that service was inconvenient; thirty percent actually felt upset that they had been called. Indeed, ‘most judicial districts have experienced low yields from a jury call—in fact, typically only a minority of those summoned arrive to serve’ (Ibid.: 304). For example, in Western Australia seventy-two percent of the 85,695 people summonsed for jury service in 2009 were excused (Law Commission of Western Australia, 2010). Nearly fourteen per cent of the remaining 23,795 potential jurors did not answer their summons to appear for service and were issued with fines (Ibid.). And, of the 3200 people fined for failing to answer summons for jury service last year, 1800 had been referred to the State Government’s debt collection agency because of non-payment (Ibid.). Though there are many reasons why individuals avoid and detest jury duty, one reason that is notably absent in the literature is the fact that it is underwhelming when compared to its simulated appearance. Indeed, Baudrillard notes that the masses ‘idolise any content so long as it resolves itself into a spectacular sequence’ (Baudrillard, 1983a: 10). Because we are in the third-order of simulacra, individual’s prefer television’s portrayal of the criminal justice system ‘in an obscene and parodic mode … exactly like sex in pornography’, to engaging in the tedious banality of the court room (Baudrillard, 1977: 61).
Despite the academic evidence to the contrary, those within the legal profession still strongly believe in the CSI effect as manufactured by the media (Shelton, 2010: 24). For example, in R v MK, the trial judge held that ‘given the CSI effect … there is a real likelihood the jury would give far more weight to this [DNA] evidence than it deserves (Boatswain v. State, 2004). Famously in, R v Jama, the prosecutor directed the jury not to be concerned regarding the absence of other evidence in the case because the DNA evidence was ‘rock solid’ and established the accused’s guilt ‘safely and beyond reasonable doubt’ (R v Jama; Kirby, 2010). Schweitzer and Sake (2007: 317), found that the ‘CSI effect is changing the manner in which forensic evidence is presented in court, with some prosecutors believing they must make their presentation as visually interesting and appealing as such presentations are on television’. And, the FBI has even produced and informative video on the problem entitled CSI: Fact or Fiction? (FBI, 2000).Thus, the ‘myth’ of the CSI effect, allegedly debunked by the investigations as described above, has become hyperreal as it is now reflected in the ‘reactive conduct of the various [legal profession] participants’ (Shelton, 2010: 27).
In light of these considerations, the CSI effect must now be understood as the extent to which legal professionals project their interiorised media images of the criminal justice system into the courtroom. Indeed this effect will continue, and will only get more pronounced, as ‘the CSI effect motivated courtroom activities of the legal actors in turn influence the mass-media portrayals of the criminal justice system—especially to the extent that the media now uses actual or dramatises actual cases as fodder for their messages’ (ibid.: 31). Thus, increasingly, in our contemporary society, images of the courtroom no longer refer to an ideal arbiter of justice—all that exists is a spectacularised simulation. For Baudrillard, this is the fourth-order of societal evolution where images no longer bear any reference to reality whatsoever; they are their own simulacra.
V. Simulacral Policing
In 2010, eminent criminologist Pat O’Malley surmised that ‘new forms of “simulated” justice and policing are emerging at the convergence of telemetric regulation’ (O’Malley, 2010: 795). He uses the example of traffic regulations where an individual breaks the law and then a fine is administered—‘by nobody’ (Ibid.). That is, the infringement has been registered electronically either from a bar code in the vehicle or from a digital photograph of the license plate number, which corresponds to a coded representation of the individual themselves. Indeed, payment is administered virtually as well. Thus, the individual has been ‘policed, judged and sanctioned’ but no interaction has taken place ‘in any human way’ (Ibid.). All elements of traditional governance have thus been affected telemetrically at a site where ‘the real and the virtual converge’ (Ibid.). Central to efficient telemetric governance is simulated policing, which, ‘governs distributions and complements individual discipline’ and ‘simultaneously expands the reach of policing while at the same time reducing its unit cost and visibility’ (Ibid.: 797). Thus, confirming its continued presence. And indeed, since 2010, there have been significant developments in the ways in which simulated policing is being deployed.
Now, simulated policing occurs ‘not on the beat or in the patrol car’ but in ‘virtual cyber-space’ or television (Lee and McGovern, 2012: 120). Importantly, it has been argued that currently, ‘policing, news, and popular culture are colliding, feeding off themselves, being reproduced and re-presented in ways Baudrillard could have only imagined 30 years ago’ (Ibid.: 121). For example, Murray Lee and Alyce McGovern (2012) identify three recent developments in policing strategies that are illustrative, though not exhaustive, of simulated policing: (1) police engagement with social media; (2) increasing police engagement with reality television; and (3), the introduction of police ‘multi-media units’ ‘or what are essentially in-house television production facilities’ (Ibid.). They argue that the above policing strategies occur ‘at the level of the policing image—simulations of policing’ (Ibid.: 124). Though the traditional models of policing have always relied on images ‘to legitimate the institution’, Lee and McGovern (2013) suggest that ‘now the representation of policing is policing’ (Ibid.). Or, that ‘images of policing and actual policing are inseparable’ and this is not ‘the loss of the referent in the Baudrillardian sense’, because ‘there is little doubt that policing is happening’ (Ibid.: 125).
That policing is happening in the era of simulations is uncontested. The way in which discipline is affected by simulation is, however, novel in contemporary society. Essentially, mediated information, images and narratives about the police ‘insinuates itself into the public conscience’ and is affecting individual’s behaviour and perception towards crime, criminality and the police institution itself. Lee and McGovern (2010) argue that traditional policing is ‘temporarily and spatially confined’ to physical space and limitations of actually staffing a police force (Ibid.: 125). However, simulated policing is able to transcend physical limitations by entering individual consciousness through virtual mediums such as television and the Internet. For example, the NSW Police Force’s Facebook ‘operates largely as a news feed’ of police media releases, whose only critical scrutiny comes from those who have voluntarily subscribed to the feed (Ibid.: 126). Those who do post negative comments are often ‘put in their place’ by other fans on the site—so much so that the Director of the NSW Police Force Public Affairs Branch ‘rarely has to mediate’ (Ibid.). Additionally, the ‘police shoot more images than they do people’ (Ferrel and Young, 2008:184); that is, many of the images related to crime or policing which are presented in the news are often shot and edited by police camera crews (Lee and McGovern, 2012: 126). Thus, what is presented to individuals as an ‘objective news story is one actually completely framed, produced and delivered by a policing organisation’ (Ibid.).
From these and other examples, Lee and McGovern (2013) argue that simulated policing represents an example of Thomas Matheisen’s (1997) ‘synopticon’ (Matheisen, 1997: 215-34). This is an inversion of Foucault’s panopticon, where ‘the many see and contemplate the few’ (Ibid.: 219). The synopticon is affected by the ‘total system of the modern mass media’, which provides the information that informs discipline’s gaze, and gives rise to the ‘viewer society’ (Ibid.). Lee and McGovern (2012) thus conclude that simulated policing ‘operates as a form of bio-power aimed at regulating freedoms’, because mass audiences are internalising the mediated crime and policing information which is increasingly disseminated as preferred police and crime narratives (Lee and McGovern, 2012). This neo-Foucauldian argument is effective in providing a theoretical understanding of the way in which simulated policing operates. However, when considered as an instance of Baudrillard’s simulations, these phenomena suggest a much more insidious version of policing, which doesn’t merely ‘break down the boundaries’ between the virtual and the real. Instead it suggests a total implosion of traditional policing where media presentations make it impossible to distinguish between the reality of crime and the police and their stylised, selective simulacra misrepresentations. And, at the same time, individuals participate in the construction of the discourse of their own discipline.
For Baudrillard, simulations are orders of appearance, which are not merely a ‘game played with signs’ because they ‘imply social control’ (Baudrillard, 1983b: 88). Though Baudrillard clearly opposes Foucault’s notion of bio-power, as discussed in Forget Foucault (1977), simulations are in fact discipline’s most elevated mode of operation (Bogard, 1996: 72). Indeed, ‘simulation produces effects of discipline by virtue of a transfiguration of discipline’ (Ibid.): 73). That is, simulation ‘imposes a higher more devious, order of discipline, that … aims at total social control … by keeping the relation between the artificial and the real indeterminate’ by creating an artificial environment from which all information can be extracted and modelled in the most efficient way (Ibid.). This leads to the ‘the end for social control by anticipation, simulation, and programming, and indeterminate mutation directed by the code’ (Ibid.: 72). With regards to simulated policing, surveillance is affected without architecture; it is mediated by cybernetic control, and real-time transmission/reception capability. Policing no longer is bound to a territory, and surveillance becomes the entire electronic media assemblage, along with the interiorisation of media images in the mind of the viewer and their projection onto the physical terrain.
William Bogard, (1996) notes that it is easy to see why simulated surveillance first appears as ‘only a refinement of [the] strategic principles’ inherent in panopticism because it merely extends the gaze (Ibid.: 76). But, this argument fails to consider the way in which simulations can be informed before being deployed, thus being even more effective at enhancing the possibilities of the exercise of disciplinary power. Now, police have the ability to construct, in advance, a narrative which is able to pre-empt ideas and behaviours towards their practice. Seen this way, the police media releases on Facebook, for example, are simulations in which the police are able to extract information regarding public reactions to events, before the narrative is potentially re-edited and given to more influential media outlets. What this implies is that individual’s interacting with police through the media, especially on in the Internet, participate in their own discipline. Each media release is its own ‘model control environment’in which all information is stored, thus giving the police the ability to construct the perfect narrative for (eventually) any upcoming situations. Therefore, Lee and McGovern’s (2013) conclusion that the ‘more democratic model of policing, with constant feedback and (virtual) interaction’ actually feeds into the police’s ability ‘as knowledge brokers … to produce and disseminate preferred narratives and images’ (Lee and McGovern, 2012: 133).
Based on these considerations, in the era of simulated policing, the gaze is approaching the pre-panoptic, because it views the total scene and it calculates for the future. As it progresses, simulated policing has the potential to implode all of the polarities that have historically constituted its limits—public/private, interior/exterior, watcher/watched, active/passive, present/absent, and others (Bogard, 1996: 72). Certainly, there is no doubting the ubiquity of individual’s being mediated constructed information about crime and policing, for this is a constitutive feature of the contemporary society. But, what must not be overlooked in the discussion of simulated policing is the imagination inherent in simulations and thus their ability to quickly operate at the limit of their powers because of the information they extract through individual interaction (Ibid.). O’Malley 2010, also identifies another key function of simulated policing. He indicates that simulated policing is able to control those ‘who prove they can be governed through’ simulations.’ However, there exists, at the margins of the masses, individuals who are still met with the reality of the actuarial justice system. And because they are the ‘largely ignored face of simulated [policing]’ they enter the ‘target zone of vigilantism’. It is in this margin, that all of the violence which critical criminology has sought to redress through the deconstruction of the myth of crime as an objective trait is able to reappear, through its re-presentation in mediated images that are able to quickly solidify into a general politics of society albeit their hyperreal nature. Therefore, criminology must seek for a reinvigorated critically engaged media. Because, in spite of the potential regulatory benefits that simulated policing may offer, such as those espoused by O’Malley regarding efficient policing practices, there are dangers in embracing a police culture that governs through pure simulation.
As a result of these developments discussed, criminology must develop a new critical discourse towards simulated policing. A new discourse that accounts for the operation of a system that depends less and less on the normalisation process with the confines of actuarial spaces, but which operates at a universal level of abstraction and has the ability to not just discipline, but pre-empt adversarial action and thought through modelling and forecasting. Or as O’Malley has put it, ‘immanent modulation, rather than discipline’ (Ibid.: 804). Though I have argued that Baudrillard’s conceptions of ‘hyperreality’ and ‘simulation’ are better, more nuanced ways of understanding contemporary criminological developments because of the way it allows for individual participation in constructing the discourse of domination, the results are the same: this theory does not fit with normative prescriptions. Like traditional critical criminology, ‘liberating theories’ become ‘just another layer of domination’ because one can only restructure the semiological models that oppress, thus leading to superficially different domination (O’Malley, 2009: 22). However, contemporary criminology should maintain an ‘agonistic politics that maximises contestation and seeks to minimise domination’ (Ibid.; Foucault, 1982). The conclusions drawn in this essay implore the debate to continue and to never be content with merely deconstructing simulations where they are found. This approach, heavily influenced by the work of Jean Baudrillard testifies to an endless opposition to the oppression of vacuous consumption of image and the hyperreality it induces. Because simulation is now everywhere it inhabits all discourse. And all the more when one simply accepts appearances.
But, perhaps it is time to construct a dialogue that finally accepts that certain baseline domination is a necessary price in contemporary society, rather than spiralling in the black hole that is postmodern recursive relativity. The existence of the law itself is evidence of this idea, and so, perhaps it is time for the debate to seriously consider what sacrifices are necessary in order for the criminal law to function in such a way that minimises its inherent evils. Assuming that individuals have now become participants in their own domination, yet they are less likely to encounter crime, and, in turn, crime statistics continue to decline—is this not beneficial? If not, why not? Has critical criminology become so banal that it refuses to even consider whether some negative phenomena actually contribute to the goal of reducing crime?
About the Author
Mark McLennan is a graduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, having completed a BA and a JD at the University of Sydney. His main interests are in continental philosophy, new media, and law.
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