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Mass Media Between Hans-Magnus Enzensberger and Jean Baudrillard Essay Sample

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Mass Media Between Hans-Magnus Enzensberger and Jean Baudrillard Essay Sample

The biggest component in the debate between Hans-Magnus Enzensberger and Jean Baudrillard is the conflict between different views on the same subject: The media. Enzensberger believes that the media is a capitalist machine used to make money in a capitalist, elitist society. He doesn’t believe in the communication side of the mass media as he believes that the media the way it is at the moment excludes and isolates the majority. This is because he believes that the forms of the media that we have at the moment are exclusive to only a few people. Without the proper education or resources it’s near impossible to access the media and communicate your ideas and points. He believes that this is down to capitalist society and in his ideas he aims to make media more accessible to the masses. Baudrillard, in comparison to this believes that the mass media, be it books, internet, television, etc is an outlet of mass communication for society. He believes that the media system is a way to bridge the gap between the producers and the consumers.

Both of their ideas contradict each other except for one point where they both believe that we need to simplify our means of communication in order to communicate with the larger masses. Enzensberger views the media in a radical Marxist way, he believes that capitalism controls the media and that they are using it not as a form of communication but as a form of capital gain. To Enzensberger, the media is an unstoppable force in terms of revolution. He thinks the only thing holding us back is the fact that the capitalists control the outlet instead of the socialists. As he says, “There is no such thing as unmanipulated writing, filming, or broadcasting. The question therefore is not whether the media are manipulated, but who manipulates them.” (Enzensberger, 1974) This means that no matter what we do the media is going to be manipulated, every form of communication is manipulated in some way, there is no way to change that. What Enzensberger suggests is that instead of the capitalists manipulating the media for their own capital gain, the socialists take control of it and convert it so that it can be used as a more accessible form of worldwide communication.

He maintains that radio could be an exceptional form of communication if it was changed from a form of distribution to a form of communication this is because it’s such a large inter-connected forum that just about everybody has access to and that means that it doesn’t alienate the masses from receiving the information it emits. What Enzensberger wants for the world is mass manipulation of the media, what he wants is for the masses to have complete and utter control of the media and to manipulate it in ways that it can be used for communication and revolution. He believes that if capitalists lost control of the media which they have at the moment then the socialist masses would have more of a chance to communicate with each other globally. He wants democratic manipulation to become possible so that they can work towards the goal of an equal utopia in the future where censorship doesn’t exist and communication is openly available to the masses. He fears now that the reality of censorship will hinder the freedom of speech that he thinks is owed to the masses. With censorship, the masses lose the majority of their freedom and opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas. This censorship comes from the producers of the “consciousness industry” which have begun to achieve the most power in the realms of production.

He accuses the left of having a defensive, defeatist attitude he proclaims that this will give all the power of manipulation to the enemy, losing any chance of power that the Left might have. He sees the mass media as a revolutionary idea where ideas and opinions could be spread by word of mouth. With the media we reach a blockade in which it becomes inaccessible to some of the lower-classes, he wants to abolish this by using word of mouth rather than books. He sees books as being elitist, to read a book you must learn how to read and to write a book you must learn how to write. This creates a problem for those who aren’t as educated as others but may still have ideas which are just as important as those with a more substantial education. By submitting our ideas through word of mouth we are abolishing an elitist attitude to the media and we are creating an open forum which everyone can use no matter what standard of education they have received. He connects reading and writing with authoritarian ideals rather than democratic.

In a formal environment you have no choice to learn to read and write, if you don’t you are alienated from society no matter what interesting or important ideas you may have. If we connect through speech it is more natural and inclusive as there is no barrier in your communication. According to Enzensberger the media have a “cultural monopoly” due to the authoritarian rules that are enforced as regards education and production. The bourgeois culture control the media and they enforce this educational blockade against the lower-class where spelling and grammar mistakes are looked down on and you can’t get anywhere in life without a substantial education. Enzensberger aims to break down this blockade much to the resentment of the bourgeois culture, in order to create a universal forum in which everyone can partake and share. He uses the example of the telegraph and the telephone, the telephone is the only one used in this day because it was a lot more accessible to the wider masses.

Enzensberger puts forward the idea of mobilizing the mass media in a way that it can be used to fight global problems in a more significant and level way rather than making it entirely one sided. He also believes that the majority of Marxists have a low understanding of the media and that in fact the apolitical groups have had more of an effect on the media than anyone else. One example he uses for this is Marshall Mcluhan himself who is an author whose books on the mass media have been some of the most publicised and influential of all time. He says about McLuhan that he does not present his theories as a concept but more commonly as a concrete reaction to the media. He attempts to abolish economic ties to the media and engage the lower class in a new media by breaking down barriers and suppressing the preconceptions that the media have about the lower-class. What Enzensberger feels one of the main problems is that the masses have an impression of the media that is incorrect, this impression is that the media is neutral and will transmit any message that they want to get across. This of course is entirely untrue being that the media is very close minded and will only transmit messages that they see fit.

The fact that the majority of media is working on commission brings us again to the economic factor which means that they will try and appeal to their desired audience in an attempt to use the media for capital gain. Enzensberger doesn’t follow McLuhan’s train of thought, he accuses of him of being incoherent in his theoretical arguments. “The medium is the message” is a phrase that he disagrees with saying it may mean that the bourgeoisie may have every possible means to transmit new messages but that they have nothing new to say and are in fact “ideologically sterile” (Enzensberger, 1974) therefore he thinks the media needs a new and interesting entity to take over the bourgeoisie’s place in the media and transmit new and fresh ideas. Baudrillard on the other hand disagrees with Enzensberger as he sees media for the communication aspect that Enzensberger dismisses. He believes that the medium is in fact the message. He believes that the receiver taking control of the media is a terrible idea as he believes that it cannot be turned into one massive forum in which anyone can share anything.

He comments on Enzensberger’s theory of Monopoly capitalism saying that it “does little more than signal the virtual extension of the commodity form to all the domains of social life” (Baudrillard, 1981) he also scathingly remarks that his ideas are a bit late, almost implying that this makes them redundant. He goes on to say that Enzenberger’s rendition of Marxist beliefs are only viable of a traditional Marxist but that the Marxist theory would collapse if it went as far as to follow Enzensberger’s train of thought as it is more apolitical and completely radical thinking. Baudrillard even goes as far as to say that Enzensberger’s theories pose a threat to the revolutionary theory. He is very sceptical of Enzensberger’s ideals saying that it’s not possible for the media to be an open forum because if everyone gets a chance to voice their opinions all the time then they become redundant and insignificant and the most important and revolutionary ideas could be lost in a sea of nonsense. He believes that the masses cannot be revolutionarily mobilised simply by opening the media to everyone.

He says that communication over the media is not personal enough to really mobilise the masses, he believes that to truly make a difference we must communicate face to face as media communication is hard to people to relate to and to thoroughly get their point across. Therefore it’s a flawed concept to open the media to every single person as if everyone is using the media as a form of communication then real ideas get less and less significant. He agrees with Enzensberger on the matter of Orwell’s 1984 agreeing that it is a ridiculous concept. That one large power cannot control the media and that television has already achieved the type of isolation that the media has tried to achieve because it is “social control” by just being there. He goes on to dismiss Enzensberger’s claim that the television is an important aspect in a revolutionary’s life, likening it to a toaster or another appliance of that kind. He also speaks about the student revolutionary demonstrations in 1968 , his opinion on it differs from Enzensberger’s on the matter.

He believes that the students were better off before the media came along and that the way they were demonstrating with their signs and placards was more personal and effective than the news coverage. He also believes that the fact that the demonstrations received so much media coverage could be damaging to Ezensberger’s theories as this could demonstrate his ideal outcome as the students were gaining a voice in the mass media but it was changed by them to exhibit different meanings that the media thought more suitable. This hindered their opportunity to really make difference to the cause that they were fighting for in the first place. After a few weeks news coverage of the demonstrations disappeared altogether leaving behind no trace of the original idea behind it all. Another problem that he has with the mass media is that the more room there is for people to divulge their separate ideas, the more condensed their personal ideas become. One possible outcome of this is that if the media was open for everyone to express their opinions, would their opinions not have to be streamlined in a way to create space and time?

Would we end up with the same monotonous system that we have with polling systems and reality tv show voting etc where all ideas would be condensed to give a more general opinion of the masses? The problem here is that the individual cannot properly give their opinion on a matter if they only have a small space in which to express their opinion. It gives the illusion that it is bridging the gap between the masses and the media when in fact it is not doing this at all; it is creating a barrier, only allowing a certain amount of the individual’s opinion to be acknowledged. The debate between Enzensberger and Baudrillard is one that will no doubt be argued from both sides for years to come. Enzensberger believes that socialists should have more of an influence over the media and that the media should be an open forum in which everyone can manipulate it and generate their own ideas.

This is a nice idea to begin with but when you dig deeper it is possible that it could become problematic if it were actually put into action. He believes that the media at the moment is run by capitalist greed and is over-run by censorship which is a fair point but may be partially necessary. Baudrillard believes that the media cannot be used by everyone because it would be over capacity and a lot of important ideas could be considerably drowned out. He believes that instead of creating a massive model in which every individual idea is put into one big system, we should be using more personal means of communication in order to get our full point across rather than being condensed into a sea of unending opinions and ideas. Baudrillard’s idea of sharing ideas through personal contact is a notable idea as in the grand scheme of things, speech is a medium of sharing that is free for all and accessible for all making it the most effective form of communication among the masses.


Baudrillard, J., 1981. For a critique of the political economy of the sign. s.l.:Telo Press. Enzensberger, H.-M., 1974. The Consciousness Industry; On literature, politics and media. s.l.: The Seabury Press. Kredell, J., n.d. The Enzensberger-Baudrillard debate reexamined: Temporal models and the dialect. s.l.:Fiasco Press.

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