Two figures of ideology

1. “Pseudomenos—The magnetic power exerted by patently threadbare ideologies is to be explained, beyond psychology, by the objectively determined decay of logical evidence as such. Things have come to pass where lying sounds like truth, truth like lying.” [Adorno, Minima Moralia §71]

Important here, however, is not the object of truth but the determination of truth and lie—of the conditions under which there is a truth that can be taken for lie and where lie can be taken as such. What defines a lie is not its falsehood—a pure falsity is unthinkable; a lie is a falsity taken to be true. But what feat is required of us to take a lie as a lie—for when we suffer a lie, it is not a lie. What Plato understood is that when we suffer a lie we are not merely to blame for an error in judgment but, rather, that we suffer from an inferior perception—it is our very experience that is defective. What, then, does it mean when we are able to take a lie as such?

In a recent series of advertisements by Hulu on TV, Alec Baldwin presents himself as an alien involved in an “evil plot” to conquer the world by consuming human brains once they have been turned into mush by watching TV (“just as our mothers said they would”), which is facilitated by streaming TV shows on the Internet.

The semiotics here are plain enough. But the interesting question is not how we are able to understand the advertisement; rather, how does it succeed in legitimizing itself? Not “there’s really no alien plot to gooify human brains” but “we can laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves so seriously” (which Alec Baldwin has been doing for years, hoping that we are laughing with him, although to do so we must also thereby be laughing at him). But what this advertisement has (brilliantly, brutally) accomplished is to short-circuit the potential sublimation of laughter into irony (or what in popular terms might be called “cynicism”). The ironist is the one who cuts the link between signifier and signified; but what distinguishes the ironist from the schizophrenic is that the ironist proceeds to close the loop by again dividing the signifying field (NB—this is not to say that there “are” autonomous signified objects) into a more or less consistent economy. This is what prevents the ironist, for example, of being sensitive to the political economy of the original signifying field (e.g., in thinking we can watch Hulu “harmlessly” quite apart from supporting the franchises, advertising partners, and industries invested in it). In this way, Hulu has managed effectively to remove itself from any form of discursive criticism.

2. “Vox populi.” The term “radio personality” is a wonderful contradiction in terms. Is there any better manifestation of what “everyone” would say and, hence, precisely what “no one” says? There is no better imitation of discourse.

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