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Utilitarianism and Mediated Terror

Utilitarianism and Mediated Terror

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Published by Anthony Read
A short piece on our consumption of mediated terrorism and whether it can be considered morally 'good' through utilitarianism.
A short piece on our consumption of mediated terrorism and whether it can be considered morally 'good' through utilitarianism.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Anthony Read on Mar 26, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/04/2013

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Utilitarianism andMediated Terror
ANTHONY READ
Is our consumption of mediated violence marked by “the profoundpleasure of not being there”? Discuss this claim in light of the HedonisticCalculus as an EMU rationale. Respond to this question: If the pleasure ofconsuming MT/WICA exceeded the pain involved in producing them,would that make our MT/WICA consumption – on that basis – morally
 
good?
Jean Baudrillard, in
The Miraculous Status of Consumption
(1998), addresses humanconsumption of mediated violence with a marked lean towards “not being there”,and its pleasurable outcomes for the consumer. He turns our viewing into“everydayness”, similarly to Sontag’s idea of sympathy as innocent and impotent,without real judgement or value placed upon it by the viewer (2003: 91). TheHedonistic Calculus, as put forward by Bentham (and elaborated on by Mills), shedsa new light on the way in which we consume these events. The utilitarian way of approaching this question is an important one, in that it is still a widely used methodof moral judgements today (White 1988). Technically, Bentham and Mills’ method of numerical analysis
may 
support the above question on pleasure of consumptionversus pain of production: the pressing point is,
should 
it?Baudrillard utilises the ‘sign’ from an early point in his essay. He engages withSaussure’s idea of the sign being a combination of the ‘signifier’ (the actuality of theevent depicted) and the ‘signified’ (the possible meanings gleaned from that text)(Hoenisch 2005), but he adds a new point into the mix. He argues that the“universality of the news item” is what causes us to become so disengaged withwhat is happening on screen. The pairing of the “actualised” dramatisation and“deactualised” distance within mediated violence causes us to simply ingest thesignifier alone, and “signifieds of the signs are largely immaterial. We are notengaged in them” (1998: 152-153). Baudrillard suggests that these events aremediated to use from a distance, and so we feel
safe.
This could be the pleasure herefers to when talking about “not being there”. But even “being there” has issues of its own.Because we are consumers of mediated violence, it reaches us in certain ways:through radio, television, newspapers, blogs, and so on. The keyword here is‘mediated’, as the original message is passed through a medium to reach our
 
senses. Therefore, in a way, the medium perceives the information for us to beginwith. Then, as humans, we receive that information through our senses, and ourbrains interpret it into a meaningful message. Sontag has brought up the point aboutphotography “[bearing] witness to the real” while having, “necessarily, a point of view” (2003: 23). She reconciles the fact that photographs, although taken by amachine, are framed by people. But perception can be misleading, and errors can bemade when we perceive anything (Stanford 2005). So even if we were placed in theactual violent situation depicted by the media, the events would still be
perceived 
byour senses. The Truth of the matter lies hidden behind the veil of perception.Perhaps the ‘pleasure’ Baudrillard refers to is the gathering of knowledge. Aristotlesaid that the pleasure of viewing these images comes from “learning, that is:reckoning what category a thing belongs to” (2008). By consuming the images of violence, we can safely view and learn from them, and be pleasured by them,without having to risk our own lives to gather it ‘first-hand’ (if there is such a thing).And here we are, trapped inside our society, watching these acts of mediatedviolence broadcast to us almost consistently. How do we make something of them,morally speaking? Bentham and Mills provide one useful method of moral thinkingwith their Hedonistic Calculus. Geared towards the end result of “the greatest goodof the greatest number” (White 1988: 43), their method is highly teleological.Teleology is an results-based theory, and engages with the utilitarian school of moralthought, where the end result justifies the means in which it is reached. TheirHedonistic Calculus, while explained in great detail by White, can be used in asmaller approach to many of our daily moral qualms. Should one study into theevening or go out to party? One can apply this theory to this situation to discoverwhat they believe they should do. However, the Calculus is also flawed, and byapplying it to the dilemma of watching this mediated violence, we may come nocloser to an answer than before.To complement his Hedonistic Calculus, Bentham included his definitions of whatwere to be considered right and wrong, with right being attached to ‘pleasure’ and

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