A Kickstart To Understanding Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation
What Baudrillard is arguing in this book is that our society replaced all reality with symbols and signs. The percession of simulacra (which is also the title of the first chapter) is the reversal of simulation. We no longer simulate reality but we try to impose the simulation, which we created, upon reality. Baudrillard distinguishes between simulation, and dissimulation. “To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one does not have” (p.3). Simulating is not the same as pretending. The former (simulation) implies presence; I don’t have symptoms of an illness but I will simulate an illness and eventually start developing symptoms (just like psychosomatics) which will eventually blur the lines between reality and simulation (Am I really sick if I have developed symptoms of an illness which I simulated?). The Latter (pretending) implies absence; I am pretending to have an illness but with no evidence of symptoms. If we were to extend this to areas other than medicine then this will start to make more sense. Think of all of the fictional characters that we see in movies or television, such as Rambo, Snow White, or Tony Stark (the character behind Iron Man). To Baudrillard these are all symbols and signs of something that does not exist in reality, but instead, these signs and meanings take over our relationship with real life creating what he calls a hyper-reality. A hyper-reality is a copy of something which has no original (it does not exist) or in other words simulacra. Looking up to the symbols and signs that we see on television, and then trying to impose those meaning and signs on reality masks us from the truth that the boundaries between the real and unreal have become blurred.
It comes as no surprise that the Matrix was partly a product of this book. The real is no longer possible. Is it because we are mediated by technology. We are unable to experience life directly but only through an extension of our senses (to borrow from Marshall McLuhan). We extend our senses through technology, and when media reaches a certain advanced state (take Google Glass for example) they integrate themselves into daily “real” experiences. When media broadly defined not only to include TV, movies, radio but also communication technologies and institutions, reach a point where the unmediated sensation is indistinguishable from the mediated (Google as ubiquitous), the simulation becomes confused with its source. An important point that Baudrillard makes is that this simulacra “no longer needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against either an ideal or negative instance” (p.2). In other words, it does not need to have any rational basis for presenting to us what it chooses. Instead, it can be used, and it is used, as Baudrillard shows later in the book, as a tool in politics, economics, entertainment, literature and other fields which he explores.
the “TV” image, which suggests nothing, which mesmerizes, which itself is nothing but a screen, not even that: a miniaturized terminal that, in fact, is immediately located in your head – you are the screen, and the TV watches you – it transistorizes all the neurons and passes through like a magnetic tape – a tape, not an image.(taken from his chapter titled Holocaust)
Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. The University of Michigan Press.