Thursday, 31 January 2013

Summary - Simulacra and Simulation (The Precession of Simulacra)

Summary - Simulacra and Simulation (The Precession of Simulacra)

Title of the book: Simulacra and Simulation.
Title of chapter: The Precession of Simulacra.
Pages: 55-60.
Author: Jean Baudrillard.
Translator: Sheila Faria Glaser.
Date published: Original April 1985, revised Febuary 15th 1995.
Publisher: University of Michigan Press.

Themes: Hyperreality, Society, Simulations.

Summary of book:

Within the introductory chapter of acclaimed postmodernist Jean Baudrillard's book, he argues that our lives are not what we think. He stipulates that boundaries between the real and unreal have become blurred, creating a state that he defined as being 'hyperreal'.

This theory of hyperreal is introduced using the example of a Borges fairy-tale. It depicts an empire and a map of the empire as having the same scale as each other, as the map is so detailed that it a near perfect representation of the empire. The two correlate each-other; as the empire reduces in scale and size so does the map reduced in size and becomes frayed at the edges with the remains being left in the deserts. Baudrillard uses this as a perfect example of simlation, but notes that this concept is different in our lives today. It is no longer a representation of the territorial - a map or a mirror - it is instead one of models of a 'real' that posses no actual origin, what he dubs as a 'hyperreal'.

He explains the topic further by saying that the real and fake, once two different things, have become indiscernible. The real has become the fake and vice-versa, "It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real...[a] perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real..." Therefore  he asserts that the hyperreal is in fact "...sheltered..." from the imaginary, the simulation is now founded on differences.

The ability for the fake to feign aspects of the real that is actually doesn't have, is the definition of "dissemination." He maintains this theory with a rather simple scenario. When one want to fake illness, all one must do is to stay in bed, but to do so (realistically) one must replicate the symptoms effectively, ergo, the simulations now conveys the factual aesthetic of illness. In other words, them faking the illness results in them actually gaining it. The differences between "...true...false....real...imaginary..." are transcended by the simulation. He then claims that, when the above happens, what is understood is lost, as if medicine was to be used on simulation, its meaning would be lost as medicine is designed to be used on real illnesses, not simulated ones. 

Baudrillard begins to assert that when the above occurs, it is an example of "...simulacra...", as in iconoclastic turns, the meaning of real and fake is lost and the simulacrum is not unreal, it doesn't 'exchange with the real' but exchanges with itself in an 'uninterrupted circuit' without reference. This edifice of representation becomes enveloped by the simulacra:
"...successive phases of the image: 
• it is the reflection of a profound reality;
• it masks and denatures a profound reality;• it masks the absence of a profound reality;
• it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; 
• it is its own pure simulacrum."
"Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra. It is first of all a
play of illusions and phantasms: the Pirates, the Frontier, the Future World, etc. This
imaginary world is supposed to ensure the success of the operation. But what attracts
the crowds the most is without a doubt the social microcosm, the religious, miniaturized
pleasure of real America, of its constraints and joys." 

Hence Baudrillard is saying that Disneyland acts as a rouse to hide the "real" America, how we are magnetized by its glorious array of child-like wonders and its multitudinous amounts of gadgets, "Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America that is Disneyland." The juxtaposition of its obvious imaginary nature is meant to make us believe that it is actually real, whereas, all of the rest of America is not real and is just a hyperreal set up by the order of simulation. The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is but "...a deterrence designed to rejuvenate the fiction of the real..." Essentially, Disneyland is tailor made to be fake, it phantasmagorical appearance draws us in and is so obviously fake that it appears real and makes the rest of America (the land of supposed opportunity) look like a lie.

His second example comes in the form of 'The Loud family'. The Loud family in 1971 where exposed to 7 months of uninterrupted shooting, 300 hours of non-stop broadcasting, with out the script or a screenplay. The audience was exposed to the dramas, enjoys and unexpected events - in short a non-stop raw historical document. This constant lionizing is what Baudrillard dubs "T.V vérité." 'Vérité' is French which means truth and is used to define a genre in which realism and naturalism is portrayed within the media. In this case, the Loud Family were constantly under survelience, their lives exposed to all, yet the director claimed that the family "...lived as if we were not there." Baudrillard calls this absurd, he calls the whole experience "...much more than did the "perverse" pleasure of violating someone's privacy. In the "verite" experience it is not a question of secrecy or perversion, but of a sort of frisson of the real, or of an aesthetics of the hyperreal.." The media is giving us what we want to see - drama - that is orchestrated to get us to turn on a TV sets. Which seems to work; the series generated over 20 million watchers. He even calls the entire pretence to be purposeful, as the 'cast' is your average American family, i.e, upper-middle class, housewife, three garages, five children. 

The chapter is concluded by Baudrillard's remark that " are no longer watching television it is television that is watching you (live).' You are the model, you are the majority. Such is the watershed of the hyperreal society in which the real is confused with the model… TV is watching us, TV alienates us, TV manipulates us and TV informs us." When the simulation's purpose, to inform? or to entertain? , become blurred as are the lines of difference, this is when the simulation really beigns.

Key points:

  • Our genreation is one of models without origin.
  • Simulation is now real, and real is now simulation.
  • Dissemination; the simulation pretending to have what it does not.
  • A simulacrum is not unreal, it never exchanges with the real but exchanges within itself with no reference. 
  • Disneyland is a perfect example of simulacra. 
  • We live for drama, where we do not watch television, it watches us.
Key quotes:
  • "To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have."
  • "A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinctin between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and for the simulated generation of differences."
My response:

Beyond its very advanced syntax, the concepts that Baudrillard puts onto the table are thought-provoking. It is considered to be a key postmodernism theory, however, I did notice that it lacks actual evidence. His examples of Disneyland and the Loud Family are his own interpretations that lack any references. Is it just an amalgamation of jumbled ideas? Or can it actually be applied to the real world? Considering my findings so far, from FOX, the response to the Riots, News of the World, "Yellow Journalism" to "sensationalism", it does seem to ring true to the media's relationship to society. 

The movies I watched have given me a very good basis of understanding of hyperreaity, alongside reading Baudrillard's book further  I will now go onto research into the Tottenham riots itself further.

Extract made available from

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