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Simulacra & Simulation & The Illusion of the End

Baudrillard Wiki Page by Sarah Spangler and Suzanne Sink

Waxing philosophical with Baudrillard can potentially lead to a number of winding paths!  But, the main purpose of this wiki page is to discuss how Baudrillard’s theories on postmodern society and technology relate to a study of New Media.  The authors of this wiki page attempt to connect ideas from Baudrillard’s
The Illusion of the End and Simulacra and Simulation with the concepts defined in Nicholas Gane and David Beer’s New Media: The Key Concepts and Collin Gifford Brooke’s Lingua Fracta.  The connections we reflect on are intended to be introductory and not exhaustive; we hope to provide readers with a brief overview of how Baudrillard relates to theories of new media.

Text Summaries
The Illusion of the End:  In this text, Baudrillard argues that a construction of time as linear has created the illusion that there is both an origination point and an end point of history. Humanity exists in a state of anxiety about when the end point will occur and about its own existence in history. A frenzied archiving of all history is an attempt to give proof of existence, but the critical mass of information merely dilutes all meaning as it bounces into the digital void and implodes under its own weight. Humanity also engages in revising historical and political events in the archiving process. Baudrillard also argues that the collapse of communism has opened exchange between the west and the east, embedding the ideals of communism in capitalism and vice versa. However, these exchanged ideas are never truly new but merely a pastiche of recycled ones.

Simulacra & Simulation:  
In this text, Baudrillard argues that all reality has been replaced by signs and symbols (simulacra), resulting in a mere simulation of reality. Simulacra are not defined as merely a mediated or altered reality but a complete absence of reality that prevents our ability to see truth. Reality turns to simulacra through four stages – the precession of simulacra. In the first, the copy is a close reflection of reality. Next, the copy begins to “denature,” becoming a mere hint at the real. In the third stage, the copy presents itself as the reality without any real representation of it. In the final stage, signs begin to simulate other signs with no connection to the original. This precession has occurred over time by the invention of mass-production, global capitalism (commercialism creates need for goods where there is none, man values money over usefulness), urbanization (man becomes separated from nature), and language (used by the powerful to obscure truth). In a culture of simulation, all becomes meaningless.

Connections to Key Concepts

Note: Brooke's concepts of "perspective" and "performance" do not readily apply to Baudrillard's theories. 

Relevance to the Field
Baudrillard's Influence on Others:  Jean Baudrillard's influence is widely seen and interdisciplinary. A quick search on the multi-disciplinary database JSTOR yields almost 3500 results including book reviews and articles or books citing Baudrillard as a resource. These results include such diverse fields as Administrative Theory, Economics, Literature, and Politics. In particular, his theories about simulation - simulated reality through media - are especially relevant to many scholars.
Search results screen shot:
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Screen shot highlighting the varied disciplines citing Baudrillard:
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 CC Image Posted on Flickr by suzanneparenti
Influence of Others on Baudrillard: Several times throughout Illusion and Simulacra, Baudrillard invokes Marshall McLuhan’s theories on media, specifically McLuhan’s theory of hot and cool media and his popular assertion that “the medium is the message.” 

“Cool Media” - In the Simulacra chapter titled “Holocaust,” Baudrillard critiques what amounts to an "artificial resurrection" of a "cold historical event" through a "cold medium," that being television, to an audience made up of "cold masses" for the purpose of "captur[ing] the artificial heat of a dead event to warm the dead body of the social" (50). Here, Baudrillard applies McLuhan’s categorization of television as an example of “cool media,” media that, according to McLuhan, requires participants to engage more of their senses but offers less information as opposed to “hot” media, which offers a higher volume of information but a lower sensory experience (Marshall McLuhan's theory of cold and hot media). Adopting McLuhan’s term “cool media,” Baudrillard argues that trying to represent the tragic nature of the real Holocaust via a television mini-series results in a poor simulation that fails to (re)create meaning and emotion for the people who comfortably watch from a distance (i.e., post-event, in their living rooms, on a television). The televised event essentially subjects the masses to a simulation that can never fully or faithfully represent the real event on which it was modeled; the danger is that such simulations often replace the real, leaving people with the false notion that they understand the real. 

Marshal McLuhan 1977

“The Medium Is the Message” - Baudrillard indirectlyreferences McLuhan’s theory when he argues, “It has never been so clear that the content - here, culture, elsewhere, information or commodities - is nothing but the phantom support for the operation of the medium itself, whose function is to always induce mass, to produce a homogeneous human and mental flux” (Simulacra 67). Later, in the chapter titled “The Implosion of Meaning in Media,” Baudrillard directly invokes McLuhan when he asserts that mass media’s unrelenting pursuit for information and communication actually causes an “implosion of the social” and an “implosion of meaning” (Simulacra 81); “this implosion,” says Baudrillard, “should be analyzed according to McLuhan’s formula, the medium is the message” (Simulacra 81). He summarizes McLuhan’s theory: “That means that all contents of meaning are absorbed in the only dominant form of the medium. Only the medium can make an event - whatever the contents, whether they are conformist or subversive” (Simulacra 81-82). Baudrillard emphasizes that the implications of McLuhan’s theory of medium have not yet been fully realized and that the medium itself stripped of any meaningful content potentially operates as a revolutionary means of transforming the real, suggesting not just an implosion of meaning but also “the implosion of the medium itself in the real” (Simulacra 82).

Defining Media, Old/New Media, and Digital Media through Baudrillard

Overview: In 
Illusion and Simulacra, Baudrillard expounds on a wide spectrum of postmodern sociological issues ranging from history and archiving, to signs and semiotics, to mass production and the production of the masses, to media and information, and hyperreal and simulated “realities.” In these texts, Baudrillard does not explicitly define media, old/new media, or digital media. However, because technology figures prominently into Baudrillard’s theories, various media, including computers, cinema, photography, news sources, advertising, and television, are situated, referenced, and discussed at length throughout his writings, and his extensive critical commentary on technology and the news media philosophically defines their function and influence in society.  When discussing technology, Baudrillard frequently connects digital technology with memory and archive and television/film technologies with information and the news media.

News Media: In Simulacra, Baudrillard links “the loss of the dissolving, dissuasive action of information, the media, and the mass media” (79).  According to Baudrillard, the news media itself “generates news” rather than real events unfolding and then being reported subsequent to their occurrence; this “reverse” or negative effect has consequences that we cannot readily fathom (Illusion 16).  The media essentially awaits the next catastrophic moment and thrives on “the succulent imminence of death” (Illusion 55), two significant components (strategies?) in transfixing the masses on what the news prescribes as the real by virtue of emphasizing negative events.  Baudrillard continues this media critique in Simulacra, again arguing that the media generate artificial events that perpetuate mass disillusionment and “maintain the illusion of an actuality, of the reality of the stakes, of the objective of facts” (38).
Image Citation:

Television: Baudrillard frequently comments on television in the same critical tone he uses when discussing the news/mass media. The television numbs people’s imagination and mesmerizes, hypnotizes, and disillusions the masses, “inculcat[ing] indifference, distance, scepticism and unconditional apathy” (Illusion 61).  The television, Baudrillard suggests, functions as the quintessential simulation environment, one that becomes dangerously self-referential (Illusion 56).  For it is on the television screen that “the real object is wiped out by the news - not merely alienated, but abolished.  All that remains of it are traces on a monitoring screen” (Illusion 56).
No Negatives: Baudrillard comes closest to categorizing media when he differentiates cinematic and photographic images from television, video, and digital images, pointing out that that the former emerge from a film negative before the final production stage whereas the latter image types do not undergo this same process (Illusion 55).  According to Baudrillard, images “without negativity” are also “without reference” and that “the virtual is what puts an end to all negativity, and thus to all reference to the real or to the events” (Illusion 55).  Baudrillard seems to suggest that virtual images can be nothing more than simulations because the real cannot exist without a referential.  

Key Terms and Definitions
  • Deterrence: An apparatus designed to bring together imagination and fiction while attempting to convince those interacting with it that there is a “real” version elsewhere. An example used by Baudrillard is Disneyland.
  • Hyperreal: The hypothetical inability to distinguish reality from simulation, especially in the technologically advanced society.
  • Pataphysics: The science of imagined solutions, interested in the role of the arbitrary, exceptions and contradictions in the creation process.
  • Postmodernism: A set of critical persepctives that can be applied to theories of art and philosophy. Some important tenets of postmodernism include pastiche (the blending of multiple ideas and styles from all historical eras) and the resulting feeling of a shallow reality shrouded in façade.
  • Simulacra: The signs and symbols that represent reality without representation of the true object.
  • Simulation: The state of current culture, which through the media and capitalism has become engulfed in simulacra and is thus separated from reality.

Baudrillard and the Production Process

Gaming:  Baudrillard’s theories are useful to the new media production process of video and computer games. While it’s unlikely that a majority of game designers/developers/publishers/distributors think about simulation from the nihilistic point of view that Baudrillard articulates, it is certainly arguable that the industry has a keen interest in the idea of simulating environments and experiences for its consumers (gamers). 

Grand Theft San Andreas Trailers

Grand Theft Auto & Full Spectrum Warrior: Two games that, for good or for bad, render controversial simulations are Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and the U.S. Armed Forces training-turned-commercial game, Full Spectrum Warrior (FSW)In GTA, the designers simulate the San Andreas area of Southern California and attempt to simulate the experiences of an African-American man (the main character played by the gamer) living in a low-income, high-violence society. The game FSW simulates America’s asymmetrical war in the Middle East. A potentially dangerous effect of these simulated realities is that some gamers may interpret the hyperreal simulation as evidence of true reality. In the case of GTA, the typical young, white male gamer is given an opportunity to “enjoy” a simulated experience of otherness. In the case of FSW, the simulated war experience perpetuates and reinforces media representations (simulations) of war that have normalized “being at war” as an everyday part of American life.  Simulation as it applies to the design, development, publishing, and distribution of video and computer games is broad and complicated in nature, and the above paragraph barely serves as an introduction. Although the gaming industry relies on quality simulation to promote interest in its products, this industry is mostly interested in turning a profit and not on the possible ill effects of the realities it purports to simulate. With this in mind, Baudrillard’s theories are useful to this process of production from the perspective of individuals consuming the products and individuals studying the effects of the process on society.

Baudrillard Learning Poll

Find out how much you have in common with Baudrillard by taking this quick (and super fun) survey.  

Additional Resources

Works Cited