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Jean Baudrillard commences his work on “simulacra and Simulation” by falsely attributing the quote, “The simulacrum is never which conceals the truth-it is the truth which conceals that there is none; the simulacrum is true,” to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (Baudrillard, 1988, p. 166).
Explaining why he commenced his work on a ‘lie’, Baudrillard explained that unlike what most believe, the bible is exhaustible since people cannot find everything they need or want in it (Baudrillard & Turner, 2004, p. 11).
A summation of Baudillard’s view of the Bible can be interpreted to mean that what Christians (or believers in other religions) accept as true or real, could indeed be illusory or fictitious. Specifically, Baudrillard alludes that the reflection of reality could only be a mask, which disguises idealism as reality.
As such, the reflections are pure simulacrum. In addition to religion, other cultural aspects like consumerism and science have also been scrutinised. According to Rettberg (2005, p. 2) all cultural aspects “seem to offer potentialities which, when exposed to brutal light of reality, are insufficient.”
Admittedly, there exists a paradox between realism and idealism, so much that Smith (2001, p. 2) observes that the modern man is having a hard, often impossible task of differentiating the real and reproduced or reprocessed components of the modern culture.
Specifically, Smith (2001) observes that simulation is ingrained deeply into the modern (American) culture, to the extent that people cannot breakaway from its influence. The intricate simulation aspect of the American culture is more compounded by the fact that America is itself a melting pot of different cultures.
Away from the American culture, Baudrillard (1988, p. 172) argues that profound reality forms the basic truths for humankind, which in turn underline the virtues which culture is essentially established upon. Such virtues include societal responsibility, communal life, personal fulfilment, and family.
Regardless of humankind’s basic instincts to protect the identified virtues and by extension the culture they belong to, Baudrillard observes that the media threatens such a culture by passing the unreal as real (1988, p. 174). Specifically, he terms the media as a looming danger to profound reality.
His argument, is based on the fact that media creates and publishes copied images of reality, something that distorts the actual representation of the genuine. When copies of reality are everywhere in the media, a hyperrealist world is created, and eventually, this masks the basic reality that forms the virtues, which are held close by different societies and cultures.
Baudrillard (1988, p. 166) defines simulation as the “generation by models of a real without origin or reality.” The consequences of living in a culture where hyper-reality is often construed to be the truth is witnessed in the fact that people often live in delusion or illusions.
According to Baudrillard, when hyper-reality is strong to the point of suffocating reality, then a culture has reached simulacrum. The theory offered by Baudrillard is progressive; first, he states that the images of the real reflect the basic reality.
In the second phase of the progression, the images pervert or mask the basic reality to a certain degree. On the third phase however, the images mask reality to a larger degree and could even lack any aspect of the same. In the fourth and final phase of the progression, the image bears no semblance or relation to reality, and hence Baudrillard (1988, p.170) argues, “It is its own pure simulacrum.”
According to Smith (2001, p. 5) Baudrillard’s observations could be construed to mean that the post-modern culture is starved of reality. Specifically, Smith argues that the reduplication that take place in history and culture leaves the society with “no grounding, no reference point, no origin for judging what is real, and no finite or objective perspective, only simulacra” (Smith, 2001, p. 5).
If the media culture, which relies heavily on an information culture, which is reproduced from time to time, was to be considered, then one can conclude that the post-modern culture is a pervasive simulation, which drives reality even further into the abyss.
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This concept is further supported by Cubitt (2000, p.1) by stating that the post-modern culture is awash with images, communications and media that has usurped reality’s role in history. Consequently, the modern-day culture is a copy, which has already lost its source, or an imitation, whose original representation is already buried in the signs of time.
An example of just how post-modern culture is aping unreal things in the believe that they represent reality is offered by Smith (2001, p. 116) when he argues that family shows on TV feign the ‘ideal’ family relationships.
Consequently, viewers are duped into believing that the TV family relationships are better off their own ‘real’ experiences. Consequently, the viewers change several aspects in the family relationships in an attempt to ape the family reflections they see on it. The only problem with such an undertaking is that the TV families are not real. As such, the real family’s attempt to ape what is not real only ends up creating a new reality.
A more inclusive observation of how simulacra affects culture is offered by Hubbs (2009, p. 21), who argues that modernity is now able to arrange and normalise the different aspects of social life. Consequently, individuality is replaced with documented local and global norms, which are perpetuated by manufacturers and marketers.
Observably, consumer in the post-modern culture do not seek to understand what they buy or why they buy it; instead, their desires for products and services are fuelled by the information presented to them through the media.
The consumerism culture has also been addressed by Rettberg (2005), who argues that television advertising is largely to blame for making people believe that they can buy their way out of personal trauma by purchasing as many consumer products and services as possible.
Coincidentally, the consumer products are themselves subject to simulacrum considering that most have been copied, reproduced and reprocessed. According to Rettberg (2005, p. 4), simulacra in some cases is not just a fact of modern existence, but a comfort.
This is especially the case in cultures where people are offered little or no metaphysical believes to hold on to. In such circumstances, the simulacra become the only ‘reality’ that people can define. As Rettberg (2004, p. 4) observes, the radio reports, television images and other forms of images propagated through the different media channels become more real to people, to the extent that they ignore their personal perceptions regarding the characters.
Considering Rettberg’s (2005) views, one therefore wonders; is it possible that the ‘unreal’ images affect how people feel or think to the point of ignoring their own senses? Well, this is a difficult question to answer since different people behave differently towards the images displayed in the media. Rettberg (2005, p. 5) asserts, “The popular consciousness has become so inundated with images that it is no longer possible to determine what is and what is not real”.
If this assertion is anything to go by, one can assume that the senses are themselves shrouded in too much fantasy to the extent that people would have a hard time differentiating between the real and unreal regardless of how sharp their senses are.
The images, vague semblances, representations, and the unreal are undeniably in every culture where mass communication is practised. Using the example of America, Klien (2005, p. 427) argues that TV and film images has developed a culture where people favour images over the people, political institutions and the policy issues they represent.
According to Klien, abortion protestors represent abortion, while images about social issues like inflation or diseases are embodied in interviews that feature people affected by them. While such images are only a vague semblance of the actual reality, Hart (1999, p.58, cited by Klien 2005, p. 427) states that using such simulacrum tactics on TV brings politics (or other societal issues) to life.
On his part Uçar (2008, p. 1) observes that the effect of simulacrum on culture is best analysed from the individual level. Uçar argues that in the hyperreal world, people lose their identities and individuality. Consequently, people form a simulacrum of the world through their personal preferences.
Since people’s preferences are different, they end up believing in different things, and in the end, nothing in their culture is regarded as factual or real. As Uçar (2008, p. 1) points out, such scenarios lead to a situation where everyone view the world as a simulacrum.
In order to survive, and lead normal lives as they can, most people choose to take up simulation, as it enables them create their own lives and personalities. Uçar (2008, p.1) however notes that even the different simulations that people take are not their original creations; rather, they are the ‘producers’ original creations, and as such, individuals willing to create their own lives or personalities choose the simulation that fits them best.
The consumer culture according to Uçar (2008, p.2) is largely manipulated by the producer of goods and services. This assertion is based on the fact that producers and their marketers present the consumer with products and services, which are marketed to match distinct identities.
The consumer’s consumption power then dictates, which of the available identities he or she will take. Notably, the consumption power is contained in one’s ability to purchase the product or service. Consumers who lack purchasing power are not free from the identity spectacle; they too take up identities imposed on them by governments, civil society or well-wishers. As such, they are also featured in the hyperreal culture, where identity is seen as an adornment, which people can wear or take off easily.
Consumption and culture
According to Storey (2003, p. 131), “consumption has been the primary means through which individuals have participated in culture and transformed it.” Yet, modern consumption is largely fuelled by the mass media, which instil artificial needs and desires among the masses through marketing and advertising.
Upon buying the items however, each consumer attaches a different meaning to the purchased product. As Storey (2003, p. 131) notes, each consumer place a purchased item in a new context or a new relationship with other item.
Similarly, consumers use and attach different meaning to the same item. This means that as the purchased items enter the personal sphere of the consumer, they acquire a personalised meaning that is inconspicuous or incomprehensible to other consumers.
Following Storey’s views, and considering Baudrillard views regarding simulation, one can argue that the consumption culture is based on an illusion, which is not only manifest in consumer behaviour, but also in the production processes.
But does this mean that the world operates in an unreal consciousness? Well, Storey (2003, p. 132) holds the opinion that although the post-modern culture is partially shaped by the manipulative powers of capitalism and authoritarian producers, “cultural studies reject the view that to consume these productions is to become the hopeless victim of false consciousness”.
Specifically, Storey (2003, p. 132) argues that culture is what people make in the different daily practices, and hence cannot be restricted to consumption only. Actually, Storey argues that consumption is just part of the expansive cultural aspects of any society.
He however admits that the producers of goods and services do manipulate the consumers’ ideological and commercial interests in consumption in order to advance their profit-making agenda. To guard against producers’ self-interests, Storey recommends attention and vigilance to the consumers, arguing that only such actions would shield them (consumers) from the manipulative tendencies of the producers (Storey, 2003, p. 132-133).
Based on Baudrillard’s view regarding the culture of simulation, it is hard to fathom how the consumers would differentiate the ‘real from the unreal’ especially when deciphering messages availed to them by the producers through the mass media.
As Smith (2001, p. 4) observes, the post-modern culture has made consumption a significant point of reference in the society, thus proving that Baudrillard’s theory of simulacrum right. Specifically, Smith observes that certain consumer items are status symbols in the pervasive consumer culture.
Such include high-end clothes as symbols of wealth, specific cars as signs of high-social class, and specific neighbourhoods as signs of affluence among other things. As Baudrillard would have it, the modern culture is saturated with symbols, which exchange reality through sign.
As such, a rich person is expected to live in a certain neighbourhood, drive a specific car, eat in specific restaurants, wear certain clothes, educate his/her children in specific schools and so on. While most such expectations are unrealistic and a creation of the producers, consumers often wrestle with the hard choices of conforming to the images presented to them in the hyperrealist world or being true to self and establishing their own realities.
The corporate culture
The effect of simulacrum on the society is not felt on the consumption culture alone; according to Ezzy (2001, p. 637), the corporate culture has not been spared either. Due to the lack of distinction between the ‘real and unreal’, Ezzy notes that the modern-day corporate employee has a new form of selfishness that concentrates on making the best out of the present situation.
Consequently, the modern employee cares not for others, nor for the past or future. Instead, he or she lives for the moment, because to him or her, only the present is real. According to Ezzy (2001, p. 637), contemporary corporate cultures give their employees a simulated sense of trust, which is meant to inspire them to have confidence in the corporation.
Unfortunately, when the corporation fails to reciprocate the trust that employees have in it, they (employees) loose the sense of self or their sense of social belongingness.
Employees who suffer disillusionment where a simulacrum of trust was provided can only trust cautiously in the future. The situation is even worse in contradictory corporate structures that encourage cooperation in the workplace on one hand, while encouraging competition by rewarding best-performing employees on the other hand.
Ezzy(2001, p. 642) further observes that rewarding contemporary employee with “a simulacrum of trust” for their devotion to the company is often a way for the company to increase its productivity and profits, without treating the workers with respect. In response, workers develop instrumental individualism in a simulated corporate community. Citing Grey (1994, Ezzy, 2001, p. 642) posits that workers adopt such simulations in order to advance their own interests in the workplace, especially when it becomes evident that employers treat them as
The different mediums of communications are undeniably important in the propagation of information in the post-modern information society. However, the producers of goods and services have used the same channels over the years to push their items to the consumer market.
Consequently, the consumers are better informed, entertained, and even educated. However, the information, which is usually founded on reproduced or imitated items also push the consumer away from reality.
This means that the beliefs, attitudes and values that consumers create after consuming information delivered by the producers through the media channels are all based on unreality, which is passed on as reality.
In the end, consumers create their own reality from the unreal information. True to Baudrillard’s simulacrum theory, visual images have the capacity to overwhelm logical feelings and thoughts with sensory stimulation.
Depictions that appear real are therefore more appealing than the abstract thoughts or logical argument that may ideally form the reference of many cultures. It is little wonder therefore, that images displayed in the media has succeeded in shaping the post-modern culture.
When reality is replaced with a mosaic of signs, which appear authentic, people’s perception of reality then become a reproduction of simulated ideals, thoughts, products and values. Consequently, people in a given culture loose all sense of reality.
Specifically, reality is replaced with hyperrealism, while meaning is associated to specific images or representations. Satisfaction in the other had is derived from simulated reality, hence pushing the chances of ever finding the authentic reality even further away.
Deciphering Baudrillard’s simulacrum theory, one gets the impression that any hope of finding reality is only present in the first phase of simulacra where simulations reflect reality. When simulations mask reality, mask the lack of realism, and even construct hyperreality, then there is no hope of ever finding what reality really was. In such cases, people create their own reality from the ‘unreal’.
Baudrillard, J. (1988) Simulacra and simulations (Foss, P., Patton, P., &Beitchman, P. Trans.) In M. Poster (Ed.), Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writing (pp. 166-184). Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press.
Baudrillard, J., & Turner, C. (2004) Fragments: conversations with François L‘Yvonnet. New York, Routledge.
Cubitt, S. (2000) Simulation and social theory. Sage Publications, London.
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