Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jean Baudrillard on Disneyland and Watergate

In Simulacra and Simulation Jean Baudrillard gives two famous examples to the way simulation destroys the real and the distinctions between reality and representation to produce a hyperreality. For Baudrillard, Disneyland and Watergate are sites of simulation that function in the same manner. Is it the difference they establish (between reality and imagination in the case of Disneyland and truth and lies or reality and ideology in the case of Watergate) which uncovers how this difference collapses inwards to reappear as hyperreality.

Disneyland produces a clear cut distinction between reality and imagination. Disneyland can be thought of as a second order simulacra, one in which reality is somehow reflected in its representation and the way American ideology is manifested there can be studied. But this distinction between the real and imaginary in Disneyland is nothing but a desperate attempt to hide the fact that there is no difference. According to Baudrillard, all of America is Disneyland. Reality is not distorted in some Marxian fashion (see The German Ideology), it is the cultural code that pre-establishes life in America which is manifested in Disneyland. Disneyland doesn’t let you be a child; it hides that fact that you are a child.

According to Baudrillard Watergate constitutes the same type of illusion which hides the workings of a simulation. The scandal serves to reestablish order, and it is therefore not a scandal but rather a cover-up for some other unspoken scandal. Watergate for Baudrillard serves as the illusion that the unruly and blind force of capital can be haltered. With all of economical reality hanging on the limb of capital's recklessness, we use Wtergate to imagine that evil can be uncovered and justice can be obtained, and thus we are blind to the true destructive force of capital. Like Disneyland, a hyperreality creates the illusion of distinction between right and wrong, truth and lies, and the illusion that order can be restored.

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Jean Baudrillard - Precession of Simulacra: Hyperreality – Map and Territory

In "Precession of Simulacra" (in Simulacra and Simulation, 1981) Jean Baudrillard describes what he calls "the third order of simulacra" in which simulation functions through breaking down the difference between the world and representation in order to produce a "hyperreality".
Baudrillard addresses two scientific advancements that changed the way we see the world and allow for the production of hyperreality: the discovery of the DNA and the invention of digital technology. DNA is a code for life who determines who we are before we are allowed to do so. It is the map that precedes the actual territory. Digital technology functions in the same manner that codes reality and allows for its production.

The creation of the simulacra of hyperreality is described by Baudrillard through three orders of simulacra manifested in four types of images. In the first stage the image is "at one" with the actual world and reflects a deep meaning. This is the basic form of life which completely distinguishes the real from its representation and map from territory. The following images correspond to the three orders of simulacara as described by Baudrillard. The second image disguises a deep meaning while damaging it. The third image describes by Baudrillard in the process of creating simulacra or hyperreality is one which disguises the absence of a deep meaning. The fourth and final image is one that lacks any connection with reality, a "pure simulacra" and map which completely replaces territory. For Baudrillard all types of images can coexist or be built on top of each other, but the age of simulation makes it more and more difficult to manifest images of the first and second order and we are left with mostly hyperreality that has lost its connection the actual reality and that can no longer signify anything but itself.

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Jean Baudrillard - Precession of Simulacra: Third Order of Simulacra – summary and review

One of the central concepts on which the ideas presented by Jean Baudrillard in "precession of simulacra" (in Simulacra and Simulation, 1981) are built is that of simulation. Baudrillard developed his notion of symbolic trade to account for the manners in which we perceive and organize our world. Following Foucault, Baudrillard sees the world as governed by impersonal power or a system which decades control over knowledge of the world which is distributed across society.

Baudrillard identifies three orders of simulacra. The first order of simulacra is that which creates the real as distinguished from representation – the map, the novel and the painting are clearly an artificial representation of reality. Baudrillard ties this order of simulacrum to the Renaissance in which the attempt to accurately represent reality was the attempt to ratify its existence regardless of representation. The second order of simulacra according to Baudrillard is that which blurs the distinction between reality and representation. He ties this development to industrialization and mechanical reproduction (following Walter Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction") which allows for serial production of representations that eclipses the original. The original loses its meaning in relation to its copies.

The third order of simulacra is at the center of Baudrillard's "Precession of Simulacra". For Baudrillard the real is always already constructed. This imagined real, which we falsely believe to be actual reality, is what we lose when we move into the third order of simulacra, that of simulation. Simulation is a real which is shielded from the difference between reality and representation. This difference is eroded in (post)modern times while simulation eradicates actual referents and the real as separate from representation. The referent is then reproduced but only this time "free" and independent of the sing, what Baudrillard calls "hyperreality".
As long as we held the distinction between the real and its representation it was possible to hold on to the notion that the truth is in the world and not it the image. The real is constructed through its opposition with representation. But simulation breaks this distinction down and we can no longer claim that the truth is anywhere to be found in some objective world.   

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The Real and Simulation According to Jean Baudrillard (in "Simulacra and Simulation")

One of the most challenging concepts in Jean Baudrillard''s "Simulacra and Simulation" is that of "the real". Intuitively we tend to distinguish what happens in the real world from what is represented to us. We know (?) that what we see on television isn't the real world but rather a representation of it. But Baudrillard thinks differently. He uses the concept of "Simulation" which he defines as the occurrence of something real which has no origin or reality through the use of models: a hyperreality. A simulation is an event which "stages" an actual event and recreates its conditions and even experience. A simulation is like real life, only it's not.

Usually we think we can tell a simulation from an actual occurrence, but Baudrillard's definition of the concept argues the simulation is not something which follows the real, but rather a "real" which does not stem from any other source or origin. A simulation for Baudrillard is not something which disguises itself as the real, but rather something which eliminates the actual "real", the real which is distinguished from its representations.

When Baudrillard describes western culture's move away from the real he argues that what we are losing is a construction of the real. For Baudrillard, what we think is the real is always in fact a simulacrum of the real.

To understand this assertion we have to turn back to De Saussure's "The Nature of the Linguistic Sign" in which he argues the lingual sign is made up of an image or sound (signifier) and a meaning (signified). Saussure argues that the lingual sign is arbitrary and that meaning is assigned by the function and position the sign assumes within a system of structure. Baudrillars thinks that the problem with this supposition is the idea the one sign is tradable with the other, and that one sign can find its meaning through its relationship with other signs. Like Barthes, (in Rhetoric of the Image as well as Myth Today), the sign always carries additional meaning, a connotation according to Barthes, which does not make it entirely tradable with other signs. A sign, in other words, always signifies an additional something else.

Baudrillard holds that at some point in history, objects have become signs and sings have turned into objects. Social trade ceased being one of objects and became one of signs and what they signify (this is very similar to Guy Debord's thought in the  Society of the Spectacle ).
This trade of signs means to Baudrillard that the referent is slowly diminishing.  We grow ever more detached from real objects in our lives and our relations with them are now determined by their signs and process of signification. The sign is therefore not arbitrary, as Saussure would have it, but rather an historical construct. Likw Debord's description of a shift from "having into being and then to merely appearing", Baudrillard replaces actual trade with "symbolic trade" as the only contemporary form of social reality.

The "real" of the sign or representation is established when signs "freed themselves" from social binds, an emancipation which occurred according to Baudrillard with the collapse of feudal society and the rise of the bourgeoisie. Only then did signs become arbitrary and a shift in their value began in the market of symbolic trade. In today's consumer society signs are presented as if they were still connected to the world, still having a referent, but this is only a pretended connection achieved by the distinguishing the sign from the world. A product signifies something added to my reality (success, comfort etc.). it does not represent the object itself but only all those meaning assigned to its sign, which are to have an effect in the real world. The real is constructed through the sign and through representation. Reality, for Baudrillard, can thus no longer function on the basis of its opposition to representation.

This is how Baudrillard describes the real as simulacra. The real only pretends to be authentic, a stable and objective originless reality, when in fact it is nothing but the product of symbolic trade of signs in culture. For Baudrillard, there is no longer any real difference between the real and the imagined, between the world and its representation. 

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Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard – summary

"...The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true" (Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulation")

The concept of Simulacra, or Simulacrum, was not invented by Jean Baudrillard, and was a reappearing concept in French philosophical thought like that of Deleuze, for example, before the publication of Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" in 1981. In its lexical ordering, simulacra is a material image which appears as something else without having that something's features or essence. This is somewhat reminiscent of Plato's objection to representations which come to replace the "real" to which we lose access.

In "Simulacra and Simulation" Baudrillard asks what happens in a world that is ultimately denied all access to the real and in which only simulacra and simulation exists. For Baudrillard, this is in fact the world in which we live. Simulations take over our relationship with real life, creating a hyperreality which is a copy that has no original. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world.

In the chapter "Precession of Simulacra" Baudrillard describes three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.

Baudrillard famously gives the examples of Disneyland and Watergate to demonstrate the function of the third order of simulacra and the production of a hyperreality that lets us believe that we can tell reality from representation, the real from the imaginary and the copy from its original.   

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