Simulacra and Simulation Summary (7/10)

In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard produces a theory about cultural materialism. What is the simulacra? It is whatever replaces reality with its representation.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.


Disneyland masks the unreality of modern American society, says Baudrillard, because it acts as if it embodies the “unreal”, which suggests that whatever outside of it is “real.”

Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation. To begin with it is a play of illusions and phantasms: pirates, the frontier, future world, etc. This imaginary world is supposed to be what makes the operation successful. But, what draws the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious revelling in real America, in its delights and drawbacks. You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. 

Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard

In addition to Disneyland, psychosomatic illness is another example of how a representation of the real replaces the real. You stress about having an illness, the stress itself makes you ill – thus, the reality is that you are now ill. 

Plato thought that people were fooled into mistaking simulations of reality for reality itself (The Allegory of the Cave). Baudrillard goes further and says that reality itself has been lost. 

The Matrix suggests that behind the simulation is a reality – this is more like Plato’s idea. Baudrillard rejects primary reality, or at least, he rejects that we can know the difference between primary reality and simulacra. 

Imagine there was a very popular sitcom which tries to mimic American family life called The Cheerful Years. Millions of families end up watching this sitcom and then behave like the characters on it. They behave like these characters because they feel a certain kind of affinity towards them, and since human beings are hyper-mimetic creatures, they will automatically adopt some of the beliefs and behaviors of these characters.

Many years later, an entire generation grows up watching The Cheerful Years – this inspires a new generation of writers who attempt to emulate the modern American family. A new show comes out, and the cycle repeats. If the cycle repeats itself for several generations, reality and art become inseparable. The writers are now representing imitations of imitations of imitations of imitations of imitations.

Baudrillard’s point is that this happens everywhere in modern society. Life itself becomes an imitation of an imitation, so that it becomes to separate between reality and representations of reality. Plato asks his readers to move towards the light in The Allegory of the Cave – a painful decision that will isolate them from the herd, who are trapped in a cave and tragically mistaking shadows on the wall for what really exists. But Baudrillard doesn’t tell us to go out of the cave, because there is nothing outside the cave. 

“it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them”.

Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard 

The young woman or man that tries to look like an idealized version of their youth, and inject BOTOX into their foreheads are trying to achieve this ideal, that is a part of their imagination, but is as real as can be. The average age for people who receive their first BOTOX treatment is generally at some point in their 30s. 

Wars, according to the collective imagination, happen on TV screens, not on the battlefield. Even those who decide to go to war are more incited to do so by what is reported to them by various news outlets than what is actually happening in the country they are going to war with, or the reality of the political situation. 

Cyber warriors and drone pilots are considered Nintendo soldiers – they inflict damage on the enemy with zero skin in the game. Simulations of war are mistaken by the real thing because there is ultimately no real difference as simulations more closely resemble reality. 

Simulacra and Simulation marks the announcement of the postmodern in this stage of Capitalism. The modern philosophers (Nietzsche) had a project to fulfill, which was to unmask the reality behind the appearances, because there was a reality to be unmasked (the will to power), whereas in the postmodern world, there can be no such project.

Are the mass media on the side of power in the manipulation of the masses, or are they on the side of the masses in the liquidation of meaning, in the violence perpetrated on meaning, and in fascination? Is it the media that induce fascination in the masses, or is it the masses who direct the media into the spectacle?

Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard 

Watergate as a scandal is given as an example of moral indignation to feign the morality of an immoral system. The abundance of information about it confounds people, and does not need to be verified – it only needs to arouse scandal and astonishment. It’s all smoke and mirrors.  

All the movements that only play on liberation, emancipation, on the resurrection of a subject of history, of the group, of the word based on “consciousness raising,” indeed a “raising of the unconscious” of subjects and of the masses, do not see that they are going in the direction of the system, whose imperative today is precisely the overproduction and regeneration of meaning and of speech.

Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard 

The quote from Ecclesiastes at the beginning of the post got me curious. Did the Bible really mention “simulacra”? When I looked into it, I found that it doesn’t exist. There may be some explanation – perhaps Baudrillard has a unique translation of Biblical text, or perhaps, he was making a point – that it doesn’t matter, because we can never know. 

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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