Jean Baudrillard was a French socialist, theorist and political commentator who lived from 1929-2007. He is well known for his theories on hyperreality and simulation.
Influenced by Marxism, Structuralism and the works of Emil Durkheim, his series of short essays on simulacra and simulation were first published in France in 1981. It draws on sociology, media studies, semiotics, history and philosophy to expand on a theory of how we construct and ‘simulate’ reality in a world that is increasingly saturated with media.
As a political commentator, Baudrillard uses the theory to critique aspects of culture, tv, science and politics. He saw consumer society as something that represented freedom rather than increasing it. Instead, he felt that consumers didn’t just purchase an item, they purchased a signifier or symbol that they identified with and that tells something about them. For example a car isn’t just something that gets you from a to b but the colour, make, model, number plate and year of manufacture of the car you own are all symbols of wealth, aspirations, taste or lack of.
Simulacra and Simulations suggests that reality has been replaced by signs and symbols that have overtaken what is real. Mass media repeats and reproduces these shapes and creates new symbols and codes, often with little or vague meaning, which society adopts and identifies with because it has lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simulation.
Simulation is the active process of replacement of the real. Whereas dissimulation (pretending) leaves the principle of reality in tact. Simulation threatens the difference between the true and the false, the real and the imaginary.
Simulacrum is a representational image that deceives; the product of reality being portrayed in such an idealistic way that it usurps reality. It is a ‘copy with reality’ like a false icon for God or perhaps Disneyland.
Simulation refers to a process in motion, whereas simulacrum (plural simulacra) refers to a more static image.
Simulation is a four step process of destabilising and replacing reality.
- Faithful – the image reflects a profound reality (portrait)
- Perversion – the image masks and denatures a profound reality (icon)
- Pretense – the image masks the absence of a profound reality (Disneyland)
- Pure – the image has no relation to any reality whatsoever, it is its own pure simulacrum (The Ultimate Matrix)
Hyperreal is a world of simulacra where nothing is unmediated (without previous meaning, without intermediary mass media). The media mediates our experiences without us noticing. We know that we live in a mediated world but because of the proliferation of media and simulation reality is filtered through television, radio and newspapers.
The American Dream is a simulacrum that is perpetuated in films, tv and other media, creating a culture that is hyperreal.
A myth is something that has lost its reference point for example the name Red Bull is no longer just about a fizzy drink, it is about a lifestyle of risk taking, fast living and youthful energy.