The obvious criticism of a simulacra-saturated society would be that we lose our sense of the real, that we eventually come to accept the distortions of simulations as reality. In Simulacra and Simulations Baudrillard examines a not-so obvious effect of simulation and simulacra, the masking of the absence of a reality. He discusses Disneyland in order to demonstrate how consciously relishing in the cartoonish-nature of simulacra can lend to the illusion that a separate reality exists.
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. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that aufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect. The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot — a veritable concentration camp — is total. Or rather: inside, a whole range of gadgets magnetize the crowd into direct flows; outside, solitude is directed onto a single gadget: the automobile. By an extraordinary coincidence (one that undoubtedly belongs to the peculiar enchantment of this universe), this deep-frozen infantile world happens to have been conceived and realized by a man who is himself now cryogenized; Walt Disney, who awaits his resurrection at minus 180 degrees centigrade.
The objective profile of the United States, then, may be traced throughout Disneyland, even down to the morphology of individuals and the crowd. All its values are exalted here, in miniature and comic-strip form. Embalmed and pactfied. Whence the possibility of an ideological analysis of Disneyland (L. Marin does it well in Utopies, jeux d'espaces): digest of the American way of life, panegyric to American values, idealized transposition of a contradictory reality. To be sure. But this conceals something else, and that "ideological" blanket exactly serves to cover over a third-order simulation: Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
The Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It is meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the "real" world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness.
1. Is Baudrillard correct? Do we enjoy Disneyland as a childish distortion of reality because we then are able to believe that an actual reality exists?
2. Can the analysis behind the example of Disneyland be applied to other cartoon-like simulacra? Camp Art comes to mind. Do we enjoy Camp Art because it lends towards the illusion that there exists other supposedly real art that accurately depicts the world? Do we relish in its oversimplification of things so that we can hallucinate that other art does not do the same?
3. Speaking at least from a personal standpoint, I find Disneyworld endearing not only for the childish quality of its perspective, but for its retro-character as well (particularly tomorrow-land, which can be categorized as retro-future). Do I (and others) find the retro-quality of Disneyland's visions charming in order to illusion myself that today's visions of the future are in fact realistic?
4. Quentin Tarantino's films are often conscious simulacras, re-mixes of previous art (simulations) into meta-art. Do we enjoy his films of simulacra because they mask that all art is indeed simulacra to begin with?
Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations" in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184. [Available at European Graduate School site.]
Last modified 17 October 2006