The Three Stages of Simulation
Baudrillard identifies three stages of simulation, in the same way that
he discusses the passage of history from fascism to
nostalgia to irreferentiality. As simulation increasingly dominates
our world, the gap between the real and the imaginary closes.
1. Utopian Removal from the Imaginary
The first stage is a utopian one. This is a
progressive and optimistic order, where there is the biggest differential
between reality and imagination. Romantic dreams of the utopia do not
even attempt to bridge this gap.
2. Sci Fi's Approach to the Imaginary
The next period can best be understood by considering the science fiction
of our era. Sci fi as we know it brings us closer to the utopia of the
first order. This genre is characterized by modern
themes of energy and productivity. Sci fi novels like William Gibson's
Neuromancer trilogy build an imaginary world out of the technology of
today. So there
is a jump from the "real world" to the simulated, imaginary world.
Fiction of this type is ambitious and expansive. Baudrillard
likens it to the brazenness of colonial expansion.
But, like the exploitation of virgin lands, the exploration of the
scientific unknown is at its end. Once everything is mapped out and known,
there is nothing new to discover. So the new genre of science fiction
must adapt to this saturation of reality.
3. Reality = Imaginary
What we are moving toward is the third order of simulation, in which
there is no gap between the real and the imaginary. Instead, both have
imploded into hyperreality. This is the period of the simulation of
simulation. Baudrillard predicts that the science fiction scenarios of
this era will not project a super-modern, far out technical world.
Instead, they will have to work backward, as they seek to bring us closer to
An example of this new brand of sci fi is the "Crash" story, which
describes a highway and an automobile accident in all its banality.
The movement toward sci fi of this nature
is related to the
postmodern yearning for familiar referentials.
As Baudrillard says, "it is the real that has become our true utopia"
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