In his essay "Simulacra and Simulations," Baudrillard attacks society's notion of the real, in an attempt to expose the truth: that the world around us is a tangled web of simulation, simulacra, and the hyperreal. In doing so he dissects the simulations and simulacra of our world and shows the reader their purpose and effect. Everything from God to Disneyland is shown to be a mask, a metaphor. To Baudrillard Watergate is not a scandal, it is a "dissimulation masking a strengthening of morality" and religion is not divine, it is a "simulacrum of divinity". Of particular interest is Baudrillard's view of power:
Power, too, for some time now produces nothing but signs of its resemblance. And at the same time, another figure of power comes into play: that of a collective demand for signs of power Ñ a holy union which forms around the disappearance of power. Everybody belongs to it more or less in fear of the collapse of the political. And in the end the game of power comes down to nothing more than the critical obsession with power: an obsession with its death; an obsession with its survival which becomes greater the more it disappears. When it has totally disappeared, logically we will be under the total spell of power Ñ a haunting memory already foreshadowed everywhere, manifesting at one and the same time the satisfaction of having got rid of it (nobody wants it any more, everybody unloads it on others) and grieving its loss. Melancholy for societies without power: this has already given rise to fascism, that overdose of a powerful referential in a society which cannot terminate its mourning.
But we are still in the same boat: none of our societies know how to manage their mourning for the real, for power, for the social itself, which is implicated in this same breakdown. And it is by an artificial revitalization of all this that we try to escape it. Undoubtedly this will even end up in socialism. By an unforeseen twist of events and an irony which no longer belongs to history, it is through the death of the social that socialism will emerge Ñ as it is through the death of God that religions emerge. A twisted coming, a perverse event, an unintelligible reversion to the logic of reason. As is the fact that power is no longer present except to conceal that there is none. A simulation which can go on indefinitely, since -unlike "true" power which is, or was, a structure, a strategy, a relation of force, a stake Ñ this is nothing but the object of a social demand, and hence subject to the law of supply and demand, rather than to violence and death. Completely expunged from the political dimension, it is dependent, like any other commodity, on production and mass consumption. Its spark has disappeared; only the fiction of a political universe is saved.
1. Note that Baudrillard is not saying that power never existed, but that power is disappearing. What exactly is real power?
2. If power is merely an illusion, how does that change its effect on our society? What is more important: the belief in an institution's existence or the reality defined by Baudrillard?
3. What is Baudrillard referring to when he speaks of the law of "violence and death"?
4. How does Baudrillard explain the existence of two political systems, socialism and fascism. Do you agree with Baudrillard's explanation?
5. Baudrillard spends the majority of his essay disapproving the reality of religion and government, both major moral institutions of society. In this way Baudrillard is implying that both are a illusion, a simulation. Are there any real moral institutions as defined by Baudrillard? Give examples.
6. How do you think Baudrillard's view of power relates to the mass media?
Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations" in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184.
Last modified 12 October 2006